Obama’s misleading pitch for the jobs bill

at 06:00 AM ET, 09/15/2011


(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“Everything in this proposal, everything in this legislation, everything in the American Jobs Act is the kind of proposal that in the past, at least, has been supported by Democrats and Republicans. Everything in it will be paid for.”

— President Obama, Sept. 14, 2011, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

We had not intended to wade into this issue, thinking the answer was self-evident, but we have been bombarded with requests from readers who want to know whether the president’s claims are correct.

 Has “everything in this legislation” been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans?

 Is everything in his $447 billion proposal paid for?

 Seriously, if you really believe any of that, we have the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you. But, to be sure, the president is only following time-honored Washington traditions when he makes both of these claims.

 

The Facts

 We asked an administration official for documentation that both Democrats and Republicans previously supported every single proposal in the jobs bill. We received an impressive-looking 30-page document, complete with quotes and links to bill votes and the like.

But there is a difference between “bipartisan” and a veneer of bipartisanship. All too often politicians will claim that their idea has bipartisanship support when in fact only a handful of people from the other party have indicated their support. That’s the case with several key items of the president’s job package.

 Tax breaks for small businesses and for hiring veterans is a sure-fire crowd pleaser in Republican circles, but many of Obama’s ideas generate at best lukewarm enthusiasm. Republican support is particularly thin on proposals to help prevent teacher layoffs or modernize schools.

 Just two GOP senators — Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine — voted for a bill in 2010 that included $10 billion for state governments to save teacher jobs. In 2008, just 27 House Republicans voted for a bill to modernize and make repairs to public schools. And then only 16 Republicans joined with Democrats to preserve $6.6 billion in school construction funding when an effort was made to cut the funds.

As evidence that Republicans support tax breaks for companies that hire new workers, the administration cites House passage of the HIRE Act, which passed 217-201 in March 2010, with just six Republican votes. The bill did a little better in the Senate, attracting 11 GOP votes.

The administration singled out the president’s 2009 stimulus bill as proof that Republicans have supported investing in low-income youth and adults. But that law (which contained a number of items similar to provisions in the new bill) was opposed by every House Republican — and garnered only three GOP votes in the Senate. One of those senators, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, later switched parties and became a Democrat; the other two were Collins and Snowe again.

 Moreover, the president proposes to pay for the jobs package with a series of tax increases that he has repeatedly proposed — and seen rejected, even when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. There is virtually no support in the Republican Party for any of these ideas, though the administration document strains to provide a handful of quotes of Republican lawmakers musing about possibly looking at eliminating oil industry tax breaks or loopholes for corporate jets.

 Strikingly, within the 30-page document, the administration cannot demonstrate any support for the biggest part of the “pay-for” plan — a proposal to raise $400 billion over 10 years by limiting itemized deductions for couples making more than $250,000 and individuals earning more than $200,000. That’s because Republicans have rejected the idea — both now and in the past.

After we pointed out this gap in the document, the administration official sent us quotes from a Bipartisan Policy Center deficit-reduction report that was endorsed by former Republican lawmakers calling for the elimination of itemized deductions (and the standard deduction) and replacing it with credits for mortgage interest expenses and charitable contributions. This is a very different concept than the president’s plan — and we are not sure if “former” officials really count as evidence of bipartisan support.

  It is worth noting that Obama would spend about 80 percent of the $447 billion in the first year — but would take 10 years to pay for it. (The new spending would also add about $36 billion in net interest payments, administration officials said.)

Under the budget rules in Washington, it is perfectly acceptable to claim you paid for everything as long as the costs and revenues line up over 10 years. But, in effect, taxpayers would be paying for it on an installment plan.

 

The Pinocchio Test

 As we said, Obama is following a time-honored tradition when he claims Republicans have supported these ideas in the past — and that he has fully paid for his plan.

 On the tax side (which is Title IV of the bill text submitted to Congress), Republicans have not supported many of these ideas at all, especially the item that raises most of the revenue. On the spending side, key proposals have earned very few Republican votes in the past. So the president’s claim of bipartisan support is a real stretch. We also don’t understand how recycling proposals that have been rejected in the past can support the claim of having fully paid for the package.

Two Pinocchios

 

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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