WSJ column's falsehood: Bush admin did not make claims about jobs “saved or created”

Criticizing the Obama administration, a Wall Street Journal column included the false claim that the Bush administration never touted its initiatives in terms of how many jobs would be “saved or created.” In fact, Bush's Agriculture Department did so repeatedly.

In a June 9 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, News Corp. vice president William McGurn, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote that Tony Fratto, a former Bush communications aide turned CNBC on-air contributor, “sees a double standard at play” regarding the Obama administration's statements about the number of jobs the economic stimulus program has “saved or created.” McGurn wrote that Fratto told him: “We would never have used a formula like 'save or create.' ... To begin with, the number is pure fiction -- the administration has no way to measure how many jobs are actually being 'saved.' And if we had tried to use something this flimsy, the press would never have let us get away with it.” In fact, Bush's Department of Agriculture repeatedly stated that its economic initiatives had “saved or created” a specific number of jobs, or would in the future.

Fratto made a similar claim in a June 2 blog post titled, “The White House 'Jobs-Saved' Deception,” writing: “If I -- or even my predecessors in the Clinton Administration -- had tried to pull off this ridiculous gimmick we would have been run out of town. I don't even believe it's possible to look back and accurately measure the 'job-saving' impact of Bush or Clinton Administration policies, let alone to measure in real time, or project into the future.”

In fact, examples of the Bush administration touting initiatives in terms of jobs “saved or created” include:

  • June 24, 2004, remarks by then-Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman (retrieved from Nexis, emphasis added):

Our Rural Development programs also help communities with infrastructure such as electricity, water and telecommunications and with economic development assistance. We have estimated that our rural development programs have saved or created more than 500,000 jobs just since the Bush Administration took office in January of 2001. Recently we have seen more positive numbers showing that the U.S. economy created nearly a quarter of a million jobs last month alone for a total of 1 million jobs created in the last three months and about 1.5 million jobs in the past nine months.

  • A quotation from Mike Johanns -- who replaced Veneman as agriculture secretary -- in a March 24, 2005, Agriculture Department news release (emphasis added):

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced the selection of 26 loan and grant recipients in 14 states that will receive $9.2 million in rural business development funds.

“I applaud the local community leadership for their efforts to secure these investments, which are needed to create economic opportunities and improve the quality of life available in their community,” said Johanns. “These funds are part of the Bush Administration's ongoing efforts to spur economic development in rural areas and will help save or create more than 1,800 jobs.”

The grants and loans are awarded through USDA Rural Development to electric and telecommunications cooperative organizations, which in turn provide loans or grants to support local economic or community development efforts. These funds are also part of an important leveraging effort. The $9.2 million in USDA investments will be matched with $59.7 million in additional investments to support a variety of businesses and community ventures, including community facilities and infrastructure, improving access to local medical care and other projects that encourage a favorable climate for jobs and growth.

  • A quotation by then-Agriculture Undersecretary Thomas C. Dorr in a May 7, 2007, Agriculture Department news release (emphasis added):

Agriculture Under Secretary Thomas C. Dorr today announced the award of $19.75 million to create or retain jobs at rural businesses.

“These funds will help support local economic development agencies, finance infrastructure improvements, establish low-interest revolving loan funds, and help jurisdictions implement regional business and community development plans,” Dorr said. “The funding announced today is expected to save or create more than 2,300 jobs in 20 states.”

The funds are being provided through the USDA Rural Development Intermediary Relending Program and the Rural Economic Development loan and grant program. Funding in the relending program is given to intermediaries, such as community development or regional planning groups, who then re-lend the funds to local businesses. The loans must be used to start new businesses, expand existing ones, or create or retain jobs. The economic development program provides funding to Rural Utilities program borrowers, usually electric and telephone cooperatives, which then provide the money to support job retention or job creation efforts in their service areas.

From McGurn's June 9 Wall Street Journal opinion piece headlined, "The Media Fall for Phony 'Jobs' Claims; The Obama Numbers Are Pure Fiction":

Tony Fratto is envious.

Mr. Fratto was a colleague of mine in the Bush administration, and as a senior member of the White House communications shop, he knows just how difficult it can be to deal with a press corps skeptical about presidential economic claims. It now appears, however, that Mr. Fratto's problem was that he simply lacked the magic words -- jobs “saved or created.”

“Saved or created” has become the signature phrase for Barack Obama as he describes what his stimulus is doing for American jobs. His latest invocation came yesterday, when the president declared that the stimulus had already saved or created at least 150,000 American jobs -- and announced he was ramping up some of the stimulus spending so he could “save or create” an additional 600,000 jobs this summer. These numbers come in the context of an earlier Obama promise that his recovery plan will “save or create three to four million jobs over the next two years.”

Mr. Fratto sees a double standard at play. “We would never have used a formula like 'save or create,'” he tells me. “To begin with, the number is pure fiction -- the administration has no way to measure how many jobs are actually being 'saved.' And if we had tried to use something this flimsy, the press would never have let us get away with it.”

Of course, the inability to measure Mr. Obama's jobs formula is part of its attraction. Never mind that no one -- not the Labor Department, not the Treasury, not the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- actually measures “jobs saved.” As the New York Times delicately reports, Mr. Obama's jobs claims are “based on macroeconomic estimates, not an actual counting of jobs.” Nice work if you can get away with it.