WaPo: Five Pinocchios for Obama in two days on economic claims

A few days ago, I criticized the usually reliable Glenn Kessler for refraining on assigning his Pinocchios to clearly false representations about the meaning of the Hobby Lobby decision. Over the last couple of days, though, the Washington Post fact checker has become very productive in reviewing claims from Barack Obama. Today, Kessler gives Obama two Pinocchios for claiming that Republicans were putting 700,000 jobs at risk by holding up a bill dealing with the Highway Trust Fund:

If Washington were working the way it’s supposed to, Congress would be fixing that.  We’d be investing in the things that help America bring more good jobs to our shores.  Instead, here’s what’s going on in Washington.  There’s something called the Highway Trust Fund — I suspect this crew is familiar with it.  It helps states support transportation projects.  If Congress fails to fund it, it runs out of money.  That could put nearly 700,000 jobs at risk, including more than 17,000 right here in Virginia.  More than 100,000 active projects across the country — projects where workers as we speak are paving roads and rebuilding bridges and modernizing our transit systems — those projects would be slowed or stopped.  And some states have already had to put some projects on hold because they don’t trust Congress to get its act together.  So remember that the next time you see a job site sitting idle.

There are actually two issues at play with the Highway Trust Fund — reauthorization and funding a revenue gap. Reauthorization has to take place at the beginning of the next fiscal year, but that’s a foregone conclusion; Congress won’t kill the golden pork goose any time soon, and it’s broadly popular with public as well. The acute issue is about adding funds to make up for a shortfall in federal gas-tax revenue caused in part by federal pressure to improve gas efficiency in vehicles, as well as a fixed-amount tax per gallon rather than a percentage, which therefore doesn’t get indexed to inflation, as Kessler notes. This gap is what has prompted some in Congress to propose a mileage tax, a very bad idea with all sorts of privacy implications, not to mention collection and enforcement issues.

The funding gap in this case falls far, far short of impacting 700,000 jobs, though. In fact, even the progressive Center for American Politics, using the widest possible interpretation of CBO findings, only finds less than a third of that figure would be impacted:

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that $15 billion will be needed in fiscal 2015 to keep the trust fund solvent. Administration officials say that even before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, payments to states may need to be slowed or curtailed as the trust fund gets close to the $4 billion mark.

Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, took the CBO estimate and calculated that a failure to provide that additional funding would result in as many 185,000 layoffs. Not all of these are construction jobs; the figure contains jobs “indirectly” created from the funding (such as suppliers to highway construction) and “induced” jobs, which are jobs created as construction workers and others spend their earnings.

That’s a lot of jobs, but it’s far fewer than 700,000.

So why is the administration’s number so much higher? That’s because the White House is assuming that the entire trust fund would not be authorized at all — even though just about no one in Congress supports that position.

Kessler gives Obama two Pinocchios for confusing reauthorization with stopgap funding and using old numbers despite newer data. That’s one less than Obama got yesterday from Kessler for claiming that House Republicans were blocking “every serious idea to strengthen the middle class“:

But here’s the odd thing: on the very day the president recorded his weekly address, the office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) releasedthis photo under the happy headline of “What Working Together Looks Like.” It showed Boehner, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other lawmakers signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which streamlines job training programs,  so it could be sent to Obama for his signature.

“This morning, leaders of both parties in the House came together to get something done for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle to find work in today’s economy,” the news release said.

Obama had earlier said he looked forward to signing the bill. “This bipartisan compromise will help workers, including workers with disabilities, access employment, education, job-driven training, and support services that give them the chance to advance their careers and secure the good jobs of the future,” he said in a statement on July 9. “Today’s vote helps ensure that our workers can earn the skills employers are looking for right now and that American businesses have the talent pool it takes to compete and win in our global economy.”

Kessler goes on to list a number of bills passed by the House and entirely ignored by the Senate in this session. Perhaps one could quibble about whether they were “serious,” but most of them passed with some Democratic votes and have popular support outside of Washington DC. Kessler cites the Keystone XL pipeline bill as one such example:

But, let’s face it, the Republicans have their own list of bills passed in the House but which have failed to progress in the Senate, which they also claim are serious and enjoy popular support. For instance, one pending bill would approve construction of  the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found is supported by Americans by a 3 to 1 margin. The House list, displayed on Boehner’s Web site, includes nearly 50 bills, of which only a handful have been signed by the president into law.

Kessler gives Obama three Pinocchios for this claim, calling it “rhetorical overkill.” It’s part of the new White House strategy to paint Obama as a victim of Republican bullying, which falls apart on any kind of scrutiny — especially the kind Kessler supplies here. The unserious player in this drama is Obama.

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