The Fact Checker: Budget

Lindsey Graham’s claim that defense spending topped 5 percent of the economy ‘in times of peace’

Lindsey Graham’s claim that defense spending topped 5 percent of the economy ‘in times of peace’

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “Mr. Hale, what percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] are we spending on our national defense in this budget?”

Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert F. Hale: “In ’15 it’ll be about 3.2 percent for DOD.”

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Republican operative targets Democrat for expressing interest in a deficit plan touted by Republicans

Republican operative targets Democrat for expressing interest in a deficit plan touted by Republicans

“Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love. Sending Alex Sink to Washington guarantees that seniors right here in Pinellas County are in jeopardy of losing the Social Security and Medicare benefits that they have earned and deserve.”

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Is suspending the debt limit a ‘blank check’ for Obama?

Is suspending the debt limit a ‘blank check’ for Obama?

“I think it showed that all the Democrats in the Congress were completely willing to give the president a blank check to borrow whatever he wanted. Most of the Republicans weren’t.”

--Former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), president of the Heritage Foundation, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 16, 2014

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A guide to dueling claims about the Obama budget

(Susan Walsh/AP)

“When you look at the budget, you’ll see $1.9 trillion worth of new tax revenue and $1.5 trillion worth of more spending.”

 --House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Feb. 15, 2012

 “The president’s budget has $1 of revenue for every $2½ of spending cuts.” 

 --White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Feb. 12, 2012

Are these guys even talking about the same document?

 All presidential budgets are political documents—and it is easy to play politics with numbers. That’s why such a gap in the rhetoric is even possible. Each side can make a case for their spin, though much of it is dubious.

 Let’s take a look at how they do it.


The Facts

 First of all, notice that Boehner and Lew are only speaking about one side of the ledger--either spending increases or spending cuts. The Republicans then emphasize the tax increases, while the White House deemphasizes them.  We also are working with 10-year budget forecasts, even though the budget is rewritten every year, which increases the chance for mischief.

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President Obama and the defense budget


“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”

— President Obama, speaking at the Pentagon , Jan. 5, 2012

We’ve been wondering about this quote every since the president said it six weeks ago, when he spoke about the Defense Strategic Review at the Pentagon. We had previously questioned one of the statements in his speech, but we were not able to fully check this one until we could actually see the numbers in the White House budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year released Monday.

We take no position on the right level for the defense budget. But, with numbers in hand, let’s examine the president’s assertions and whether there has been any sleight of hand. Warning: Lots of budget numbers ahead.

The Facts

Under the debt ceiling deal reached by the president and congressional leaders last summer, the defense budget must be cut by $487 billion over the next 10 years. Additional cuts may be mandated because a deficit-cutting congressional committee could not reach agreement, but since all concerned say they want to avoid that scenario, let’s keep our focus on the initial round of defense spending reductions.

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Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address: an accounting

(Associated Press)

Every president announces a slew of initiatives in his State of the Union address. Here, in order of delivery, is a summary of the key proposals, pledges or priorities announced by Obama a year ago —and what happened to them.

When we did this exercise a year ago, Obama had an impressive success rate in 2010, which was a clear benefit of having commanding majorities in both houses of Congress. We predicted then that with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, his batting average in 2011 was sure to fall, and this accounting demonstrates that to be the case. In this election year, one can expect even more gridlock and stalled initiatives.

The Proposals

Obama: “We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

The administration’s budget ideas were dead on arrival in 2011, with House Republicans especially targeting the administration’s plans to spend more on clean energy technology. The high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra, for which the administration had guaranteed $535 million in loans, certainly did not help matters. The House and Senate both cut the administration’s clean-energy proposals, though the Democratic-controlled Senate was more sympathetic.

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Santorum’s record on fiscal policy (Fact Checker biography)

(Mary Ann Chastain/Reuters)

“I’ve voted toughly over the years to cut spending and to rein in entitlements. I’ve led on those things.”

— Rick Santorum, during Dec. 29, 2011, interview on NBC’s “Today Show”

“What happened after I left Congress was budgets began to explode. When I was in the Senate I voted for tough budgets, I voted for restrictions on spending, and made sure that that didn’t happen.”

— Santorum answering a question about his record of earmark spending during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jan. 1, 2012

“I’m the only one in this race who didn’t increase an entitlement like Gov. Romney did in Massachusetts.”

-- Santorum, during campaign stop in Amherst, N.H., Jan. 7, 2012

Santorum’s comments suggest that he pushed conservative fiscal policies while serving in Congress. Fellow GOP presidential hopefuls Ron Paul and Rick Perry have challenged him on his record of promoting earmarks spending, and the first two quotes above represent his typical defense. The last comment represents a jab he took at Romney, suggesting he never increased entitlements as the former governor did with his Massachusetts health-care reform law.

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White House budget spin on the House GOP payroll tax bill


“Their proposal ... makes harmful cuts to things like education, that strengthen middle-class security. Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations, by protecting their loopholes and subsidies.”

--White House spokesman Jay Carney, Dec. 9, 2011

 “What I understand is that in the Republican proposal you're talking about, they didn't spell out where the cuts would come. And I get that they were trying to hide the fact that this would be the result. … The result would be cuts in nondefense discretionary programs, education and clean energy, veterans programs. That's the effect of their proposal.”

--Carney, Dec. 12, 2011

There are few areas more confusing than the federal budget. In many ways, it is a funhouse mirror of numbers, allowing politicians to make claims that are designed to mislead and confuse voters.

The above quotes by White House spokesman Jay Carney provide a   case study of this technique.

On Friday, reading from a prepared statement, he accused the House Republicans of making “harmful cuts” to education in order to fund their version of an extension of the payroll tax cut. On Monday, he said that “they didn’t spell out where the cuts would come from.” But, he still insisted the result of their plan would be cuts in “education and clean energy, veterans programs.”

 It sounds pretty dreadful. Is it true?


The Facts

 The House Republican bill to extend the payroll tax for one year has a number of elements that concern the White House, but let’s keep the focus on the spending cuts. The best source for this information is the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the legislation, since the CBO is the nonpartisan scorekeeper.

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