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U.S. Spent Much More in Afghan War Than in Support for Ukraine So Far, Contrary to Online Claim

FactCheck -

Quick Take  

The U.S. spent more than $849 billion in the 20-year war in Afghanistan and has spent about $113 billion to support Ukraine since Russia invaded in 2022. But a video on social media falsely claims that the aid for Ukraine is “double the U.S. expenditure for its own war in Afghanistan.”

Full Story

The U.S. has spent more than $849 billion since it invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and it continues to spend money on reconstruction, according to recent government reports.

The U.S. has spent about $113 billion so far on aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded that country in early 2022.

But a video that’s been circulating on social media since mid-December claims that the amount spent in Ukraine is “double the U.S. expenditure for its own war in Afghanistan.”

That’s clearly false.

The U.S. was engaged in Afghanistan for 20 years and, according to the most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, spent a cumulative total of $849.7 billion.

The spending packages approved by Congress for Ukraine over the last year have, as we said, totaled roughly $113 billion$13.6 billion in March, $40 billion in May, $12.35 billion in September and $47 billion in December — including funding for NATO allies.

The totals for both Afghanistan and Ukraine include military spending and humanitarian aid.

Carlos Reyes, who posted the video on Dec. 13 to his Instagram account titled “the splendid savage podcast,” also called the aid to Ukraine “money laundering,” an apparent reference to another false claim that was spreading widely at the time. We’ve written about that, too.

There doesn’t appear to be any actual podcast by that name and no such show is in the Apple Podcast catalog, an Apple spokesman told us.

But Reyes’ video has been shared by other Instagram users who have featured it on their accounts recently, furthering the falsehood about U.S. aid and military spending.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Quarterly Report to the United States Congress. 30 Jan 2023.

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Congress Approved $113 Billion of Aid to Ukraine in 2022.” 5 Jan 2023.

Robertson, Lori. “U.S. Aid to Ukraine, Explained.” FactCheck.org. 2 Dec 2022.

House Committee on Appropriations. UKRAINE SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2022. Accessed 2 Feb 2023.

U.S. House. “H.R.7691, Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022.” (as passed 21 May 2022).

U.S. House. “H.R.6833 – Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2023.” (as passed 30 Sep 2022).

House Committee on Appropriations. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023. Accessed 2 Feb 2023.

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Bogus Theory Misinterprets FTX Support for Ukraine.” FactCheck.org. Updated 13 Dec 2022.

Kahn, Zach. Spokesman, Apple. Email to FactCheck.org. 1 Feb 2023.

The post U.S. Spent Much More in Afghan War Than in Support for Ukraine So Far, Contrary to Online Claim appeared first on FactCheck.org.

It’s 2023. Why are militaries still using spy balloons?

Politico -


The Pentagon says that a Chinese high-altitude balloon has been soaring above the U.S. this week, adding that it’s carrying surveillance equipment and is violating sovereign airspace.

Spy balloons have been around since the late 1700s, but why are militaries around the world still flying them in 2023? 

First, these high-altitude inflatables can conduct surveillance missions for a lower cost than satellites and can carry more payloads than a drone. Modern high-altitude inflatables ride on wind currents and can travel well above commercial air traffic.

Another reason: Spy balloons can travel great distances without needing to be refueled.

“It’s also a reminder of the air defense needs of the United States that today it’s a balloon, tomorrow it’s a cruise missile,” said Tom Karako, senior fellow for the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Chinese spy balloon spotted this week could contain a camera, or a device used to capture electronic signals such as cell phone traffic, Karako said.

Besides cost, another advantage spy balloons have over satellites is they can hover over a specific point longer than the orbital pass of a satellite. Orbital passes can be tracked by adversaries, and the U.S. or another country could schedule around satellite monitoring, Byron Callan, Capital Alpha Partners managing director, said in a client note Friday morning.

Cause for concern

High-altitude balloons can also more easily pose as civilian in nature. For example, if a Chinese military drone was flying over U.S. airspace, it is obvious the government sent the aircraft.

With a spy balloon, foreign governments can claim it is used for a civil purpose, such as monitoring weather patterns. Beijing made that claim on Friday, saying the airship was being used for meteorological pursuits.

