President Barack Obama defended his economic policies in a campaign-style speech in Milwaukee on Labor Day, drawing a sharp contrast with Republicans in Congress.
"When it comes to just about everything we've done to strengthen our middle class, to rebuild our economy, almost every Republican in Congress says no," Obama said. "Even on things we usually agree on, they say no. If I said the sky was blue, they say no. If I said fish live in the sea, they'd say no."
Obama mentioned specific legislation and singled out Republican House leader John Boehner of Ohio for criticism.
"When we passed a bill earlier this summer to help states save jobs -- the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and nurses and police officers and firefighters that were about to be laid off -- they said no. And the Republican who thinks he's going to take over as speaker... when he was asked about this, he dismissed those jobs as 'government jobs' that weren't worth saving. That's what he said, I'm quoting -- 'government jobs.'"
We wanted to check Boehner's comments to see if Obama was making an accurate claim.
Obama signed the bill into law on Aug. 10. It sends $26.1 billion to states facing budget shortfalls, providing $10 billion for salaries and compensation for teachers and another $16.1 million to help states pay for Medicaid, the long-standing government insurance program for the poor and disabled. Medicaid is a major part of state budgets, and Democrats says that this funding will help states avoid cuts to other parts of their budgets that pay for public employees like "nurses and police officers and firefighters." We want to be clear that the law only directly funds teachers. The other job categories are potential secondary effects and likely vary by state.
We checked with the White House about what Boehner said about those jobs, and they pointed us to remarks he made in a major speech on the economy in Cleveland on Aug. 24, 2010.
Boehner criticized the Obama administration's economic policies both broadly and in several specifics. One of the news highlights from the speech was Boehner's advice that Obama fire his top economic advisers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council director Larry Summers.
But Boehner also singled out the state aid package for brief criticism. Businesses, he said, are not creating jobs because of uncertainty about what the federal government will do, something he said he told Obama in a recent meeting.
"Not long after we spoke, he signed a $26 billion 'stimulus' spending bill that funnels money to state governments in order to protect government jobs. And even worse, the bill is funded by a new tax hike that makes it more expensive to create jobs in the United States and less expensive to create jobs overseas. Listen, this cannot continue," Boehner said. (The quotes around "stimulus" are from the text Boehner's office posted online.)
So, Boehner did call the jobs the bill aimed to save "government jobs." To be clear, public school teachers are government employees. But did Boehner say they "weren't worth saving"?
The quote above is the only time Boehner specifically mentions that law in the speech, but he repeatedly condemns government spending and says that real job creation must come from the private sector. He does not mention the professions of teachers, nurses, police or firefighters, and he never said that "government jobs" weren't worth saving.
We asked Boehner spokesman Michael Steel about Obama's charge. He said that Boehner "did not say that government jobs, 'weren't worth saving.' The president's statement is inaccurate."
(Two days after the Labor Day speech, Obama repeated the remarks in a speech in Cleveland but softened them slightly. This time Obama said that Boehner "dismissed these jobs – teaching our kids, patrolling our streets, rushing into burning buildings – as quote 'government jobs – jobs that I guess he thought just weren't worth saving.")
Obama's Labor Day statement was accurate in that Boehner did refer did refer to teachers' jobs as government jobs. But the Republican leader did not say government jobs weren't worth saving. He merely said the stimulus was misguided because it put too much emphasis on government spending. So we rate Obama's 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.