FACT CHECK: US debt is not made in China
WASHINGTON (AP) — No, the U.S. national debt was not made in China. Or by Canada, or Europe or other trading partners.
President Donald Trump wrongly blamed his country's trade imbalance for swelling the sea of red ink the U.S. government is swimming in. But imports are not related to national debt.
Here's a look at a variety of statements by Trump and others during a week marked by a struggle over the Senate Republican health bill, a White House cheerleading session for U.S. energy, assertions by the president on trade and vulgar tweets from him on a more personal note.
TRUMP: "For many, many years, the United States has suffered through massive trade deficits. That's why we have $20 trillion in debt. So we'll be changing that." — Remarks Friday in a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and aides.
THE FACTS: Trump's comments suggest he could use a refresher in how the economy works. Trade deficits are not why the U.S. has nearly $20 trillion in national debt.
Because the U.S. imports more than it exports, it has a negative trade balance, or a deficit. Of course, many of the goods that the U.S. imports are popular with consumers so a deficit isn't necessarily negative. Americans may buy coffee from Central America, electronics from China, cars from South Korea and jeans sewn in Turkey.
The national debt is a separate thing. It's the debt accumulated from budget deficits year after year, when the federal government must borrow because it spends more than it collects in taxes. The total public debt outstanding is $19.8 trillion.
Of that, close to $4 trillion is held by other countries (China with about $1 trillion). But that's got nothing to do with the trade deficit.
TRUMP: "Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses." — tweet Saturday
Leaving aside the state of mind and intelligence of the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Trump wrongly stated the show is floundering. "Morning Joe" recently finished the highest-rated quarter in MSNBC's history in that time period, marking the show's ninth straight quarter of growth. And that was before Trump went after hosts Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Twitter, a development that could interest more people in tuning in.
TRUMP: "Democrats purposely misstated Medicaid under new Senate bill - actually goes up." — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: The stalled Senate bill would cut Medicaid — by phasing out ex-President Barack Obama's expansion of the program and reducing over time the number of people who can be on it.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the program would cover 15 million fewer people by 2026, a 16 percent reduction. Although Trump is correct that Medicaid spending overall would continue to rise — at a slower rate than projected — the effect would be a significant cut in the program.
The Republican emphasis on spending growth is a sleight of hand that both parties resort to when it suits their political purposes.
Obama's law slowed the growth of Medicare spending, primarily by reducing projected payment increases to hospitals and other providers, and Republicans roundly denounced that as the cut that it was.
TRUMP: "Our new American Energy Policy will unlock MILLIONS of jobs & TRILLIONS in wealth. We are on the cusp of a true energy REVOLUTION." — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: It's hard to see how any government policy could yield the results Trump predicts. Despite a recent boom, the energy sector employs fewer workers than it did a decade ago. The Labor Department said there are 655,300 jobs in mining coal and extracting oil and natural gas, down from a peak of 1.18 million jobs in 1981. And a report in January from the authoritative Energy Information Administration shows that the entire energy generation sector - including solar, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear and bioenergy - employs 2 million people.
TRUMP: "As you all know, I approved the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline in my first week. Thousands of jobs, tremendous things are happening." — remarks Thursday on energy.
THE FACTS: His timing is off and his boast about jobs leaves out the fact that almost all the employment is temporary.
In his first week, Trump signed orders asking TransCanada to resubmit its application to build Keystone XL and requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider its earlier refusal to grant an easement needed to finish the Dakota Access project. Both projects had been blocked by the Obama administration and Trump undoubtedly revived them, but his Jan. 24 orders did not approve them. That came later.
The U.S. government estimated Keystone XL will create 42,100 jobs directly and indirectly in the U.S. for up to two years. Once the pipeline is complete, operating it would support an estimated 50 jobs. The recently completed Dakota Access pipeline is expected to support several dozen permanent jobs.
TRUMP, on how he braced for trouble when he revived the pipeline projects: "I thought I'd take a lot of heat. I didn't take any heat. I approved them and that was it. I figured we'd have all sorts of protests. We didn't have anything." — remarks on energy.
THE FACTS: Hundreds of authorities went into the Standing Rock protest camp in late February, clearing it out and arresting 46 people. Trump is wrong to say there were no protests. But they were much diminished by the time he took his action. Protesters had declared victory in December when the Army Corps ruled against the easement, freezing the project. The Standing Rock Sioux, the tribe at the center of the protests in North Dakota, told demonstrators through the winter that it was time to go home.
TRUMP: "The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!" — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: This convoluted accusation of fake news from The Washington Post sideswipes Amazon for supposedly not paying "internet taxes," which are not really a thing. In any event, Amazon.com collects state sales taxes in all 45 states that have such taxes, as well as the District of Columbia, according to its website. State governments have sought to capture sales taxes lost to internet retailers, though they have struggled with a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that retailers must have a physical presence in a state before officials can make them collect sales tax.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013, without the involvement of Amazon.com Inc.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House spokeswoman, on why she thinks the Congressional Budget Office is credible on matters involving revenue and spending but not reliable in predicting 22 million people would lose coverage under the Republican bill: "The CBO is a budget office ... We don't always agree that it does a great job predicting coverage." She added: "I think when they focus on the budget side, that's probably a good thing." — briefing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: She's cherry-picking. It's a Washington ritual to talk up favorable findings from the CBO and talk down negative ones.
She likes the office's budget projections because they anticipate a cut in the deficit and health-related taxes as a result of the legislation. She dislikes the nonbudget projections that anticipate a substantial rise in the uninsured.
But the two cannot be unlinked: A law's effects on the budget can only be forecast if analysts make assumptions on how that law changes people's behavior. The expectation that fewer people would buy health insurance under the Republican bill is central to measuring the bill's impact on federal finances.
The CBO is highly respected on Capitol Hill for its impartiality, and its projections, while sometimes far off, are considered more reliable than those by other analysts. But that doesn't stop partisans from assailing the office's credibility when it suits them — Democrats did the pummeling when they didn't like CBO forecasts on Obama's law.
As Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put it earlier this year: "We like the CBO when they agree with us. When they don't, they're a bunch of losers."
SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-Kan., reaching for an analogy to illustrate how difficult it is to negotiate health care: "Once in Glacier National Park I saw two porcupines making love. I'm assuming they produced smaller porcupines. They produced something. It has to be done carefully. That's what we're doing now." — after GOP luncheon Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He is correct, porcupine mating is tricky and potentially prickly. But, unlike lawmakers, porcupines have their mission figured out.
Porcupine spines are an intimidating mechanism to protect the animals from predators. But when it comes time to mate, they have the ability to let down their defenses, said Duke University biologist Stuart Pimm. Courtship rituals can be aggressive but when the animals have negotiated the art of the deal, the females relax and reposition their quills.
It's not entirely different from people, Pimm said. "We humans are quite capable of arming ourselves with the most ferocious weaponry but I don't take my broadaxe to bed with me."