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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

We found a larger-than-usual number of deceptions on the Sunday shows this week, from whoppers to cherry-picked statistics, on subjects as diverse as immigration, the Reagan tax cuts and the new health care law. Here’s our rundown.

A Tax Hike for 50 Percent of Small-Business Owners?

On CNN’s "State of the Union," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was wrong when he said that letting the Bush tax cuts expire for upper-income earners would affect "the income of 50 percent of small businesses." That’s not true. It would affect the income of only 3 percent of those with business income, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

The Kentucky Republican scoffed at Democrats who say they are raising taxes only on a relatively few affluent taxpayers:

McConnell: [T]hey will come back and say, oh, we’re only talking about raising taxes on the top income earners. Well, if you do that, you will capture the income of 50 percent of small businesses in this country, the ones right now who are not expanding or hiring. 

When we contacted a McConnell spokesman, we were told that the senator was relying on a July 12 report by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. The report does back up McConnell to this extent; it says that for those who will see a tax increase, the rise will "reduce incentives for these taxpayers to work, to save, and to invest," and that about 750,000 business owners will be affected. (See page 10.) But the committee report said that’s only about 3 percent of the taxpayers with any net, positive business income.

Those 750,000 affluent taxpayers with business income do account for about 50 percent of the approximately $1 trillion in net positive business income reported to the IRS, the committee report said. So McConnell would have been correct to say that "about 50 percent of business income" would be affected. But 97 percent of those with business profits won’t see an increase.

Budget Number Tricks

McConnell also gave a misleadingly rosy tint to budget figures from the end of President George W. Bush’s tenure:

McConnell: The last year of the Bush administration, the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product was 3.2 percent, well within the range of what most economists think is manageable. A year and a half later, it’s almost 10 percent.

It’s true that the deficit as a percentage of GDP was 3.18 percent in fiscal 2008, which was the last full fiscal year President Bush was in office. But at the time Obama took office, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting that the deficit would be $1.2 trillion or 8.3 percent of GDP for the fiscal year that had begun four months earlier – while Bush was still in office. Bush signed all the bills that led CBO to predict that the deficit as a share of GDP would be more than double what it was the previous year, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

McConnell is correct that CBO predicts the deficit as a percentage of GDP will be 10.3 percent this fiscal year.

(Mostly) Incorrect Job Figures

On "Fox News Sunday," leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers both fudged employment figures.

Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina got it wrong trying to be a cheerleader for the stimulus measure:

Clyburn: In fact, we had 140,000 job growth last month. And that’s what I call progress.

In fact, BLS reported that the economy lost 125,000 jobs in June. It’s true that private sector jobs showed an increase, but even that gain was only 83,000 jobs. And it was more than offset by a large loss in temporary Census Bureau government jobs.

But Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana exaggerated a bit trying to denigrate the effects of the stimulus.

Pence: Look, the reality is the Bureau of Labor Statistics — that is, that part of government that tracks our economy, when people are hired and fired — says that since the stimulus was passed we’ve lost 3 million jobs overall, about 2.5 million jobs net.

Not quite. The net decline in jobs is 2,353,000 since Obama signed the stimulus measure Feb. 17, 2009, according to the most recent BLS data for total nonfarm employment, the standard measure.

Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the job loss since enactment would have been worse by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million without the stimuls package. And that accurately reflects what CBO said.

Meanwhile, over on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland offered a misleading comparison of private sector employment under President George W. Bush and President Obama:

Van Hollen: It’s pretty fresh in their memory exactly what those Republican policies did to the economy. After all, during the whole eight years of the Bush administration, we actually lost over 600,000 private sector jobs. We’re now seeing positive job growth.

According to BLS’ seasonally adjusted figures, there were 111,624,000 people employed in the private sector at the end of February 2001, and 110,961,000 people at the end of January 2009. That’s a decrease of 663,000 jobs. It’s also true that the U.S. has experienced six consecutive months of positive private sector job growth since December 2009. But the number of people employed in the private sector under Obama is still down overall by 2.6 million from February 2009, his first full month in office, to June 2010.

Vice President Joe Biden, however, got his jobs numbers right on ABC’s "This Week." He noted that during the last six months of the Bush administration about 3 million jobs were lost:

Biden: Look, in the last six months of the Bush administration, they lost 3 million jobs. Before we got our economic package in place, another 3.7 million jobs were lost in the first six months we took office. The last six months of this year — the first six months of this year, we created almost 600,000 private jobs, you know, in the private market.

