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Annenberg Political Fact Check
  • Analysis of President Bush's State of the Union Address
  • DNC State of the Union Attack

Note that the title of the first article is misleading since the information and data included suggests that President Bush did not misstate information but rather applied it to the point and perception he wanted to convey.  To refer to a well-worn cliché, to state that there are 4 ounces of water in an 8-ounce glass is a fact.  To refer to it as half full or half empty is accurate in both cases but each conveys a different perception.

At any rate, the article contains some interesting, important, and positive information.

 

 

Misstatement of the Union

The President burnishes the State of the Union through selective facts and strategic omissions.

February 1, 2006

Summary

The President left out a few things when surveying the State of the Nation:

  • He proudly spoke of "writing a new chapter in the story of self-government" in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the number of democracies in the world is growing. He failed to mention that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan yet qualify as democracies according to the very group whose statistics he cited.
  • Bush called for Congress to pass a line-item veto, failing to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as unconstitutional in 1998. Bills now in Congress would propose a Constitutional amendment, but none have shown signs of life.
  • The President said the economy gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, failing to note that it had lost 2.6 million jobs in his first two-and-a-half years in office. The net gain since Bush took office is just a little more than 2 million.
  • He talked of cutting spending, but only "non-security discretionary spending." Actually, total federal spending has increased 42 percent since Bush took office.
  • He spoke of being "on track" to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. But the deficit is increasing this year, and according to the Congressional Budget Office it will decline by considerably less than half even if Bush's tax cuts are allowed to lapse.
  • Bush spoke of a "goal" of cutting dependence on Middle Eastern oil, failing to mention that US dependence on imported oil and petroleum products increased substantially during his first five years in office, reaching 60 per cent of consumption last year.

Analysis

We found nothing that was factually incorrect in the President's Jan. 31 State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. However, we did note some selective use of statistics. We also found that Bush omitted some relevant facts that tended to make the state of the union look less rosy than he presented.

 

Bush: In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government -- with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom.
 

Democracy & Freedom

The President spoke of the growing number of nations in the world that live under democratic governments, and said "we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President's numbers come from Freedom House, a nonprofit group that tracks levels of democracy and freedom around the globe.

It is true, just as the President said, that there were 122 democracies in the world in 2005, but Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet counted among them by Freedom House.

Also, Freedom House rates neither Iraq nor Afghanistan as "free." It rates Iraq as "not free," with scores on civil liberties and political freedom as low as those of Egypt. "Iraq gets points taken away for the chaos that is associated with the insurgency, among other things," Freedom House's Arch Puddington told FactCheck.org. Afghanistan is rated somewhat better but still only "partly free."

We asked Puddington why the highly publicized elections in Iraq and Afghanistan don't yet qualify those countries to be counted as democracies. "It’s a flawed way of thinking to believe that elections alone guarantee democracy," Puddington said. "You have to have a reasonable rule of law, a reasonable amount of freedom of the press, personal security.  You have to have a fair and consistent electoral process in place, and you have to have the people who are elected then effectively governing the society."

 

Bush: I am pleased that members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto.
 

Line Item Veto

The President called for enactment of line-item veto power, but failed to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as a violation of the Constitution in 1998, after President Clinton exercised the power once. The vote was 6 to 3, and one of the three Justices who wanted to uphold the power was Sandra Day O'Connor, whose resignation from the high court took effect earlier on the same day Bush spoke. The President offered no explanation of how the veto might be revived by legislation in a form that the current, more conservative Supreme Court would approve, nor did he call specifically for a Constitutional amendment.

This was Bush's first mention of a line-item veto in a State of the Union address, though he and several of his subordinates have made mention of his support for such a veto throughout his presidency. Congress has so far shown very little interest, however. A bill to amend the Constitution to create a line-item veto has been introduced in every Congress during Bush's presidency, but all died in committee without so much as a hearing. In the current Congress, Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina introduced such a bill in late September to amend the Constitution to include the line-item veto, and it currently sits dormant in the Judiciary Committee. There are no co-sponsors. In the House, Republican Rep. Todd Russell Platts of Pennsylvania introduced a similar bill in the House on Sept. 21, 2005 which was promptly referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it st

 

Bush: Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs -- more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.
 

Jobs

The President noted that the US has gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. That's true. However, most of that gain merely made up for the 2.6 million jobs that were lost during Bush's first two-and-a-half years.

