FACT CHECK: Refereeing the Republican response

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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels

Darron Cummings/AP

We concentrated our fact-checking efforts on the main attraction last night — the president’s State of the Union address — but we also found factual fouls in the Republican response from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Daniels took a swipe at President Obama for dictating which light bulbs Americans should use — but it was President George W. Bush who signed the legislation in question into law. And he used a misleading statistic in talking about the country’s unemployment situation.

Light Bulb Legislation

Daniels said that Obama was interfering with Americans’ lives, from health care down to their home lighting choices:

Daniels, Jan. 24: "In word and deed, the president and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection. Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids; why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb!"

But the light bulb remark is aimed at the wrong target. The law phasing out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones, was passed by Congress on Dec. 18, 2007, and signed by Bush the following day. The law’s requirements on light bulbs were set to take effect this month, but new legislation, signed by Obama in December, delays enforcement of the regulations. Manufacturers and importers were to provide bulbs that emit as much light as a 100-watt bulb but use only 72 watts. The 75-watt bulb was to meet the law’s efficiency standards in 2013; and the 60- and 40-watt bulbs were next, in 2014.

Instead of the traditional bulbs, consumers will have to buy LEDs, halogen incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, all of which are more expensive — but, says the Department of Energy, will save consumers money over time because they use less energy and last longer.

But the light bulb law was enacted under Bush, not Obama. And it passed Congress with widespread support in 2007. The final vote in the Senate was 86 to 8, and it was 314 to 100 in the House.

Last year, however, the requirements became a lightning rod, so to speak, for Republicans who said it was federal government intrusion into basic consumer decisions. The spending bill that Obama signed in December included a provision blocking the Energy Department from enforcing the regulations. But manufacturers, who had already converted factories to churn out the energy-saving bulbs, support the requirements.

Misleading Jobs Stat

Daniels also rattled off some depressing statistics on employment, saying that “nearly half of all persons under 30, did not go to work today.” Technically, it’s 45 percent of the total population of those age 16 to 29 who were not working, as of December. But those figures include 16- to 19-year-olds, many of whom are not part of the labor force and may not be even looking for employment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the 16 to 19 population was 16.7 million, of which only 4.2 million were employed last month. That’s a total employment rate of only 25 percent. But BLS only counts 5.4 million of those teenagers as being part of the labor force — that is, those who are actively seeking employment or are employed. True, some may have given up looking for work, but a good percentage of kids at that age aren’t regularly employed, or regularly looking for employment.

The employment numbers, whether you look at the labor force or total population, improve markedly for subsequent age groups under 30. About 61 percent of the 20- to 24-year-old population was employed, and 73 percent of the 25- to 29-year-old cohort was employed. So, those 16- to 19-year-olds are making the jobs picture for those under 30 look a bit bleaker than it actually is.

Daniels also said that “one in five men of prime working age” didn’t go to work. He’s close — and again, he’s using total population numbers, which would include both those who are not actively looking for work because they are discouraged and those who simply do not work. We looked at the statistics for all men age 25 to 54, and found that nearly 82 percent were employed. That means 18 percent, or 1 in 5.5, didn’t go to work.

Borrowing Less Than Last Year

Daniels relied on outdated numbers in claiming that the federal government “borrows one of every three dollars it spends.” That was true last year, but this fiscal year, the government is borrowing $1 of every $3.71 spent, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent projections.

For fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, 2011, total outlays were $3.6 trillion, and the deficit was $1.3 trillion. That’s $1 borrowed for every $2.78 spent.

But for fiscal year 2012, CBO projects total outlays will be $3.6 trillion and the deficit will be $973 billion. That brings the borrowing down to $1 for every $3.71 spent.

Daniels also made the surprising claim that “the late Steve Jobs [of Apple]- what a fitting name he had – created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.” Reporter Chris Isidore with CNN Money took an in-depth look at that dubious claim, finding that jobs at or for Apple pale in comparison to estimates for jobs created by the stimulus legislation. As is often the case with these claims, it’s tough to say how many jobs Steve Jobs gets credit for: Apple itself employs about 63,000 people, but then there are potentially 700,000 assembly workers putting together Apple gadgets at other companies, many of them overseas — plus jobs creating apps for iPhones.

Under the stimulus, meanwhile, up to 3.6 million more persons were working than would have been the case without the law, at its peak in the third quarter of 2010. That’s according to the CBO. Daniels’ office discounted the CBO’s analysis and gave a vague accounting of employment attributed to Jobs.

CNN Money, Jan. 25: “Between Apple and its suppliers, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been created and sustained over years and years,” said [Daniels'] press spokeswoman Jane Jankowski. “Meanwhile, a number of credible economists, including Robert Barro of Harvard have questioned whether the stimulus created any net new jobs; if they did, the jobs were temporary and disappeared as the stimulus money ended.”

Barro wrote in a Feb. 2010 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that he was “skeptical” of the claims the White House had made “about GDP increases and saved jobs.”

– Lori Robertson