Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 24, 2002
POLITICS: "But these are not government estimates"
Sullivan's mailbag is also fighting back at Dana Milbank's Washington Post piece accusing Bush of playing fast and loose with the facts. The Post piece has its points, but one other one that struck me as funny was this charge:
"In stop after stop across the country, Bush has cited an impressive statistic in his bid to get Congress to approve terrorism insurance legislation. "There's over $15 billion of construction projects which are on hold, which aren't going forward -- which means there's over 300,000 jobs that would be in place, or soon to be in place, that aren't in place," is how he put it last week in Michigan.
But these are not government estimates. The $15 billion figure comes from the Real Estate Roundtable, a trade group that is leading the fight for the legislation and whose members have much to gain. After pleas earlier this year from the White House for "hard evidence" to make its case for terrorism insurance, the roundtable got the information from an unscientific survey of members, who were asked to provide figures with no documentation.
The 300,000 jobs number, the White House said, was supplied by the carpenters' union. But a union official said the White House apparently "extrapolated" the number from a Transportation Department study of federal highway aid -- not private real estate -- that the union had previously cited."
(Emphasis mine). You see? If it's not a government estimate, quoth Milbank, it can't possibly be the truth! This is like the whole Paul Krugman/Jonathan Chait/Al Hunt argument that Bush lies about his economic policies - far too many such charges are simply arguments that Bush is failing to conform to government estmates - including the longstanding Congressional Budget Office policy of assuming that tax rates have absolutely zero impact on the economy or individual behavior. Personally, I'm glad we don't live in a country where most people assume you're a liar if you contradict government estimates, especially ones that assume away inconvenient realities. Which is why people like Krugman and Chait and Hunt get so frustrated that they can't convince people that Bush is lying: because the average guy understands full well, without having to study the issue, that the next long-term government budget forecast to be accurate will be the first.