In the first briefing by an administration official following the President’s unveiling of his Jobs Creation Act yesterday, Office of Management and Budget Director (OMB) Jack Lew made it clear he was not going to predict the number of jobs that the new legislation would create. This led to an unusual and heated exchange during the White House briefing for reporters, culminating in White House Press Secretary Jay Carney admonishing journalists and clearly referring to HUMAN EVENTS and its question to Lew.
“At least as a reporter,” Carney said, obviously referring to our correspondent, “acknowledge that there’s a separation between a talking point and the facts on the ground at the time.”
This spirited exchange began when CNN correspondent Dan Lothian asked Lew point-blank: “How many jobs will be created with this plan?”
When Lew replied that the administration had not put out an official estimate, Lothian remonstrated, “Why not?”
The OMB head explained, “We’ve seen the same numbers that you’ve seen that private forecasters put out” and specifically cited Mark Zandi and Macroeconomic Advisers, both economic forecasters in the private sector, that the jobs bill would create about 1.9 million new jobs (Zandi has said 1.9 million and Macroeconomic Advisers “a little bit lower,” recalled Lew).
But Lew also pointed out that “[i]t’s always a challenge with these kinds of projections because they’re subject to a lot of things other than just what you’re proposing in the package.”
‘I’m Not Making Any Other Predictions’
In a follow-up question, HUMAN EVENTS cited predictions by the administration’s economic team in January of ’09 that the new President’s stimulus package would bring unemployment down to 6.8%, pointing out that these figures were never realized.
“How can there be confidence in any figures you offer on jobs created or what the unemployment will be, based on that record?” we asked Lew.
“As you know, I was not a member of the economic team then, and I have an outsider’s knowledge of the deliberations that were going on at the time,” Lew replied. “I will say that the Recovery Act produced the level of new jobs that was expected. What changed was that the economy was in a much deeper recession than anyone knew at the time. The hole was deeper, and it was that much harder to get out.
“So I think there’s a danger of ever predicting unemployment rates, because as I said in response to the earlier question, there’s a lot of things that determine what the unemployment rate is and will be. So even if you create x-million new jobs, if you started out farther behind in economic growth, it’s going to take longer to hit a certain level of employment/unemployment.”
When we asked Lew whether there would be any more predictions of employment figures, he replied: “I’m not making any other predictions.”
Carney Admonishes HUMAN EVENTS
When Carney resumed his perch at the podium, he specifically cited HUMAN EVENTS’ question and said that he expected to see references to the estimates of 6.8% unemployment by economic advisers Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein in forthcoming political advertisements.
“I think it ought to be incumbent upon people who are journalists to at least acknowledge in their writing, if not in the phrasing of their question, what Jack Lew just talked about,” Carney said, “which is that the forecasts made in early 2009 were based on the economic data available to any economist inside or outside the administration.”
The press secretary then started on a litany now familiar to those who cover the White House and its top spokesman: “[I]n fact, what we only learned this summer—is that in the fourth quarter of 2008, the American economy contracted 9%—before this President took office. The next month, when he took office, at the end of that month—by the end of that month, the American economy had shed in that month alone 770,000 jobs. Again, I certainly don’t think that you are suggesting that President Obama, regardless of the forecast of his economic team, is responsible for that.”
Finally, Carney concluded his lecture: “So, at least as a reporter, acknowledge that there’s a separation between a talking point and the facts on the ground at the time.”
It seems a safe bet that Carney is partially correct, and we will hear much about the administration’s ’09 predictions on the campaign trail. And it also seems safe to say we will be hearing warnings and tirades from Jay Carney similar to those that we heard at the White House on Monday.
A testy press conference yields no prediction and a scolding for Human Events.