Truth Squad: Evaluating Obama's Speech President Barack Obama stressed hope and determination as he challenged America to come together to work its way back to economic health. In a speech to Congress and the nation Obama said it's time for the U.S. to take charge of its future. Steve Inskeep talks to a team of NPR reporters about the accuracy of the President's remarks.
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Truth Squad: Evaluating Obama's Speech

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Truth Squad: Evaluating Obama's Speech

Truth Squad: Evaluating Obama's Speech

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

President Obama had his say last night. Throughout this morning, we're hearing excerpts of his speech at the Capitol, and this is the point where we check some of the president's facts.

INSKEEP: MORNING EDITION has done this for five years now after presidential speeches to Congress and debates. This is our first with a new chief executive, one who spent much of his time addressing an economic crisis. The president said last night that he intends to help homeowners who have trouble paying the mortgage, but he says he will only help people who deserve it.

INSKEEP: We have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford.

INSKEEP: Point of contention because Republicans are already asking if some tax money is going to go to the wrong people. NPR's John Ydstie covers the economy. And, John, is this plan going to be able to cut out speculators and people who don't deserve help?

JOHN YDSTIE: I think it's going to be very hard to weed out the speculators and the neighbor down the street who bought a house they couldn't afford from those who are deserving. And, in fact, some people suggested it might not be a good idea to do that. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said yesterday we ought to treat it like someone who smokes in bed, and if their house catches on fire, you go out and put out the blaze.

INSKEEP: And, in fact, just a few days ago on NPR, the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Sheila Bair, was asked if it was going to be possible to weed out people who, say, gave out false income when they got a mortgage.

MONTAGNE: Well, I think it's very difficult to try to do a forensic analysis of each and every one of these delinquent loans.

INSKEEP: Another issue here, John Ydstie, the president says he wants to cut the budget deficit.

INSKEEP: We have already identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade.

INSKEEP: John Ydstie, what are the $2 trillion?

YDSTIE: Well, we don't know exactly. The president mentioned a number of things: cuts in education, cuts in agro-business subsidies, no-bid contracts in Iraq. But we don't know exactly what that $2 trillion is.

INSKEEP: Now let's talk about health care, where the president made a claim for his opening weeks in office.

INSKEEP: Already, we've done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last 30 days than we've done in the last decade.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie Rovner has covered the last 30 days and the last decade, and she's with us. Julie, is that a fair claim?

JULIE ROVNER: So, from the point of view of most Democrats, that is a lot of health care reform. However, under President Bush, there was the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill. That included something called a health savings account, which from conservatives' point of view is one of the major expansions towards a consumer- driven health care system. So I think depending on where you're coming from, you might well think that that Medicare Prescription Drug Bill was the biggest piece of health reform you'd seen in the last decade.

INSKEEP: And let's move on to energy. The president also spoke about that. And let's hear another promise the president made.

INSKEEP: Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years.

INSKEEP: Double the supply of renewable energy in the next three years. NPR's Richard Harris, is that something that is likely to happen?

RICHARD HARRIS: That's hard to say. It's about 7 percent of our energy right now. Making it 14 percent is not impossible, but it's a tough task. And even if it succeeds, it still leaves us a long way to go to really ramp down fossil fuels.

INSKEEP: The president also spoke about laying down thousands of miles of power lines to get energy from some solar panels in the desert, say, to big cities. Is that something that can be done soon, as he said?

HARRIS: That is an extremely contentious issue. It's really, really hard to get people to agree to have power lines strung across their backyards and so on. So, that's also a huge challenge.

INSKEEP: Here's another fact the president threw out: He said the country that harnesses clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century...

INSKEEP: And yet it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.

INSKEEP: China?

HARRIS: China - well, China actually does have better fuel efficiency standards than the United States does for its automobiles. That is true. That said, there are also building tons of really, really dirty coal-fired power plants, and they are not really interested in taking on the big challenge of climate change at this point.

INSKEEP: And nevertheless, a challenge to the United States, the Chinese ahead on some of these issues.

HARRIS: Yes, indeed.

INSKEEP: The president also spoke about free trade last night, and let's listen to some of that.

INSKEEP: We are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe, for the world depends on us having a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world's.

INSKEEP: Let's pull out one phrase in that long sentence there. He wants to avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism. NPR's Tom Gjelten was listening to that, and what did that make you think of, Tom?

TOM GJELTEN: Well, Steve, it's fair to say that Obama's a recent convert to that cause. During his campaign, you know, he was quite an outspoken advocate of Buy America policies. As far as the stimulus bill is concerned, there is a Buy America provision in there. Now, President Obama did get it weakened, but it wasn't enough to satisfy China, which says that Buy America provision is poison.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Gjelten was covering the economy during the presidential campaign. He's covering intelligence agencies now, which brings us to another subject the president addressed, having to do with the treatment of prisoners.

INSKEEP: That is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture. We can make that commitment here tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: Tom Gjelten, is the policy as simple and direct as that statement?

GJELTEN: Some civil libertarians are worried that that could be a loophole that would allow some enhanced interrogation techniques to take place. But people in the administration say it won't go nearly as far as anything that resembles torture.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam also covers national security, and she has been to the Guantanamo Bay prison, which President Obama said last night, once again, he has ordered it to be closed. How close is that actually to happening, Jackie Northam?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, they've got about 11 months in which to get this done, and that's a huge challenge. The administration's going to have to find a lot of nations to take back some of these prisoners. It's going to have to decide which of the remaining roughly 245 prisoners will be prosecuted, under which system they're going to be prosecuted and also where they're going to be detained. And that's becoming a growing problem. There's a lot of communities with either military prisons or maximum security prisons that simply have made it very clear they do not want these people in their backyard.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam.

INSKEEP: This budget looks ahead 10 years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules. And for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we've been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly covers the Pentagon. Is that true?

MARY LOUISE KELLY: And it makes more sense for regular Americans to be able to keep track of. They have not been part of the regular spending budget. That's a change. That's true.

INSKEEP: Statement that makes fact checking itself a little bit easier.

LOUISE KELLY: There you go.

INSKEEP: Let's check one more fact here before we go away. The president spoke of revitalizing America's automobile industry.

INSKEEP: And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

INSKEEP: NPR's John Ydstie is still with us. Your eyebrows raised when you heard that, John. Why?

YDSTIE: Absolutely. Well, America identifies with the automobile. We may think we invented it, but it turns out that Karl Benz, a German, is widely credited with inventing the automobile.

INSKEEP: Well, maybe Germany's not going to walk away from the automobile, either.

YDSTIE: Well, maybe that's what the president meant. I hope he did. They make great cars.

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's NPR's John Ydstie, joined here by NPR's Tom Gjelten, NPR's Richard Harris, Jackie Northam, Julie Rovner, Mary Louise Kelly. Did I miss anybody? Did somebody walk out of here? No. Thanks to you all.

ROVNER: Thanks very much.

ROVNER: Thank you.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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