The Obama campaign last week released a two-minute video of the president accusing GOP rival Mitt Romney of supporting policies that, he says, caused the Great Recession, a claim the Washington Post's (WaPo) Fact Checker has awarded three Pinocchios:
At the root of the Fact Checker article is President Obama's claim that Mitt Romney's support for "bigger tax cuts for the wealthy" and "fewer regulations on Wall Street" will take us back to the "same trickle-down policies that led to the crisis in the first place." As the WaPo's Glenn Kessler notes, the name "George W. Bush" is never mentioned "but is certainly implied," meaning the president is more or less trying to paint Romney as another Bush.
But let's put aside the specifics of Romney's tax plan (what little there are) and his stance on Wall Street reform and focus on the notion that tax cuts and deregulation caused the Great Recession.
Did the Bush-era tax cuts lead to the meltdown? To put it bluntly, there is nothing to support this claim.
Indeed, Ezra Klein, the sole source cited by the Obama campaign on this statement, is quoted as saying "I am absolutely not saying the Bush tax cuts led to the financial crisis. To my knowledge, there’s no evidence of that."
"Klein is right. While some on the left have speculated about some kind of Rube Goldberg phenomenon -- that the tax cuts put so much money in the pockets of the rich that they had nothing to spend it on but risky and exotic financial instruments -- we are unaware of any respected academic study making this link," Kessler writes.
"The Bush tax cuts have been amply criticized for costing too much and generating too little economic growth, but that’s entirely different from causing the Great Recession," he adds.
And as for President Obama implying Bush-era deregulation led to the financial crisis, Kessler points out that the 631-page final report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States notes deregulation may have played a role in the meltdown -- but it was about three decades' worth.
In response to critics who argue the Great Recession wasn't caused by just Bush-era tax cuts and "deregulation," the Obama campaign claims the president was saying all of Bush's policies created the crisis. However, even if that were true, it's certainly not clear in the video.
"Obama mentions only two things: tax cuts and deregulation," Kessler notes. "He then adds that such 'trickle-down policies' led to the crisis — and 'trickle down' is Democratic pejorative for 'tax cuts for the rich.'"
So what's the final verdict?
"It is time for the Obama campaign to retire this talking point, no matter how much it seems to resonate with voters. The financial crisis of 2008 stemmed from a variety of complex factors, in particular the bubble in housing prices and the rise of exotic financial instruments," Kessler writes.
"Deregulation was certainly an important factor, but as the government commission concluded, the blame for that lies across administrations, not just in the last Republican one," he adds.
In any case, the Bush tax cuts belong at the bottom of the list — if at all. Moreover, it is rather strange for the campaign to cite as its source an article that, according to the author, does not support this assertion.
We nearly made this Four Pinocchios but ultimately decided that citing deregulation in conjunction with tax cuts kept this line out of the "whopper" category. Still, in his effort to portray Romney as an echo of Bush, the president really stretches the limits here.
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This story has been updated.