WaPo Fact-Checker Twice Calls Out Obama Over Non-existent Sequester-Related 'Pay Cut' for Capitol Hill Janitors

President Obama's sequester-related press briefing on March 1 contained the usual fibs. Examples include but are certainly not limited to the following: "We've already cut $2.5 trillion in our deficit," when the entire amount involved is something which might happen in the future; his claim that his State of the Union laundry list "is the agenda that the American people voted for," when many of the items involved were never mentioned during the 2012 campaign; and that the sequester is "happening because of a choice that Republicans in Congress have made," despite the fact that his advisers with his personal approval originated the idea in 2011 and the reality that he was under no compulsion when he signed the bill setting it in place last week.

Since then, while the establishment press has largely ignored it, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has twice honed in on a relatively small but clearly refutable statement Obama uttered that day: "Starting tomorrow, everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol ... they're going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they've got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real." No it's not.


The next day Kessler gave Obama's statement a "four Pinocchios" rating (i.e., a "whopper"):

Sequester spin: Obama’s false claim of Capitol janitors receiving ‘a pay cut’

... our colleague Ed O’Keefe obtained the sequester plan released by the Architect for the Capitol, which employs Capitol Hill janitors on the House side. (The Sergeant at Arms employs the janitorial staff on the Senate side.) UPDATE: Obama’s remarks also prompted a warning from AOC (Architect of the Capitol) officials that his comments were “not true.”

... (in a memo) Stephen T. Ayers, the architect of the Capitol, listed a number of steps being taken to reduce expenses, including limiting new hiring and postponing repairs. This line jumped out at us: “We do not anticipate furloughs for AOC employees as a result of Sequestration.”

... In other words, no pay is being cut for workers at the Architect of the Capitol. (We view an unpaid furlough as an effective pay cut.)

A White House official noted at first that the memo does refer to “further reducing overtime.” Technically, that could mean some janitors might see less pay, but it’s unclear how many actually earn overtime. Under the reasonable person test, a possible reduction in overtime appears a bit different from “just got a pay cut.”

... Obama’s remarks at the news conference so alarmed Capitol Hill officials that an e-mail was sent by the Capitol building superintendent that comments that people who clean the building would get a cut in pay were “NOT true.”

... (The White House officials’ aggressive pushback of this column ended after we sent a copy of this email to them.)

On the Senate side of the building, Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer said the cleaning technicians are his employees--not contract employees, except for setting up rooms for meetings and events.

“None of my employees will have their pay cut nor will they face furloughs assuming the cost saving strategies initiated months ago (hiring freeze, overtime reduction and delayed in equipment replacement etc.), in conjunction with a very aggressive early retirement program we began two weeks ago, reap the savings anticipated,” he said in an e-mail.

White House officials may have stopped communicating with Kessler, but they kept insisting that their overtime argument had merit. As Kessler showed today, no it doesn't, as he gave out another "four Pinocchios" rating:

Capitol janitors making ‘ends meet’ with overtime? Nope

... the White House has kept up its spin offensive, claiming that a cut in “overtime” was a de facto pay cut and thus the president was right — or at least not wrong.

So, we wondered: How much overtime do Capitol Hill janitors actually make?

... the overtime pay? It averaged $304 per employee in fiscal year 2012 and $388 per employee thus far in the current fiscal year. “Cleaning technicians do not earn what I would consider to be a great deal of overtime pay,” Swanson said.

In other words, overtime amounts to only pittance of the overall pay — about $6.50 a week on top of wages of $1,000 a week. That’s much different from (White House Press Secretary Jay) Carney’s claim (on March 4) of having to “depend on that overtime to make ends meet.”

... Apparently, the president assumed — incorrectly — that the janitors on Capitol Hill would get a pay cut. Rather than admit an error, White House aides doubled down on their talking points about overtime being essential to their livelihood, without actually knowing the truth.

Clearly, the sequester is hurting segments of the government and will cut the pay of some government workers. It would be better to focus on those people rather than imaginary victims.

In a possibly related development, the White House's link to Carney's March 4 press briefing is either broken or has been taken down; Google web cache is here (for now).

Searches at the Associated Press's national site on "janitors" and "janitor" both returned nothing at 3:30 p.m. ET relating to Obama's statement.

A Google News search on "capitol janitors" (not in quotes; for the past week, sorted by date) returned nine results. One ("Obama warns of Capitol janitor pay cut") is a Washington Post video containing Obama's warning (the video didn't work when I visited the page). Another is an item at the Politico ("Capitol official: Obama wrong about janitors"). A third is a March 4 NewsBusters item by Matt Hadro giving props to CNN for noting that Obama's statement flunked its fact check, while noting that the Big 3 networks barely brought it up. Almost all of the others are posts at center-right blogs.

If a Republican or conservative president had made such a remark, the print and broadcast press would be correctly calling it a "lie" and giving it far greater coverage.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.