Fact-checking Obama: Math required

During Barack Obama’s speech last night, my good friend Kevin McCullough made this observation on Twitter:

I responded:

So far, the fact checkers don’t seem to have had a field day, but they did show up … and a few even brought their calculators.  National Journal and ABC News both offered nearly-immediate fact checks in the wake of the speech, and all three focused on one of the biggest whoppers Obama told:

You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without wrecking our middle class. Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion.

Here were their fact checks:

  • NJ “As The Washington Post’s fact checker pointed out after former President Clinton made the same claim on Wednesday night, “The $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress. So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.” Furthermore, Obama has been roundly criticized for counting $700 billion in savings from war money that no one expected to be spent anyway now that the wars are winding down.”
  • ABC – “The first $1 trillion in cuts are already on the books. The president, as he noted in his speech, negotiated them with Congress last summer. More cuts are banked by letting the Bush tax cuts expire (the top marginal rate would return to 39.5 percent from 35 percent) and closing a number of arcane loopholes, all of which, in theory, would have a multiplier effect as the resulting interest payments on the national debt would be lessened. Then there’s the issue of military spending. The Congressional Budget Office has already worked nearly a trillion dollars of war expenses into its long-term deficit projections. President Obama, by ending the war in Iraq and winding combat operations in Afghanistan (by 2014), is subtracting that as-yet-unspent money from the future debt load.”

Actually, the issue is much simpler than that.  Obama claimed to be reducing the deficit, but his plan actually projects deficits of nearly $10 trillion over the next ten years.  The worst budget deficit signed by his predecessor was slightly over $500 billion.  Obama is talking about reducing the increase in deficits, not real reductions or elimination of deficit spending.  The lowest deficit in his 10-year projection is higher than the highest Bush-signed deficit.  (To a certain extent, Republicans do the same thing, but we’re not fact-checking Republicans today.)

 The AP picked up on another deficit claim with better success.  Obama tried to argue in the same breath that the war he plans to end in Afghanistan will both reduce the debt and pay for another massive stimulus.  As their fact-check noted, that would be a neat trick, since the war spending and Obama’s stimulus plans all rely on increasing debt:

OBAMA: “I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges, schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.”

THE FACTS: The idea of taking war savings to pay for other programs is budgetary sleight of hand, given that the wars were paid for with increased debt. Obama can essentially “pay down our debt,” as he said, by borrowing less now that war is ending. But he still must borrow to do the “extra nation-building” he envisions.

He made a similar statement in his State of the Union address, and it is no less misleading now than in January. And the savings appear to be based at least in part on inflated war spending estimates for future years.

ABC also scoffed at the “terribly flawed” logic:

This statement gives the impression that money “saved” from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is sitting idly in our back pocket, just waiting to be spent on the “right” stuff. It’s as if you decided to cancel $10,000 in plane tickets to Barcelona, then got up the next day and used your “savings” to put a down payment on a car. The logic is terribly flawed. One of the main reasons the debt has soared like it has in the past decade is that the government has paid for its military adventures with borrowed cash. This money the president is speaking about here doesn’t exist unless it’s added, again, to the overall debt load.

And while promising to cut deficits.

CNN’s fact checker called Democrats out on jobs math as well on Wednesday, scolding speakers for repeating Obama’s claim of having added 4.5 million jobs, a claim Obama repeated last night:

The number Castro cites is an accurate description of the growth of private-sector jobs since January 2010, when the long, steep slide in employment finally hit bottom. But while a total of 4.5 million jobs sounds great, it’s not the whole picture.

Nonfarm private payrolls hit a post-recession low of 106.8 million that month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figure currently stands at 111.3 million as of July.

While that is indeed a gain of 4.5 million, it’s only a net gain of 300,000 over the course of the Obama administration to date. The private jobs figure stood at 111 million in January 2009, the month Obama took office.

And total nonfarm payrolls, including government workers, are down from 133.6 million workers at the beginning of 2009 to 133.2 million in July 2012. There’s been a net loss of nearly 1 million public-sector jobs since Obama took office, despite a surge in temporary hiring for the 2010 census.

Let’s be fair and count from the recovery, since the free-fall that occurred in January didn’t come from Obama’s presidential policies.  Overall employment in June 2009 was 140.003 million, according to the A-1 table of the BLS.  Employment as of August 2012 is 142.101 million, an increase of 2.098 million in 39 months.  That works out to an average monthly growth of just 53,795 jobs per month, far below the 125K-150K level needed to keep up with population growth.  In the private sector,  the difference between June 2009 and August 2012 is 3.258 million, which comes to an average jobs growth of 83,538.  Either way, it’s not keeping up with current population growth, let alone making up those jobs that were lost in the Great Recession.

National Journal also questions his jobs-addition math in manufacturing:

OBAMA: “We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years.”

THE FACTS: Obama has claimed an increase of some 500,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 29 months. But this is cherry picking by the president. From the beginning of Obama’s term 3 1/2 years ago, manufacturing jobs have declined by more than 500,000, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Manufacturing jobs have been on a steady decline for nearly two decades.

Even though there has been a modest uptick in manufacturing jobs this year, unless there is a major turnaround, it seems unlikely that Obama’s goal of 1 million new manufacturing jobs can be reached by his target date of 2016.

In other words, even in those few areas where Obama offered some specifics, they were just like the rest of his speech.  They didn’t add up … just like Obamanomics in general.