Rep. Hensarling's Reagan-Obama Op-Ed Relies On Sweeping Economic Misinformation

February 07, 2011 1:08 pm ET

In a column in today's Politico, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) assails President Obama's economic record with a variety of stale Republican talking points. While Hensarling wraps his misinformation in the legacy of President Reagan, he'd do well to remember Reagan's admonition that we are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. Whether Hensarling likes it or not, the fact is that President Bush's policies left the 2009 budget $1.2 trillion in the hole before Obama was sworn into office. Similarly, Hensarling said we are 'slipping further' into "record unemployment," but the data prove the jobs situation has been improving steadily for months. Neither do the facts support Hensarling's claims that the Affordable Care Act is bad for the budget picture and that Democrats increased federal spending by 84 percent since 2008.

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Falsely Suggested That The Unemployment Problem Is Getting Worse

Rep. Hensarling:

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has indicated that while he and his team glorify our 40th president when it's politically convenient, he will continue business as usual while America slips further into unprecedented debt and record unemployment. [Hensarling op-ed via Politico, 2/7/11]

FACT: The Job Market Has Been Improving Ever Since President Obama's Economic Policies Took Effect

January 2011: Unemployment Rate Fell By 0.4 Percentage Points. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "The unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 9.0 percent in January, while nonfarm payroll employment changed little (+36,000), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. ... The unemployment rate (9.0 percent) declined by 0.4 percentage point for the second month in a row. The number of unemployed persons decreased by about 600,000 in January to 13.9 million, while the labor force was unchanged." [, 2/4/11]

Private Sector Has Added Jobs For 11 Consecutive Months. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data on monthly gains and losses in private sector jobs, the private sector lost 21,000 jobs in February 2010. But private sector employment has increased in each of the subsequent 11 months, the data show. [, accessed 2/7/11]

The Washington Monthly published a chart showing BLS data for monthly job gains and losses in the private sector over the past three years:

[Washington Monthly, 2/4/11]

FLASHBACK: When President Obama Was Sworn In, The Economy Was Hemorrhaging Hundreds Of Thousands Of Jobs Each Month

The Economy Shed Almost 8 Million Jobs Under Republican Policies Before The Recovery Act Could Affect The Economy. According to economist Robert J. Shapiro:

From December 2007 to July 2009 - the last year of the Bush second term and the first six months of the Obama presidency, before his policies could affect the economy - private sector employment crashed from 115,574,000 jobs to 107,778,000 jobs. Employment continued to fall, however, for the next six months, reaching a low of 107,107,000 jobs in December of 2009. So, out of 8,467,000 private sector jobs lost in this dismal cycle, 7,796,000 of those jobs or 92 percent were lost on the Republicans' watch or under the sway of their policies. Some 671,000 additional jobs were lost as the stimulus and other moves by the administration kicked in, but 630,000 jobs then came back in the following six months. The tally, to date: Mr. Obama can be held accountable for the net loss of 41,000 jobs (671,000 - 630,000), while the Republicans should be held responsible for the net losses of 7,796,000 jobs. [, 8/10/10, emphasis added]

Based on Shapiro's research, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein created the following chart showing net job losses before and after the Recovery Act was enacted:

[Washington Post8/12/10]

  • From January 2008 Through July 2009, Economy Lost Over 400,000 Private Sector Jobs Per Month On Average. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data on monthly gains and losses in private sector jobs, the private sector added 4,000 jobs in January 2008. In June 2009, the sixth month of the Obama presidency, the private sector shed 438,000 jobs. Over that 18-month span, the private sector shed over 401,000 jobs per month on average, the data show.

Jan 08


Feb 08


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Aug 08


Sep 08


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Nov 08


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[, accessed 2/7/11]

PolitiFact: "True" That "Most Job Losses" Happened Before Obama Policies Took Effect. According to's analysis of President Obama's statement that "most of the jobs that we lost were lost before the economic policies we put in place had any effect": "Looking at BLS data on seasonally adjusted non-farm employment from December 2007, when the recession officially began, to January 2009, the month before the stimulus was enacted (a 25-month period), the jobs number declined by 4.4 million. ... When [Obama] refers to his economic policies, we presume he is referring to his main economic stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It passed in February 2009, but it took several months before the impact of its spending was felt in the economy. Job loss didn't stop, but Obama is right that it slowed down. In the 19 months from February 2009 through September 2010, the month of the most recent preliminary data, the overall job decline in the private and public sectors was 2.6 million. And the number of jobs lost per month has declined from around 700,000 a month at the beginning of the administration to months in which there were small net gains. ... 'I watched the president on Stewart's show last night, and I thought his basic point about the timing of the employment losses was correct and ought to be noncontroversial,' Gary Burtless, a labor markets expert at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution said in an e-mail." [, 10/27/10, emphasis added]

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Claimed That The Deficit From President Bush's 2009 Budget Is President Obama's Fault

Rep. Hensarling:

Thanks to Obama's economic policies, we've seen not only the first but also the second $1 trillion deficit in the nation's history. [Hensarling op-ed via Politico, 2/7/11]

