Lies, damn lies and Bill O'Reilly

Even while interviewing Barack Obama, the Fox News host couldn't get his facts straight.

Published September 9, 2008 7:00PM (EDT)

When he wasn't haranguing Barack Obama for supposedly advocating "class warfare," during the segment of their interview that was aired on Monday night, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly was repeating another familiar claim. President Bush's tax cuts, O'Reilly said, have led to a major increase in the federal government's tax revenues. As usual, though, O'Reilly had his facts all wrong. Here's the relevant portion of the interview (video below):

O'REILLY: You and Hillary both, you just want to take my money. And you can have it. I mean, I don't care if I live in a hut. Under President Bush, the federal government derived 20 percent more revenue than under President Clinton. Did you know that?

OBAMA: Well ...

O'REILLY: Did you know that?

OBAMA: ... the economy grew, Bill.

O'REILLY: It grew, that's right.

OBAMA: The economy grew. So, of course, the ...

O'REILLY: Under President Bush, the economy grew 19 percent more than Clinton. See, this is what I'm not getting with you Democrats.

OBAMA: No, no, no. Hold on a second, Bill. Wait, Bill, hold on a second now. I mean, you know the famous saying about there are lies, damn lies, and statistics?


OBAMA: Well you and I can -- we can play a statistics game.

O'REILLY: I know, I know, it's bull. I know it is.

OBAMA: So let's be clear on the record. OK? The -- during the Bush administration ... there was economic growth. Not as fast as during the 1990s, OK, but there was growth during the Bush administration. But what happened was that wages and incomes for ordinary Americans, the guys who watch your show ... Their wages and incomes did not go up.


O'REILLY: 20 percent more revenue coming in under Bush than Clinton. All right. He cuts taxes. People invest more. He cuts the capital gains. The government gets 20 percent more than under Clinton. You want to raise it back up. It doesn't make sense.

Now, O'Reilly is technically right. In 2007, the federal government collected 20 percent more tax revenue than it did in the last year of Bill Clinton's administration. But in every meaningful sense, he's way off. Obama got close to refuting O'Reilly's argument, but he didn't go quite far enough.

The numbers O'Reilly apparently relied upon aren't reported in real dollars -- that is, they're not adjusted for inflation. Plug the data into the handy-dandy inflation calculator over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Web site and you'll find that in real dollars the actual increase was about 5 percent.

So, yes, there was an increase. But actually, it was a comparatively small one. If you compare 1992, the last year of George H.W. Bush's administration, to 2000 -- again, making the comparison in real dollars -- you'll find that even in the bad old days of Clinton class warfare revenues shot up more than 30 percent. (And yes, I'm aware that these numbers are not truly good measures, or pure reflections, of the success of a president's tax policies, but this is what O'Reilly used.)

Then there's the question of a few obvious data points O'Reilly didn't bother to mention: First of all, in 2000 the government's tax receipts represented 20.9 percent of the gross domestic product. In 2007, it was 18.8 percent. And, of course, under Clinton the federal government ran a surplus. Now, under Bush, we're back to racking up a big budget deficit every year.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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