Misstatement of the Union

President Bush left out a few facts and misstated some others in his State of the Union Address.

Summary

The President left out a few things when surveying the State of the Union:

  • He proudly spoke of “writing a new chapter in the story of self-government” in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the number of democracies in the world is growing. He failed to mention that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan yet qualify as democracies according to the very group whose statistics he cited.
  • Bush called for Congress to pass a line-item veto, failing to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as unconstitutional in 1998. Bills now in Congress would propose a Constitutional amendment, but none have shown signs of life.<
  • The President said the economy gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, failing to note that it had lost 2.6 million jobs in his first two-and-a-half years in office. The net gain since Bush took office is just a little more than 2 million.<
  • He talked of cutting spending, but only “non-security discretionary spending.” Actually, total federal spending has increased 42 percent since Bush took office.
  • He spoke of being “on track” to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. But the deficit is increasing this year, and according to the Congressional Budget Office it will decline by considerably less than half even if Bush’s tax cuts are allowed to lapse.
  • Bush spoke of a “goal” of cutting dependence on Middle Eastern oil, failing to mention that US dependence on imported oil and petroleum products increased substantially during his first five years in office, reaching 60 per cent of consumption last year.

Analysis

We found nothing that was factually
incorrect in the President’s Jan. 31 State of the Union address to Congress and the nation.
However, we did note some selective use of statistics. We also found that
Bush omitted some relevant facts that tended to make the state of the union
look less rosy than he presented.

Bush: In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we’re writing a new chapter in the story of self-government — with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom.

Democracy & Freedom

The President spoke of the growing number of nations in the world that live under democratic governments, and said “we’re writing a new chapter in the story of self-government” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President’s numbers come from Freedom House, a nonprofit group that tracks levels of democracy and freedom around the globe.

It is true, just as the President said, that there were 122 democracies in the world in 2005, but Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet counted among them by Freedom House.

Also, Freedom House rates neither Iraq nor Afghanistan as ”free.” It rates Iraq as “not free,” with scores on civil liberties and political freedom as low as those of Egypt. ”Iraq gets points taken away for the chaos that is associated with the insurgency, among other things,” Freedom House’s Arch Puddington told FactCheck.org. Afghanistan is rated somewhat better but still only ”partly free.”


We asked Puddington why the highly publicized elections in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t
yet qualify those countries to be counted as democracies. “It’s a flawed way of
thinking to believe that elections alone guarantee democracy,” Puddington said.
“You have to have a reasonable rule of law, a reasonable
amount of freedom of the press, personal security.  You have to have a fair
and consistent electoral process in place, and you have to have the people who
are elected then effectively governing the society.”

Bush: I am pleased that members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto.

Line Item Veto

The President called for enactment of line-item veto power, but failed to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as a violation of the Constitution in 1998, after President Clinton exercised the power once. The vote was 6 to 3, and one of the three Justices who wanted to uphold the power was Sandra Day O’Connor, whose resignation from the high court took effect earlier on the same day Bush spoke. The President offered no explanation of how the veto might be revived by legislation in a form that the current, more conservative Supreme Court would approve, nor did he call specifically for a Constitutional amendment.

This was Bush’s first mention of a line-item veto in a State of the Union address, though he and several of his subordinates have made mention of his support for such a veto throughout his presidency. Congress has so far shown very little interest, however. A bill to amend the Constitution to create a line-item veto has been introduced in every Congress during Bush’s presidency, but all died in committee without so much as a hearing. In the current Congress, Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina introduced such a bill in late September to amend the Constitution to include the line-item veto, and it currently sits dormant in the Judiciary Committee. There are no co-sponsors. In the House, Republican Rep. Todd Russell Platts of Pennsylvania introduced a similar bill in the House on Sept. 21, 2005 which was promptly referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it still sits. There is one co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey.

Bush: Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs — more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.

Jobs

The President noted that the US has gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. That’s true. However, most of that gain merely made up for the 2.6 million jobs that were lost during Bush’s first two-and-a-half years.