Private sector jobs climbed steadily during much of the Bush administration, but quickly plummeted from a December 2007 high of 115.6 million. The last year of the Bush administration (January 2008 through January 2009) saw a loss of 4.6 million jobs, with more than 3 million in the last six months. From there, according to BLS, private sector jobs dropped another 2.7 million between February and August 2009 — Biden overstated the loss. The first half of 2010 showed a rebound of 577,000, but overall private sector jobs are still down by 2.6 million from February 2009, and total nonfarm employment is down 2.4 million.

Illegal Immigrants in the Military?

In answering a question about Arizona’s law aimed at illegal immigrants, Rep. Clyburn said "many of these people have served in the military." But illegal immigrants aren’t allowed to do that.

Fox News’ Wallace referred to the administration’s lawsuit "against Arizona for its new immigration law cracking down on illegal immigrants," and asked Clyburn "are Democrats prepared to go to the American people and say, ‘This is what we stand for? We are going to oppose the Arizona law cracking down on illegals?’ "

Clyburn’s response included this:

Clyburn: We are against anything that could cut off a path to citizenship for hard-working people in this country.
I’m talking about people that just — don’t just work hard, many of these people have served in the military. They have been injured. They have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we did not require this kind of citizenship before.

The fact is, illegal immigrants don’t qualify for service in the U.S. military. According to "Today’s Military," a website produced by the U.S. Department of Defense:

DOD: U.S. citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 “Green Card”) may join the U.S. Military. For more information about citizenship, visit the U.S. Immigration and Nationalization (INS) website.

Violations are a serious matter. In 2005, a Marine Corps recruiter was convicted by a court martial for providing counterfeit documents to illegal immigrants so they could join. Gunnery Sergeant Hubert A. Lucas was sentenced to a year’s confinement, busted to private, and given a bad-conduct discharge. His sentence was upheld on appeal in 2007.

It’s true that — for legal residents — service in the U.S. military can expedite the "path to citizenship" that Clyburn mentioned. The DOD site states that "after service of three years, additional residency requirements for citizenship can be waived." But Arizona’s state law can’t change that, so Clyburn’s statement was misleading on that score as well. And it would have been misleading even if he had referred clearly to legal immigrants, which he didn’t.

Reagan’s Tax Cuts

Pence, on Fox News, also exaggerated the record of the Reagan administration tax cuts:

Pence: The reality is that during the Reagan years, for instance, we doubled the amount of revenue that we were sending to Washington, D.C., after the tax cuts took effect.

Not quite. Total government receipts from all sources increased 92 percent between fiscal year 1980 (which began a few months before Reagan took office) and fiscal year 1989, which overlapped the last few months of Reagan’s eight-year tenure. (See Table 2.1—Receipts by Source: 1934–2015.) And while that is nearly a doubling, it was not all due to economic growth resulting from income tax cuts, as Pence and other Republicans like to argue.

The increase includes Social Security payroll taxes, rates for which increased substantially under Reagan. Total receipts for all social insurance and retirement taxes went up 128 percent, while receipts from the federal income tax – to which the Reagan cuts applied – rose much less. Personal income tax receipts went up 83 percent, and corporate income tax receipts rose only 60 percent.

Hayworth Wrong on Border Security

In stating his support for Arizona’s new immigration law, Republican senatorial candidate J.D. Hayworth of Arizona made a blatantly false statement on CBS’ "Face the Nation" about the Obama administration’s enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hayworth: And let me talk specifically about that law because the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the cops on the beat overwhelmingly support that law. But it should come as no surprise that any number of people who advocate open borders and who advocate no enforcement of the law, including this current administration, are trying to throw up these roadblocks. So it’s not surprising but it will not hold water.

Of course, the administration doesn’t "advocate open borders." The Obama administration — as other administrations have in the past — spends billions on border security. In addition, President Barack Obama recently ordered 1,200 additional National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border and requested an additional $500 million supplemental appropriation for border security.

National Guard troops will begin arriving in Arizona on Aug. 1. The additional money for border security includes $297 million to hire 1,000 more border patrol agents.

Hayworth can dispute whether the administration is doing enough, but he cannot truthfully say that the administration advocates open borders and no enforcement.

A Vote of No Confidence

On NBC’s "Meet the Press," Rep. Van Hollen exaggerated the results of a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll looking at Americans’ confidence in Democratic and Republican members of Congress:

Van Hollen: Well, David, if you look at that Washington Post/ABC poll, the most, I think, interesting fact that came out of it, and the one that was right on the front page, was the fact that the American people have a lot less confidence in Republicans in Congress than they do in Democrats in Congress, and that’s not surprising.

