On Wednesday, Fox News Channel’s Bill Hemmer interviewed Austan Goolsbee, the chief economist for the White House Recovery Board, on the one-year anniversary of the stimulus.
Here is a simple fact check of Mr. Goolsbee's claims:
Hemmer: "What does the White House predict a year from now?"
Goolsbee: Let’s remember, you’re citing the claim that the unemployment rate wouldn’t go above 8 percent, but if you remember in that same projection they said that if we didn’t pass the stimulus it would only go to 9 percent, and it was above that before the stimulus even came into effect. What the administration and everyone else missed was the depth of the recession that was in place at the end of 2008 and at the beginning of 2009 when the President came into office.
In April, President Obama was busy touting the stimulus as having "already saved or created over 150,000 jobs." Press releases from the administration were already being sent out claiming saved jobs on April 1. Even well before that, on January 25, Lawrence Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser, promised that the benefits from the stimulus bill would be seen "within weeks" after passage. Yet, despite Mr. Goolsbee's claim, the unemployment rate did not rise above 9 percent until May, well after these claimed jobs were supposedly being created.
As for the statement that the president was “surprised” by how bad the economy was, during his first radio address to the nation on Jan. 24, Obama claimed, "We begin this year and this administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action." In Obama's first national press conference he talked about the United States finding itself in a crisis *12 times* and also took pains to emphasize that it was an "unprecedented crisis." Given that the unemployment rate in 1983 reached 10.7 percent, if the president believed that we were indeed in an “unprecedented crisis” or at least the worst shape since the Great Depression, it is hard to see how the unemployment numbers could surprise him or those on his team.
The Obama administration has frequently claimed that they didn't realize how bad the GDP numbers for the 4th quarter 2008 were when their first unemployment predictions were released, but the February 28 estimates were released well after the GDP numbers were out.
Mr. Goolsbee states that the economy was worse than he expected it to be. But there is another alternative explanation and that is that the stimulus created higher unemployment. In fact, my columns in this space predicted that during at the beginning of February 2009 that would be the case. Moving around a trillion dollars from areas where people would have spent it to areas where the government wants to spend it will move a lot of jobs away from those firms that are losing the money to those who are now favored by the government. Since people won't instantly move from one job to another, there will be a temporary increase in unemployment.
But there’s still more. Here’s this from Hemmer’s interview:
Hemmer: "So you are saying that you are standing by the numbers and you guys were right all along."
Goolsbee: What I’m saying is that the impact of the stimulus is very much what they predicted it to be. What they missed -- and what everyone missed -- was the depth of the baseline that was in place as the president came into office, yes.
Two graphs illustrate Obama's promises versus what actually happened. Whether one uses the president's predictions when he came into office or his later predictions as provided on February 28, the actual unemployment rate lies well above either of those predictions.
If one looks at both the number of people unemployed and the number who have left the labor force, “I can’t see any [employment] benefit from the stimulus," Professor Stephen Bronars, a labor economist at the University of Texas at Austin, told me.
And then there’s this from Hemmer’s interview with Goolsbee:
Hemmer: [What if you] Use the unspent stimulus of $514 billion to pay down the national debt?
Goolsbee: Well, Bill, I got to tell you when the people who burned down the back half of the house are complaining about how much it costs to rebuild it, I think we’re in a bit of a strange spot. As you know, the deficit was projected, before the president took office, to be $1.3 trillion, and that’s because we were teetering on the edge of a depression and we needed to put the focus -- as we did -- on getting us away from the abyss. If we hadn’t done that the deficit would be catastrophically worse even than it is this year and than it was projected to be when the president came in. We should not reverse the second half of the stimulus. It’s needed to get us out of the woods. Look out the window, the unemployment rate is near 10 percent. Now, the stimulus was never capable of restoring the 8 million jobs hole that was created by the recession beginning in 2007. It did part of it and the private sector needs to the rest.
