Cutting Up the Truth

Obama spokeswoman spews falsehoods during cable talk show appearance

June 12, 2012

Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter continued her assault on reality in a Tuesday morning interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.

Cutter began by discussing the Obama campaign’s most recent attack ad, which slams GOP nominee Mitt Romney over the debt accumulated during his term as governor of Massachusetts by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

The ad repeats the erroneous claim that Massachusetts "fell to 47th in job creation" on Romney’s watch. Cutter has previously said the state "plummeted to 47th" in job creation. However, Massachusetts actually rose in rank from 50th to 30th in job growth during Romney’s four years in office.

Todd questioned the wisdom of the Obama campaign attacking Romney on the issue of debt, given the president’s own vulnerability on the issue.

Cutter, though, said the debt was "absolutely" the best issue for the campaign to use against Romney. Obama’s failed pledge to halve the deficit by 2012 was "not a phony promise," she argued, and the president has "made real progress" toward achieving that goal.

That claim is belied by the numbers, however.

The deficit was $1.4 trillion when Obama took office, according to the Office of Management and Budget, and is projected to reach $1.2 trillion by the end of 2012.

Obama, who as a candidate in 2008 said George W. Bush was "unpatriotic" for adding $4 trillion to the national debt over eight years, is on pace to rack up $6.2 trillion in debt by the end of his first four years in office. That is the most of any president in American history. The country’s debt per capita is currently larger than Greece's.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that the president’s most recent budget proposal would add an additional $6.4 trillion to the national debt by 2022, and would have a negative impact on long-term economic growth.

Yet Cutter insisted the national debt was an issue on which Obama has led successfully. "The president has a deficit reduction plan on the table—a detailed plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion—$2 trillion of that has already been enacted into law," she said. "That's real progress in paying down our debt in a responsible, balanced way."

The statement does not withstand scrutiny, however. Cutter may have been referring to the proposal Obama put forward in September 2011—titled: "Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future"—that would allegedly reduce the deficit by $3.2 trillion over a decade.

However, independent analysts criticized that plan as anything but "responsible." The Washington Post reported at the time:

The latest Obama plan "doesn’t produce any more in realistic savings than the plan they offered in April," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "They’ve filled in details, repackaged it and replaced one gimmick with another. They don't even stabilize the debt. This is just not enough."

The most disheartening development, MacGuineas and others said, is Obama’s decision to count $1.1 trillion in savings from the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan toward his debt-reduction total. Because Obama has no intention of continuing war spending at last year’s elevated levels, that $1.1 trillion would never have been spent. ...

"Almost $2 trillion of the $3 trillion [savings] total is obtained by choosing the most convenient baseline assumption," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the bipartisan Concord Coalition. "There are, of course, some legitimate proposals here, but not the kind of structural changes that are needed in entitlement programs and tax expenditures to put the budget on a sustainable path."

Republican budget analysts calculated that after such gimmicks were accounted for, the president’s plan was little more than a $1.6 trillion tax increase.

Some of the $2 trillion in spending cuts agreed to as part of last year’s debt ceiling compromise have been drawn from Obama’s own proposals. But the president and every leading Democrat also vigorously opposed any spending cuts attached to a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Later in the segment, Cutter made inaccurate claims about Romney and the GOP budget proposal authored by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).

"Mitt Romney has these grand plans of how he's going to balance the budget and adopt the Ryan budget to reduce the deficit," she said. "There's not one single study out there that shows that the Ryan plan would actually result in deficit reduction."

Several studies contradict Cutter’s claim. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for example, estimated that Ryan’s plan "would result in much lower deficits and debt in the long run" compared with current CBO projections, largely through reforming the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of the national debt.

"Under the proposal, the federal budget would show a deficit of about 2 percent of GDP in 2022, a slight surplus in 2040, and a surplus of about 4 percent of GDP in 2050," writes CBO. "The ratio of debt to GDP would fall sharply—from about 70 percent of GDP in 2022 to about 10 percent in 2050."

Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who criticized Obama’s deficit plan in the Washington Post story cited above, said Ryan’s budget "puts our nation on a fiscally sustainable path, and he deserves praise for making many of the hard choices necessary to do so."

That is different from President Obama’s budget, under which the U.S. "fiscal position gradually deteriorates" after 2022, according to the White House’s own analysis. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told members of Congress in February: "Even if Congress were to enact [the president’s] budget, we would still be left with…unsustainable commitments in Medicare and Medicaid."

When asked about Obama’s most recent controversial remarks about the economy—"the private sector is doing fine"—Cutter slammed the press for taking the statement "out of context." She said the president has presided over "steady job growth in the private sector," despite taking office "in the mist [sic] of the nation's greatest recession we've ever seen."

While many experts have argued that the current recession is the worst since the Great Depression, certainly few would agree with Cutter that it is the worst since the nation’s founding more than two centuries ago.

There is evidence to suggest, however, that the current recovery is actually one of the worst in American history. As former White House economic adviser Edward Lazear noted in the Wall Street Journal, the economy averaged growth rates of 11 percent in the three years following the Great Depression, while experiencing average annual growth of a little more than 2 percent since 2010. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has compiled a chart indicating that the current recovery is far less vigorous than others since World War II.

If the current recovery is less than robust, Cutter suggested, it is only because the Obama administration lacks "willing partners across the aisle to help us get it done."

"Instead of rooting for the failure of this economy, we should put country first," she said, smearing the Republican opposition and using language reminiscent of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan.