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Fact Check: Clinton repeated dubious arithmetic

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post

President Barack Obama “has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade. For every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1. And he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission. … It passes the arithmetic test.”

– Former president Bill Clinton

“President Obama’s plan uses the bipartisan commission’s balanced approach. It reduces the deficit by more than $4 trillion.”

– Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

The repeated claim that Obama’s budget reduces the debt by $4 trillion is simply not accurate.

By the administration’s math, you have nearly $3.8 trillion in spending cuts, compared to $1.5 trillion in tax increases (letting the Bush tax cuts expire for high-income Americans). Presto, $1 of tax increases for every $2.50 of spending cuts.

But virtually no serious budget analyst agreed with this accounting. The $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress. So no matter who is president, the savings are already in the bank.

Moreover, the administration is also counting $848 billion in phantom savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the administration had long made clear those wars would end.

In other words, by projecting war spending far in the future, the administration is able to claim credit for saving money it never intended to spend. Imagine taking credit for saving money on buying a new car every year, even though you intended to keep your car for 10 years.

Rather than good arithmetic, independent budget analysts called the maneuver “a major budget gimmick.”

The administration also counts $800 billion in savings in debt payments (from lower deficits) as a “spending cut,” which is a dubious claim. We didn’t realize that debt payments were now considered a government program.

A number of other games also are being played, so fake money is being used to pay for real spending projects. In effect, most of Obama’s claimed deficit reduction comes from his proposed tax increases.

“We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5million Congressional Republicans: zero.”

– Clinton

Obama’s jobs plan was more of a rhetorical device, aimed at Republicans, than a real plan. He even used the same $1 trillion in previously agreed savings with Republicans, mentioned above, that was supposed to be in his budget, to pay for this plan.

The jobs plan also would be paid for with the imaginary money from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The administration argued that the budget had never passed, so the money could be used again.)

Get the picture? Clinton praises Obama both for his sound budget math and for his jobs plan, even though the money to fund the budget and the jobs plan is used twice. That certainly doesn’t pass the Arkansas 2 + 24 test.

As for whether 1 million jobs would be created through Obama’s jobs plan, that is merely a fuzzy and optimistic projection. Bloomberg News surveyed 34 economists and found that the median estimate was that the plan would add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls.

“More than 3million young people between 19 and 25 are insured for the first time because their parents’ policies can cover them.”

– Clinton

Interestingly, Clinton frames this more accurately than Obama. The Department of Health and Human Services in June reported that more than 3 million young adults would not have health insurance without the health care law.

Obama prefers to cite a private survey, published by the Commonwealth Fund, that showed that 6.6 million young adults “stayed on or joined their parents’ health plans” in 2011. Not all of those people were uninsured; some simply joined their parents’ plans for other reasons.

“For the last two years, after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years, health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.”

– Clinton

Clinton tried to attribute this decline in health costs to the health care law, but much of it has not yet been implemented. Most economists say the slowdown is more likely because of the lousy economy.

“It’s tempting to think that provider initiatives are truly denting costs, but it’s hard for changes in provider behavior to influence costs before they occur,” said a recent article in Modern Healthcare magazine. “Instead, the drop in healthcare-cost growth is primarily attributable to the Great Recession’s impact on employment, private health insurance, government revenues and budgets.”

Indeed, government actuaries in June published an article in Health Affairs predicting health-care costs would begin to spike as the health care law was implemented.

“When Mitt Romney says he’ll get rid of Planned Parenthood and turn the clock back on a century of progress, it has real consequences for the 3million patients who depend on Planned Parenthood each year.”

– Cecil Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Romney’s remarks were taken out of context. This is his full statement:

“You get rid of Obamacare, but there are others,” Romney told CNN affiliate KDSK of St. Louis. “Planned Parenthood, we’re gonna get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I would eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, both excellent programs, but we can’t afford to borrow money to pay for these things.”

In other words, he was talking about government funding.

“He singled out some areas of the budget he would eliminate or curtail, all in the name of achieving a balanced budget,” Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said later. “It would not be getting rid of the organization. They have other sources of funding besides government operations, but in order to achieve balance, we have to make some tough decisions about spending.”

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