A TV ad from the Donald J. Trump for President campaign committee praises Trump’s first 100 days, but it stretches the facts on some of his accomplishments.
The ad exaggerates the president’s record on job growth, giving Trump credit for jobs created under President Barack Obama. It suggests that the Keystone Pipeline will help make the country more “energy independent,” but experts told us the pipeline’s potential impact in that regard would be very small. And it makes the unsupported claim that Trump’s tax cut plan is the “biggest tax cut in history.”
The ad, a $1.5 million TV ad buy that ran in major markets and online, starts with a narrator saying, “Donald Trump, sworn in as president one hundred days ago. America has rarely seen such success.” That’s opinion. But a few of the metrics the ad cites as proof of that success aren’t supported by the facts.
CNN has refused to run the ad because of a graphic in the ad that labels the media “fake news.” CNN said in a statement: “The mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false and per policy will be accepted only if that graphic is deleted.”
The ad doesn’t provide any citations or evidence of “fake news” coverage.
The narrator says: “Companies investing in American jobs again,” while an on-screen graphic reads, “Fact/500,000+ Jobs Created.” The fact is, 317,000 jobs so far have been created under Trump’s presidency.
The citation in the ad makes clear that it’s giving Trump credit for the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report for January, but those jobs were created while President Obama was in office. As we’ve explained before, the January job growth — which was 216,000 jobs — comes from a survey taken the week of the 12th day of the month.
The job growth trend also isn’t new to the Trump presidency. The economy added more than 250,000 new jobs a month in 20 of the 96 months under President Obama, and as of March, the U.S. has had 78 straight months of job growth.
The narrator says: “America becoming more energy independent,” while the words “Keystone Pipeline” appear on screen. The implication is that the Keystone Pipeline — which will transport crude oil from Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to refineries on the Gulf Coast — will make the U.S. more energy independent. But experts told us the pipeline project would likely have a very small or marginal impact on energy independence.
Trump signed an executive memorandum in January so that TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, could resubmit its permit application, which had been rejected by the Obama administration. (The citation in the ad is a New York Times article on Trump’s Jan. 24 memo.) The State Department issued the permit on March 24.
The yearslong battle over the pipeline has mainly centered on environmental issues. How would it affect the U.S. moving closer to being “energy independent,” that is, not relying on energy imports?
Canadian oil traveling through the pipeline would still be foreign oil, of course. But there could be a “marginal” contribution to energy independence “from any additional US production that is encouraged due to improving US oil transport infrastructure,” David Livingston, an associate fellow in the Energy and Climate Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told us.
Samantha Gross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative, told us that if there is an effect on energy independence from the pipeline, it would be “very, very small.”
Gross — who notes that she doesn’t think approving the pipeline was a bad decision — says the pipeline creates a safer and more efficient delivery method for oil that is coming to the United States now, but by train. “We’ve made it easier and efficient to ship that crude down to the states,” though the pipeline, “but as far as changing energy independence, I don’t think so,” she said.
Livingston said the pipeline project is more about “can the Keystone Pipeline on the margin contribute to a more optimized petroleum value chain” or system in the U.S.
He explained that U.S. refineries have more light crude than needed right now, and the pipeline will bring heavy crude. The U.S. may then keep more heavy crude because of the pipeline, and export more light crude. There could be an “energy security” benefit, as opposed to independence, if the Canadian oil “displaces crude from sources that are less desirable, from an energy security perspective, than Canada.”
Livingston also cautions that the impact of the pipeline depends on what happens with corporate tax reform and trade policy. And the pipeline won’t be completed until 2019 at the earliest.
The United States is moving toward energy independence even without the pipeline or changes to other Obama administration policies. A Jan. 5 report from the Energy Information Administration said the U.S. was projected to be a net exporter of energy by 2026 under a reference case, which assumed no change would be made to energy laws and regulations.
In late March, Trump signed an executive order “promoting energy independence.” It called for executive agencies to review “existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.”
‘Biggest’ Tax Cut?
The Trump campaign ad also credits the president with “the biggest tax cut plan in history.” But there aren’t enough details about Trump’s tax plan to make that determination. And the on-screen graphic drops the word “plan,” leaving the false impression that a tax cut has already been implemented.
The ad cites an April 26 Associated Press story published in the Boston Globe. That story described the tax plan, released that day, as “a one-page sketch short on detail.” The headline quoted the administration’s line that this would be the “biggest tax cut ever.”
Indeed, the plan so far is only a one-page summary, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in an April 27 interview with ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” said the administration wasn’t releasing specific numbers.
Mnuchin said that “the objective” was for the wealthy to not get an absolute tax cut, as measures such as the elimination of deductions would offset reductions in tax rates. When asked how the plan may affect the president’s personal taxes, Mnuchin said: “We’re going to get rid of lots and lots and lots of deductions. So making assumptions as to what the impact on any person’s individual taxes, until we get out the details, I don’t think makes sense.”
Nor would Mnuchin guarantee that middle-class taxpayers wouldn’t end up paying more. “I can’t make any guarantees until this thing is done and it’s on the president’s desk. But I can tell you, that’s our number one objective in this,” Mnuchin said.
The plan would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three, but it doesn’t say what the income cut-offs would be for those tax brackets. It also calls for: doubling the standard deduction; providing undefined “tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses”; eliminating deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable giving; eliminating the alternative minimum tax and estate taxes; and reducing the corporate tax rate, and pass-through rate for business owners who are taxed through their personal returns, to 15 percent.
But without more specifics, it’s impossible to analyze the cost or impact of the plan — or the administration’s claim that it would amount to “the biggest tax cut” in history.
“Because the Administration summary was, um, short, it is impossible to know what the president really wants to do, and what it would mean for taxpayers,” Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, wrote.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget gave a wide range for the potential cost of the plan, noting that “there are not enough parameters specified to provide a certain revenue estimate of the tax plan.” CRFB wrote: “But making some assumptions based on prior proposals, our best rough estimate suggests the specified parts of the plan would cost $5.5 trillion [over 10 years]. Assuming tax break limits only apply only to higher earners, that cost could be as high as $7 trillion; assuming credits and exclusions are eliminated as well as deductions, it would cost $3 trillion.”
As for what is currently the biggest tax cut in history, that depends on how it’s measured. A 2013 report on the revenue effects of major tax legislation, prepared by Treasury Department tax analyst Jerry Tempalski, shows that the distinction would either go to President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut or President Obama’s 2012 extension of most of the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts.
As we’ve written before, the best yardstick is the revenue effect as a percentage of gross domestic product, because, as Tempalski wrote in 2006, “it eliminates the effects of inflation, real economic growth, and the size of total federal receipts.” Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts had the largest impact over a four-year average as a percentage of GDP. It also had the largest impact as a percentage of federal receipts, again over a four-year average.
In terms of dollars, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 was the largest, costing $320.6 billion in 2012 dollars over a four-year average.
Trump’s tax plan could end up being larger than either of those two once the details are filled in. But the campaign can’t support that claim now.
Correction, Oct. 27: The U.S. had 78 straight months of job growth through March, not 77 as we originally wrote.