Comparing Obama’s address and facts

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President Obama, who once considered government spending freezes a hatchet job, told Americans on Wednesday it’s now part of his solution to the exploding deficit. He didn’t explain what had changed.

His State of the Union speech skipped over a variety of complex realities in laying out a “common sense” call to action.

A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts:

OBAMA: “Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t.”

THE FACTS: The anticipated savings from this proposal would amount to less than one percent of the deficit - and that’s if the president can persuade Congress to go along.

Mr. Obama is a convert to the cause of broad spending freezes. In the presidential campaign, he criticized Republican opponent John McCain for suggesting one. “The problem with a spending freeze is you’re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel,” he said a month before the election. Now, Mr. Obama wants domestic spending held steady in most areas where the government can control year-to-year costs. The proposal is similar to Mr. McCain’s.

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OBAMA: The president issued a populist broadside against lobbyists, saying they have “outsized influence” over the government. He said his administration has “excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.” He also said it’s time to “require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or Congress” and “to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.”

THE FACTS: Mr. Obama has limited the hiring of lobbyists for administration jobs, but the ban isn’t absolute; seven waivers from the ban have been granted to White House officials alone. Getting lobbyists to report every contact they make with the federal government would be difficult at best; Congress would have to change the law, and that’s unlikely to happen. And lobbyists already are subject to strict limits on political giving. Just like every other American, they’re limited to giving $2,400 per election to federal candidates, with an overall ceiling of $115,500 every two years.

OBAMA: He called for action by the White House and Congress “to do our work openly, and to give our people the government they deserve.”

THE FACTS: Mr. Obama sidestepped a broken promise from his campaign - to have the negotiations for health care legislation broadcast on C-SPAN “so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.” Instead, Democrats in the White House and Congress have conducted the usual private negotiations, making multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders behind closed doors. Nor has Mr. Obama lived up consistently to his pledge to ensure that legislation is posted online for five days before it’s acted upon.

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