Over the past few years, spy balloons have flown over the continental U.S. a “handful” of times, a Defense Department official said on Thursday. But the distinguishing factor of the Chinese high-altitude balloon compared to other instances is the inflatable was “hanging out” for a longer period, said the official, who asked not to be named in order to discuss sensitive issues.

The high-altitude balloon was tracked flying over Malmstrom Air Force Base, home to silos containing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Clearly, they're trying to fly this balloon over sensitive sites,” the official said.

New uses

Using spy balloons dates to the late 1700s during the French revolutionary wars. The Union also flew them in the 1860s during the U.S. civil war to gather information about Confederate activity.

NASA began flying helium-filled stratospheric balloons in the 1950s, and the Army in the mid-2010s experimented with them at lower altitudes.

The service invested in a spy blimp program that it canceled in 2017. The effort is known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS.

Unlike high-altitude balloons, the blimp was tethered and was designed to track boats, ground vehicles, drones and cruise missiles. One of the blimps broke loose over Maryland in 2015 and had to be brought down.

In 2019, the Pentagon worked on a project called the Covert Long-Dwell Stratospheric Architecture, designed to locate drug traffickers. At the time, the Pentagon launched 25 surveillance balloons from South Dakota as part of a demonstration.

The Pentagon confirmed to POLITICO last year that the project has transitioned to the military, but would not disclose details because the effort is classified. The airships could eventually be used to track hypersonic weapons from Russia and China.

Judge demands answers after Jan. 6 defendant recants guilt

Politico -


A Jan. 6 defendant’s boast in an interview this week that he had no regrets about his role in the Capitol riot — just days after he acknowledged his guilt in a federal courtroom — may upend the man’s efforts to resolve the criminal case against him.

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued an order Friday instructing defendant Thomas Adams Jr. and prosecutors why the guilty findings the judge entered on Tuesday following a brief, “stipulated” bench trial should not be overturned in light of Adams’ comments to a reporter the following day.

"I wouldn't change anything I did," Adams told the State Journal-Register Wednesday outside his home in Springfield, Ill. "I didn't do anything. I still to this day, even though I had to admit guilt (in the stipulation), don't feel like I did what the charge is.”

In a brief order Friday morning, Mehta gave both sides one week to explain “why the court should not vacate Defendant's convictions of guilt in light of his post-stipulated trial statements” included in the article. The judge also attached a copy of the news report.

It is unclear how the article in the Illinois newspaper","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.sj-r.com/story/news/crime/2023/02/01/thomas-b-adams-jr-was-convicted-for-breaching-u-s-capitol-on-jan-6/69863729007/","_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc39000a","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc39000b","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">the article in the Illinois newspaper came to the attention of Mehta, who sits at the federal courthouse near the Capitol.



Judges handling Jan. 6 cases have been repeatedly and increasingly irked by defendants appearing to be apologetic and contrite in court, only to make public statements days later minimizing their guilt and sounding cavalier about their actions. And judges are loath to accept what effectively amounts to a guilty plea from any defendant who doesn’t sincerely believe in their own guilt.

Adams, who told the Illinois newspaper he was recently fired from his job as a lawn care worker, acknowledged under oath Tuesday that he had committed the conduct Mehta ultimately found him guilty of. He acknowledged walking over broken glass as he went inside the Capitol and that he told the FBI his intent was to “occupy” the building for days, if necessary. Adams also acknowledged that he “knew that he did not have authorization” when he went into the Senate chamber and walked among the senators’ historic desks.

Entering the Senate chamber has been a sort of red line for prosecutors, with them insisting on felony guilty pleas or convictions to resolve cases against those who went inside, even briefly.

And so far they’ve been nearly unblemished in their prosecutions, though a judge recently acquitted a defendant of an obstruction charge","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/13/judge-finds-jan-6-defendant-who-breached-senate-chamber-not-guilty-of-obstruction-00077971","_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc39000c","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc39000d","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">acquitted a defendant of an obstruction charge despite his presence in the chamber.

Adams was on the Senate floor for about seven minutes before he was kicked out of the building, according to the statement of facts","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.dcd.231143/gov.uscourts.dcd.231143.49.0.pdf","_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc3a0000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc3a0001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">statement of facts prosecutors and the defense agreed to in his case.

