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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan February 9, 2009

Many choices for CBO numbers for 2009 and 2010

One of the catch phrases for the stimulus has been "timely, targeted, temporary."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the bill was none of those things, attacking it on the Senate floor on Feb. 5, 2009. We were particularly interested in his claim that it was not timely.

The Congressional Budget Office, Roberts said, "estimates that only 15 percent of this stimulus package will be spent in 2009; 37 percent, 2010; the remaining part spent in 2011 and beyond. Less than half the money will be spent by the end of next year.  This is not immediate relief that families and businesses desperately need now to help get the economy back on track."

We wondered about this because Democrats counter that the bill is timely, with as much as 80 percent of the money being spent in the first two years.

Roberts' office pointed us toward a letter from the Congressional Budget Office dated Jan. 28, 2009. There it is in black and white: "About 15 percent of that spending would occur in the remaining several months of fiscal year 2009; another 37 percent would be spent in 2010. A total of almost 80 percent of the cumulative 11-year spending would occur from 2009 through 2011."

Case closed, right? Not quite.

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The numbers the CBO referred to applied to spending from the House version of the bill introduced on Jan. 26, but left out what many people consider a key stimulative impact of the bill: its tax cuts. Also, the CBO considered spending according to fiscal years, which begin on Oct. 1. So when the CBO said that spending for 2009 is only 15 percent, it meant spending by Sept. 30, 2009, not the full calendar year.

Additionally, Roberts made his remarks on Feb. 5. Yet, just three days earlier, the CBO had published a new analysis on the Senate version of the bill. The Senate version got its spending out of the gate faster: Using the same method of looking at only spending and not tax cuts, the CBO data showed that 20 percent would be spent in 2009, and 38 percent in 2010. That would push the money spent in those two years to 59 percent, which would be more than half spent by the end of the fiscal year 2010, which is Sept. 30, 2010.

If you include the tax cuts in the Senate version, the bill's overall impact for 2009 and 2010 are 79 percent of the total package. So that is where the Democrats got their numbers in response.

All are legitimate numbers from CBO reports, depending on how you pick and choose the data.

Finally we should also note that none of this data addresses the late-night compromise reached by Democrats and three Republican senators on Feb. 6, 2009. As of this writing on Feb. 9, the CBO analysis of the compromise was still in the works.

So we have several problems with Roberts' use of the CBO numbers. He uses numbers for a House bill in a Senate debate, when data on the Senate version has been available for several days. He refers to the stimulus "package," but he uses figures that take into account spending only, ignoring the benefits of tax cuts. His statement leaves the impression that the Senate bill would do little by the end of 2010, and we find there's a lot in the CBO data to contradict that. For these reasons, we rate his statement Barely True.


Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

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Many choices for CBO numbers for 2009 and 2010

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