By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney has done a heckuva job with his jobs plan.
At Tuesday night’s town-hall debate, the Republican presidential nominee replied with confidence when 20-year-old student Jeremy Epstein asked the candidates for reassurance that he’d be able to find work after graduation.
“I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years,” Romney said. “It’s going to help Jeremy get a job when he comes out of school.”
The candidate’s statement, a version of a claim he has made for months on the stump and in a new ad, was bold, precise – and baseless.
Hours earlier, my Washington Post colleague Glenn Kessler had reported that the source the Romney campaign provided for the jobs figure was a trio of studies that either didn’t directly analyze Romney’s policies or were based on longer time horizons than four years.
Top Romney economist Glenn Hubbard acknowledged to Kessler that the three studies did “not make up the 12 million jobs in the first four years,” and the Romney campaign issued a statement minutes before the debate that expanded the jobs time frame to “the next four years and beyond.”
But the claim, though discredited, had become a key part of Romney’s message – and he went right ahead and repeated the falsehood during the debate.
“I have a plan,” he said in a recent stump speech, “that’s going to get this economy going and create jobs, jobs and more jobs – 12 million jobs.”
In a recent ad, Romney, speaking to the camera from a factory floor, says his “energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs,” his tax plan “creates 7 million more,” and “expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs.”
But when Kessler asked for substantiation, the campaign referred him to a Rice University professor’s study for evidence that Romney’s tax plan would generate 7 million jobs – which turned out to be a 10-year number. The evidence for the energy policy creating 3 million jobs comes from a Citigroup Global Markets study that did not analyze Romney’s plan and was assuming an eight-year horizon. The remaining 2 million jobs, Kessler wrote, were justified by a 2011 International Trade Commission report that also didn’t analyze Romney policies.
“The big point is the 3+7+2 does not make up the 12 million jobs in the first four years (different source of growth and different time period),” Hubbard acknowledged in an e-mail to Kessler.
Kessler called Romney’s claim a bait-and-switch, a characterization Obama echoed when he spoke at a rally in Iowa on Wednesday afternoon. “Turns out his jobs math isn’t any better than his tax math,” Obama charged.
About the same time, Romney took the stage in Chesapeake, Va. This time, he dropped the reference to 12 million jobs. “I’m going to get this economy going,” was the extent of his vow. It wasn’t flashy, but it had the virtue of being honest.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.