Stipulated trials have been used in recent months to seek to resolve about a dozen Jan. 6-related criminal cases where the defendant faced a felony charge of obstruction of a congressional proceeding. Almost 1,000 people have been charged criminally in connection with the unrest at the Capitol, which prompted a delay in the congressional session to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.

One of Mehta’s colleagues, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, ruled that the obstruction charge did not apply","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2022/03/07/judge-obstruction-charge-jan-6-defendant-00014843","_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc3a0002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc3a0003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">ruled that the obstruction charge did not apply unless prosecutors could prove that a defendant intended to tamper with or damage the actual electoral vote documents being tallied that day.

No other judge to consider the issue has agreed with Nichols. Meanwhile, prosecutors are appealing his decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Unlike the guilty pleas typically offered in deals with prosecutors, stipulated trials allow defendants in other cases to preserve their ability to wipe out their obstruction convictions if the D.C. Circuit sides with Nichols. The obstruction charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence, although no Jan. 6 defendant has received a sentence close to that in a case not involving violence.

The harshest sentence to date — 10 years — was delivered by Mehta to retired New York City cop Thomas Webster, who took his case to trial. Webster was convicted of a brutal assault of a Washington Metropolitan Police officer outside the Capitol, and Mehta found that Webster lied on the stand about his actions.

Adams also admitted Tuesday to the facts needed to convict him on a misdemeanor charge of entering and remaining in the Capitol without permission. That carries a one-year maximum sentence. Mehta has set sentencing in the case for June 16.

The FBI appears to have zeroed in on Adams after he said on the day after the Capitol riot that he enjoyed the experience. “It was a really fun time,” Adams told Insider","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.insider.com/men-who-broke-into-the-capitol-describe-a-carnival-atmosphere-2021-1","_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc3a0004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-18f2-dd7d-ade7-f8ffbc3a0005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">told Insider. He has since said he did not know of the violence taking place elsewhere in the building and on the Capitol grounds.

New U.S. aid package includes longer-range bombs for Ukraine

Politico -


The Biden administration is providing Ukraine with a new longer-range bomb as part of the $2.2 billion aid package announced Friday, but the new weapon likely won’t arrive until much later this year.

The weapon, the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb, is made up of a precision-guided 250-pound bomb strapped to a rocket motor and fired from a ground launcher. It’s normally launched from the air and the ground-launched version does not yet exist in U.S. military inventory. It could take up to nine months for U.S. defense contractors to do the necessary retrofits.

The rest of the aid package includes weapons drawn from U.S. stocks as well as funding to contract for new equipment through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a vehicle set up by Congress to fund aid for Ukraine. The package includes spare parts and munitions for air defense systems, a critical need in blunting the Russian drone and missile attacks on civilian targets across Ukraine.

Russian forces have moved some of their most sensitive command-and-control centers out of range of Ukraine’s current rockets, frustrating Kyiv’s military commanders, who have asked for longer-range munitions to stay on the offensive.

Specifically, they’ve asked for the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missiles Systems that have a range of about 190 miles. But the Biden administration has said the weapon is out of the question, citing concerns Ukraine would use them to attack targets inside Russia.



The new rockets announced on Friday, which can travel over 80 miles, will help Ukrainian forces “conduct operations in defense of their country, and to take back their sovereign territory in Russian occupied areas," Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.

They will not be drawn from existing American stockpiles however, meaning it will take months for Boeing and the U.S. government to agree on the terms of the contract and get them to the battlefield. That timeline means they will likely not be available for the warm-weather offensives Ukraine is planning this year.

Another issue is that the bomb can’t be launched by any of Ukraine’s current equipment. Ukrainian engineers have been working on retrofits for ground launchers for several months.

Much to the disappointment of some in Kyiv, the last few tranches of aid have not included the weapon.

But there's real appetite on Capitol Hill to provide Ukrainians with longer-range munitions, along with tanks and other weapons. A senior congressional aide argued the administration had been holding up the process of approving the bomb despite overcoming "the mental hurdle of the range and escalation dynamics" of a longer-range munition because of the need to retrofit it.

