FACT CHECK: Obama has it both ways on pork in Stimulus Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) - At least Route 31 is a road to somewhere.
President Barack Obama had it both ways Monday when he promoted his stimulus plan in Indiana. He bragged about getting Congress to produce a package with no pork, yet boasted it will do good things for a Hoosier highway and a downtown overpass, just the kind of local projects lawmakers lard into big spending bills.
Obama's sales pitch on the enormous package he wants Congress to make law has sizzle as well as steak. He's projecting job creation numbers that may be impossible to verify and glossing over some ethical problems that bedeviled his team.
In recent years, the so-called Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska came to symbolize the worst excesses of congressional earmarks, a device that allows a member of Congress to add money for local projects in legislation, practically under the radar.
Nothing so bold, or specific, as that now-discarded bridge project is contained in the stimulus package. That's not to say the package steers clear of waste or parochial interests. Obama played to such interests Monday, speaking at one point as if he'd come to fill potholes.
A look at some of Obama's claims in Elkhart, Ind., in advance of a prime-time news conference called to make his case to the largest possible audience:
OBAMA: "I know that there are a lot of folks out there who've been saying, 'Oh, this is pork, and this is money that's going to be wasted,' and et cetera, et cetera. Understand, this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for a bill of this size. ... There aren't individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill."
THE FACTS: There are no "earmarks," as they are usually defined, inserted by lawmakers in the bill. Still, some of the projects bear the prime characteristics of pork - tailored to benefit specific interests or to have thinly disguised links to local projects.
For example, the latest version contains $2 billion for a clean-coal power plant with specifications matching one in Mattoon, Ill., $10 million for urban canals, $2 billion for manufacturing advanced batteries for hybrid cars, and $255 million for a polar icebreaker and other "priority procurements" by the Coast Guard.
Obama told his Elkhart audience that Indiana will benefit from work on "roads like U.S. 31 here in Indiana that Hoosiers count on." He added: "And I know that a new overpass downtown would make a big difference for businesses and families right here in Elkhart."
U.S. 31 is a north-south highway serving South Bend, 15 miles from Elkhart in the northern part of the state.
OBAMA: "I've appointed hundreds of people, all of whom are outstanding Americans who are doing a great job. There are a couple who had problems before they came into my administration, in terms of their taxes. ... I made a mistake ... I don't want to send the signal that there are two sets of rules."
He added: "Everybody will acknowledge that we have set up the highest standard ever for lobbyists not working in the administration."
THE FACTS: Two of his appointees, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle for secretary of health and human services and Nancy Killefer as his chief compliance officer, dropped out after reports they had not paid a portion of their taxes.
Obama previously acknowledged he "screwed up" in making it seem to Americans that there is one set of tax compliance rules for VIPs and another set for everyone else. Yet his choice for treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, hung in and achieved the post despite having belatedly paid $34,000 to the IRS, an agency Geithner now oversees.
That could leave the perception that there is one set of rules for Geithner and another set for everyone else.
On lobbyists, Obama has in fact established tough new rules barring them from working for his administration. But the ban is not absolute.
William J. Lynn III, tapped to be the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, recently lobbied for military contractor Raytheon. William Corr, chosen as deputy secretary at Health and Human Services, has lobbied as an anti-tobacco advocate. And Geithner's choice for chief of staff, Mark Patterson, is an ex-lobbyist from Goldman Sachs.
OBAMA: "The plan that we've put forward will save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs over the next two years."
THE FACTS: Job creation projections are uncertain even in stable times, and some of the economists relied on by Obama in making his forecast acknowledge a great deal of uncertainty in their numbers.
Beyond that, it's unlikely the nation will ever know how many jobs are saved as a result of the stimulus. While it's clear when jobs are abolished, there's no economic gauge that tracks job preservation.