During the middle of October, 2008, after the bailout bill had been passed, then-Senator Obama claimed (during the third presidential debate): "we are now looking at a deficit of well over half a trillion dollars." Virtually all of the huge 2009 budget deficit of $1.4 trillion has been blamed on the Bush administration -- as if Mr. Obama's $862 billion stimulus (over two years) and his $410 billion supplemental spending bill in March had nothing to do with it. Mr. Obama also asked for $350 billion in TARP money to be released by the Bush administration immediately before he entered the White House. Bush had no plans to spend that money, but, by releasing it before he took office, Mr. Obama is able to claim that the spending should be counted towards the Bush administration.
Then there was this:
Hemmer pointed out that the White House is starting a pushing to focus on the deficit. Isn’t that a contradiction from this administration?
Here’s the response:
Goolsbee: [No.] Because you’re getting confused between the short term and the long term. What we need is to put a focus on deficit reduction in the long term. Everyone agrees with that, [and] the president wants to put a focus [on it]. The reason the budget commission failed, as you know, is because 7 Republicans that sponsored the bill turned around and voted against it when it became clear it was going to pass.
Actually, it isn't clear how the administration can blame Republicans for the defeat of the budget commission. Democrats controlled 60 seats in the Senate at the time, and they could have approved the commission without a single Republican vote. Sixteen Republicans did vote for the commission (along with 37 Democrats), but 23 Democrats and 23 Republicans voted against the commission. The Republicans voted against it because they worried that the commission would rely heavily on new -- and higher -- taxes to reduce the deficit.
This came next…
Hemmer noted that a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 6 percent of Americans think that the stimulus has created jobs and 48 percent think that it will never create jobs.
Goolsbee: Well, look, that may be true. I’m just a policy guy. I’m not an expert on spinning and convincing. What I would say is if you go get the data from the private sector forecasters, from the non-partisan congressional budget, or you look at Recovery.gov or the reports coming out of the Council of Economic Advisers, you see they are all hovering around the creating or saving of 2 million jobs thus far. And so the key is [that] the hole was extremely deep. This brought us part of the way up out of this abyss hole. But we need to do more. The president has never said that this is sufficient.
It is a bit of an exaggeration that everyone is in agreement with these claims. Cary Leahey, an economist and senior managing director with Decision Economics, one of the forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal, provided me with one explanation for why the stimulus increased unemployment: “With transitional moves in government spending [from the stimulus], there will be dislocations in the economy that will lead to higher unemployment.” But he emphasized that he thought those effects would be “short-lived, six to nine months, definitely not more than a year.” Of the other three sources, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, or if you look at recovery.gov or the reports coming out of the Council of Economic Advisers, all are controlled by Democrats.
Then there was this…
Hemmer raised the point that only two places in the country have gained jobs during the last year: North Dakota and Washington, D.C.
Goolsbee: Well, certainly, if they’re going to be treated to the kind of rationale that you’re describing, it’s going to be very tough. But if you look at what, as I’m trying to describe, the recession began in 2007 – 8 million jobs were lost. If you restore 2 million jobs, that’s 2 million people who are at work, who would have been out of work had we not done that. But that doesn’t fill the entire 8 million hole. And so for you to say they only created jobs in North Dakota, you’re making the mistake of saying, well, the stimulus should have created more than 8 million jobs or else it didn’t have an impact. But that’s just logically incorrect.
Mr. Goolsbee simply isn't answering Hemmer's question. Hemmer was asking about the change in jobs since the beginning of last year to evaluate the impact of the stimulus, while Goolsbee is also discussing job losses from the end of 2007. There was nothing “logically incorrect” with Hemmer’s question.
There is also a simple math error in Mr. Goolsbee's statement. He claims that things would have been even worse than the 8 million drop in jobs if the stimulus hadn’t been passed. What he may have meant to say is that without the stimulus 10 million jobs would have been lost (the 8 million that were lost plus the 2 million that were saved by the stimulus and would have been lost without it). But if the Obama administration really believes this, the unemployment rate in January would have been 11 percent, not 9.7 percent, and the Obama administration never predicted that the unemployment rate would go to 11 percent without the stimulus.
In any case, Goolsbee’s reluctance to explain why jobs, since the beginning of last year, have only increased in the District Columbia, where a lot of government jobs have been created, and North Dakota is understandable.
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