According to the July 11 poll, 73 percent of those surveyed had just some or no confidence at all in Republicans in Congress, compared with 67 percent for congressional Democrats. That doesn’t seem like "a lot less confidence" to us. In fact, 32 percent said they had no confidence at all in Democrats in Congress, compared with 29 percent having no confidence in Republicans. And yet another way to interpret the poll’s results is that 69 percent of those surveyed had at least some confidence in congressional Republicans, compared with 67 percent for Democrats.

Repeal Reprise 

Republican Sen. Jon Cornyn of Texas suggested that a majority of Americans want to repeal the health care law:

Cornyn: Well, I’m wondering when our Democratic friends are going to take responsibility for the policies that they’ve forced down the throat of the American people, which have proven to be very unpopular, including the healthcare bill that the majority of the population think we ought to repeal and replace with something that will actually bend the cost curve down.

The senator may have been referring to a series of polls conducted by Rasmussen Reports that have consistently shown that a majority of those surveyed favor repealing the law. The poll conducted July 10-11 — the last one released before Cornyn’s appearance on the NBC talk show —  found that 53 percent favored repealing the law. That figure increased to 56 percent in the latest poll conducted July 16-17 and released July 19.

But we’ve addressed this issue previously when other Republicans have made similar statements, and what we said then remains true: Many polls show that most people don’t want to repeal the law. For example, a Bloomberg National Poll conducted July 9-12 found that only 37 percent of those surveyed want to repeal the law, while 61 percent actually prefer to leave it alone or wait and see how the law plays out.

Whose Party Is It?

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” National Tea Party Federation Co-founder David Webb denounced actions by tea party activists Dale Robertson and Mark Williams. In doing so, he declared that Robertson is not a tea party member and Williams is not a tea party leader.

Webb: Dale Robertson has been discredited and has been denounced and is not a tea party member. Mark Williams is not a tea party leader although he’s perceived as such by some in the media.

In fact, the tea party movement is made up of numerous grassroots groups across the country. As USA Today wrote: “[T]he movement is less a party than an anti-party, with no clear consensus about whom its national leaders are.” Membership cannot be granted or revoked by any one group – even though the National Tea Party Federation, an umbrella organization, announced July 17 that it had expelled the Tea Party Express from its ranks. The federation acted after Tea Party Express refused to “publicly rebuke” its spokesman, Mark Williams, for a blog post that Webb called “clearly offensive.” In his blog, Williams wrote a fictional letter from slaves to Abraham Lincoln in which Williams wrote that slavery was a “great gig.”

So, Webb is wrong when he says Mark Williams is “not a tea party leader.” Williams remains a spokesman for the Tea Party Express – one of the movement’s more high-profile groups. In March, Sarah Palin kicked off the Tea Party Express’ three-week bus tour with an event in Searchlight, Nev., home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Webb is also wrong to say that Robertson is not a tea party member. Robertson had been criticized by some within the tea party movement for a placard he displayed at a rally in 2009. But he remains a member of a group he founded, teaparty.org. The Washington Times in a Jan. 7, 2010, article described Robertson as “a founder of the tea party movement.” 

Wrong Division

On "This Week," Biden and host Jake Tapper argued about the past:

Tapper: You once advocated for a three way partition of Iraq because you were not confident that Iraq’s government was capable of having a strong central government. You said: ‘The most basic premise of President Bush’s approach that the Iraqi people will rally behind a strong central government headed by Maliki, in fact, looks out for their interests equitably is fundamentally and fatally flawed…’

So it’s — that was from 2007.

Is it possible that you were right back then…

Biden: No, it’s — I don’t want to debate history here, but I never called for a partition. I called for a central government with considerable autonomy in the regions.

Well, we’re willing to debate history. Biden is right that he didn’t call for a complete partition of Iraq, instead recommending that the country maintain a central government with three largely self-governing regions. In a 2006 New York Times op-ed he co-authored with Leslie Gelb, Biden wrote:

Biden, May 1 2006: The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests. …

The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.

But Tapper is also right. He never said that Biden called for the abolition of a centralized government in Iraq; he said Biden believed a "strong" central government was untenable. And it’s certainly the case that Biden presented his proposal as an alternative to Bush’s "futile effort to establish a strong central government in Baghdad."

— Viveca Novak, Brooks Jackson, D’Angelo Gore, Jess Henig, Eugene Kiely and Melissa Siegel