The
graph below shows the cumulative change in jobs starting in January 2001, when Bush first took office, and ending in December 2005, the most recent month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released figures for total nonfarm employment.

Update Feb. 3: After the President
spoke, the BLS announced Feb. 3 that the unemployment rate for January
declined to 4.7 percent, the lowest since July 2001. Job gains in
January broght the total gain to more than 4.7 million since the
bottom of the job slump, and the net total, since Bush took
office, to just under 2.1 million.

 

However, when the President said “the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world,” he was standing on firm ground. The US unemployment rate for December was 4.9 per cent. That’s significantly lower than most other industrialized democracies. Unemployment in Germany stands at 9.3 per cent, France at 9.2 per cent, Canada at 6.5 per cent. Only Japan’s rate of 4.6 per cent and the United Kingdom’s 4.8 per cent were better than the US, according to latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Bush: Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we’ve reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.  

Spending

The President, speaking of being “good stewards of tax dollars,” focused on one small part of the budget and did not mention rapid growth in overall federal spending that has taken place under his tenure.

He said “we’ve reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending,” which is true. However, that category accounts for only about 16 per cent of the whole federal budget, and it too has grown, though not as rapidly as other categories.

Bush said bills were passed last year that would actually cut this category, and that is correct. The decline is projected to be 0.5 per cent, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.

Overall federal spending is up 42 per cent under Bush, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office. And CBO projects further upward pressure on spending, including rising interest rates pushing up the cost of servicing the swelling national debt, and rising medical costs and Bush’s new prescription drug benefit pushing up the cost of Medicare. (Neither item is counted in the “discretionary” category). CBO projects interest costs will increase 18 per cent in the current fiscal year, and Medicare will go up 17 per cent.

The President proposed cutting $14 billion worth of programs and said this would keep the US “on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.” Not mentioned is that the deficit is going up
this year. It was $317 billion in the fiscal year that ended last Oct. 30, and CBO projects that this year’s deficit will be at least $337 billion, and probably $360 billion by the time added money is approved for flood insurance and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. CBO currently projects the deficit to decline to $241 billion in fiscal 2009, but that doesn’t include the effects of making Bush’s tax cuts permanent, something Bush urged strongly in his speech.

Bush: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

Oil Imports

The President voiced a “goal” of replacing more than three-quarters “of our oil imports from the Middle East” by the year 2025. He did not mention that the US has grown more dependent on imported oil and petroleum products since he took office.

According to most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration, the US imported 60 percent of its oil and petroleum products during the first 11 months of last year, up from just under 53 percent in President Clinton’s last year in office. Last year, of all the oil and petroleum products consumed in the US, 11.2 percent came from Persian Gulf countries, according to the EIA. That is actually down somewhat from Clinton’s last year, when the Persian Gulf countries supplied 12.6 percent.

Whether imports from the Middle East can ever be “a thing of the past” is open to question. It is true that the US currently imports nearly as much oil from nearby Canada (2.1 million barrels per day last year) as it does from all Persian Gulf countries combined (2.3 million barrels per day), but that’s still a lot of oil to do without.

–By Brooks Jackson, with Justin Bank, James Ficaro and Emi Kolawole

Sources

President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address,” Office of the White House Press Secretary, 31 Jan 2006.

Freedom in the World 2006: Select Date from Freedom House’s Annual Global Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties.”  Freedom House. 2006.

Clinton v. City of New York,   524 U. S. 417, 429 (1998)

Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006 .”  Summary Tables.  Office of Management and Budget.  February 2005.  Table S.2

Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006.”   Office of Management and Budget.  February 2005.  Pp. 52, 97, 105, 125, 146. 

Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.7: “ Overview of U.S. Petroleum Trade ” US Energy Information Administration 25 Jan 2006.

 

Copyright 2006 Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Judgments expressed are those of FactCheck.org’s staff, not the Annenberg Center

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