Rare, Truthful Treat: AP's 'Fact Check' On Obama Presser Hits Surprisingly Hard

July 25th, 2009 12:17 AM

In late April, the Associated Press's Calvin Woodward, in a "Fact Check" report ("Obama disowns deficit he helped shape"), hit President Barack Obama's claims that he and his party don't deserve much of the blame for the size of this year's deficit pretty hard. It was such a surprise that I wondered who had put truth serum in his coffee.

Well, you might have guessed it would be Calvin Woodard doing the primary honors in an AP Fact Check that again takes aim at the President, this time over his health care bill. With the co-bylined help of Jim Kuhnhenn and contributions from Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Woodward and his team went after several claims made by Obama at his Wednesday press conference that don't stand up to scrutiny.

Here are excerpts relating to each:

OBAMA: "We already have rough agreement" on some aspects of what a health care overhaul should involve, and one is: "It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it."

THE FACTS: In House legislation, a commission appointed by the government would determine what is and isn't covered by insurance plans offered in a new purchasing pool, including a plan sponsored by the government. The bill also holds out the possibility that, over time, those standards could be imposed on all private insurance plans, not just the ones in the pool.

Indeed, Obama went on to lay out other principles of reform that plainly show the government making key decisions in health care. He said insurance companies would be barred from dropping coverage when someone gets too sick, limits would be set on out-of-pocket expenses, and preventive care such as checkups and mammograms would be covered.

..... OBAMA: "I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it."

THE FACTS: The president has said repeatedly that he wants "deficit-neutral" health care legislation, meaning that every dollar increase in cost is met with a dollar of new revenue or a dollar of savings. But some things are more neutral than others. White House Budget Director Peter Orszag told reporters this week that the promise does not apply to proposed spending of about $245 billion over the next decade to increase fees for doctors serving Medicare patients.

..... OBAMA: "You haven't seen me out there blaming the Republicans."

THE FACTS: Obama did so in his opening statement, saying, "I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to 'go for the kill.' Another Republican senator said that defeating health reform is about 'breaking' me."

..... OBAMA: "If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made in our budget, you'd have a $9.3 trillion deficit over the next 10 years. Because of the changes we've made, it's going to be $7.1 trillion."

THE FACTS: Obama's numbers are based on figures compiled by his own budget office. But they rely on assumptions about economic growth that some economists find too optimistic. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in its own analysis of the president's budget numbers, concluded that the cumulative deficit over the next decade would be $9.1 trillion.

Woodward et al could have done a bit better. Their "deficit-neutral" fact check point ignored Congressional Budget Office predictions that the legislation will add to the deficit, and to spending. The AP team could have further pointed to the history of federal programs in general, which rarely if ever stay within their anticipated spending constraints, or to Massachusetts's government-run Commonwealth Care, supposedly a model for much of what is in ObamaCare, where costs are spiraling out of control.

Nonetheless, Woodward and ABC's Jake Tapper remain virtually alone in the White House press corps in their willingness to report negative news about Obama when it occurs (unless it's impossible to avoid, as in the Obama-Gates matter), or to criticize him in identified analysis items.

Will that ever change?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.