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Bill Clinton's speech stays fuzzy on some facts

Published September 7, 2012 12:31 pm

Fact check • Many claims were based on questionable math.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Here is a roundup of some key claims former president Bill Clinton made in his speech this week to the Democratic National Convention.

Obama "has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade. For every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1."

By the administration's math, Obama's budget has nearly $3.8 trillion in spending cuts, compared with $1.5 trillion in tax increases (letting the George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire for high-income Americans). Presto, $1 of tax increases for every $2.50 of spending cuts.

But virtually no serious budget analyst agreed with this accounting.

The administration, for instance, counts $848 billion in phantom savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though it had long made clear those wars would end.

In other words, by projecting war spending far in the future, the administration is able to claim credit for saving money it never intended to spend. (Imagine taking credit for saving money by not buying a new car every year, even though you intended to keep your car for 10 years.)

The administration also counts $800 billion in savings in debt payments (from lower deficits) as a "spending cut," which is a dubious claim. We didn't realize that debt payments were now considered a government program.

A number of other games are being played, so fake money is being used to pay for real spending projects. In effect, most of Obama's claimed deficit reduction comes from his proposed tax increases.

"We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president's job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here's another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero."

Obama's jobs plan was more of a rhetorical device aimed at Republicans than a real plan. He even used $1 trillion in savings that had been agreed to with Republicans that was supposed to be in his budget to pay for this plan. The jobs plan also would be funded with the imaginary money from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The administration argued that the budget had never passed, so the money could be used again.)

Get the picture? Clinton praises Obama for his sound budget math and his jobs plan, even though the money to fund the budget and the jobs plan is used twice.

We have previously noted the problems with Obama's claim that 4.5 million private-sector jobs have been created. (It is a cherry-picked figure.) As for whether 1 million jobs would be created through Obama's jobs plan, that is merely a fuzzy and optimistic projection. Bloomberg News surveyed 34 economists and found that the median estimate was that the plan would add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls.

"For the last two years, after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years, health-care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years."

Clinton tried to attribute this decline in health costs to the nation's new health-care law, but much of it has not yet been implemented. Most economists say the slowdown is more likely because of the lousy economy.

Indeed, government actuaries in June published an article in Health Affairs predicting that health-care costs would begin to spike as the legislation was implemented. "For 2011 through 2021, national health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.7 percent annually, which would be 0.9 percentage point faster than the expected annual increase in the gross domestic product during this period," the article said.

"Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what's the jobs score? Republicans, 24 million; Democrats, 42."

The statistic comes from a May report by Bloomberg News. Clinton did not brag about it, but the chart shows that Clinton was responsible for half of the total for Democrats - 21 million jobs over eight years. On the GOP side of the ledger, Ronald Reagan accounted for 63 percent of his party's total during his two terms in office.

This demonstrates why this is a nonsense fact: It's a bit silly to suggest that a president is directly responsible for every job lost or created as soon as he takes the oath of office. Clinton, for instance, arrived in the White House just as a recession was ending - and just as the computer revolution was about to begin, boosting productivity and spawning huge fortunes in the stock market.




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