Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Obama praised, criticized in fact-checks on the Truth-O-Meter

President Barack Obama smiles as he arrives for the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol.
President Barack Obama smiles as he arrives for the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol.

Job creation. Tax increases. Deficit reduction. Even whether any of his old girlfriends have come forward to shed light on his murky past.

Those are some of the issues surrounding President Barack Obama that have come across PolitiFact New Jersey’s Truth-O-Meter. Since we launched in June 2011, politicians in the Garden State -- and a fair share of chain e-mails -- have taken various turns either praising or knocking the 44th President.

As Obama takes the stage today for his ceremonial inauguration ceremony, PolitiFact New Jersey is revisiting some of those fact-checks from his first term. Some claims were right on target, while a few others went up in flames.

Chain e-mails

Some of the most incendiary -- and ridiculously false -- claims about Obama have come from chain e-mails.

Take, for instance, the December 2011 e-mail alleging that "not one person has ever come forward from his past."

A few Google searches away, PolitiFact New Jersey found various accounts from friends and former classmates offering memories of the future president. From body surfing in California to cooking in a New York City apartment, several individuals had provided details about Obama’s past.

That chain e-mail received a Pants on Fire!

Another chain e-mail to land at Pants on Fire! claimed in July 2012 that Obama "had doubled the national debt, which had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, in one year." The national debt had increased significantly during Obama’s tenure, but it never doubled in one year.

A related claim from an April 2012 chain e-mail performed slightly better with its statement that Obama had "added" $6.5 trillion to the national debt in his first term, more than the $6.3 trillion added by the previous 43 presidents combined.

The Obama administration had added less debt than the amounts in place when he took office on January 20, 2009, but the national debt was projected to keep rising. The amount of added debt held by the public was estimated to exceed Obama’s predecessors by October 2013, according to White House projections.

That chain e-mail received a Mostly False.

Spending and Taxes

In a couple of fact-checks, Obama’s fellow Democrats have fallen short in celebrating Obama’s record on federal spending and taxes.

In May 2012, Newark Mayor Cory Booker claimed that under Obama, there’s been "the lowest discretionary spending we’ve had in decades in the United States." But PolitiFact New Jersey found that it was actually the other way around.

During Obama’s tenure, discretionary spending had reached 9 percent of gross domestic product -- a measure of the nation’s economy -- for the first time in about two decades. Discretionary spending was projected to drop significantly in the years ahead.

The Brick City leader landed at False on the Truth-O-Meter.

Congressman Bill Pascrell didn’t fare much better when he claimed in July that Obama "has not raised taxes."

While certain taxes -- such as payroll taxes -- has come down during Obama’s presidency, other taxes had increased. Obama raised the federal excise tax on tobacco products and the national health care law includes a number of tax increases.

Pascrell received a False.

Economy and Jobs

One of the defining aspects of Obama’s presidency thus far has been the economic recovery -- and New Jersey politicians have been quick to cite its highs and lows.

On that topic, one of the president’s frequent critics has been Gov. Chris Christie, who claimed in November 2011 that Obama had "huge majorities" in Congress during his first two years in office and "did nothing with them to create jobs in America."

But Christie’s claim ignored the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Signed into law less than a month into Obama’s presidency, the stimulus bill has been credited by various economists for creating or saving jobs.

Christie received a Pants on Fire!

In September 2012, State Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick repeated another Republican talking point about the president.

Bramnick claimed Obama "promised that if he spent money on a stimulus program that unemployment would go to 5.7 percent or 6 percent." Christie had made a similar claim here.

Like with Christie’s claim, we found that Bramnick’s statement was based on a 2009 report in which Obama’s economic advisers estimated that with the stimulus plan, the unemployment rate would peak near 8 percent before dropping to less than 6 percent by September.

But the advisers repeatedly cautioned that their estimates are subject to significant "uncertainty." Also, we found no evidence that Obama personally or his administration made a public pledge like the one suggested by Bramnick.

Bramnick received a Mostly False.

Just before the general election in November, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, praised job growth under Obama when he claimed that the United States "went from losing millions of jobs to creating 5 million jobs."

But according to federal labor statistics available at the time, Menendez’s claim was only accurate in terms of the net increase of nearly 5 million private-sector jobs since February 2010, the low point in the private-sector job market.

When we started counting at different points during Obama’s first year in office, there was less private-sector job growth than Menendez claimed. Also, public-sector job losses had offset gains in the private-sector.

Menendez received a Half True.

Deficit Reduction

New Jersey Republicans have received mixed results in going after Obama for his plans to reduce the nation’s deficit.

Christie received a Mostly False when he said in September 2011 that Obama failed "to stand up for the bipartisan debt solutions of the Simpson-Bowles Commission."

Originally, Obama did not fully get behind the commission’s proposals, but the president later outlined deficit reduction measures similar to the commission’s recommendations. Even the commission’s co-chairs said as much.

About a year later, the governor fell further on the Truth-O-Meter when he claimed Obama "says he’s going to reduce the long-term debt and deficit by $4 trillion, doesn’t say how he’s going to do it."

In at least two extensive reports, the president had outlined how he would achieve more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.

Christie received a Pants on Fire!

Congressman Leonard Lance, however, received a True when he said in October that Obama had promised "four years ago that he would halve the annual deficit by the end of his first term," but didn’t do it.

The president did in fact make a pledge in February 2009 to cut the annual deficit in half by the end of his first term, but failed to fulfill that promise.

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