Pulitzer Prize-winning “fact-check” Web site Politifact.com has done it again.
When last we criticized one of their findings, Politifact.com rated this statement by Rep. Mike Pence “half-true”:
"To use money from the TARP fund in the manner that is being discussed by the White House and congressional Democrats would be a violation of the law."
The way the White House and congressional Democrats were discussing was to use the funds as a second stimulus – something they’re still discussing.
Politifact’s “logic” in rating this half true basically came down to the fact that while doing such a thing is currently a violation of the law, Congress could change the law. That’s right, something that is totally true becomes “half-true” because sometime down the line the law might change.
This past week Politifact again tackled this very same issue, but came to a very different conclusion rating as “True” Sen. Judd Gregg’s claim that:
"The law is very clear! 'The monies recouped from the TARP shall be paid into the general fund of the treasury for the reduction of the public debt.' "
Politifact even has the gall to reference the earlier Pence statement and stand behind it.
Late in 2009, Obama ran into similar criticism from Republican lawmakers, after he announced that he wanted to use unspent TARP money for tax breaks for small businesses and investments in infrastructure projects, among other things. Then, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said that, "To use money from the TARP fund in the manner that is being discussed by the White House and congressional Democrats would be a violation of the law, and it would betray the trust of the American people."
On one hand, the TARP legislation is quite clear: Section 106, Part D of the TARP legislation: "Revenues of, and proceeds from the sale of troubled assets purchased under this Act, or from the sale, exercise, or surrender of warrants or senior debt instruments acquired under section 113 shall be paid into the general fund of the Treasury for reduction of the public debt."
But we also talked with budget experts who said that Congress could get around those rules in a number of ways. For example, Congress could rescind the TARP money and then, in a separate action, use it to pay other expenses, said Brian Riedl, lead budget analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"Congress can of course vote to spend new money on anything it wants," Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, told us in December.
What is the distinction Politifact is making between Pence’s statement and Gregg’s?
In Gregg's case, though, he's strictly talking about what the law says, that TARP money cannot be used for anything other than deficit reduction. He's right and we find his claim True.
Unfortunately for Politifact, that’s exactly what Pence was saying too. There isn’t an ounce of difference in the factual basis for Pence’s and Gregg’s statements, but Gregg gets a “true” and Pence gets a “half-true.”
I give Politifact a “half-liar” rating.