“So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class.”

–President Obama, weekly address, July 12, 2014

This has become a standard line in the president’s oratory, as part of making his case that he’s “acted this year to help working Americans on my own– when Congress won’t act.”

The president started on this path on June 27, during a speech in Minnesota:  “You know, sometimes I’m forcibly, you know, politic about how I say things, but I’m finding lately that I just want to say what’s on my mind. So, let me just be clear I want you to think about this, so far this year the Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class.”

And Obama repeated it on July 1: “So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every serious idea to strengthen the middle class.”

But here’s the odd thing: on the very day the president recorded his weekly address, the office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) released this photo under the happy headline of “What Working Together Looks Like.” It showed Boehner, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other lawmakers signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which streamlines job training programs,  so it could be sent to Obama for his signature.

“This morning, leaders of both parties in the House came together to get something done for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle to find work in today’s economy,” the news release said.

Obama had earlier said he looked forward to signing the bill. “This bipartisan compromise will help workers, including workers with disabilities, access employment, education, job-driven training, and support services that give them the chance to advance their careers and secure the good jobs of the future,” he said in a statement on July 9. “Today’s vote helps ensure that our workers can earn the skills employers are looking for right now and that American businesses have the talent pool it takes to compete and win in our global economy.”

What’s going on here?

The Facts

Obviously, one person’s “serious idea” may not match other person’s—especially in the opposite party. In the weekly address, Obama specifically mentioned “lifting the minimum wage, fair pay, student loan reform.” But that does mean that the few bills that have passed Congress this year are not serious?

Here’s a sampling of other bills that passed this year that aided the middle class. (We don’t vouch for the claims made about these bills, but simply note them to indicate that proponents thought they were important.)

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which advocates claimed could sustain as many as 500,000 new jobs.  “The first bill I’ll sign today is the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, also known as WRRDA, which will put Americans to work modernizing our water infrastructure and restoring some of our most vital ecosystems, the president said when he signed it.  “During my State of the Union address, I asked Congress to pass this bill by the summer, and I congratulate this outstanding crew for getting it done.”

The Farm Bill, which the White House called “a jobs bill, an innovation bill, a research bill, and a conservation bill.” The White House claimed it would generate $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested and put together a graphic to share on Twitter and Facebook that showed “Five ways the Farm Bill strengthens the economy.”

There were also bills like Home Heating Emergency Assistance Through Transportation Act and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which took steps to help speed up delivery of propane and home heating fuel and delay flood insurance premium increases, respectively.

Small beer? Perhaps. And certainly both the Farm Bill and the water resources bill were only passed after lengthy negotiations and delays, which Democrats blame on the Republicans and vice versa.

But, let’s face it, the Republicans have their own list of bills passed in the House but which have failed to progress in the Senate, which they also claim are serious and enjoy popular support. For instance, one pending bill would approve construction of  the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found is supported by Americans by a 3 to 1 margin. The House list, displayed on Boehner’s Web site, includes nearly 50 bills, of which only a handful have been signed by the president into law.

The White House did not offer an on-the-record comment.

The Pinocchio Test

We make no judgement on which side has the surplus of “serious ideas,” but the president is engaging in rhetorical overkill. Certainly this congressional session has resulted in few major laws. Perhaps he could make a case that Republicans have blocked many bills that he has sought—or even that his most prized initiatives have been stymied.

But to claim that “every serious idea” has been blocked is going too far–given that the president lauded at least three bills as aiding the middle class. (Update: In a speech the morning this column appeared, the president adjusted his language appropriately: “Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down some of the ideas that would have the biggest impact on middle-class and working families.”)

Three Pinocchios

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