Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

The truth about Obama's first budget

President Obama, at a March 24 news conference

With the introduction of President Barack Obama's first budget proposal, supporters and opponents alike are sharpening their pencils — and their rhetoric.

Fresh ammunition arrived March 20 when the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, put out its long-term analysis of Obama's budget, as well as its growing-gloomier-every-day update on the economic outlook.

With so many numbers flying around, we decided to look into some of the more popular talking points from both sides to see whose numbers add up and who is using fuzzy math.

Obama said at a prime-time news conference that his budget plan would halve the deficit in five years, a claim we found to be technically true, but also somewhat misleading because the initial number is so big. We gave it a Mostly True .

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg claimed Obama's budget would double the national debt in five years. We gave that one a Mostly True.

Remember, the deficit is a calculation of the difference between what the government takes in versus what it spends in any given year, as opposed to the national debt, which is a running tally of what the U.S. government owes. That's why it's possible for Obama to be technically accurate when he says he will halve the deficit in five years, while the national debt will grow by $4.6 trillion over the same stretch.

We also took a look at Obama's claim in the news conference that with his plans, nondefense discretionary spending — as a percentage of the gross national product — will fall to its lowest level since the 1960s. Policymakers focus on this figure because it's the part of the budget that the president and Congress can most easily control. We found Obama achieves that historic level only once in his 10-year-projection — in 2019, the final year, according to numbers from his own Office of Management and Budget. Even if re-elected to a second term, we're talking about a budget two years after he's out of office, and so we gave this one a Barely True .

Lastly, we looked at a claim from Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis that under Obama's proposal, families earning at least $250,000 a year would lose their mortgage and charitable deductions. We found this one to be so alarmist and misleading, it earned our lowest rating, Pants on Fire .