The graph below shows the cumulative change in jobs starting in January 2001, when Bush first took office, and ending in December 2005, the most recent month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released figures for total nonfarm employment. (New figures for January are due to be announced Feb. 2.)

 

However, when the President said "the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world," he was standing on firm ground. The US unemployment rate for December was 4.9 per cent. That's significantly lower than most other industrialized democracies. Unemployment in Germany stands at 9.3 per cent, France at 9.2 per cent, Canada at 6.5 per cent. Only Japan's rate of 4.6 per cent and the United Kingdom's 4.8 per cent were better than the US, according to latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Bush: Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.  

Spending

The President, speaking of being "good stewards of tax dollars," focused on one small part of the budget and did not mention rapid growth in overall federal spending that has taken place under his tenure.

He said "we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending," which is true. However, that category accounts for only about 16 per cent of the whole federal budget, and it too has grown, though not as rapidly as other categories.

Bush said bills were passed last year that would actually cut this category, and that is correct. The decline is projected to be 0.5 per cent, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.

Overall federal spending is up 42 per cent under Bush, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office. And CBO projects further upward pressure on spending, including rising interest rates pushing up the cost of servicing the swelling national debt, and rising medical costs and Bush's new prescription drug benefit pushing up the cost of Medicare. (Neither item is counted in the "discretionary" category). CBO projects interest costs will increase 18 per cent in the current fiscal year, and Medicare will go up 17 per cent.

The President proposed cutting $14 billion worth of programs and said this would keep the US "on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." Not mentioned is that the deficit is going up this year. It was $317 billion in the fiscal year that ended last Oct. 30, and CBO projects that this year's deficit will be at least $337 billion, and probably $360 billion by the time added money is approved for flood insurance and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. CBO currently projects the deficit to decline to $241 billion in fiscal 2009, but that doesn't include the effects of making Bush's tax cuts permanent, something Bush urged strongly in his speech. 

 

Bush: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
 

Oil Imports

The President voiced a "goal" of replacing more than three-quarters "of our oil imports from the Middle East" by the year 2025. He did not mention that the US has grown more dependent on imported oil and petroleum products since he took office.

According to most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration, the US imported 60 percent of its oil and petroleum products during the first 11 months of last year, up from just under 53 percent in President Clinton's last year in office. Last year, of all the oil and petroleum products consumed in the US, 11.2 percent came from Persian Gulf countries, according to the EIA. That is actually down somewhat from Clinton's last year, when the Persian Gulf countries supplied 12.6 percent.

Whether imports from the Middle East can ever be "a thing of the past" is open to question. It is true that the US currently imports nearly as much oil from nearby Canada (2.1 million barrels per day last year) as it does from all Persian Gulf countries combined (2.3 million barrels per day), but that's still a lot of oil to do without.

--By Brooks Jackson, with Justin Bank, James Ficaro and Emi Kolawole

Sources

"President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address," Office of the White House Press Secretary, 31 Jan 2006.

"Freedom in the World 2006: Select Data from Freedom House's Annual Global Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties."  Freedom House. 2006.

Clinton v. City of New York,   524 U. S. 417, 429 (1998)

"Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006 ."  Summary Tables.  Office of Management and Budget.  February 2005.  Table S.2

"Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006."   Office of Management and Budget.  February 2005.  Pp. 52, 97, 105, 125, 146. 

Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.7: " Overview of U.S. Petroleum Trade " US Energy Information Administration 25 Jan 2006.

 

DNC State of the Union Attack

A DNC TV ad accuses Bush of breaking his word, but it strains some facts in the process.

January 31, 2006

Summary

An ad released by the Democratic National Committee in advance of President Bush's Jan. 31 State of the Union address accuses him of breaking his word on jobs, education, body armor for troops and the federal deficit. We find it misleading in most respects, but close to the mark on the deficit.

Jobs:The ad gives a misleading picture of Bush's record on jobs, which is weak but not as weak as the ad implies. It uses a misleading statistic that focuses only on one category of employment: manufacturing. In fact, counting all categories of employment, the economy has squeezed out a gain of nearly 2 million jobs since Bush took office five years ago.

