Fact Checking The Sunday Shows - June 19, 2011

June 20, 2011 10:00 am ET

The war in Libya took center stage on the Sunday political talk shows, as Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) both attacked fellow Republicans for criticizing the Obama administration's controversial military campaign in the country. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stepped up to deliver the usual dose of partisan misinformation. During an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, McConnell claimed that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act only helped "government employees" and "didn't do any good" as a whole. That's patently false; the Recovery Act has created and protected millions of jobs, and it included hundreds of billions in tax cuts. McConnell also disparaged the U.S. civilian justice system by suggesting that military commissions are more effective in prosecuting suspected terrorists. In fact, when it comes to sentencing convicted terrorists, civilian courts have issued longer sentences than military courts.

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Claimed The Recovery Act Only Spent Money On "Government Employees" And "Didn't Do Any Good"

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: It's obvious that the stimulus, borrowing all that money and spending it, basically, on government employees, didn't do any good. [Face the Nation, 6/19/11]

FACT: The Economy Shed Millions Of Jobs During The Bush Recession Until President Obama's Policies Began To Turn Things Around

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. [Sonecon.com, 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]

PolitiFact: "True" That "Most Job Losses" Happened Before Obama Policies Took Effect. According to PolitiFact.com'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." [PolitiFact.com, 10/27/10, emphasis added]

FACT: While The Private Sector Grows, Government Employers Continue To Lay Off Thousands Every Month

Since Summer 2009, The Private Sector Has Added Jobs While The Public Sector Has Shrunk. Political Correction prepared a chart based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing cumulative job gains and losses in the public and private sectors since summer 2009 (click to enlarge):

Since July 2009, The Private Sector Has Gained Over 1.2 Million Net Jobs. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there were 107,649,000 private-sector jobs in July 2009. As of May 2011, the most recent report available, the data show that total is up to 108,916,000 — a net gain of 1,267,000 jobs in the private sector. [BLS.gov, accessed 6/12/11]

Since July 2009, The Public Sector Has Lost 417,000 Net Jobs. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there were 22,544,000 jobs in the government sector in July 2009. As of May 2011, the most recent report available, the data show 22,127,000 government jobs — a net loss of 417,000. [BLS.gov, accessed 6/12/11]

BLS: The Private Sector Added 2.1 Million Jobs From February 2010 To April 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 244,000 in April, and the private sector added 268,000 jobs. Employment rose in a number of service-providing industries, manufacturing, and mining. Since a recent low in February 2010, total payroll employment has grown by 1.8 million. Private sector employment has increased by 2.1 million over the same period." [BLS.gov, 5/6/11]

There Have Been 15 Consecutive Months Of Private-Sector Job Growth. Below is a graph prepared by the Office of the Democratic Leader showing monthly private-sector job gains and losses:

[Office of the Democratic Leader, 6/3/11, via Flickr]

FACT: Almost 1/3 Of The Recovery Act Were Tax Cuts, Which Benefited 95 Percent Of Working Families

Recovery Act Included $288 Billion To $325 Billion In Tax Cuts.  According to the Government Accountability Office: "On recovery.gov, the administration includes both categories to arrive at its estimate of $288 billion in tax relief. The JCT estimate of $325 billion also includes the cost of COBRA and economic recovery payments provisions that IRS administers." [GAO, 2/4/10]

PolitiFact: $288 Billion In Tax Relief In Recovery Act Were "Nearly A Third" Of The Spending. According to PolitiFact.com: "Nearly a third of the cost of the stimulus, $288 billion, comes via tax breaks to individuals and businesses. The tax cuts include a refundable credit of up to $400 per individual and $800 for married couples; a temporary increase of the earned income tax credit for disadvantaged families; and an extension of a program that allows businesses to recover the costs of capital expenditures faster than usual. The tax cuts aren't so much spending as money the government won't get -- so it can stay in the economy. Of that $288 billion, the stimulus has resulted in $119 billion worth of tax breaks so far." [PolitiFact.com, 2/17/10]

  • The Recovery Act Cut Taxes For 95 Percent Of Working Families. According to PolitiFact.com: 

Under the stimulus bill, single workers got $400, and working couples got $800. The Internal Revenue Service issued new guidelines to reduce withholdings for income tax, so many workers saw a small increase in their checks in April 2009.

The tax cut was part of Obama's campaign promises. During the campaign, Obama said he wanted $500 for each worker and $1,000 for working couples. Since the final number was a bit less than he promised, we rated his promise a Compromise on our Obameter, where we rate Obama's campaign promises for fulfillment. 

