Thursday, December 18th, 2014
Mostly False
American Crossroads
"This is what President Obama said the jobless rate would be if we passed the stimulus: 5.6 percent."

American Crossroads on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 in a TV ad

Ad says Barack Obama promised the jobless rate would be 5.6% if Congress passed the stimulus

An ad by the Republican-aligned group American Crossroads attacks President Barack Obama's economic record.
American Crossroads says Obama promised a jobless rate of 5.6 percent.
Obama's economic team said its projections, such as this one of the jobless rate, were subject to uncertainty and "significant margins of error."

A new ad claims President Barack Obama broke his promise about the impact of the economic stimulus plan.

The ad uses a familiar Republican talking point, that Obama "promised" low unemployment if the stimulus was passed. We've checked many claims it would stay below 8 percent, but this ad says it would drop to 5.6 percent.

It's a flashy ad from pro-Republican super PAC American Crossroads, using gleaming Minority Report-style graphics manipulated by a narrator in an empty warehouse. The version we've seen still running this week uses an outdated number, saying unemployment is "actually" 8.1 percent. The latest monthly report, which came out Friday, says it is now 7.8 percent.

In this fact-check, we’re focusing on what Obama said the jobless rate would be if Congress passed a stimulus plan.

Separately, we are checking the ad’s claim that "Obama’s spending drove us $5 trillion deeper in debt."

Here’s the full narration:

"This is what President Obama said the jobless rate would be if we passed the stimulus: 5.6 percent. But this is what the jobless rate actually is: 8.1 percent. The difference? About 3.7 million jobs. Obama’s spending drove us $5 trillion deeper in debt, and now we have fewer jobs than when he started. What Obama promised vs. what he delivered."

The screen displays the line, "We can’t afford 4 more years."

What Obama said

We asked American Crossroads for material to support the ad. Spokesman Jonathan Collegio referred us to a Jan. 9, 2009, report prepared before Obama took office, and a speech by the president-elect.

The report, designed to help Obama argue for an aggressive response to the burgeoning jobs crisis, featured projections for the effect of a stimulus plan.

Those estimates include a chart, "Unemployment Rate With and Without Recovery Plan," that displays a post-stimulus jobless rate around 5.6 percent in mid 2012, like the chart in the American Crossroads ad.

But Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, the vice president's top economic adviser, also wrote that their estimates were "subject to significant margins of error," and "considerable uncertainty."

We’ve previously ruled that the report was not a promise, but a projection, noting its several caveats.

How about the president-elect’s speech introducing the report?

Here, too, we find it's a stretch to describe it as a promise. It doesn’t get into specific jobless rates, but does talk about projected job gains if a stimulus plan — which Congress had yet to write — were to pass.

Collegio pointed out that Obama:

• Said the report presented "what this plan will mean," not "roughly what this plan might mean."

• Said "we’ll create jobs" not "could create jobs."

"Obama did promise it," Collegio said.

But Obama’s speech first presents the report’s findings as "projections," and later says that a stimulus plan would "likely" save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs. Only then does he simplify his language to say, "we’ll create" as he talks about a focus on jobs in energy, health care and infrastructure.

Here’s how he sets it up:

"I asked my nominee for Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer, and the Vice President-Elect's Chief Economic Adviser, Dr. Jared Bernstein, to conduct a rigorous analysis of this plan and come up with projections of how many jobs it will create — and what kind of jobs they will be.  Today, I am releasing a report of their findings so that the American people can see exactly what this plan will mean for their families, their communities, and our economy. The report confirms that our plan will likely save or create three to four million jobs."

And as we mentioned, the report carried Romer and Bernstein’s warnings about the uncertainty of their projections, including that "the uncertainty is surely higher than normal now because the current recession is unusual both in its fundamental causes and its severity."

As we now know, as the pair prepared their estimates, the economy was already far worse than the best numbers at the time captured. The unemployment rate hit 8 percent even before Obama signed a stimulus package into law in February 2009.

Our ruling

An ad from American Crossroads says, "This is what President Obama said the jobless rate would be if we passed the stimulus: 5.6 percent."

But we find that's a stretch. In the evidence the group provided, Obama doesn’t mention that statistic. Rather, he introduced "projections" that included a chart showing the jobless rate falling to 5.6 percent under a recovery plan. The report highlighted the estimates’ "significant margins of error" and high uncertainty due to a recession that was "unusual both in its fundamental causes and its severity." The economy was, in fact, much worse than economists knew. The chart is now infamous, but it was never pitched as a promise. We rate the statement Mostly False.