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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

We found a few claims worthy of comment on the Sunday political talk shows.

On NBC’s "Meet the Press," Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said that President Obama was being "misleading" when he boasted about General Motors and Chrysler repaying the government:

"Meet the Press" host David Gregory: The president was boasting yesterday that GM and Chrysler have paid off their debts, not completely, but, but, but way ahead of schedule. TARP is now $186 billion back. The overall payment is supposed to be around $87 billion. The record’s been pretty good that the government and the taxpayer have done OK so far in bailouts, have they not?

Shelby: First of all, the payback by General Motors and Chrysler will never happen, not all of it. That’s misleading, even what the president said there. And they paid back some money that they were already given by the TARP money. They haven’t paid back the other, and they won’t. Some of the banks have paid back the money, and that’s good. But we should never go down that road again.

Both the president and Shelby are right in this case. The White House did brag last week about GM and Chrysler repaying government bailout money, and doing so earlier than expected. And, in fact, the automakers did pay back billions. But Obama may have misled, or confused, some listeners when he said in his Saturday address: "GM announced that it paid back its loans to taxpayers with interest, fully five years ahead of schedule." GM is hardly free and clear. Obama added: "It won’t be too long before the stock the Treasury is holding in GM can be sold, helping to reimburse the American people for their investment."

So despite the good news that the auto giants were able to repay loans from the Treasury Department, the government still owns 61 percent of GM, an equity stake of $40 billion-plus. (The government has just a 9.9 percent stake in Chrysler.) Shelby said that a full payback from the auto companies "will never happen, not all of it." And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees with that. The CBO estimated in March that the automaker bailout will ultimately cost the government close to $34 billion.

The Alabama senator is also correct in saying the automakers paid back the money with Troubled Asset Relief Program money. But it’s not a matter of robbing Paul to pay Paul; GM simply gave back the TARP money it had been lent, and which had been held in escrow by the government should GM need it. An April report from the special inspector general noted that the Treasury Department poured lots of money into GM — $49.5 billion in total. Most of that was converted into an ownership stake in the form of common and preferred stock owned by the government. But a total of $7.1 billion was a straight loan, which GM took on as debt.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa recently asked in an op-ed how GM could boast that it "repaid its TARP loans in any meaningful way."  We’ll let readers be the judge as to whether repaying TARP funds with TARP funds is less than a "meaningful" repayment. The fact is, all of that $7.1 billion in TARP debt money has been paid back, plus interest.

McConnell on "Fox News Sunday"

On "Fox News Sunday," meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky claimed that Republicans had been vindicated by an April 22 report from Richard Foster, the chief actuary of the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "[H]e virtually confirmed everything that Senate Republicans were saying about the health care bill," McConnell said.

It’s true that the report says the new law will increase overall health care spending. That’s contrary to what President Obama had promised to accomplish; his health care plan was even labeled as a "plan to lower health care costs" and make health insurance coverage accessible to all.

But the increased costs amount to less than 1 percent — 0.9 percent to be more precise. So Democrats have a different way of looking at the report. Democratic Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said it "illustrates the value of the investment we are making with health reform." The report projects that 34 million uninsured Americans will gain coverage under the law. As Levin pointed out, that amounts to extending coverage to roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population, with a 1 percent increase in overall health care spending. 

Budget Deadlines

On CNN’s "State of the Union," host Candy Crowley asked Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a Republican, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat, whether climate change or immigration reform should be next on Congress’ legislative agenda. Chambliss said that Congress had other unfinished business to address first:

Chambliss: Well, I’m not sure how you can really justify bringing either one of them up at this point. I mean, we’ve got a budget to deal with. We normally get that done before the 15th of April. That has not been done.

It’s true that the Senate, more times than not in recent years, has passed its version of the annual budget resolution by April 15. But Congress as a whole is a lot slower to come to an agreement.

Since 1986, when the target date for completing action on the annual budget resolution changed from May 15 to April 15, both the House and Senate have reached a consensus by the deadline only four times: in 1993, 1999, 2000, and most recently in 2003 for the fiscal year 2004 budget resolution. Congress actually failed to pass a budget resolution at all in 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006.