February 13, 2013

Fact check: Some overreaching in State of the Union

Calvin Woodward / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama did some cherry-picking Tuesday night in defense of his record on jobs and laid out a conditional path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that may be less onerous than he made it sound.

A look at some of the claims in his State of the Union speech, a glance at the Republican counterargument and how they fit with the facts:

Obama: "After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs."

The facts: That's in the ballpark, as far as it goes. But Obama starts his count not when he took office, but from the point in his first term when job losses were the highest. In doing so, he ignores the 5 million or so jobs that were lost on his watch, up to that point.

Private sector jobs have grown by 6.1 million since February 2010. But since he became president, the gain is a more modest 1.9 million.

And when losses in public sector employment are added to the mix, his overall jobs record is a gain of 1.2 million.

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Obama: "We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas."

The facts: Not so fast.

That's expected to happen in 12 more years.

Under a deal the Obama administration reached with automakers in 2011, vehicles will have a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, twice the 27 miles per gallon, on average, that cars and trucks get today. Automobile manufacturers won't start making changes to achieve the new fuel economy standards until model year 2017. Not all cars will double their gas mileage, since the standard is based on an average of a manufacturers' fleet.

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Obama: "Already the Affordable Care Act is helping to reduce the growth of health care costs."

The facts: The jury is still out on whether Obama's health care overhaul will reduce the growth of health care costs. It's true that cost increases have eased, but many experts say that's due to the sluggish economy, not to the health care law, whose main provisions are not yet fully in effect.

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Obama: "Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship — a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."

The facts: The seemingly stern admonition that illegal immigrants must go to the back of the line, often heard from the president, doesn't appear to have much practical effect except in the most obvious sense. Everyone who joins a line, whether for a movie, a coffee or citizenship, starts at the back of that particular line. It's not clear he is saying anything more than that illegal immigrants won't get to cut in line for citizenship once they've obtained provisional legal status.

Like those living abroad who have applied to come to the U.S. legally, illegal immigrants who qualify for Obama's proposed path to citizenship will surely face long waits to be processed. But during that time, they are already in the U.S. and will get to stay, work and travel in the country under their new status as provisional immigrants, while those outside the U.S. simply have to wait.

Sending illegal immigrants to the "back of the line" is something of a distinction without a difference for some legal immigrants who dutifully followed all the rules before coming to the United States.

(Continued on page 2)

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