Former President Bill Clinton delivered a defense of President Barack Obama’s record in a speech last night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. How do Clinton’s assertions square with the facts?
The Claim: Clinton said that over the past half century almost twice as many jobs had been created when Democrats were in the White House as under Republican administrations.
The Background: Republicans have used today’s weak job market as a club to beat President Obama. Clinton confronted the Republican charges by claiming long-term success for the Democrats’ “we’re all in this together” philosophy, which he contrasted with what he described as the Republicans’ “you’re on your own” approach. Since 1961, Republican presidents have served for 28 years while Democrats have been in office for about 23 years. Clinton said total job growth over that period amounted to 66 million. “What’s the jobs score?” he asked the crowd in Charlotte. “Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million!” he said.
The Facts: Clinton’s math is correct. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for the month each president took office, Democratic presidents presided over the creation of 42.3 million jobs and Republican chief executives saw 23.9 million.
Republican Tax Proposals
The Claim: Clinton said Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s tax plan would lead to middle-class tax increases, deep spending cuts or higher deficits. During his speech, Clinton said Romney’s plan could lead to $250,000 tax cuts for people making more than $3 million. Or, he said, it would “obliterate the budget” for education, clean air, clean water and national parks. Or, he said, Republicans would increase the deficit.
The Background: Romney’s fiscal plan calls for a balanced budget in 8 to 10 years. He would cap spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, increase defense spending, cut tax rates and eliminate tax breaks. He hasn’t specified most of the spending cuts or any of the tax breaks he would eliminate, and independent analyses have found that the math is almost impossible.
The Facts: By noting the gaps in Romney’s proposal and structuring his argument as a list of possibilities rather than certainties, Clinton’s phrasing is more accurate than other Democratic statements. Obama campaign ads, for example, say Romney’s plan would definitely mean a middle-class tax increase.
Clinton used a number, the $250,000 tax cut for people making more than $3 million, which was first calculated by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and reduced by an unspecified amount when the center considered other possible ways to structure the Romney plan.
What would actually happen under Romney depends on how he fills in the details, which he has so far not done.
Romney has said his top priority would be preventing the middle class from paying higher taxes. He could adjust the other variables in his tax plan, the rates and the revenue target, to make that happen. Clinton correctly framed the statement by saying that middle class taxes would have to go up if Romney stuck to his rate cut and if he tried to offset the revenue loss by curtailing tax breaks. There aren’t enough of those to offset lower revenue from top earners.
On spending, Romney has specified that he would cut Medicaid, the health benefit for the poor, and other similar programs by about $100 billion a year. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that meeting Romney’s goals would require a 29 percent budget cut in most programs by 2016.
Choosing to soften the spending cuts or tax-break changes would, as Clinton suggested, make it harder to avoid increasing the deficit. Clinton didn’t try to predict exactly what Romney would do. Instead, he showed the possible choices that Romney’s constraints would force.
The Claim: Clinton said that Republican policies quadrupled the national debt in the 12 years before he took office and doubled it again in the 8 years following his presidency.
The Background: At their convention in Tampa, Florida, Republicans prominently placed a digital display showing a continually updated total for the national debt, which passed $16 trillion as the Democrats opened their conclave. Romney has attacked Obama as a big spender who has lavished money on wasteful government programs.
The Facts: Clinton’s claim is largely true. The Treasury Department’s website, www.treasurydirect.gov, includes detailed historical data on the government’s public debt. Only annual fiscal year data is available for the period before 1997. Total public debt rose from $907.7 billion on Sept. 30, 1980, four months before President Reagan’s inauguration, to $4.1 trillion on Sept. 30, 1992, as the administration of President George H.W. Bush was coming to a close. Under Clinton, the rise slowed markedly, going to $5.7 trillion. On the second half of his claim, his math was a little off. Total debt rose from $5.7 trillion on Jan. 22, 2001, the first trading day after President George W. Bush was sworn in, to $10.6 trillion on Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama took over. That 86 percent jump isn’t quite the doubling Clinton claimed.
The Claim: Clinton said that in the last 29 months the economy has produced about 4.5 million private-sector jobs.
The Background: Job creation has been a critical issue in the election.
The Reality: The statement is true. Private non-farm payrolls rose by 4.5 million during the 29 months ended in July, the most recent month for which figures are available.
To contact the reporter on this story: David J. Lynch in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Clark Hoyt at email@example.com