Body Armor: The ad also takes liberties with a New York Times story that said the lives of 300 troops might have been saved with "improved" body armor. The ad calls it "proper" body armor, a term not used by the Times story. Actually, some military experts say the bulkier, heavier new armor would unduly weigh down troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Education: The ad says Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation has been "underfunded" by nearly $10 billion. That's misleading because federal aid for elementary schools and high schools actually has increased 33 percent under Bush, according to the Congressional Research Service. The "underfunding" refers to the gap that remains between the higher spending levels signed by Bush and the authorization level – the theoretical maximum that could be appropriated. In fact, federal appropritions usually fall short of their authorized levels for education programs, in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Deficit: The ad is close to the mark, however, when it chides Bush on the deficit, which the President said four years ago would be "small and short-term." In fact, the deficit projected for this year is close to a record in dollar terms and higher than average even as measured as a percentage of US economic output. It is nearly the same as in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was spending heavily for the Vietnam War and his Great Society programs, though less than half what it reached in 1983 under Ronald Reagan.

Analysis

The Democratic National Committee announced  Jan. 27 that it would air a 60-second TV  television ad on Las Vegas television stations. National Journal's   "Ad Spotlight" later reported that the ad would also run Feb. 1 in Nashville, TN where the President is scheduled to make his first speech after the State of the Union address. The new ad is called "Broken Promises" and it features a series of quotes from President Bush, some of which have also been featured in a Kerry Campaign television advertisement that ran in 2004.

DNC Ad:

"Broken Promises"

Bush: We make a pledge. We keep our word.
On screen: Really?
Bush: When America works, America prospers. So, my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs.
On screen: 2.8 Million Manufacturing Jobs Lost. [BLS, 1/06]
Bush: The "No Child Left Behind Act" is opening the door of opportunity to all of America's children.
On screen: No Child Left Behind Underfunded By Almost $10 Billion. [CRS, 1/2006]
Bush: Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term.
On screen: Deficit Of $337 Billion in 2006. [CBO, 1/26/06]
Bush: We should and must provide the best care for anybody who's willing to put their life in harm's way.
On screen: Hundreds Of Lives Could Have Been Saved With Proper Body Armor. [NYT, 1/6/06]
Bush: We make a pledge, we mean it. We keep our word.
On screen: 2.8 Million Manufacturing Jobs Lost. No Child Left Behind Underfunded By Almost $10 Billion. Deficit Of $337 Billion In 2006. Proper Armor Could Have Saved Hundreds Of Lives.
Bush: We keep our word.
On screen: America Deserves The Truth.
www.democrats.org
Announcer: The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertisement.

Jobs

The ad shows Bush delivering his 2002 State of the Union address, saying "my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs." It then shows a statistic from the  Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): "2.8 million manufacturing jobs lost."

That is misleading. Actually, in the four years since Bush delivered that line, the economy has gained nearly 3.9 million jobs. So to that degree, at least, he has kept his word.

It's true the economy struggled during Bush's first term, and it is also literally true that latest BLS figures show 2.8 million fewer manufacturing jobs than when the President first took office. But relatively few people work on production lines these days. Manufacturing counts for only 10.6 percent of all employment. More people work in professional and business employment (12.8 per cent), education and health services (13.0 per cent) or government (16.3 per cent) for example.

Furthermore, the decline in manufacturing jobs began years before Bush took office. Between March of 1998 and the time Bush took office in 2001, the economy already had lost 536,000 manufacturing jobs. During his entire eight-year tenure President Clinton barely broke even in this category, holding onto a small net gain of 311,000 manufacturing jobs despite the decline in his last three years.

Looking at total employment, it is fair to say that Bush's record on jobs is weak, especially compared to Clinton's. The economy started to lose jobs within two months of Bush's taking office in January 2001, and continued to do so until the low point of May 2003. Latest figures show a  net gain of nearly 2 million jobs. But that compares to 17.6 million for Clinton during his first five years, and 22.7 million for all eight years of Clinton's tenure.

Body Armor

The ad says "proper body armor could have saved hundreds of lives," citing a New York Times news story on screen. That's also misleading. The Times story refers to "extra" body armor, and does not use the word "proper" to describe it. Furthermore, the story places no blame on Bush or the White House for failing to supply the bulkier, heavier type of armor, which has been the subject of debate among military planners at the Pentagon.

The Times story cites a “secret Pentagon study” by medical examiners of 93 Marines who died of upper-body wounds. The study found that in 31 of those cases larger body-armor plates "'would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome." The Times reporter said this "suggests" that 300 or more lives might have been saved with "improved" body armor, though this is the reporter's conclusion, extrapolating the findings over all combat deaths in Iraq, and not part of the study itself.

