Fact Check: State of the Union 2013
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address included few new or unexpected proposals, but many factually incorrect or misleading assertions. Here are the lowlights.
“Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.” Wages and incomes may not always be the best measurement, because they leave out benefits, which have increased overall compensation over several decades. Regardless, Obama chose his timeframe carefully, because over the past four years, middle class income has actually declined.
“In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year.” Obama is referring to the sequester. He omits the fact that he (or his White House) proposed the sequester, and he personally signed it, with the hope of using it to push Republicans into passing higher tax rates on high earners.
“Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion.” Both Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Read have used this claim, but it’s not true. As FactCheck.org noted recently, the figure includes over $1 trillion in spending cuts that “have yet to materialize.” It also includes $500 billion in projected reduced interest--not spending cuts or tax increases--and deficits remain high.
“Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.” The cost of health care has continued to grow, albeit less quickly--but the recession is a big part of the story. People are spending less because they can afford less. Obamacare has already made health insurance premiums more expensive, and Obamacare does not change the fundamental incentive problems that drive costs in U.S. health care.
“Let me repeat--nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” This is a repeated promise (as well as a repeated metaphor: Obama also used the “single dime” phrase to in describing tax cuts in his stimulus). Obama broke that promise most spectacularly in Obamacare, which only “balances” due to accounting tricks and is almost certain to cost more than originally expected--net as well as gross.
“We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.” As I demonstrated in my recap of Obama’s 2009 address, the supply of renewable energy sources in the U.S. rose only about 10% in Obama’s first three years in office--very far from doubling.
“Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods--all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” Or we can call it “weather,” which is far closer to the truth than this scary story.
“That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.” In order to “keep” doing something, you have to have been doing it already. As Mitt Romney argued very ably in the presidential debates, the Obama administration has tried to slow oil and gas permitting on public lands, while taking credit for (or obstructing) much of the energy boom that has taken place on private lands.
“But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.” The fact that taxpayers continue subsidizing the cost of higher education is part of the reason that the cost of education keeps rising. Obama did not mention the crisis in student loan delinquency, which increased support from the government for tuition costs has not been enough to prevent. The fundamental problem is youth unemployment.
“[M]ore boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.” Many of the “boots” Obama deployed to border states did not actually go to the border, less than half of which is actually secure. Illegal border crossings have decreased--but it is almost universally agreed that the cause is our poor economy, not enforcement--which Obama has effectively gutted.
“And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.” This is a rather amusing promise, since Obama’s support for the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009, which was meant to have guaranteed “equal pay,” was a major boast in his re-election campaign. Did he fail to make pay equal when he said he had? No--he just needs the issue to boost support.
“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.” That means, of course, that fewer people will be working full-time, or even part-time. Hiking the minimum wage is at odds with increasing jobs, and hurts minorities and young people worst, damaging their future employment prospects significantly.
“We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.” A rather vague promise that sounds like a good idea. It’s not a factual mistake by itself--except that it likely contradicts his earlier promise on tax reform: “The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring.” That means fewer special rules, deductions and tricks.
“Today, the organization [Al Qaeda] that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self.” It takes a special kind of chutzpah to say that, five months after a terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. Obama acknowledges that the threat continues--it is “evolving,” he says, in a curious use of the word--but to declare victory, without mentioning Benghazi?
“The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.” Since when has the North Korean regime ever cared about prosperity? This marks the third State of the Union address in which Obama has mentioned North Korea (he did so in 2010 and 2011 as well)--and each time Obama has congratulated himself for his administration’s policy on the issue.
“As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending.” Even before the sequester, the Obama administration has slashed defense, reducing our military capabilities to the point where we can no longer plan to fight a two-front war.
“That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.” Not the accuracy or fairness or transparency of the process, but the experience. The chances that Obama’s commission will recommend photo ID for voters, or that such a recommendation would be adopted, are zero. In fact, the Obama administration has stridently opposed states’ own efforts to improve voting in America.
“Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.” These terms suit Obama’s gun control agenda, but they are grossly misleading. So-called “weapons of war”--i.e. assault rifles, machine guns and the like--are already banned, and proposals on the table to reduce magazine size target relatively small clips, not “massive” ones.