February 13, 2013

Fact check: Some overreaching in State of the Union

Calvin Woodward / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

For instance, some legal immigrants who are in the U.S. on an employer-sponsored visa can't easily change jobs, or in some cases take a promotion, without jeopardizing their place in line to get a green card. In other cases, would-be legal immigrants in other countries wait for years to be able to settle in the U.S.

Obama is using "back of the line" somewhat figuratively, because there are multiple lines depending on the applicant's relationship with family already in the U.S. or with an employer. Generally, a foreign-born spouse of a U.S. citizen or someone with needed skills and a job offer will be accepted more quickly than many others.

But even as a figurative point, his assertion may cloak the fact that people who came to the U.S. illegally and win provisional status have the great advantage over applicants abroad of already being where they all want to go.

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Obama: "Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. ... And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. ... Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on — by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime."

The facts: Dozens of studies have shown Head Start graduates are more likely to complete high school than their at-risk peers who don't participate in the program. But a study last year by the Department of Health and Human Services that found big vocabulary and social development gains for at-risk students in pre-kindergarten programs also found those effects largely faded by the time pupils reached third grade. The report didn't explain why the kids saw a drop-off in performance or predict how they would fare as they aged.

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Obama: "I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

The facts: Obama failed to get a global warming bill through Congress when both Houses were controlled by Democrats in 2010. With Republicans in control of the House, the chances of a bill to limit the gases blamed for global warming and to create a market for businesses to trade pollution credits are close to zero. The Obama administration has already acted to control greenhouse gases through existing law. It has boosted fuel-efficiency standards and proposed rules to control heat-trapping emissions from new power plants. And while there are still other ways to address climate change without Congress, it's questionable regulation alone can achieve the reductions needed to start curbing global warming.

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Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in the Republican response: "The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending $1 trillion more than it takes in every year. That's why we need a balanced-budget amendment."

The facts: That statement may reflect the math behind recent debt, but it doesn't get directly to the cause — the worst recession since the Depression and its aftereffects. The deficit is not only caused by spending, but by reduced tax revenues. And during the recession, revenues from both individual and corporate taxes fell markedly.

The steep increases in debt and the measures that should be taken to ease the burden are central to the debate in Washington. But there is no serious move afoot to amend the Constitution to prohibit deficit spending.

The ability to take on debt has been used by governments worldwide and through U.S. history to shelter people from the ravages of a down economy, wage war and achieve many other ends. An effort to amend the Constitution for any purpose faces daunting odds; this would be no exception. Most state constitutions demand a balanced budget, but states lack some big obligations of the federal government, including national defense. And Washington's ability to go deeper into debt provides states with at least a minimal safety net in times of high unemployment.

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