Fact Checking: Obama's State Of The Union Address

President Obama gave, what his opponents hope, will be his last State of the Union address Tuesday night. To check the facts in the president's speech, Steve Inskeep talks to NPR reporters Tom Gjelten, John Ydstie, David Welna, Elizabeth Shogren and Claudio Sanchez. Steve also talks to David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

In the mind of his supporters, President Obama's State of the Union speech last night was the last of his first term. His opponents hope it's the last State of the Union speech he will ever give. The president delivered a series of challenges to Congress assembled before him. And also detailed steps he'll take even if Congress does not agree.

We're reporting on that speech and reaction to it throughout today's program. And this is where we've gathered our correspondents to check some of the president's facts.

The president, for example, highlighted the killing of Osama bin Laden and then said this about the war in Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Taliban's momentum has been broken and some troops in Afghanistan had begun to come home.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Gjelten covers national security issues. Tom, has the Taliban's momentum been broken in Afghanistan?

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: In some parts of Afghanistan, Steve, that is true. The Taliban's momentum has been broken. But those gains are tenuous. And what's not clear is what will happen when U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. The president in that speech said the transition to Afghan lead will continue and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan.

But, you know, Steve, it's hard to say that transition to Afghan leadership or the partnership with Afghanistan is going well. We've had some episode recently when Afghan soldiers, our allies, have actually turned their weapons on U.S. and coalition troops. And commanders in the field are concerned about the extent of animosity between U.S. troops and the Afghans they're supposedly training to take over that mission.

INSKEEP: OK, that's NPR's Steve Tom Gjelten.

Now, much of the president's speech focused on economic issues, which we're going to talk about next. For example, he offered this summary of job creation in recent years.

OBAMA: In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect. Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: NPR's John Ydstie covers economics and was listening to that claim. And, John, the Republicans will say employment has fallen during the president's administration. The president dare suggested that jobs have been created during his administration. Is he correct?

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Well, more jobs have been lost than were created. But he's actually correct in the way he stated it. He acknowledged that four million jobs have been lost during his administration and...

INSKEEP: In the early months after the...

YDSTIE: Right. And then later on, three million jobs created. But one footnote is that government has lost jobs while the private sector has created three million. And so, the net jobs created since the bottom of the recession is 2,750,000.

INSKEEP: So it's a mixed picture. It depends on when you start counting here and exactly what you count.

YDSTIE: But there's no argument that jobs have been created since the bottom of this recession.

INSKEEP: In the last couple of years. Now, the president also made a statement on bailouts. Quote, "If you're a big bank or financial institution, the rest of us aren't bailing you out ever again." He said that's because of new rules for big institutions. Is a bailout guaranteed never to happen again?

YDSTIE: Well, no, it's not. The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill does give the government new authority to help liquidate banks to avoid taxpayer bailouts. But it's unclear whether federal officials would be quick enough or have the courage to go in and liquidate a bank. So, it's still possible that taxpayers could be on the hook.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks. That's NPR's John Ydstie.

Now, the president also seemed to answer Republicans who say he is loading down businesses with regulations.

OBAMA: In fact, I've approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna has been listening. And, David, a specific claim there. Has the president actually approved fewer regulations so far than President Bush did in a comparable time?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: That's true. If you look at the overall number of regulations that have been approved in the first three years of the Obama administration, it is smaller than during the Bush administration. But if you look at the major regulations, those that have more than $100 million worth of impact on the economy, in fact, the Obama administration has approved about 50 percent more than the Bush administration did during the same period of time.

And conservative groups have tallied up the overall economic impact of those regulations. And they say that it's more than twice the economic impact of the Bush administration during the same period.

INSKEEP: David, thanks.

Of course, there was also a Republican response to the president's speech, as there always is. It was given by Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana. And he made a number of specific economic claims, including this claim about employment in this country.

GOVERNOR MITCH DANIELS: The percentage of Americans with a job is that the lowest in decades. One in five men of prime working age, and nearly half of all persons under 30 did not go to work today.

INSKEEP: David Wessel, of The Wall Street Journal, was listening to those claims. And, David, is that correct to say that the percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades?

DAVID WESSEL: In December, the government tells us 18 percent of men between 25 and 54 were not working. They were either retired, sick, unemployed, looking for work or given up. A year ago that was even worse, 19.3 percent were in that category.

INSKEEP: So, actually that number has improved somewhat. Daniels is not strictly correct, but it's still a very, very high percentage of Americans who are not work.

WESSEL: That's correct.

INSKEEP: OK. One other claim in the speech by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, he made this statement that referred to President Obama's stimulus plan. He spoke about it this way.

DANIELS: The late Steve Jobs, what a fitting name he had, created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.

INSKEEP: David Wessel, this is a common claim that the stimulus was a complete waste. Was it?

WESSEL: Apple Computer employs about 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 people abroad. The Congressional Budget Office says that the stimulus, $800 billion, created between 1 million and 2.9 million jobs that wouldn't have existed otherwise. So, I think Governor Daniels simply got it wrong.

INSKEEP: So you can argue how effective the stimulus was, but most economists agree that it did create a substantial number of jobs?

WESSEL: That's right. Most economists believe it created at least many jobs as Steve Jobs did.

INSKEEP: That's David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal. Now let's go to a couple of other issues that were mentioned in President Obama's speech last night. Energy came up. He made a number of specific claims about American use of foreign oil during his administration.

OBAMA: American oil production is the highest that it's been in eight years. That's right, eight years. Not only that, last year we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.

INSKEEP: NPR's Elizabeth Shogren was listening to that claim. And, Elizabeth, given how much the president has been criticized for being resistant to drilling in the United States, could that actually be true, we're relying less on foreign oil?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Yes, in fact it is true. In 2006, when there was another State of the Union address, President Bush then said that we were addicted to foreign oil. And at that point, 60 percent of our oil was coming from foreign sources. Now it's just less than half. And the Energy Information Agency says that in fact the trend is going to continue in that positive direction and that within a couple of decades it's going to be even less, say something like 36 percent.

And it's also true that domestic production of oil is on the rise. And this is a major breakthrough, something we haven't seen for a long time. In fact, the oil companies say that there are more rigs drilling for oil in the United States now than there have been for 25 years.

INSKEEP: Hum. Thanks. That's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren. And now let's go to one more claim in the State of the Union speech, this one having to do with education.

OBAMA: For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we've convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning, the first time that's happened in a generation.

INSKEEP: NPR's Claudio Sanchez covers education. Claudio, sounds good, is it true?

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: It is true, Steve. Forty-six states submitted proposals for $4 billion worth of competitive grants to again spur reform. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia were the winners. The problem today is that some of these winners are now in trouble. They have been unable to fulfill the promises they've made in their proposals. And the Department of Education is very worried that some of these proposals are unraveling in large part because the money hasn't been enough to make the reforms.

INSKEEP: So, the same challenge that you always have with education. You can set high goal, but how do you measure the standards and hold people to them.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. And because the Federal Department of Education is so far removed from the actual reforms themselves, it leaves it up to the locals and the states to do it. And that's where people have dropped the ball.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks. That's NPR's Claudio Sanchez. Part of the NPR team helping us check some of the statements made on the night of the State of the Union address. This is NPR News.

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