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Obama SOTU filled with distortions, GOP response not so much

Obama
Obama
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If you missed last night’s State of the Union address and asked what the president talked about, the best answer might be the old joke: “about 65 minutes.” In contrast, his GOP counterpart, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, spoke for 10 and a half minutes — about a sixth of the length of the president’s speech — in her rebuttal. Yet according to a fact check by CBS News, the Washington State congresswoman made one dubious claim, while Barack Obama… well, how high can you count?

Below, organized by topic, are some of the lowlights of the speech:

Obamacare: The president claimed that “more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.” But the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler said there’s no way to tell how many of the 3 million people who signed up for the federal health care exchanges have paid a premium for their health insurance. The Associated Press added that there’s no way to tell how many of those people previously held private insurance coverage. Finally, not all of the 6 million-plus people who became eligible for the Medicaid expansion were renewing their coverage or would have qualified before the law.

Carbon Pollution: Obama said the U.S. has reduced its total carbon emissions “more than any other nation on earth.” FactCheck.org takes issue with the claim, reporting that the U.S. is the second-highest producer of carbon dioxide pollution after China. If you measure emissions by gross tonnage, Obama’s claim is technically true. But using a more accurate measure — percentage of emissions reduced, FactCheck.org notes that “dozens of nations” did a better job.

Inequality: Said the president on this central theme of his speech, not to mention his presidency, “Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.” But a team of economists led by Harvard's Raj Chetty released a study last week that determined the United States isn't any less socially mobile than it was in the 1970s. The authors of the study wrote, "We find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s.”

Jobs: Obama claimed that more during the past four years “more than 8 million new jobs” had been created. FactCheck.org rates that claim as technically true but “a highly selective statistic.” While it is true that more than 8.2 million private sector jobs were added, total employment only rose by 7.6 million, largely because of layoffs of state and local government workers. The president specifically praised “a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s,” though manufacturing jobs gains have stalled in recent months. In addition, the number of jobs has risen in recent years only because there had been a steady decline for more than decade.

Deficits: Obama said, “our deficits [have been] cut by more than half,” which is true. However, the deficit is still historically high and many gains were due to a slowly improving economy.

Energy: “More oil [is] produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world,” Obama proclaimed. The statement on its face is true. But the reason for it rests primarily with improved drilling technology, not government policy.

So what was McMorris Rodgers’s one misstatement? CBS writes:

She said that, “last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one.” But as the Washington Post and AP noted, the decline in the workforce has largely been due to baby boomers retiring. Just 15 percent of the decline in the labor force participation rate is due to people ages 25 to 54 becoming discouraged, the Post writes.

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