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Fact-checking SOTU Fact-checkers


News outlets like Yahoo News, Fox News, Huffington Post, and ABC News all used AP Calvin Woodward’s short and somewhat misguided fact-checking of the president’s SOTU address, but some other news agencies (and not so-news outlets), right or wrong, did their own fact-checking. Here are some of the results:
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The climate straw man

Obama: “I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

Cap-and-trade legislation akin to McCain-Lieberman has been dead for some time, and Obama’s one of the guilty parties.

Yes, the president helped get a climate bill through the House in 2009. But he let other priorities like health care and Wall Street reform go first in the Senate, siphoning momentum from a chamber where coal- and oil-state Democrats and reluctant Republicans like McCain were all too willing to let the issue slip away.

McCain has shown little interest since in taking the lead on global warming legislation, while Lieberman is off in retirement. So far, the only lawmakers even proposing bills that look like McCain-Lieberman are liberal lions like Sens. Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders, not exactly hope for bipartisan legislation. It’s not clear Obama will invest any political capital to push for that or other climate change legislation.

Any action on the issue will likely have to come from the president alone, via executive order and regulations that will no doubt be controversial. [read more – page 1]

Sequestration blame game

Obama: “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….Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse.”

Obama neglected to mentioned a few key things about the sequester. First, he signed the Budget Control Act, which contained the automatic cuts. And according to Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” the idea came from then-Budget Director Jack Lew.

While the president took a swipe at Republicans on how to dodge the sequester, he didn’t offer any substantive ideas to avoid the across-the-board cuts set to take effect in a few weeks, either.

What the president recited instead are some of the same deficit reduction ideas he’s been offering since the election, including some changes to entitlement programs and tax reform. Yet none of these ideas will be acted on in the short term to address the immediate question of how to stop the March 1 deadline for sequestration, which now sits as its own issue after getting separated from fiscal battles over taxes and the debt limit extension.
And absent substantive talks between Obama and Hill leaders in the next three weeks on the sequester, the blame game will do little to resolve the impasse. [read more – page 2]

The best starting point on manufacturing

Obama: “After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.”

Sure, that might be true over the last three. But Obama’s actually been president for four years, and if you look at all four years, the record’s a lot worse.

When Obama took office in January 2009, the economy had 604,000 more manufacturing jobs than it does now. As with the rest of the economy, the manufacturing sector hemorrhaged jobs during the 2008-2009 recession, as the economy contracted sharply in the wake of the housing and financial crisis; more than 2 million manufacturing jobs were lost between June of 2008 and the Jan. 2010 nadir.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the U.S. economy has added 489,000 manufacturing jobs since January of 2010 — just a shade shy of Obama’s 500,000.

Picking 2010 as his starting point, instead of the start of his term a year earlier, allows the president to paint a rosier picture.

But while economists are sharply divided over whether the president’s policies have helped or hurt the economic recovery, very few blame his initiatives for a recession that was already well underway when Obama took the oath of the office. [read more – page 3]
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Washington Post

“We buy … less foreign oil than we have in twenty [years].”

This claim lacks context. The Energy Department has cited a host of reasons why foreign oil imports have declined, noting the main reason was “a significant contraction in consumption” because of the poor economy and changes in efficiency that began “two years before the 2008 crisis” — in other words, before Obama took office.

“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.”

This interesting factoid comes from this 2011 study, which we have not had a chance to fully study. But about two-thirds of the calculated impact comes from “indirect impacts” and “induced impacts” (see page ES-3)–which is always the subject of debate and conjecture.

“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.”

There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women–such as women tending to leave the workforce when they have children–make it difficult to make simple comparisons.

The administration’s back-up document for this statement asserted that “on average women generally make 23 cents on the dollar less than men.” But the White House is using a figure (annual wages, from the Census Bureau) that makes the disparity appear the greatest. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, shows that the gap is 19 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages — it is 14 cents — but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers.

In other words, since women in general work fewer hours than men in a year, the statistics used by the White House may be less reliable for examining the key focus of the legislation — wage discrimination. Weekly wages is more of an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does not include as many income categories.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis surveyed economic literature and concluded that “research suggests that the actual gender wage gap (when female workers are compared with male workers who have similar characteristics) is much lower than the raw wage gap.” They cited one survey, prepared for the Labor Department, which concluded that when such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap dwindled, to about 5 cents on the dollar. [read more]
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Border security

Obama also touted his administration’s record on curbing illegal immigration.

We can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years,” Obama said.

Obama is right about the numbers, but it’s a stretch for him to suggest that his administration is the primary reason. The growth in agents began under President George W. Bush. And economic conditions in both the United States and Mexico tend to influence the number of crossings, as does crime. On balance, we rate Obama’s claim Half True. [read more]
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The president’s State of the Union address got the facts right — mostly.

  • Obama said “the Taliban’s momentum has been broken” in Afghanistan. But targeted assassinations continue, and at least one independent foreign policy expert says the enemy may just be waiting until the U.S. leaves.
  • The president said a get-tough tariff on tire imports from China has saved more than 1,000 U.S. jobs. But tire industry officials say Chinese imports have simply been replaced by imports from other countries.
  • He took credit for putting “more boots on the border than ever before.” That’s true, but the big increase was under George W. Bush. And a decrease in illegal border crossings is due mainly to the lack of jobs in the U.S., experts say.


Often the president’s facts and figures were accurate — but not the whole story. It’s true (barely) that Bush issued more new regulations than Obama at the same point in their presidencies — but Obama didn’t mention that his cost more. The president pointed proudly to increased oil drilling, increased U.S. oil production, and declining dependence on imports. But understandably he passed over any mention of chronically high gasoline prices, which hit a record of sorts last year. And he boasted of recent increases in jobs — which still number nearly 1.7 million fewer than when he took office. [read more]

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