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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

‘Spenditol’ Silliness

A conservative Christian group makes some wildly improbable claims about government spending in a satirical ad targeting Democrats.

The ad mimics the format of spots for prescription drugs, touting "Spenditol" as a cure for the "chronic pain" of rising gasoline and food prices and unemployment worries. While we do get the joke, and hate to be killjoys, we are obliged to note that the ad strays from the facts here and there. It claims that the 2009 stimulus law "didn't create jobs" and that Washington will have to borrow "trillions more" from China. Neither claim is supported.

The ad's sponsor is Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, which says it aims to "bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy." The ad has been seen nationally on Fox News and CNN, and versions of it have run 384 times in four states, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group. Those versions are aimed at Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana. The ads urge viewers to call their senator and "tell him to stop spending it all."

We have no quarrel with using a bit of exaggeration when the humorous intent is clear. Obviously, Washington is not "spending it all," for example. It's spending an estimated 24 percent of the entire economy, but as we recently pointed out, the level has been the highest since World War II. So we aren't going to quibble with the basic premise of the "Spenditol" satire. It should be clear to anyone that the ad is expressing an opinion that spending is too high, and viewers are free to agree or disagree as they please.

But the ad's humor sugar-coats two unlikely claims that unwary viewers might accept at face value, and thus be misled.

  • The ad's smiling female actor says Washington borrowed $800 billion for a "stimulus that didn't create jobs." That's not true, according to most economists. While one recent study concluded that the stimulus resulted in a net loss of jobs, all others we're aware of conclude that it resulted in sizeable gains. In a July 2010 report, economists Mark Zandi and Alan S. Blinder estimated the gain (compared with where employment would have been without the spending) at 2.7 million jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, reflecting mainstream economic analysis, estimated the gain at between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.
  • The actor also cheerfully says that "Spenditol" is "so popular in Washington that we have to borrow — I mean import — trillions more of it from China." That's not likely. China held slightly less than $1.16 trillion in U.S. debt as of the end of May, according to the Treasury Department — just under 12 percent of the total debt. For China to take on an additional $2 trillion on top of that — the bare minimum for the "trillions" claim to be true — would amount to an increase of 172 percent. And the CBO projected that over the next 10 years — even assuming President Obama's budget was approved — the debt held by the public would rise 131 percent.

Our recommendation: Don't take this "Spenditol" ad on an empty brain. Side effects could include accepting bogus claims as true.

— Brooks Jackson