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FACT CHECK: Where Obama, Romney missed mark

Friday - 6/15/2012, 4:12am  ET

By CALVIN WOODWARD and TOM RAUM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama accused Republicans of paying for wars "on the nation's credit card" even though he has used the same plastic for the same purpose, and for many others. Mitt Romney defied logic and statistics in claiming the huge stimulus package did not create private-sector jobs.

In dueling speeches from Ohio on Thursday, the presidential contenders at times offered skewed accounts of the nation's economic course and the record of recent years.

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

ROMNEY: "That stimulus didn't work. That stimulus didn't put more private-sector people to work."

THE FACTS: There is no doubt that Obama's $800 billion-plus stimulus, enacted in February 2009, created both public-sector and private-sector jobs, even if not as many as its sponsors had hoped. The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, recently estimated that the stimulus saved or created more than 3 million jobs. Princeton University economist Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, estimated that the stimulus, together with the bank bailout started by President George W. Bush and continued by Obama, saved or created more than 10 million jobs.

Part of the stimulus was directed toward retaining teachers and other public workers. But the package included plenty of construction and other "shovel-ready" projects with private workers, not public employees, wielding the shovels.

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OBAMA: "Our businesses have gone back to basics and created over 4 million jobs in the last 27 months."

THE FACTS: True as far as it goes, but the claim inflates Obama's record of private-sector job creation by ignoring huge losses early in his presidency.

By going back 27 months, Obama starts counting at the low point of employment for the private sector in February 2010 and tracks how far it has come. But counting farther back, since the end of the recession in June 2009, private-sector job gains have been much more modest, 3.1 million. That's a more meaningful measurement to economists.

Overall, the economy has lost 1.37 million jobs _ 784,000 in the private sector _ since Obama was inaugurated.

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ROMNEY: "China and the nations of the European Union over the last 3 1/2 years have made real inroads in Latin America and other places in the world with trade agreements and negotiated trade agreements, 44 different trade agreements being negotiated by China and European nations with other nations around the world. Guess how many trade agreements our president's negotiated? None. None."

THE FACTS: To be sure, Obama hasn't opened new trade negotiations, but he's finished several big ones, overcoming opposition from fellow Democrats to do so. Under his watch, the United States has made inroads in Latin America, too.

After taking office, he worked to revive a free-trade deal with Colombia that had been negotiated by his Republican predecessor but left to languish without congressional approval, and sought similar progress with South Korean and Panamanian free-trade pacts. The president held off on submitting the three deals to Congress as his administration tried to negotiate more palatable terms to Democrats. He finally submitted them in 2011 and Congress approved them in the fall.

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OBAMA: "We were told that it was OK to put two wars on the nation's credit card; that tax cuts would create enough growth to pay for themselves. ... The failure to pay for the tax cuts and the wars took us from record surpluses under President Bill Clinton to record deficits. And it left us unprepared to deal with the retirement of an aging population that's placing a greater strain on programs like Medicare and Social Security."

THE FACTS: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, begun by Bush, helped push the nation's fiscal picture into deficit. The Bush tax cuts lowered revenues, contributing to early deficits as well, and those revenues stayed below the rate of economic growth in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, the wars kept taking their toll on spending, ultimately driving the deficit to a historic high of $1.4 trillion in the 2009 budget year. That deficit also was driven by the recession, which was already well under way.

After Obama took office, he also paid for the wars by borrowing. What's more, the recession has increased deficit spending on programs that automatically ramp up during an economic downturn, such as food stamps and Medicaid. Borrowing also was required for the stimulus package.

As he winds down the wars, Obama is not exactly cutting up the credit card. In his State of the Union speech, he proposed using half of the money that would have gone to pay for the wars on a massive infrastructure plan.

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Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)