By Calvin Woodward Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, who once considered government spending freezes a hatchet job, told Americans on Wednesday it’s now part of his solution to the exploding deficit. He didn’t explain what had changed.
His State of the Union speech skipped over some complex realities in laying out a “commonsense” call to action.
A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts:
Obama: “Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t.”
The Facts: The anticipated savings from this proposal would amount to less than 1 percent of the deficit — and that’s if the president can persuade Congress to go along.
Obama: “I’ve called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.”
The Facts: Any commission that Obama creates would be a weak substitute for what he really wanted — a commission created by Congress that could force lawmakers to consider unpopular remedies to reduce the debt, including curbing politically sensitive entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.
Obama: Discussing his health care initiative, he said: “Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.”
The Facts: The Democratic legislation now hanging in limbo on Capitol Hill aims to keep people with employer-sponsored coverage — the majority of Americans under age 65 — in the plans they already have. But Obama can’t guarantee people won’t see higher rates or fewer benefits in their existing plans. Because of elements such as new taxes on insurance companies, insurers could change what they offer or how much it costs. Moreover, Democrats have proposed a series of changes to the Medicare program for people 65 and older that would certainly pinch benefits enjoyed by some seniors. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted cuts for those enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans.
Obama: “Because of the steps we took, there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. … And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.”
The Facts: The success of the Obama-pushed economic stimulus that Congress approved early last year has been an ongoing point of contention for the president. In December, the administration reported that recipients of direct assistance from the government created or saved about 650,000 jobs. The number was based on self-reporting by recipients and some of the calculations were shown to be in error.
The Congressional Budget Office has been much more guarded than Obama in characterizing the success of the stimulus plan. In November, it reported that the stimulus increased the number of people employed by between 600,000 and 1.6 million “compared with what those values would have been otherwise.” It said the ranges “reflect the uncertainty of such estimates.” And it added: “It is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package.”