October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney has done a heckuva job with his jobs plan.

At Tuesday night’s town-hall debate, the Republican presidential nominee replied with confidence when 20-year-old student Jeremy Epstein asked the candidates for reassurance that he’d be able to find work after graduation.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

“I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years,” Romney said. “It’s going to help Jeremy get a job when he comes out of school.”

The candidate’s statement, a version of a claim he has made for months on the stump and in a new ad, was bold, precise — and baseless.

Hours earlier, my Washington Post colleague Glenn Kessler had reported that the source the Romney campaign provided for the jobs figure was a trio of studies that either didn’t directly analyze Romney’s policies or were based on longer time horizons than four years.

Top Romney economist Glenn Hubbard acknowledged to Kessler that the three studies did “not make up the 12 million jobs in the first four years,” and the Romney campaign issued a statement minutes before the debate that expanded the jobs time frame to “the next four years and beyond.”

But the claim, though discredited, had become a key part of Romney’s message — and he went right ahead and repeated the falsehood during the debate.

Much of the burgeoning fact-check function in the news media is subjective; Romney’s tax cut claims, for example, are impossible to assess with certainty because he doesn’t say what deductions he would disallow and what other assumptions he makes. But the jobs claim is black and white: The evidence the Romney campaign furnished to support the claim did not do so.

Romney’s economists do think the economy would add 12 million jobs under his policies over the next four years, and they issued a white paper in August claiming that. But this paper is not based on Romney’s five-point plan, and elements of that plan, such as cracking down on China and consolidating job training, aren’t even mentioned in the paper. Rather, the 12 million figure is based on the economists’ assumptions that Romney’s policies would mean that “the current recovery will align with the average gains of similar past recoveries.”

This forecast is not terribly controversial, although claiming that Romney’s policies will cause this growth is equivalent to the rooster believing his crow causes the sun to rise. Several independent economists, and President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, project the economy will add 12 million jobs over the next four years without factoring in Romney’s policies.

More controversial is Romney’s linking of his five-point plan to the 12 million jobs. “I have a plan,” he said in a recent stump speech, “that’s going to get this economy going and create jobs, jobs and more jobs — 12 million jobs.” He often says that his tax policies would create 7 million jobs and his energy policies would generate 3.5 million to 4 million positions.

In a recent ad, Romney, speaking to the camera from a factory floor, says his “energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs,” his tax plan “creates 7 million more,” and “expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs.”

But when Kessler asked for substantiation, the campaign referred him to a Rice University professor’s study for evidence that Romney’s tax plan would generate 7 million jobs — which turned out to be a 10-year number. The evidence for the energy policy creating 3 million jobs comes from a Citigroup Global Markets study that did not analyze Romney’s plan and was assuming an eight-year horizon. The remaining 2 million jobs, Kessler wrote, were justified by a 2011 International Trade Commission report that also didn’t analyze Romney policies.

“The big point is the 3+7+2 does not make up the 12 million jobs in the first four years (different source of growth and different time period),” Hubbard acknowledged in an e-mail to Kessler.

Kessler called Romney’s claim a bait-and-switch, a characterization Obama echoed when he spoke at a rally in Iowa on Wednesday afternoon. “Turns out his jobs math isn’t any better than his tax math,” Obama charged.

About the same time, Romney took the stage in Chesapeake, Va. This time, he dropped the reference to 12 million jobs. “I’m going to get this economy going,” was the extent of his vow. It wasn’t flashy, but it had the virtue of being honest.

danamilbank@washpost.com

For more Washington Sketch columns, visit washingtonpost.com/milbank.