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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

Pity the poor politicians and spinmeisters who had to don suits in the middle of a long weekend and populate the talk shows. They were up to their usual tricks, though: One Republican operative wrongly implied a crime by the White House; several guests talked about the debt or deficit in ways that were deceptive; and a House incumbent made the jobs picture under President Obama sound better than it is in reality.

Obama ‘Enemies List’

On CBS’ "Face the Nation," former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie wrongly claimed that a White House official had leaked confidential tax information about a business run by wealthy Republican activists:

Gillespie: There’s already a Treasury Department inspector general [I.G.] investigation of the White House trying to find out how it is they came to get access to private tax information by Koch industries. The Koch brothers are on their enemies list apparently because they opposed their agenda. … [H]ow is it that the president’s top economic advisor made that confidential information public?

It’s true that an investigation is under way at the request of GOP senators, but it’s not true that any "confidential information" was disclosed. As the Wall Street Journal reported about whether private taxpayer information was given out improperly:

Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6: The most likely answer still appears to be no, and the White House simply made a slip when a senior official suggested that Koch doesn’t pay corporate-level taxes. The company has issued a statement since then saying it does indeed pay corporate taxes.

The I.G. probe stems from a conference call with reporters in late August, in which a senior White House official, speaking anonymously, claimed that Koch Industries is an example of a “pass-through” entity that doesn’t pay taxes at the corporate level, but passes along its profits to individual owners who pay tax on their individual returns. But according to Koch, that was wrong information. The White House has said that the official’s statement “was not based on any review of tax filings” and that it won’t use this example in the future.


On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, made some misleading claims about the budget surplus.

In making the case for voters to mark their ballots for Democrats this fall, Wasserman Schultz said that congressional Republicans would return to "their failed policies of the past," adding that they "took a $5.6 trillion surplus to a $1.3 trillion deficit."

Did they really? It’s true that the Congressional Budget Office was already projecting that the deficit for fiscal year 2010 would be $1.2 trillion when President Barack Obama was sworn into office. It actually ended up being $1.4 trillion. But according to CBO’s historical budget figures, the surplus for the 2001 fiscal year was only $128.2 billion. (That’s the last budget year for which former President Bill Clinton was mostly responsible, and the last before Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.)

So where did Wasserman Schultz get a $5.6 trillion surplus? It was a projection CBO made back in its January 2001 "Budget and Economic Outlook" about the cumulative budget surplus for 10 years – fiscal years 2002 to 2011.

CBO: In the absence of significant legislative changes and assuming that the economy follows the path described in this report, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the total surplus will reach $281 billion in 2001. Such surpluses are projected to rise in the future, approaching $889 billion in 2011 and accumulating to $5.6 trillion over the 2002-2011 period.

You don’t need to be a math whiz to know that you can’t fairly compare a 10-year figure to a one-year figure.

The projection, of course, never materialized. In fact, by January 2002, at which point President George W. Bush had been in office a year, CBO had downgraded its cumulative surplus projection for 2002 to 2011 to just $1.6 trillion. It further reduced its estimate to just $336 billion in August 2002. CBO attributed the changes in its projections to new legislation (including the first of the Bush tax cuts), as well as increases in discretionary spending and a weak economy that caused a reduction in revenues.

Indebtedly II

Gosh, the federal budget seems to be so darn confusing for people in politics! Ed Gillespie again exaggerated the extent to which the national debt has increased under Obama, just like he did last week when we called him out for it:

Gillespie: [W]e know that this administration has incurred more debt in 18 months than President Bush’s administration incurred in eight years.

As we said last week, the debt at the beginning of the Bush administration stood at $5.7 trillion, and it had increased by $4.9 trillion by the time Obama took office. As of Oct. 7, the most recent figure available as of this writing, the debt stood at $13.6 trillion. So under Obama it has gone up a little less than $3 trillion, a big jump but much less than Bush’s eight-year total.

Those figures refer to the total debt outstanding, counting both the debt owed to the public and the debts in the Social Security trust funds and other obligations that the government owes to itself. But even counting only the debt owed to the public — the measure most economists use — Gillespie was still wrong.

Shortly after Bush took office the debt held by the public stood at $3.4 trillion, and by the day Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, it had increased to $6.3 trillion, an increase of a little under $2.92 trillion. As of Oct. 7, the most recent daily total available, it stood at $9 trillion, an increase of $2.7 trillion under Obama.

As things are going, it won’t be long before Gillespie’s statement becomes true, at least by one measure of the debt. But either way you look at it, he’s wrong to keep repeating this claim now.

Indebtedly III

NBC’s "Meet the Press" featured a debate between Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, who are battling for an Illinois Senate seat. We’re still researching some of the claims made in that debate, and we’ll post more tomorrow. But here, too, debt and deficit facts were mangled.

When asked what change President Obama has brought about, Kirk blamed the president for a deficit in the trillions. But that ignores the fact that President Bush left Obama with a trillion-dollar-plus deficit when
he left office:

Kirk: And while we did run deficits in the past, we now number our debt in trillions rather than in billions. And I think that represents a long-term danger, especially to the, the American dream.

Kirk uses debt and deficit interchangeably, but he’s actually talking about the deficit (the amount by which spending outpaces revenue year-to-year). He says our debt is now in the “trillions rather than in the billions,” but the debt has been in the trillions for years. The deficit, however, was in the hundreds of billions just a few years ago. In 2008, it was $458.6 billion. But Kirk’s implication that Obama is to blame for boosting the deficit above the trillion mark ignores the fact that the deficit for fiscal year 2009 was already projected to be $1.2 trillion when Obama took office, according to the Congressional Budget Office. As we’ve said, the deficit that year ended up being $1.4 trillion.

Homes, Jobs

During one exchange on Fox News, host Bret Baier asked Wasserman Schultz whether she supported a "freeze or moratorium of foreclosure sales." The congresswoman told House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia that, unlike her home state of Florida, his state was not seeing "thousands and thousands of people being ejected from their homes." But according to RealtyTrac, a company that monitors foreclosures throughout the country, Virginia had 30,906 homes that were in foreclosure. That’s not close to Florida’s total of 267,714 homes, but it still counts as "thousands and thousands."

The congresswoman also repeated the misleading claim that "we literally have now created 863,000 private sector jobs just this year alone, more jobs than the entire Bush administration created." There has been an increase of 863,000 jobs in the private sector just this year, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And we did, in fact, lose 673,000 private sector jobs under Bush. But the comparison is misleading: It compares a favorable slice of Obama’s tenure to Bush’s eight years in office. In reality, roughly 3 million private sector jobs have disappeared since Obama became president.