Truth Squad Fact Checks Obama's State Of The Union President Obama gave his first State of the Union address Wednesday night. Ever year, Morning Edition checks some of the facts to find out more about what the president said in his speech. Steve Inskeep talks to: NPR's David Welna on the budget, NPR's Julie Rovner on health care, NPR's Christopher Joyce on nuclear plants, NPR's Jackie Northam on the Afghan war; and NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on the Iraq war.
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Truth Squad Fact Checks Obama's State Of The Union

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Truth Squad Fact Checks Obama's State Of The Union

Truth Squad Fact Checks Obama's State Of The Union

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


And I'm Ari Shapiro. President Obama gave his first State of the Union address last night. We're hearing parts of his speech throughout today's program. And this is the time that as we do every year we check some of the president's facts.

INSKEEP: The president said he was, quote, just stating the facts, a premise we will test with a group of NPR correspondents. We start with this statement about a trillion dollars in spending that the president said the government has run up to fight the recession. The president says he wants to pay it back.

BARACK OBAMA: So tonight, I'm proposing specific steps to pay for the trillion dollars that it took to rescue the economy last year. Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.

INSKEEP: And, David, can you save a trillion dollars or anything close to it by freezing government spending in the way the president described?

DAVID WELNA: Now, right after he said that he said that he was going to keep in place tax cuts for the middle class that were passed during the Bush administration. And that is going to be very costly for the Treasury. Although he did say that he would not extend the tax cuts that are expiring for the wealthiest Americans.

INSKEEP: Now, let's ask another trillion dollar question here. The president said his health care bill would save $1 trillion.

OBAMA: And according to the Congressional Budget Office - the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress - our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

INSKEEP: And, Julie, does the Congressional Budget Office say that the president's health care bill will reduce the deficit by as much as a trillion dollars over two decades?

JULIE ROVNER: And the CBO and others have suggested that Congress might not actually have the stomach for some of the cuts that might be called for by this commission. So there's some doubt as to whether those cuts would happen and whether that money would actually be saved.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand this. The - what the Congressional Budget Office actually says is that in the first 10 years after this bill is passed it might save a little money. In the second ten years it might save a bunch or it might not save very much at all.

ROVNER: That's right. Or it might save a lot, but it might do it in ways that Congress and the public really night not like, so Congress might end up reversing.

INSKEEP: Now, while we're talking about vast amounts of money, let's check what the president said about the bank bailout, which has caused massive anger across the country. He said the banks have paid back most of the money they were given to save them. NPR's John Ydstie covers economic policy. And, John, have the banks paid back most of the money?

JOHN YDSTIE: But remember, the president has proposed a fee for the biggest 50 banks to recoup any of the shortfall, so that the taxpayers are repaid every penny. So those banks could actually pay for losses caused by the car company.

INSKEEP: So that statement seems essentially true. Let's try another one. The president said his administration has given huge help to people struggling with their mortgages.

OBAMA: The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments.

INSKEEP: John, is that the whole story?

YDSTIE: But many would say other homeowners have been let down by the administration's main program to help delinquent homeowners avoid foreclosure. Millions of homeowners face foreclosure, but only 110,000 have yet received permanent modifications. So I'd day a mixed record in helping homeowners.

INSKEEP: Now President Obama, in his State of The Union speech, also made this statement about his plan for clean energy.

OBAMA: We need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean, nuclear power plants in this country.


INSKEEP: NPR's Christopher Joyce was listening to that statement, and Christopher are there safe, clean nuclear power plants ready to be built?

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: It was for 20 years thought it would go to Yucca Mountain, this hole in Nevada. And $9 billion was spent, thousands of pages of research was produced, and one of the first things that the Obama administration did when it came in was say, uh uh, we don't like the science, we don't like the look of it. We're going to kill it. They've put the stake through it last year. So, now it's back to square one. No place to put the waste.

INSKEEP: So, when you look at that statement safe, yes, clean, maybe not.

JOYCE: Maybe not.

INSKEEP: Christopher, thanks very much. Later in his State of The Union address, the president turned to two wars including this one.

OBAMA: NPR's Jackie Northam has spent much time in Afghanistan, and Jackie, what did you hear in that statement?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, the president chose his words very, very carefully there. He said the Afghan Security Forces can begin to take the lead. And I don't think you would find many people who would expect a mass exodus of U.S. troops coming out in a year-and-a-half from now, in part because the numbers that they want to train are huge. They're looking - the tentative goal of 160,000 Afghan soldiers and about 125,000 Afghan Police. The most optimistic estimate to get these forces up and running is three to five years, and that's optimistic, most people think it's going to be about 10 years.

INSKEEP: Jackie, I want to move on to the other war in Iraq, which the president described as nearing an end.

OBAMA: We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly covers the Pentagon. Mary Louise, he said all our combat troops...

MARY LOUISE KELLY: These are going to be U.S. military personnel. They will have the right to shoot in self-defense. Is that a combat troop? The Pentagon says no. If you're an Iraqi civilian, you may beg to differ.

INSKEEP: The president also said the U.S. has killed quote "far more al-Qaida fighters and their affiliates this past year, 2009, than in 2008." Is it true?

LOUISE KELLY: That's an awfully difficult one to fact check because it is so hard to independently verify these numbers. You're talking about strikes, primarily in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Strikes, that on the Pakistani side, the U.S. does not even officially acknowledge nor does Pakistan. What we know is the U.S. has stepped up those drone strikes significantly in the years since President Obama took office. They are clearly getting people, how many are civilians, how many are bad guys, difficult to say. And we do know the two biggest bad guys - Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri - still out there.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks very much.

LOUISE KELLY: You're welcome.

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

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