President Trump delivered a polarizing, reality-show tinged State of the Union address Tuesday in which he claimed credit for three years of solid economic growth while making more than 30 “dubious statements” about everything from blue-collar employment to American energy independence, according to the fact checkers at The Washington Post.
As Politico’s John F. Harris summed it up, “President Donald Trump likes his superlatives, and you have to give him credit: He definitely earned them this time. This was the most defiant, most boastful, most ostentatiously theatrical, most overtly campaign-oriented, most am-I-hearing-this-right? outlandish—the most flamboyantly bizarre—State of the Union Address of All Time.”
With the economy in its 11th year of growth, unemployment at a 50-year low and the stock market at record highs, Trump certainly had plenty of facts at his disposal to tout his record. But in typical Trumpian fashion he deployed numerous exaggerated or entirely fictional assertions in an effort to back his claim that the economy is “the best it has ever been” and is growing at an “unimaginable” pace.
Trump, who came to power decrying the “carnage” imposed on the U.S. economy by elites in both parties, sought to portray his administration as delivering a decisive break from President Obama’s — a dramatic turnaround that revived the country and justifies a second term. "If we had not reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration,” Trump said, “the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success."
But most economists say that while there is plenty for the president to crow about, the economy is largely following a path that was established during the initial recovery from the Great Recession.
As the Post’s Tory Newmyer put it, “many key economic indicators — GDP growth, the unemployment rate, the stock market — show gains in the Trump era have simply continued along their trajectories from the Obama years.”
While Trump’s questionable claims were wide-ranging and worthy of extensive review, here are a few that touched on fiscal matters, along with brief fact checks:
1. Claiming the biggest tax cuts in history. “From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy … enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts,” Trump said Tuesday. The president has been exaggerating the size of the 2017 tax cuts for years, but the passage of time hasn’t made the claim any truer.
Here are The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Sarah Cahlan: “Trump constantly claims he passed the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, but that’s Four-Pinocchios false. The best way to compare tax cuts (or spending plans) over time is to measure them as a percentage of the national economy. The Trump tax cut, according to Treasury Department data, is nearly 0.9 percent of GDP — compared with 2.89 percent of GDP for Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, the actual largest tax cut. When measured as a share of the U.S. economy, Trump’s tax cut is the eighth-largest in the past century.”
2. Claiming to protect people with pre-existing conditions. “We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions," Trump said Tuesday, and not for the first time. But his administration has taken steps that would do the opposite, including ongoing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which first established consumer protections for pre-existing conditions during the Obama administration.
Bloomberg’s Max Nisen: “The reality is, [Trump] came close to replacing the Affordable Care Act in 2017 with policies that would have gutted consumer safeguards for sick people and cut coverage for millions. The president continues to support a lawsuit that could eliminate the ACA, this time without even bothering to say how he'd replace it.”
3. Claiming unprecedented success for Opportunity Zones. Trump touted the Opportunity Zones program, which was created as part of the 2017 GOP tax reform and provides tax breaks for investors in about 9,000 low-income areas. “This is the first time that these deserving communities have seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s all working.”
But The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin says it’s too early to reach any conclusions about the program: “Local governments and investors across the country have been excitedly touting opportunity zones and trying to encourage development. But it’s far from clear yet how well the program is working. There isn’t any official data on how much money is being invested or how much would have been invested without the incentive, and the law doesn’t require detailed disclosures.”
4. Claiming that drug prices are falling. Repeating a talking point the White House has been using for months, Trump said, “I was pleased to announce last year that, for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down.”
Kaiser Health News’ Shefali Luthra says the claim is based on data that provide a misleading picture of what’s going on with drug prices: “We’ve examined this claim twice before, rating it Mostly False. But prescription drug prices are a major voter concern. So we wanted to take another look, in case things had changed. Experts told us the data remains essentially unchanged. Drug prices are still not going down.”
5. Claiming to protect Medicare and Social Security. Trump ran for office in 2016 promising to not cut popular entitlement programs, and he repeated that claim Tuesday: “We will always protect your Medicare and your Social Security.” But Trump recently said he would be open to entitlement cuts if he were to win a second term. Asked if entitlement reform would be on his agenda, Trump said that “[a]t some point they will be.”
More broadly, Trump’s budget requests have proposed substantial cuts to entitlement programs. His 2019 budget, for example, outlined $554 billion in Medicare cuts and up to $250 billion in Medicaid cuts over 10 years. And his 2020 budget called for more than $3 billion in cuts to the Social Security Disability Insurance program over four years.
“Not only has President Trump failed to strengthen Medicare and Social Security, but the financial outlook for both trusts has not improved or worsened, Linda Qiu says at The New York Times. “That is at least partly the result of Mr. Trump’s tax law, which has left the Treasury Department to collect fewer taxes from Americans and, in turn, invest less money into each program. Last April, the government projected that Medicare funds would be depleted by 2026, three years earlier than estimated in 2017. The report noted that less money will flow into the fund because of low wages and lower taxes.”