A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Slips


Viewers were relatively safe from false or misleading tripe on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday.

But we can’t let a couple of statements go unmentioned, one from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and a couple from Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; both officials are Republicans.

Barbour, speaking on CNN’s "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley, said:

Barbour, April 11: I mean, [Obama] has proposed a $3.8 trillion budget with a $1.6 trillion deficit. The whole budget in 1997 — when Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House, the whole budget wasn’t $1.6 trillion.

Yet they’re proposing $1.3 trillion deficit, $1.4 trillion deficit, $1.6 trillion deficit in the first three years of the Obama administration.

Crowley: But, Governor, that’s not all of his deficit. A lot of it came from George W. Bush.

Barbour: Yes, about $400 billion of it. If you look at what the deficit was for the first fiscal year, about $400 billion was run up during the Clinton administration — I mean, the Bush administration.

It’s true that President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2011 is about $3.8 trillion. But according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the deficit would run a little more than $1.3 trillion, not $1.6 trillion as Barbour said. The new health care law would increase the 2011 deficit by only another $1 billion, not enough to register when dealing in tenths of trillions.

But at least Barbour was somewhere in the neighborhood of the ballpark on that one. Not so when he said that just $400 billion of the deficit was inherited by Obama from his predecessor. As we noted in February, the minute Obama took office he inherited from Bush a deficit that was already projected to be $1.2 trillion. Here’s what CBO said shortly before Obama was sworn in:

CBO, Jan. 2009: The federal fiscal situation in 2009 will be dramatically worse than it was in 2008. Under the assumption that current laws and policies remain in place (that is, not accounting for any new legislation), CBO estimates that the deficit this year will total $1.2 trillion, more than two and a half times the size of last year’s.

We have asked Barbour’s office how he arrived at $400 billion but haven’t yet received a response.

As for Bachmann, she made a false statement about Obama and taxes on "Fox News Sunday":

Bachmann, April 11: Right now the president is proposing a Western European style tax, the value-added tax, a very expensive tax. You might call it a form of a national sales tax.

I’m a former federal tax litigation attorney. It isn’t that we aren’t taxed enough today in the United States. If we add a value- added tax on top of everything else, we could be looking effectively at a national sales tax in the — in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent. That will have a tremendous drag on our economy, and it will be very hard for to us go forward with full employment.

But the show’s host, Chris Wallace, didn’t let that one slip by:

Wallace:: I think, in fairness, we have to point out the president hasn’t proposed that. One of his top economic advisers, Paul Volcker, this week suggested that the U.S. might have to consider it. But the president hasn’t proposed that.

Wallace is correct. Volcker, who is an outside adviser to the White House, made the remarks earlier this month during a talk at the New York Historical Society. But nobody in the Obama administration has raised the possibility, and in fact the White House ran the other way after hearing of Volcker’s statements. "Mr. Volcker was speaking for himself and not the administration," a White House official was quoted as saying, adding: "The president has not proposed this idea nor is it under consideration."

Bachmann also repeated a misstatement we took on earlier.

Bachmann: If you add all of that up, Chris, that’s 51 percent of the private economy that the federal government now owns or controls. Those are the policies that I’m concerned about. We don’t want the federal government owning or controlling private industry.

As we’ve said, government expenditures in 2009 were 20.6 percent of GDP, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, nowhere near 51 percent.