Body armor already has undergone considerable improvements since the Iraq War began. And not all military experts agree that the added bulk and weight of more armor would be a good thing. After the Times story ran, The Associated Press reported from Iraq quoting several soldiers who didn't like the idea. Among them was Capt. Jamey Turner, 35, of Baton Rouge, La. "You've got to sacrifice some protection for mobility," The AP quoted him saying. "If you cover your entire body in ceramic plates, you're just not going to be able to move." A few days later the Times ran an opinion piece by military writer Andrew Exum, a former infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, who said newer body armor unveiled by the Pentagon doubles its weight, from 16 pounds to 32 pounds for a medium-sized soldier. "At some point, the public's desire to wrap our troops in a protective blan

Education Funding

The ad also faults Bush for "underfunding" his No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) by almost $10 billion. The NCLB Act instituted mandatory testing of students in reading and mathematics and requires schools to make progress toward statewide proficiency goals. 

The DNC cites as its source a recent Congressional Research Service report, which actually shows that federal appropriations for federal programs supporting grades kindergarten through 12th grade have increased by one-third under Bush, to more than $37 billion in the current fiscal year ending Oct. 30. The CRS report does not offer any support for the Democratic claim that Bush promised additional federal funds when the NCLB ad was passed with bipartisan support in 2002.

Since then, the CRS report notes, "there has been a continuing discussion regarding the appropriations 'promised' and the resulting 'shortfall' when the enacted appropriations are compared to authorization levels." Authorization levels are dollar amounts contained in the legislation that creates federal programs. But before any money can be spent a separate appropriation measure must be passed, which seldom provides the maximum amount of money that is authorized. As the CRS report notes, "In the past, education programs with specified authorization amounts generally have been funded at lower levels; few have been funded at levels equal to or higher than the specified authorization amount."

In the case of programs affected by NCLB, the CRS report calculated that appropriations were $9.1 billion less than the authorization levels last year, and $12.0 billion less in the current fiscal year. That is what the DNC ad calls "underfunding." W e find it misleading to use the term "underfunding" without explaining what that really means.

Budget Deficit

The ad quotes Bush as saying "Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term," and shows on screen: "Deficit Of $337 Billion in 2006." The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is cited as the source.
Democrats have a point here. Bush’s deficit is not “small” by any measure. The CBO in fact predicts it will be even larger than the $337 billion figure shown in the ad, assuming that Congress approves spending that CBO says will probably be needed to fund military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for flood insurance claims. Those increases would push the deficit to $360 billion. That would be close to the record of $413 billion recorded in 2004.

Bush’s deficit this year is larger than average even measured the way most economists prefer, as a percentage of the entire US economy (gauged by Gross Domestic Product, or GDP). CBO expects the deficit to be about 2.8 percent of GDP this year. The average since 1962 has been 2.2 percent. 

Viewed in historical context, the current deficit is nearly the same as the 2.9 percent of GDP recorded in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was pressing both the Vietnam War and domestic spending for his Great Society programs. Bush's projected deficit would be less than half what it was in 1983 under Ronald Reagan, when tax cuts and military spending pushed the deficit to 6 percent of GDP.

Like the jobs statement, the Bush quote comes from his State of the Union address  Jan. 29, 2002:

Bush, 2002: To achieve these great national objectives -- to win the war, protect the homeland, and revitalize our economy -- our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term, so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible manner.

Note that Bush left himself an out – saying "so long as Congress restrains spending." However, Bush has yet to veto any congressionally approved spending measure and has pushed to renew and extend tax cuts. While Democrats criticize him mostly for tax cuts, his own party's conservatives have criticized him at times for allowing spending to rise rapidly.

By Brooks Jackson & Emi Kolawole

Sources

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The Employment Situation: December 2005," news release, 6 Jan 2006.

Michael Moss, "Pentagon Study Links Fatalities To Body Armor, New York Times 7 Jan 2006:A1.

Ryan Lenz, "U.S. soldiers question use of more armor despite Pentagon study," 7 Jan 2006.

Andrew Exum, "All Dressed Up With No Way to Fight," New York  Times 14 Jan 2006:A15.

"Ceradyne, Inc. Receives $70 Million Ceramic Body Armor Order," press release, Ceradyne, Inc. 20 Jan 2006.

"Army signs emergency contract for body armor," The Associated Press, 21 Jan 2006.

Paul M. Irwin, "K-12 Education Programs: Recent Appropriations," Congressional Research Service, 4 Jan 2006.

"The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2007 to 2016," Congressional Budget Office, 26 Jan 2006.

 

 

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