Senator-elect Rand Paul was on ABC's This Week on Sunday and, when pressed for spending cut proposals by Ms. Amanpour, said:
The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let's get them more in line, and let's find savings. Let's hire no new federal workers.Politifact jumped all over this with a "Truth-O-Meter" rating of "FALSE".
Only problem is, when you read Politifact's explanation, you'll see this:
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a federal statistics-gathering agency, federal worker compensation in 2009 averaged $123,049, which was double the private-sector average of $61,051. That's a gap of almost $62,000 -- and is pretty close to what Paul said on This Week.So how can Politifact rate Paul's statement—which they admit is "pretty close" to reality—"false"? Primarily by this trick:
However, that figure includes both salary and benefits. This is a legitimate number to raise, but using it requires more explanation than Paul gave it. Since most people usually think about how much they, their spouses and their colleagues get paid in salary alone -- not salary plus benefits -- we think most people hearing this statement would assume that Paul means that the average federal employee gets paid a salary of $120,000. That's simply not true.In short: let's ignore the amazingly lavish benefits provided to Federal employees. Because that's what "most people" do. If we do that, then Rand Paul is wrong. And "true" becomes "false", just like that.
Which is nonsense, an argument pulled out of somewhere dark and smelly. Note the context: Paul was asked specifically about cutting government spending. For that argument, what really matters is not the take-home number on an employee paycheck; it's what the government is—duh—spending per employee.
It's not just right-wing wackos that make this point. Here's a recent USA Today headline:
Federal workers earning double their private counterpartsPolitifact purports to be about the "facts". But when they claim some conservative/libertarian has said something "false", it can mean: "OK, what he said was true, but…"