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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

All of the misstatements that crept into the Sunday shows this weekend (at least, all the ones we found) had to do with the economy, the topic that is most on voters’ minds as the midterm elections approach.

Beware the Third Rail

White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod made an incorrect claim — and another slightly exaggerated one — during his appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

While defending the Obama administration’s economic policies to host David Gregory, Axelrod claimed that a recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal survey showed that nothing made people more uncomfortable about a candidate than his or her support for the economic policies of former President George W. Bush:

Gregory: If this is a question about choices, Americans have lost confidence in this president’s direction to fix the economy.

Axelrod: Listen, you look at your same poll, and I’ve looked at your poll, obviously, and the thing that people said that made them most uncomfortable with a candidate was whether they supported the economic policies of George W. Bush.

That’s not quite true. The thing that made those surveyed most uncomfortable was whether a candidate supported phasing out the current Social Security system in favor of allowing workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market (which may be why Democrats are trying hard to tie their GOP opponents to such a policy as the election nears).

According to the results of the survey, 39 percent of those surveyed were "very uncomfortable" with a congressional candidate who supported former President Bush’s economic policies, while 49 percent were "very uncomfortable" with a candidate who supported "phasing out Social Security" and "allowing workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market." (The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.10 percent.)

Adding in those who had at least "some reservations" about candidates who supported either position changed the results only slightly. For instance, 62 percent of those surveyed had reservations about or were very uncomfortable with a candidate who supported Bush’s economic policies, compared with 68 percent who had similar feelings about a candidate who supported phasing out the current Social Security system in favor of a system that allowed contributions to be invested in stocks.

In any case, the president can take a little comfort from the poll. Fifty percent of people surveyed had reservations about or were very uncomfortable with a candidate who supported President Obama’s economic policies, 12 points better than the comparable Bush number.

Job Loss Hyperbole

Axelrod also slightly exaggerated U.S. job losses during the last months of the Bush administration, claiming that 800,000 jobs went away in Bush’s final month in office, and 4 million jobs over his last six months:

Axelrod: But the reality remains, David, that when we took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs, in the month of January, when we took over from the last administration. We lost 4 million jobs in the last six months of the last administration.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusted figures, the U.S. lost 779,000 jobs in January 2009, which was Bush’s last month in office. The U.S. lost approximately 3,526,000 jobs in Bush’s last six months, about 474,000 jobs less than Axelrod claimed.

Spinning the ‘Summer of Recovery’

Obama’s new chief economic adviser tried to play down some White House spin from June. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Austan Goolsbee said Vice President Joe Biden’s references to a "Summer of Recovery" weren’t meant to predict a broad economic boom.

Goolsbee: [T]he vice president was talking about the summer of recovery in reference to the Recovery Act, that you would see the creation of a series of infrastructure and other projects ramping up over the summer, and you did see that.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace: It didn’t mean economic recovery? . . .

Goolsbee: .. . I think it’s a little unfair of you to characterize the vice president that way.

Wallace: Well, I must tell you, I think most people thought, when the vice president talked about the summer of recovery, he wasn’t just talking about, quote, recovery jobs. I think he was talking about the economy was going to recover.

So we checked what Vice President Biden actually said on June 17. Goolsbee has a point. The full title of the vice president’s report on the “Summer of Recovery" refers to "Project Activity Increases," not to a broader recovery. And it focused, as the title suggests, on expected increases in projects financed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  Biden didn’t even use the phrase “Summer of Recovery” when he briefed reporters on the report that day.

But Biden did say that the increased tempo of stimulus spending during the summer would move the economy in the desired direction:

Biden, June 17: [W]e’re going to measure success based upon whether or not there’s growth in the middle class, those people aspiring to the middle class have a fighting chance to get there, and those who get there have a fighting chance to stay there. We’re a long way from that yet. We’re a long way.

But the assertion I’m making today is there is no doubt that the economic policy we put in place in this Recovery Act is helping us move in that direction.

And that’s the way the White House spun it as well. In the White House blog, Ron Sims, deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, wrote:

White House blog, June 17: This summer is sure to be a Summer of Economic Recovery.

The unemployment rate for May then stood at 9.7 percent. It is still stuck at 9.6 percent. So, score this one for Wallace. Goolsbee wasn’t exactly rewriting history, but he was trying to rewrite the over-optimistic White House spin from June.

Big Claims About Small Biz

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said that “about half of all small business income will be taxed” if the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush are allowed to expire, as scheduled, for the top two income tax brackets. Host Bob Schieffer replied that “only 3 percent of … all the small business people” would be affected by the tax hike.

Boehner responded:

Boehner: Well, it may be three percent, but it’s half of small business income. Because, obviously, the top three percent have half of the — the gross income for those companies that we would term small businesses. And this is why you don’t want to — you don’t want to punish these people at a time when you have a weak economy.

Both are nearly correctly citing a report by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, but the JCT notes that not all of those in the top two tax brackets are reporting income from what could be considered “small” business.

The JCT said in its July 12 report that nearly 750,000 taxpayers in the top two brackets would report net positive business income in 2011. That’s “three percent of all taxpayers with net positive business income,” the JCT said, and their total business earnings make up half of the $1 trillion in positive business income that will be reported to the IRS. But the JCT said some of these businesses were not exactly “small.”

JCT: These figures for net positive business income do not imply that all of the income is from entities that might be considered “small.” For example, in 2005, 12,862 S corporations and 6,658 partnerships had receipts of more than $50 million

Also, as we’ve said before, some of those reporting business income may not be businesses at all – but rather, persons who do freelance or consulting work on the side, or executives who get partnership distributions. We can’t say for sure how much of the business income reported by these top wage earners is truly that of "small businesses."

For the Record

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer made a couple of claims on CNN’s "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" that made us pause. One is an exaggeration: He said that "2 million, 3 million, 4 million jobs have been created under the Recovery Act," otherwise known as the stimulus bill. As we’ve written, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts the number at somewhere between 1.4 million and 3.3 million.

Making the argument that the economy is slowly improving, the Maryland Democrat also said that the various stock market indices were moving in the right direction. "The stock market, Dow, S&P, Nasdaq, up now over 60 percent."

We’re not sure if he meant that all three – the Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite – were up by more than 60 percent since Obama took office, or just the Nasdaq Composite; different punctuation in the sentence could change its meaning. We contacted Hoyer’s office but haven’t yet heard back. Since there appears to be no video of this portion of the show on CNN’s site, which might have helped us figure out what Hoyer was saying, we’ll simply state for the record that since Obama took office, the Dow is up 31.6 percent, the S&P 500 has climbed 37.7 percent, and the Nasdaq has seen the greatest increase, 55.7 percent. In any case Hoyer was overstating the good news, either by just a little or by a fair bit.

Update, Sept. 14: We heard back from Hoyer’s communications director, Katie Grant, after posting this item. According to Grant, when Hoyer said the markets were "up now over 60 percent," he was using March 9, 2009 as his starting point, and he was referring to all three indices. That was the worst day for the Dow and the S&P 500 in about 12 years, and the worst for the Nasdaq in more than six years. With that date as the beginning of his time frame – which he didn’t specify in his comments on CNN – Hoyer is nearly dead on: the Dow is up by just a fraction under 60 percent, the S&P 500 by 64 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite by almost 77 percent.