FACT: On The Day He Was Sworn Into Office, President Obama Faced A $1.2 Trillion Deficit Because Of Spending Under President Bush

Before Obama Took Office, The FY 2009 Deficit Was Projected At $1.2 Trillion. As reported by the Washington Times: "The Congressional Budget Office announced a projected fiscal 2009 deficit of $1.2 trillion even if Congress doesn't enact any new programs. [...] About the only person who was silent on the deficit projection was Mr. Bush, who took office facing a surplus but who saw spending balloon and the country notch the highest deficits on record." [Washington Times1/8/09, emphasis added]

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Claimed An 84 Percent Rise In Spending Under Democrats

Rep. Hensarling:

Because of the Democrats' wasteful stimulus spending, non-security discretionary expenses rose an astonishing 84 percent from 2008 to 2010. [Hensarling op-ed via Politico, 2/7/11]

FACT: Non-Partisan Fact Checkers Say Republicans Are Cooking The Books To Arrive At "84 Percent" Figure

PolitiFact: Counting Stimulus Spending In 2010 Is "A Nifty Accounting Maneuver." In a November 2010 fact check of the same "84 percent" claim from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), wrote:

Outside experts that PolitiFact Wisconsin spoke with quibble a bit about the annual budget figures Ryan uses, but the numbers are not really in dispute. And they do show a big jump -- from $434 billion in 2008 to $537 billion in 2010.

But that's a 24 percent increase, not the 84 percent claimed by Ryan and his colleagues.

Is someone's math fuzzy? Let's dig in to find out.

Ryan's calculations also include another number -- the discretionary spending portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus package. That adds another $259 million to the total, which brings it to $797 billion (with rounding) and the 84 percent.

One problem, and it's a significant one in terms of Ryan's statement:

The stimulus package was 
approved in February 2009.

Ryan includes it in the 2010 totals, so the two-year trend under Obama looks like a rocket headed straight up.

If you put it in 2009 -- when it was passed -- the two-year trend under Obama looks more like a roller-coaster ride: Up a lot, and then down some but not all the way. [...]

In illustrating his point about spending increases under President Obama, Ryan says non-defense discretionary spending has risen 84 percent. There is no doubt that spending is up, or that the one-time stimulus package was a major driver. But sliding the stimulus money from 2009 to 2010 -- whether on a chart or in an interview -- skews the picture.

It's a nifty accounting maneuver. But still a maneuver. We rate Ryan's claim Barely True. [, 11/2/10, emphasis added]

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel produced a graphic demonstrating the difference between Rep. Ryan's methodology and "conventional accounting."

[Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via, 11/2/10]

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Claimed The Affordable Care Act Adds $700 Billion To The Debt

Rep. Hensarling:

We voted to reduce the deficit by $700 billion and to reduce spending by more than $2.6 trillion by repealing Obamacare. [Hensarling op-ed via Politico, 2/7/11]

FACT: GOP's Deficit Math On Health Care Is Completely Wrong — The Bill Actually Shrinks The Federal Debt

For a point-by-point rebuttal of the Republican argument that the Affordable Care Act adds $700 billion in debt, read our comprehensive fact check.

CBO: Health Care Reform Package Would Reduce The Deficit By $138 Billion By 2019. According to the Congressional Budget Office: "The reconciliation proposal includes provisions related to health care and revenues, many of which would amend H.R. 3590. It also includes amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965, which authorizes most federal programs involving postsecondary education. CBO and JCT estimate that enacting both pieces of legislation - H.R. 3590 and the reconciliation proposal - would produce a net reduction in federal deficits of $138 billion over the 2010-2019 period as result of changes in direct spending and revenue." [CBO, 3/18/10]

OMB: Affordable Care Act Reduces Deficits By $1.1 Trillion By 2030. According to Office of Management and former Budget Director Peter Orszag: "The bottom line remains the same: the Affordable Care Act is the largest deficit reduction package enacted in over a decade according to CBO. It will reduce deficits by more than $100 billion in the current decade and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that - and that will not change." [, 5/12/10, emphasis added]

FACT: By Voting For Repeal Of The Affordable Care Act, Rep. Hensarling Actually Voted To Add $230 Billion To The Debt

CBO: Republican Repeal Bill Would Add $230 Billion To The Debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office:

Because CBO and JCT estimated that the March 2010 health care legislation would reduce budget deficits over the 2010-2019 period and in subsequent years, we expect that repealing that legislation would increase budget deficits. The resulting increase in deficits projected for fiscal years 2012 through 2019 is likely to be similar in size to-but not exactly the same as-the reduction in deficits that was originally estimated to result from the enacted legislation.[...]

As a result of changes in direct spending and revenues, CBO expects that enacting H.R. 2 would probably increase federal budget deficits over the 2012-2019 period by a total of roughly $145 billion (on the basis of the original estimate), plus or minus the effects of technical and economic changes that CBO and JCT will include in the forthcoming estimate.Adding two more years (through 2021) brings the projected increase in deficits to something in the vicinity of $230 billion, plus or minus the effects of technical and economic changes. [CBO, 1/6/11]