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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Fish Stories

Even when a fisherman catches a big one, the fish tends to grow each time the story is told. Politicians are like that, too, especially when Election Day approaches. President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave us recent examples of that kind of hyperbole. Pelosi improved on reality, when she claimed Bush created fewer jobs in eight years than Democrats have done in eight months. And Obama exaggerated the GOP’s stalling tactics, when he claimed that "every single" one of his nominees had been subjected to a filibuster.

Pelosi’s Job Numbers

The speaker of the House said at a Tuesday night news conference: "It’s important to know that in the first eight months of 2010, more jobs were created than in the eight years of the Bush administration."

Really? Well, no, not quite. In the first eight months of this year, the economy gained a net total of 723,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During Bush’s eight years, the gain was 1,080,000 jobs.

Pelosi’s staff said she was referring only to private sector jobs, omitting any change in government employment. By that measure, she would be right. BLS shows a loss of 673,000 private sector jobs under Bush, and a gain of 763,000 private sector jobs for the first eight months of 2010.

Pelosi failed to specify that she was speaking only of private sector jobs. We’ve heard other Democrats using only those private sector numbers in their jobs claims. But either way, the numbers are cherry-picked, focusing only on the most favorable time period. During Obama’s total time in office, private sector jobs have declined by 3,091,000.

Obama’s Overstated Complaint

On Friday in a press conference, the president complained that the Republican minority in the Senate "insists on a 60-vote filibuster on every single person we’re trying to confirm." Again, not quite.

Obama: Sept. 10: It’s very hard when you’ve got a determined minority in the Senate that insists on a 60-vote filibuster on every single person that we’re trying to confirm, even if after we break the filibuster it turns out that they get 90 votes.

It’s true that Republicans have blocked and delayed many of Obama’s nominees. The Legal Times reported that a 99 to zero vote on one federal court appointment "follows a pattern of circuit nominees waiting several months for votes in the full Senate, only to be confirmed eventually without dissent." The Associated Press cited a "determined Republican stall campaign" for the fact that Obama has "put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago." Even some Republicans have complained about obstruction tactics.

AP, Sept. 7: Sen. Lamar Alexander took to the Senate floor in July to plead with his own leaders for a vote on an appeals court judge supported by Alexander and fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.

Still, has "every single person that we’re trying to confirm" been blocked by Republican filibuster? Certainly not. A few judicial nominees, for instance, were confirmed in August after having been nominated just a few months earlier, in May — including Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. A search on the Library of Congress’ Thomas.gov site shows that about 700 nominees, including ambassadors, U.S. marshals and other officeholders, were confirmed by voice vote.