During the campaign, the independent Tax Policy Center researched how Obama's tax proposals would affect workers. It concluded 94.3 percent of workers would receive a tax cut under Obama's plan based on the tax credit to offset payroll taxes. According to the analysis, the people who wouldn't get a tax cut are those who make more than $250,000 for couples or $200,000 for a single person. [PolitiFact.com, 1/27/10]

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Said Trying Suspected Terrorists In Civilian Courts Is The "Wrong Choice"

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: The Attorney General said the other night our biggest weapon in the war on terror was the civilian court system. I don't know what planet he's living on. If Osama bin Laden were alive today, I think he'd say out biggest weapon was U.S. Navy Seals. Look, foreigners are not entitled to be tried in the U.S. court system, particularly if they're enemy combatants, and that's what these are, enemy combatants. The Attorney General has the choice, he just made the wrong choice. They oughta be tried in military commissions. [Face the Nation, 6/19/2011]

FACT: Civilian Trials Have Produced Longer Sentences For Terrorists Than Military Tribunals

Colin Powell: Of Three People Tried In Military Court In Eight Years, Two "Served Relatively Short Sentences And Are Free" And "One Guy Is In Jail." From the February 21 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:

POWELL: The issue about sending people to military commissions, we're not using military commissions like we should. Any time you lock somebody up or you catch a terrorist, let's give them the military commission. In eight years, the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail.

Meanwhile the federal courts, our Article III regular legal court system has put dozens of terrorists in jail. And they're fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn't born out by the history of the military commission.

I think a lot of people think just give them to the military and the military will hammer them. Well, guess what? Officers in the military are obliged to follow the Constitution. Military lawyers are obliged under their oath to give the best possible defense to the defendant no more whether he's a terrorist or not. And so you didn't get out of the military commissions what a lot of people thought at the beginning you would get and a lot of us did not think it was a good idea in the beginning. [Face the Nation, 2/21/10; accessed via Nexis, emphasis added]

Chief Military Prosecutor From Guantánamo Bay Tribunals: Even If He Receives Minimum Sentence, Terrorist Convicted In Civilian Court Will Serve Longer Than 80% Of Those Convicted By Military Tribunals. In a New York Times editorial applying his experience as "chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007" to the verdict in the Ahmed Ghailani trial, Air Force Cl. Morris Davis (Ret.) wrote: "In any case, Mr. Ghailani now faces a sentence of 20 years to life. Even if he gets the minimum, his sentence will be greater than those of four of the five detainees so far convicted in military commissions. Only one defendant, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, has been sentenced to life, and this was after he boycotted his tribunal and presented no defense. Of the four detainees who participated in their military commissions, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when arrested, is serving the longest sentence after pleading guilty to murder. Yet he will serve no more than eight years behind bars, less than half of Mr. Ghailani's minimum incarceration. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, was sentenced to five and half years in 2008 but given credit for time served; five months later he was free. There is no reason to assume that a military commission sentence will be more severe than one from a federal court." [New York Times op-ed, 11/18/10; emphasis added]

CAP: "Criminal Courts Hand Out Tougher Sentences Than Military Commissions." According to the Center for American Progress:

The facts are clear: Criminal courts are a far tougher and more reliable forum for prosecuting terrorists than military commissions.


The sample size of military commissions' sentences is very small, but there are some analogous cases in the criminal justice system to compare the length of sentences in the two forums. The allegations against David Hicks in a military trial were quite similar to those leveled against John Walker Lindh-the so-called American Taliban-in a criminal court, while comparable charges to the material support for terrorism conviction for Salim Hadman can also be found in criminal courts.

Hicks pleaded guilty to the charge of material support for terrorism with the underlying allegations that he trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and that he was an armed participant in numerous engagements with American and Northern Alliance forces. Lindh pleaded guilty to serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. Hicks received a nine-month sentence while Lindh got 20 years. Even if all of the time Hicks served prior to his plea bargain is counted, his total time in custody was only six years, less than one-third of the sentence Lindh received.

Hamdan was convicted of providing material support for terrorism for being Osama bin Laden's chauffer. In 2006, Ali Asad Chandia was convicted in a criminal court of material support for terrorism for driving a member of Pakistani extremist group Lashkar-e-Taibi from Washington National Airport and helping him ship packages containing paintball equipment back to Pakistan. Hamdan received a five-month sentence while Chandia got 15 years. Even if all of the time Hamdan served prior to his conviction in a military commission is counted, his total time in custody would be only eight years.

At most, Osama bin Laden's driver got a little more than half the sentence from a military commission that a criminal court doled out to someone for driving a low-level Pakistani extremist. [Center for American Progress, Criminal Courts Are Tougher on Terrorists than Military Detention1/20/10, emphasis added]