Sunday morning White House chief of staff Jack Lew appeared on all 5 Sunday morning newscasts—ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN—and on two of them he made similar false claims.
CROWLEY: And I know — I want to talk about the tax hike in a second, but I want to read for our viewers something Senator Harry Reid, the democratic and majority lead, in the U.S. Senate who said, "we do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. It’s done. We don’t need to do it," talking about last year’s two-year agreement and saying it’s already done.
This budget, I can assure you, and you know, because you’ve been in this town for a long time, is going to be attacked as a political document. This is a budget that promises 2 million more jobs if it’s passed. So that come September the president can go out there and say, well, if they’d only pass my budget we’d have 2 million more jobs, but those darn Republicans are standing in my way when in fact even the democratic leader in the senate says, you know what, we don’t need a budge.
LEW: Let’s be clear, what Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point. In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit. They did that last year. That’s what he’s talking about. He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget, but we also need to be honest you can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes and you can’t get 60 votes without the bipartisan support. So unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate Harry Reid is not able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality that that could be a challenge.
But let’s be clear, there’s time and desire to work together. We put a lot of things out there, ranging from authority to reorganize the government so that we have a government for the 21st Century, not the 19th or 20th Century, home financing proposal so that Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, can refinance homes that are under water. There’s a lot that we can and should do together on a bipartisan basis this year.
MR. GREGORY: So the leadership deficit in Washington has had an impact on what business does in America and certainly our economic outlook. Here’s a stat that a lot of people may not know, but it’s pretty striking. The number of days since Senate Democrats passed a budget is 1,019. Can you just explain as a former budget director, how do you fund the government when there’s no budget?
MR. LEW: Well, you know, one of the things about the United States Senate that I think the American people have realized is that it takes 60, not 50 votes to pass something. And there has been Republican opposition to anything that Senate Democrats have tried to do. So it, it is a challenge in the United States Senate to pass legislation when there’s not that willingness to work together. Congress didn’t do a great job last year. It, it, it drove right to the edge of a cliff on occasion after occasion. I actually think it’s unfair to blame the United States Senate for that. A lot of that was because of the extreme, you know, conservative approach taken by House Republicans.
That said, Lew is completely wrong when he claims that 60 votes are needed to “pass a budget in the Senate.” As he well knows, a budget resolution is one of the few things that are not subject to a filibuster. In fact, that is one reason why a bill based on reconciliation instructions cannot be filibustered.
You don’t even need 50 votes, just a simple majority. Here are a few of the recent close votes for the budget resolution, as listed by CRS: 48-45 (2009 budget); 51-49 (2006); 51-50 (2004); 50-48 (2001). Senate Democrats may have reasons for failing to pass a budget plan—such as wanting to avoid casting politically inconvenient votes—but a GOP filibuster is not one of them.
While pains have been made to suggest that Lew misspoke, I think that’s being overly generous. Before taking over as Chief of Staff just a few weeks ago, Lew was in charge of the Office of Management and Budget. He was in charge of trying to get the president’s budget through Congress—and he didn’t know the rules? The kicker is, this was Lew’s second tenure at OMB—he also headed it up during the Clinton administration.
It’s difficult to honestly accuse someone of lying—because they must know the statement they’re making is false. Someone can be wrong about something, but sincerely believe it to be true; that’s not a lie.
Lew knew better.
But I want to touch on one more thing that has been lost in the day-after fact-checking. What followed those snippets from the NBC and CNN interviews I posted earlier. Because the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about this was: “What did the interviewers say? How did they respond?”
MR. GREGORY: Your party controls the Senate, does it not?
MR. LEW: Yeah, but it–the positions that ended up tying the Congress in knots came out of the House. It came out of the tea party wing in the House.
CROWLEY: Last question, what’s the economy going to look like in September? What will the unemployment rate be?
LEW: You know, we have been very heartened by the economic news of last two, three months.
Gregory and Crowley are both very experienced journalists. They’ve been covering Washington for decades—and Lew’s lie just slid right past both of them. No challenge. No, “that’s not true Mr. Lew.” Nope, we’ll just move along. These are people who supposedly follow politics very closely and they failed to detect a whopper of a lie Sunday morning.
People interested in politics will see Monday’s post-mortems and, if they didn’t when Lew made the original statement, realize that the man lied. But for those whose interest comes but once a week and they depend on these Sunday shows to keep them informed, they will remain deceived.
Gregory and Crowley should make a brief note of the lie on next week’s shows, and apologize for failing their viewers.
Don’t hold your breath.