Fact-checking the State of the Union

By Tim Grieve
Published February 3, 2005 5:50PM (EST)

Democrats in Congress made their displeasure known Wednesday night when George W. Bush fudged the facts about the fiscal health of Social Security. But Bush's dissembling about those dates and details wasn't the only dipsy-doodle he offered in his State of the Union address. The speech was chock full of half-truths and conveniently omitted facts. Here are three that caught our eyes:.

Describing his proposal for private investment accounts, Bush said "your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver." That's simply not true. The stock market may be a good investment over the very long haul, but there's no way Bush can guarantee that the money in any individual's private investment account will grow at any particular rate -- or even that it will grow at all. Even assuming that the stock market continues to climb over time, plenty of workers could see the value of their accounts stagnate or even drop. The Bush plan does nothing to protect them.

Bush said that the private investment accounts "will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security." That's true as far as it goes, but what Bush failed to mention was that "the check" a worker receives from Social Security under his plan would be smaller than "the check" the worker would receive otherwise. Will the investment account money make up the difference? Who knows? It depends on how the Bush proposal eventually works and -- more important -- whether an individual worker's investments in the stock market happen to perform well.

On the federal budget, Bush said that the budget he'll send to Congress will "stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." But as the New York Times has explained, Bush's plan to meet that goal relies on more than a little fiscal sleight-of-hand. Bush will use as his benchmark an old deficit projection that was higher than the actual deficit, allowing him to claim that he has already cut the deficit dramatically before he even begins. He won't include in his budget the cost of the war in Iraq or the money that would be required to finance his Social Security plan. And he'll ignore the fact that, just after 2009, his tax cuts -- if they become permanent, as he has promised to make them -- will slice deeply into the revenue side of the equation. Something might be cut in half by 2009, but it won't be the thing that most of us imagine when we think of the federal deficit.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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