While most of Washington's attention this week focused on gun control or immigration, the economy got its share of debate, too. And those with the bullhorns threw some bull into their punditry.
Thanks to some nifty research from our friends at PolitiFact, the fact-checking site of the Tampa Bay Times, we get to single out four odd bedfellows for mangling the truth on both sides of the political aisle.
For their not so precise economic analysis, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders and Virginia political hopeful Terry McAuliffe on the left get to share the Whopper of the Week, a distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian for misleading political dialogue.
Sanders, the liberal independent senator from Vermont, gets singled out for a recent appearance on MSNBC where he explained why tax rates on wealthy Americans should be increased.
"The reality is that we have growing wealth and income inequality in America," Sanders said Jan. 7. "People on top in large corporations doing phenomenally well. Middle class disappearing. Poverty levels at an all-time high."
Growing income inequality is a common refrain for raising taxes, but Sanders' claim about the all-time high of poverty just isn't true. In 2011, the most recent year the U.S. Census Bureau has data for, the poverty rate was 15.0 percent of Americans.
While many might consider that high, it's tied for tenth place on the high poverty rate chart. The highest poverty level on record is 22.4 percent in 1959, so current rates have a way to go before they break that record.
The Census Bureau only started keeping track of the data in 1959, so it is very likely that America has suffered poverty rates far higher than anything in modern society, such as during the Great Depression.
Hannity, the Fox News host, had his own economic worries about joblessness. In fact, he claimed on his show that "8.3 (million) fewer Americans are working today than there were four years ago." He didn't use the word "million" but it was clear from context what he meant while he criticized President Barack Obama's economic policies.
But the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the actual number is a far cry from Hannity's millions. 358,000 more people were unemployed in Dec. 2012 than in Dec. 2008, and the unemployment rate has ticked up half a percentage point during that time, from 7.3 percent to 7.8 percent unemployment, data shows. And, as PolitiFact notes, some of the growth in those not working comes from retiring Baby Boomers, something no politician has control over.
Despite the numbers on the economy not adding up to what Sanders and Hannity said, unemployment and poverty are both higher than most Americans probably want. So what are private business owners doing to help create jobs?
McAuliffe, the former political fund-raiser extraordinaire, and his company, GreenTech Automotive, built a manufacturing plant in Mississippi that's expected to bring in 1,500 jobs. The only problem is that McAuliffe is running for governor of Virginia, and is being grilled by locals as to why he didn't build the plant in that state. McAuliffe responded that Virginia officials didn't want it.
"We had sites, we had meetings and they chose that they weren’t going to bid on it," he said, adding that the state hadn't been aggressive enough in pursuing new job growth. "They’ve gone to all of our Southern neighbors. Hundreds of thousands have been created. I think its been a decision (by Virginia) not to go after these types of manufacturing facilities."
So PolitiFact looked at hundreds of pages of documents handed over by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). They show a state that was very interested in pursuing the manufacturing plant, but had serious concerns about the company. One VEDP official said the "group has no demonstrated ability to run an automotive company." Another declared "we have grave doubts about the business model presented to us."
Most of the disagreements surrounded a federal immigration program to bring Chinese investors to the U.S. to help run the company. But the correspondence shows a state that had economic and political concerns about the project - not one that was completely uninterested in doing business with McAuliffe.
Speaking of immigration, it's become the topic of the week as several versions of reform have been introduced. Limbaugh, the darling of conservative talk radio, weighed in on why he though immigrants came to the U.S.
"I've seen a number of research, scholarly research data which says that a vast majority of arriving immigrants today come here because they believe that government is the source of prosperity, and that's what they support," Limbaugh said, stating concerns that increased immigration would lead to greater support for bigger government.
But Limbaugh never cites the specific "scholarly research." In fact, most research points to the opposite conclusion: immigrants go where the jobs are, be they created from government action or private businesses.
A report by the conservative think-tank Cato Institute said "immigrants come to America today to build a better life through work, not welfare, just as they have throughout American history."
In fact, according to Homeland Security Department data, the number of immigrants coming into the U.S. annually has been fluctuating, and has dropped several times during the recession when jobs started to dry up.
As debate continues over the economy, the performance of Limbaugh, Hannity, Sanders and McAuliffe are a good reminder that Americans should beware of the declarations trumpeting from political bullhorns.