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Clinton Plays Partisan Game

It wasn’t enough that a well-respected macroeconomics firm concluded Hillary Clinton’s proposals — if fully implemented — would add millions of jobs while Donald Trump’s would cost millions of jobs. Clinton said that report came from “somebody who advised John McCain back in 2008, so you know that, no, he’s not a Democrat.” Actually, he is a Democrat.

In fact, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, contributed the maximum amount allowable — $2,700 — to Clinton’s primary campaign.

For years, Zandi has been ensnared in a partisan game. Democrats frequently cite his work to bolster their arguments, and then quickly note that Zandi was once an adviser to McCain’s presidential campaign. In other words, the Democrats imply, even one of their guys says our plan is better.

That’s misleading, as we and other fact-checkers have noted time and again.

But last week, Clinton upped the rhetoric another notch, from misleading to downright false. She said that Zandi “advised John McCain back in 2008” and then added, “so you know that, no, he’s not a Democrat.”

Zandi’s role with the McCain campaign has frequently been overplayed. And Zandi confirmed to us that he is a longtime registered Democrat and that he contributed the maximum amount allowable — $2,700 — to Clinton’s primary campaign.

Some serious caveats to Clinton’s claim are also in order. Moody’s Analytics concluded that if Clinton were able to fully implement the plans she has outlined in her campaign, the economy would add 10.4 million jobs during Clinton’s presidency. But that’s 3.2 million more than it projects would be added under current law. Moreover, Moody’s Analytics doesn’t expect Clinton would be able to pass all of her proposals through a divided Congress. “Given the current political discord,” Moody’s expects Congress would put up “substantial roadblocks” to Clinton’s policy proposals, and under its “most-likely scenario,” a Clinton presidency would result in employment going just “a bit higher” than it otherwise would — putting the U.S. on a path to create 1.5 million more jobs over 10 years than is expected under current law.

The False Narrative of Zandi’s Politics

Reflexively identifying Zandi as “an adviser to McCain” or “McCain’s chief economic adviser” — as Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, Tim Kaine, wrongly did during his speech at the Democratic convention — has been an ongoing political game played by leading Democrats for years to try to add another layer of credibility to reports from Zandi’s firm deemed favorable to their position.

Zandi was hired to provide economic data to the McCain campaign’s economic advisory team and was not a direct adviser to McCain, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was the McCain campaign’s director of domestic and economic policy (aka the actual chief economic adviser to McCain). Clearly irritated, Holtz-Eakin told us in a phone interview that he was weary of and fed up with the false narrative about Zandi’s politics being “pushed for political reasons.”

“This ends today,” Holtz-Eakin said. “It’s wrong. … It’s not fair to Mark.”

Holtz-Eakin said he reached out to Zandi during the 2008 campaign to ask him to provide reports on economic and financial market data. Holtz-Eakin said he — not Zandi — then used that data to inform his policy recommendations to McCain.

Holtz-Eakin said Zandi did not talk to, meet with or otherwise directly advise McCain.

Zandi “advised me and me alone,” Holtz-Eakin said.

Holtz-Eakin said he hired Zandi because, “he’s a good economist, extremely knowledgeable about macroeconomics. … I have a lot of respect for Mark.”

For his part, Zandi noted that he was, in fact, named as an economic adviser to the McCain campaign.

“It’s a matter of public record, and it was broadcast by the campaign,” Zandi told us, pointing to an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2007 about McCain’s advisory committee of economists. The article noted that Zandi is a registered Democrat but quoted him saying that he has “done work for both Democrats and Republicans.”

“I devoted a significant amount of time and energy to the campaign, providing almost daily written briefings on the performance of the economy and financial markets, offering policy suggestions on how to respond to the developing crisis (including on mortgage restructuring and fiscal stimulus), and participating on numerous calls with the entire economics team,” Zandi told us via email.

In the realm of political infractions, highlighting just this one line from Zandi’s resume is perhaps a parking violation. But it has proven to be an intractable one, and it has been remarkably resistant to fact-checkers’ efforts over the years to set the record straight.

In September 2010, for example, we corrected Kaine, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, when he referred to Zandi as “John McCain’s chief economics adviser.” Zandi had strongly endorsed the economic stimulus measure that McCain denounced as wasteful and ineffective. In 2011, we wrote about it again when President Obama referred to Zandi as “John McCain’s former economist” when citing Zandi’s report about jobs created by the stimulus.

Zandi’s role with the McCain campaign was again highlighted by Democrats in 2012, when on CNN, Zandi said of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax plan, “the arithmetic doesn’t work as it is right now.” Sen. Bernie Sanders even joined in — referring to Zandi as the “former economic adviser to John McCain” –when Zandi issued a report finding that the budget proposed by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, would result in job losses.

So when Moody’s Analytics issued reports this year finding Clinton’s plans would do more for jobs than Trump’s, Clinton and Kaine wasted little time in reminding voters that this was McCain’s guy.

In a June speech in Ohio, Clinton said, “One of John McCain’s former economic advisers actually calculated what would happen to our country if Trump gets his way. He described the results of a Trump recession. We would lose 3.5 million jobs.” And it has become a regular talking point in her speeches ever since.

During a speech in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Aug. 8, Clinton said, “One independent expert — actually, the economist who advised John McCain in 2008, so you know, not somebody that has any pre-disposition towards our side.”

And then in a speech in Kissimmee, Florida, on Aug. 8, Clinton went one step further.

