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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

To wrap up the Labor Day weekend, we present the Lindsey Graham edition of a holiday-delayed Sunday Replay, with cameos from a few minor characters.

Graham on Democratic Legislation

On NBC’s "Meet the Press," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was skeptical about two Democrat-backed measures, the health care bill and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Graham, Sept. 5: [The health care bill is] going to lead to a government monopoly in health care.  It’s going to bend the cost curve up, not down.  It’s going to increase — it’s going to make it harder for private sector people to offer health care to the employees.

Graham, a Republican, is right that an April report from the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that the health care bill would increase health care spending by a small amount (0.9 percent for 2011-2019).  But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects an increase in people with coverage overall.

As for a "government monopoly in health care," there are no provisions for government-provided or government-sponsored care in the bill, except for an expansion of the existing Medicaid program. Coverage on the health insurance exchanges will still be provided by private companies.

Graham’s view of the stimulus bill is equally pessimistic:

Graham, Sept. 5: The stimulus bill that was supposed to keep us at 8 percent or below unemployment has been an absolute disaster. It grew the government instead of creating private sector jobs.

It is certainly true that the economy remains in poor shape. Later in the program, Graham correctly noted that unemployment is currently at 9.6 percent. That’s higher than when the bill was passed. And while private sector employment has been growing for the last eight months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of jobs is still well below where it was when the stimulus measure was enacted.

But there’s good evidence that the stimulus bill mitigated what would have been an even more disastrous situation. The CBO estimates that the bill "[i]ncreased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million" compared to what would have happened otherwise. That’s a tricky thing to predict accurately, as CBO acknowledges. But the stimulus appears to have had a positive effect on the employment situation — even if it is still pretty dire.

"Conditions-Based" Withdrawal

Graham and "Meet the Press" host David Gregory disagreed over what the president has said about Afghanistan withdrawal:

Graham: I think it’s wrong for the president to say we’re going to withdraw next summer no matter what. I do believe with surge forces some areas of Afghanistan are going to be able to transition safely. But the president’s insistence that we’re going to withdraw without–no matter what the conditions are…

Gregory: But that’s not, that’s not accurate.

Graham: …is hurting our efforts in Afghanistan.

Gregory: He has said it’s going to be conditions-based.

Graham: No, here’s what he said, "We’re going to withdraw no matter what. How quickly we withdraw will be conditions-based." That’s different than saying, "We’re going to evaluate next summer and make the best decision." I do see a pathway forward for some limited withdrawal, but the president has announced to the world we’re going to begin to leave next summer, the only thing in question is how quick. That is a different way of approaching it. I would rather say, "Our goal is to transition next summer. We’ll see what the conditions are."

President Obama announced in a speech last December that the U.S. will "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," doing so "responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground." At a June press conference, he reiterated that July 2011 is the planned date to begin transition, not the date for full withdrawal, and added that there would be reevaluations of the plan in December of 2010:

Obama, June 24: We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. What we said is we’d begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government is taking on more and more responsibility. That is the strategy that was put forward. What we’ve also said is, is that in December of this year, a year after this strategy has been put in place, at a time when the additional troops have been in place and have begun implementing strategy, that we’ll conduct a review and we’ll make an assessment: Is the strategy working? Is it working in part? Are there other aspects of it that aren’t working? How is the coordination between civilian and military? Are we doing enough to build Afghan security capacity? How are we working effectively with our allies?

We’ll leave it to readers to judge how that differs from Sen. Graham’s desired strategy of saying "Our goal is to transition next summer. We’ll see what the conditions are."

Robin Hood on the Set?

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, on CNN’s "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," blamed the whole deficit on tax cuts given to the wealthy.

Trumka, Sept. 5: That’s what resulted in the deficit in the last 30 years. They gave more tax cuts to the rich. They did not give them to the people that needed it.

Well, not exactly. According to the latest word from CBO, the 2010 deficit will ring in at about $1.3 trillion. How’d we get there? We only need to go back 10 years, to the point when the Clinton administration was leaving office after four straight years of budget surpluses, with an even bigger surplus projected for fiscal year 2001. The New York Times broke down the swift reversal in a story last year. The numbers have changed a bit since then but the basic categories and their approximate shares of the damage have not. According to the newspaper’s analysis of CBO figures, the first turn for the worse came with the 2000 stock market crash, followed by the 2001 recession. Then there were Bush’s policies, such as the "tax cuts to the rich" that Trumka mentioned, although tax cuts went to the middle class as well. The Bush policies also included the Iraq war and a prescription drug benefit for Medicare patients, the largest expansion of Medicare since it was enacted. The current recession has added a big chunk, as did the fall 2008 Wall Street bailout, which President Bush signed and Obama supported. The stimulus bill, signed by Obama in Feb. 2009, tacked on still more.

Last Quibbles

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona stuck to the facts, as did Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Well, mostly.

McCain got ahead of himself when he said, "every transaction over $600 now has to be reported to the IRS, thanks to ‘Obamacare.’" It’s true that the new health care law will require every person engaged in a trade or business who pays a total of $600 or more to any one person or business to report the transactions to the Internal Revenue Service. (See pages 113-115 of the Joint Committee on Taxation’s plain-language explanation of the new law’s tax provisions.) But that’s not in effect "now," and it won’t take effect until Jan.1, 2012.

Kaine got it wrong when he called economist Mark Zandi "John McCain’s chief economics adviser." Zandi has strongly endorsed the stimulus measure that McCain now denounces as wasteful and ineffective. It’s true that Zandi was one of those who offered advice to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. But as we’ve reported before, he says he’s a registered Democrat, and he was just one of several economists who advised McCain. His chief economic adviser was Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

Correction, Sept. 10: We originally said the Wall Street bailout was signed into law in the fall of 2009. It was 2008.