This is so perfectly symbolic of the White House’s strategy on sequestration, that I had to highlight it. This is the second time the Washington Post fact-checker has awarded the administration Pinnocchios (four this time) in one week, for the same lie. Which is to say, wow, this is a really big, fat lie.
First, the substance of the claim in question, made in backpedaling response to Glenn Kessler’s first fact check on the issue of janitors:
“You know, those Capitol janitors will not get as much overtime. I’m sure they think less pay, that they’re taking home, does hurt.”
— Gene Sperling, director of the White House economic council, on ABC News’ “This Week,” March 3, 2013
“On the issue of the janitors, if you work for an hourly wage and you earn overtime, and you depend on that overtime to make ends meet, it is simply a fact that a reduction in overtime is a reduction in your pay.”
— White House spokesman Jay Carney, news briefing, March 4
The verdict: complete malarkey, as Joe Biden might say.
First of all, we should note that the White House’s story kept evolving as we reported last week’s column. It’s almost as if the president’s aides had to scramble to come up with reasons why the president could be correct, without actually knowing the facts.
So, when we forwarded to White House aides an AOC memo saying no furloughs were planned, White House aides latched onto a line about overtime reductions. For a couple of hours, we were also told that the janitors were on contract — and contracts were being curtailed. But that line of reasoning turned out to be incorrect. Then, after the statements from the Capitol were issued, there was no longer any response.
But, as seen by the quotes above, the talking point about “overtime” did not fade away.
AOC officials declined to discuss janitor compensation, but SAA officials were willing to share details. Given that the AOC and SAA janitors essentially work side by side, it is reasonable to assume that the pay statistics are roughly similar.
Bret H. Swanson, assistant sergeant at arms for operations and the manager of cleaning technicians, said 27 people are employed on the night cleaning shift and 16 people on a day shift; a majority of the cleaning takes place at night. There is a differential for the overnight shift, so the night janitors earn an average of $51,644 a year and the day janitors earn an average of $49,481.
And the overtime pay? It averaged $304 per employee in fiscal year 2012 and $388 per employee thus far in the current fiscal year. “Cleaning technicians do not earn what I would consider to be a great deal of overtime pay,” Swanson said.
In other words, overtime amounts to only pittance of the overall pay — about $6.50 a week on top of wages of $1,000 a week. That’s much different from Carney’s claim of having to “depend on that overtime to make ends meet.”
Indeed, even before the sequester was implemented, Capitol Hill janitors have already earned more overtime pay than they did in all of last year. Swanson said the higher amount so far this year is because of “the demands of beginning a new Congress and hosting a presidential inauguration during a weekend that also included a federal holiday.”
The Obama administration has overreached three times in the past 10 days in attempting to illustrate the negative impact of the sequester spending cuts in the short term, giving fodder to those seeking to play down the impact of the cuts.
On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that major airports had seen lines ballooning to 150-200 percent their normal size. The Transportation Security Administration later clarified that it was not yet seeing longer-than-normal checkpoint lines, though Customs and Border Protection told CBS News there had been increased wait times at two airports due to reduced staffing.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, however, that “officials representing a dozen major airports said there were few if any unusual flight delays or lines at security or customs checkpoints.” That included an official at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, which is one of the two airports that had been specifically cited by Customs and Border Protection.
On Friday, meanwhile, President Obama said that janitors at the U.S. Capitol would receive a pay cut due to the sequester cuts. Carlos Elias, the superintendent of the U.S. Capitol building and the Capitol Visitors Center, quickly emailed employees to say “This is NOT TRUE,” adding that “The pay and benefits of EACH of our employees WILL NOT be impacted.”
The prior Sunday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.” He later acknowledged that he “misspoke” after fact checkers found no evidence for the claim.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked what was being done to ensure the figures were not being exaggerated. Carney responded by pointing to long-term projections of job losses from economic analysts and “numerous examples already of what’s going to happen,” including plans to furlough 750,000 Department of Defense Workers.
Pressed about the issue again Tuesday – specifically why Napolitano did not check her facts before making her claims regarding longer lines – Carney said it is a “fact” that “there will be negative effects on our air traffic because of the reductions in FAA man hours, air traffic controllers in particular.”
“And efforts to muddy that fact by, you know, singling out a certain statement…we can do that, but there are real people out there who will be delayed or who will have their wages cut or…who will lose their jobs as a result of the sequester, while folks in Washington are arguing over whether this particular impact happened when we said it was going to happen or a week later or a month later,” he said.
No wonder the president is “recalibrating.” The fact that he lied about all this is getting dangerously close to being common knowledge. It’s even seeped into the Buzzfeed coverage, which means people who pay no attention to politics are even hearing this loud and clear.
Tim Carney offers a heads-up for those who might just now be noticing this trend:
And, some snark from Dave Freddoso: