CNN's Soledad O'Brien Falsely Labels Bush as 'Food Stamp President'

On Tuesday, for the second time in two weeks, CNN's Soledad O'Brien insisted that President Bush, not President Obama, is the "food stamp president" – even though data show her argument is ridiculous.

On January 19, O'Brien had opened up that "it was George Bush who was the food stamp president." Then on Tuesday, she stated that Bush oversaw a greater percent increase of food stamp recipients than Obama has, and thus was more deserving of the title "food stamp president."

However, the number of Americans on food stamps reached an all time high in September of 2011 – during President Obama's tenure – as almost 46.3 million Americans, or 14.83 percent of the estimated U.S. population, received food stamps, according to data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

And while the number of Americans on food stamps increased until the end of Bush's term, that number did not decrease or remain static under Obama. Rather, both the number of food stamp recipients and the percentage of the U.S. population on food stamps ballooned during Obama's time in office, as the graph below demonstrates.

 


The percentage of Americans on food stamps hovered around nine percent from 2005-2008, but then increased every year from 2009 through 2011. Between the fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the number jumped from 10.9 percent to 13 percent.

And according to data as late as October, the percentage of Americans on food stamps stood at 14.8 percent – an increase of over 4 percentage points from the January, 2009 amount.

In contrast, that number grew about the same amount during eight years of President Bush – over double the number of years Obama has held office. Around 6 percent of Americans benefitted from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) at the outset of Bush's term, and that number climbed over eight years to 10.4 percent in January of 2009.

The number of Americans on food stamps also increased by a similar amount between the two presidents, as about 14.7 million Americans were added to SNAP under eight years of President Bush while 14.2 million were added in less than half that time under President Obama.

Almost 32 million Americans were on food stamps in January of 2009, but that number jumped to over 46.2 million in September of 2011.

"[Y]ou have said also that he [Obama] has increased food stamps 41 percent," O'Brien lectured Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) on Tuesday. "And I know that you know that actually the bigger increase was under President Bush, right? This is under President Obama. But it went up 65 percent under President Bush," she stated.

"So explain to me why the food stamp president thing is a strategy when really the percentagewise is bigger increase – no one calls President Bush the food stamp president, right?" she challenged West.  

West retorted that it is "very apropo" to report an increase in food stamps under President Obama, and attacked his jobs record.

"The state of Florida is 9.9 percent foreclosures. The amount of storefronts, our small businesses that are closing up. So it is very, I think, very apropo, to say that we have seen an increase in the food stamp recipients. We've seen an increase of 16 to 17 percent increase of poverty roles as well," he maintained.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on January 31 at 7:07 a.m. EST, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let me ask you another question. Newt Gingrich, as you know – and we spoke about this the last time we were in person, called President Obama the food stamp president. And then you have said also that he has increased food stamps 41 percent. And I know that you know that actually the bigger increase was under President Bush, right? This is under President Obama. But it went up 65 percent under President Bush. So explain to me why the food stamp president thing is a strategy when really the percentagewise is bigger increase -- no one calls President Bush the food stamp president, right?

Rep. ALLEN WEST (R-Fla.): Well, no one called him the food stamp president, but I do remember people throwing eggs at his inaugural car and they called him many other different names. Look, let's be very honest. Down here in south Florida we have a high level of unemployment. The state of Florida is 9.9 percent foreclosures. The amount of storefronts, our small businesses that are closing up. So it is very, I think, very apropo, to say that we have seen an increase in the food stamp recipients. We've seen an increase of 16 to 17 percent increase of poverty roles as well.

We're not going in the right direction, Soledad. We have had an increase of our debt under President Obama more than from President George Washington to right up to President Bill Clinton, almost $5 trillion. But yet we're not hearing any plan of how we're going to reduce this debt or deficit. You didn't even hear it mentioned during the State of the Union address. The health care law is destroying our businesses. I sit on the Small Business Committee. I talk to these business owners down here. That's exactly what they're saying. So I want to see a different vision for this country.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014