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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair February 25, 2009

Sanford incorrectly describes Rivlin comment on stimulus bill

To bolster his claim that the economic stimulus bill won't work, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said the bill had drawn bipartisan criticism and named Alice Rivlin, budget director in the Clinton administration, as a prominent Democrat who said the bill would not help.

"From both sides of the political aisle — from conservative economist Martin Feldstein, who originally supported a stimulus, to former Clinton administration budget director Alice Rivlin — we hear that this particular bill won't actually stimulate the economy," Sanford, a Republican, wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Feb. 23.

The mention of Rivlin surprised us because the stimulus plan has drawn strong support from Democrats. So we asked Sanford's office to show us where Rivlin had said the bill "won't actually stimulate the economy."

They pointed us to an article in the Washington Post headlined, "Democrats Among Stimulus Skeptics," which was published Jan. 28. The article focused on concerns by some Democrats that the stimulus package "may fall short in its broader goal of transforming the American economy over the long term."

It said Democrats were especially concerned that Congress was rushing to include elements in the bill focused on long-term change without a thorough discussion.

The article cited congressional testimony by Rivlin and said she "suggested splitting the plan, implementing its immediate stimulus components now and taking more time to plan the longer-term transformative spending to make sure it is done right."

It quoted Rivlin as saying, "Such a long-term investment program should not be put together hastily and lumped in with the anti-recession package. The elements of the investment program must be carefully planned and will not create many jobs right away."

The risk, she said, is that "money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted."

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But the focus of that comment was on the long-term plan and did not support Sanford's claim that she said "this particular bill won't actually stimulate the economy."

We examined her full testimony and found that she made it clear that she thought the first phase of the stimulus package was urgently needed. She told the Budget Committee that "the government should act quickly to mitigate the downslide with spending increases and revenue cuts that will stimulate consumer and investor spending, create jobs and protect the most vulnerable from the ravages of recession."

To make sure we were right, we called Rivlin. (This reminded us of that scene in Annie Hall where a man in line for a movie is making claims about media scholar Marshall McLuhan, and Woody Allen is so annoyed that he pulls McLuhan himself from behind the ticket counter and McLuhan tells the man, "You know nothing of my work...")

Asked about Sanford's description of her comments in his op-ed, Rivlin told us, "I did not say that at all, anywhere. I can’t imagine where he got that."

She said she believed the bulk of the bill was an effective stimulus to the economy but that she wished the smaller portion of the bill aimed at long-term investment had been discussed longer.

But, she said, "to suggest I thought the stimulus is not effective is just wrong. That’s not true."

So we find nothing to back up Sanford's claim and find his statement False.

(Gov. Sanford's office initially stood by the claim, but just as we were about to publish this item, Sanford communications director Joel Sawyer called and said they had misinterpreted what Rivlin said. "In retrospect, we think we were wrong on that," he said.)

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