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Audacious Lie v. the Too-Clever-by-Half Lie

New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew– who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Presidents Clinton and Obama – made statements yesterday that were flat out false and (more problematically) ones he had to know were false.

To be specific: On CNN yesterday, Lew was asked about the fact that Majority Leader Harry Reid said he does not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. In response, the White House chief of staff said this: “Well, let’s be clear. What Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point. In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills, they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit. They did that last year. That’s what he’s talking about. He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget. But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support.” Lew added, “Unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality that that could be a challenge.”

Everyone from ABC’s Jake Tapper to the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler have pointed out this is simply false; that a budget requires a simple majority, not 60 votes in the Senate, to pass. And Kessler added this observation: “We might be tempted to think Lew misspoke, except that he said virtually the same thing, on two different shows, when he was specifically asked about the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget resolution… the former budget director twice chose to use highly misleading language that blamed Republicans for the failure of the Democratic leadership.”

Lew’s statement was so transparently untrue that the best the White House could offer up as an explanation to Tapper was “the chief of staff was clearly referencing the general gridlock in Congress that makes accomplishing even the most basic tasks nearly impossible given the Senate Republicans’ insistence on blocking an up or down vote on nearly every issue.”

Except that Lew was clearly not referencing general gridlock; he was making a specific, false claim which he repeated and has yet to back away from. In Washington, what Lew said is known as spin. In the rest of America, it is known as deception, mendacity, and dishonesty. Having worked for Bill Clinton, one might think Lew would have learned to dissemble with some flair, some skill, and some panache (e.g., “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”) Perhaps in the Obama administration, people like Lew prefer the audacious lie to the too-clever-by-half one.