A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay


Surprisingly – considering that the topic du jour was taxes, which means numbers – the flubs and fibs on the Dec. 12 talk shows were few, and relatively minor.

Not So Out-of-Context

On "Meet the Press," the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, claimed host David Gregory had taken a quote by White House economic adviser Larry Summers "a little out of context." Not so. Goolsbee and Gregory were discussing the tax deal President Barack Obama had worked out with congressional Republicans.

Gregory: This week the president’s economic adviser, Larry Summers, warned of the consequences of inaction here in a briefing. I’ll put part of what he said up on the screen. "Failure to pass this bill," Summers said, "in the next couple weeks would materially increase the risk that the economy would stall out and we would have a double-dip [recession]." Now, for months this administration, the president’s economic advisers, have been downplaying, dismissing the idea of a double-dip recession. And yet here, when it comes to building political support for this tax deal, suddenly this is the, the fear. Is this a scare tactic?

Goolsbee: Well, look. I, I think that takes Larry’s comment a little out of context. … I don’t think we should get into the semantics of whether it’s what–how much it raises the probability of double dip. I think we should just recognize not acting is very bad for the economy, and acting would be good for the economy.

Gregory correctly quotes Summers, who even repeated his view for reporters at a White House press conference:

Summers, Dec. 8: Failure to pass this bill in the next — failure to pass this bill in the next couple weeks would materially increase the risk that the economy would stall out and we would have a double-dip.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: And I would say this. I think that most people — I think you’ve seen —

Q: You believe a double-dip recession if this bill does not pass?

Summers: — what I said. What I said was that it would significantly increase the risk.

Close, But Slightly Spun

Goolsbee also said that economic forecasters have said: " ‘We believe the [gross domestic product] growth rate will be one point higher.’ " Some did, but not all.

Economists did generally agree that the tax deal would help the economy, but many estimates of GDP growth fell short of the “one point” Goolsbee touted. Goldman Sachs economists said “the likely upgrade would be between ½ and 1 percentage point to 2011 real GDP growth.” Macroeconomic Advisers said the growth would be “roughly 1/2 to 3/4 percentage point” in 2011. Mark Zandi from Moody’s Analytics estimated the deal would boost GDP by 1.25 percentage points.

It’ll Get You Every Time

Most rules have exceptions, which is why use of words like "every" and "never" put us on hyperalert. On CNN’s "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod went a little too far in touting support for the tax deal.

Axelrod: On the flipside, if we do get this done, every economist from right to left has said this would mean a big boost for our economy, and so I believe that ultimately people will come together around this plan.

Many economists do support the plan. But not all of them think it will give the economy a "big boost." Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist with the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote that "little in this deal promotes economic expansion and job growth."

That’s also the view of Paul Krugman, the Princeton economist and New York Times columnist. He talked about the deal on ABC’s "This Week."

Krugman: The trouble is, there is not a lot of — there is some real stimulus in here, but not much. The — the unemployment insurance extension, for sure. The payroll tax cut, maybe. The rest of the stuff is not really stimulus.

And the cost — I mean, if you think about cost and benefit, this is a very low benefit per cost.

There are more, but you get the idea.