Clinton, Aug. 8: And one particular economist who looked at his plans, somebody who advised John McCain back in 2008, so you know that, no, he’s not a Democrat. He’s an independent economic analyst, and he basically said if Trump were able to implement what he’s proposing, heaven forbid, it would cost 3.5 million jobs. He would actually reduce jobs. And then to be fair, he looked at what I’m proposing, and he said what I’m proposing would create at least 10 million new jobs in the first four years.

Most recently, in a speech in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Aug. 16, Kaine referred to Moody’s as “the best economic analysis firm in the country,” adding, “They’re not Democrats. The chief economist, Mark Zandi, was John McCain’s head economist in 2008.”

Zandi set the record straight in an email to FactCheck.org.

Zandi, Aug. 10: Yes, I was an economic advisor to the 2008 McCain campaign for President. Doug Holtz-Eakin was his principal economic advisor. I provided daily reports on economic and financial market conditions, and I also provided policy advice on how to respond to the developing financial crisis. Yes, I’m a registered Democrat and I contributed $2,700 to the Clinton campaign during the Democratic primary. I have contributed in the past to Democrats and Republicans.

Public records back that up. According to records from the Federal Election Commission, Zandi donated $2,700 to the Clinton campaign in June. In recent years, he also has donated to former Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak and to Katie McGinty, a Pennsylvania Democrat running for the Senate. Zandi also contributed to Sen. Arlen Specter in 2009, but after he had switched his party allegiance to become a Democrat. In the 2008 presidential election, Zandi contributed to Republican John McCain, though he declined to tell the Washington Post whether he voted for McCain or Obama.

Zandi said he will leave it up to the public to decide whether the Moody’s reports on Clinton and Trump are independent.

“The studies were done by a team of Moody’s Analytics economists using the same methods and models that we use for all of our work,” Zandi said. “They are available to the public, and those who are interested should read them and make up their own mind as to their independence.”

Again, Zandi is a highly regarded economist in the field of macroeconomic analysis, and we have no position on the content of his reports. But enough already with trying to boost the value of Moody’s Analytics reports by making it seem like Zandi is a Republican.

 Massaging the Moody’s Analytics Report

Now, about those reports. Clinton is spinning them some to present their findings in a light most appealing to her cause.

According to Clinton, the Moody’s reports found “if Trump were able to implement what he’s proposing, heaven forbid, it would cost 3.5 million jobs. He would actually reduce jobs. And then to be fair, he looked at what I’m proposing, and he said what I’m proposing would create at least 10 million new jobs in the first four years.”

The reports actually considered three scenarios, starting with forecasts of the economic impact should all of the candidates’ proposed policies be implemented — what the reports called the “face value” scenario. Then, Moody’s considered a version in which the candidates get what they want “but on a smaller scale” — what the reports call the “Lite” scenario. And finally, the reports considered a “most-likely scenario” if the candidate were elected, given that Congress would be unlikely to go along with all of the candidate’s proposals.

So when Clinton said she was citing the report’s finding on “if Trump were able to implement what he’s proposing,” she was referring to the “face value” alternative.

That’s fair: Candidates’ plans are often evaluated based on what they propose, even if it is politically unlikely that all of those plans would come to pass if they were elected. But there’s a major caveat to Clinton’s claim that Moody’s Analytics concluded her proposals “would create at least 10 million new jobs in the first four years.” That’s 3.2 million more jobs than if current laws were to remain in place.

Moody’s Analytics: During her presidency, the economy would create 10.4 million jobs, 3.2 million more than under current law.

Moody’s also cautioned that it’s highly unlikely Clinton would be able to enact all of her proposals.

Moody’s Analytics: Given the current political discord, it is reasonable to expect that the next Congress would put up substantial roadblocks to Secretary Clinton’s economic policy proposals. The current Republican-controlled Congress supports tax cuts and reform, and less non-military spending, not higher taxes and more spending. And it has been largely steadfast in its opposition to larger deficits. It is thus difficult to envisage any future Congress acquiescing to Secretary Clinton’s proposals. In this scenario, the next Congress makes the secretary’s proposals more politically workable. It would be a potential baseline, or most-likely scenario, if Secretary Clinton became president.

Under what it calls the “most-likely scenario,” Moody’s projects an economy under Clinton “similar to that experienced under current law” with more modest job growth. “Employment is as expected a bit higher,” the report states, than under current law. “By 2026, there are 1.5 million more jobs” than would be created under current policies.

Clinton accurately described the dire economic projection Moody’s forecast if Trump were able to implement all of his proposed policies at face value. If his policies were fully implemented, Moody’s predicts the economy would suffer an extended recession beginning in early 2018. The policies would also result in 3.4 million job losses over the course of Trump’s presidency. Under current law, the report states, the economy would otherwise be forecast to create 6 million jobs over the same period. In other words, that’s a swing of more than 9 million jobs.

But as is the case with Clinton, Moody’s does not expect Congress will go along with all of Trump’s proposals. The jobs projection under the “most-likely scenario” under Trump is not as dire. According to this scenario, “Employment barely budges in the first two years, and over his four years as president just over 2.8 million jobs are created. This is about half as many jobs as would be created if there were no changes to current economic policy.”

In other words, under the most-likely scenario for both candidates in the Moody’s reports, a Clinton or Trump presidency would see job growth — though under Trump the job gains would be less than under Clinton.