"It's a timeline that's measured in months," the aide said of adapting the weapon to a ground launcher. The aide asked not to be named in order to speak candidly.

House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) had accused the Biden administration of dragging its feet on providing the system to Ukraine.

“GLSDB should have been approved last fall," Rogers said in a recent statement. "Every day it’s not approved is a day it’s delayed getting it into the hands of a Ukrainian ready to kill a Russian."

Lee Hudson and Connor O'Brien contributed to this report.

Spartz won't seek elected office in 2024

Politico -


Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) delivered a surprise announcement Friday, saying she would not seek Indiana's open Senate seat or reelection to the House next year.

"I won a lot of tough battles for the people and will work hard to win a few more in the next two years," she said in a statement. "However, being a working mom is tough and I need to spend more time with my two high school girls back home, so I will not run for any office in 2024."

Spartz's announcement removes another obstacle to Rep. Jim Banks' (R-Ind.) quest for the open Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who's running for governor of their home state. Her decision-making was one of the biggest remaining open questions in a Senate field that winnowed earlier this week when former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) passed on a bid.

The Indiana Republican only arrived on Capitol Hill in 2021, but she's cut a peripatetic path since getting there. Just last month, she voted "present" multiple times as Kevin McCarthy struggled to win sufficient support for the speakership, a switch after initially supporting him.

Then she issued a strong statement opposing the removal of House Democratic members from their panels, citing due process concerns, before backtracking amid party leaders' non-binding concessions and supported yanking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The first Ukrainian-born lawmaker elected to Congress also drew cringes from within her own party after intense criticisms of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy amid the country's struggle against a Russian invasion. Many feared Spartz's comments would be used to undermine the U.S.-Ukraine alliance at a crucial point in the conflict.

Spartz has also drawn scrutiny for her poor staff retention rate. Several of her former aides described to POLITICO a hostile work environment where the boss wielded an unpredictable and volatile temper.

Her district, Indiana's 5th, was made significantly more Republican-friendly during redistricting, so the GOP will be favored to retain it next fall.

Biden on robust jobs numbers: The ‘critics and cynics are wrong’

Politico -


President Joe Biden took a victory lap Friday amid a blowout jobs report, telling Americans his economic plan is working.

“For the past two years, we’ve heard a chorus of critics write off my economic plan. They said it’s just not possible to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. They said we cannot bring back American manufacturing. They said we can’t make things in America anymore, that somehow adding jobs was a bad thing,” Biden said, speaking in the South Court Auditorium of the White House.

“Today’s data makes crystal clear what I’ve always known in my gut: These critics and cynics are wrong.”

The president’s last-minute remarks were added to his schedule Friday morning after the Labor Department announced the U.S. economy created a whopping 517,000 jobs in January, a shockingly high number that underscores a growing and resilient labor market. The unemployment rate fell to 3.4 percent, the lowest level since 1969.

Biden cheered the report as evidence the economy has bounced back after the pandemic — and that economics’ predictions of an incoming recession are overblown. The data also arms the White House with another line of defense against Republicans’ attacks over the Biden administration’s spending policies.

And the timing doesn’t hurt either, with the president set to deliver his State of the Union address before Congress next week. “But today, today I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of the economy is strong.”

The president’s public remarks were more giddy than West Wing reactions behind closed doors, as officials had hoped for a less-robust figure.","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2023/02/03/employment-report-biden-powell-00081067","_id":"00000186-1843-d0d5-aba6-fbc7aaa60004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-1843-d0d5-aba6-fbc7aaa60005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">officials had hoped for a less-robust figure. Inflation continues to plague the economy, and Friday’s numbers mean Fed Chair Jerome Powell will have to blunt growth in order to curb prices. Powell is concerned that a hot jobs market will drive high wages, further fueling inflation.

But asked whether he should take blame for inflation rates, Biden was definitive: “No, because it was already there when I got here.” He noted that when he took office, “jobs were hemorrhaging, the inflation was rising, and we were not manufacturing a damn thing here, and we were in real difficulty.”

In December, inflation continued to steadily trickle down to 6.5 percent, falling from the Consumer Price Index’s June peak at 9.1 percent. Powell is working to get inflation down to the central bank’s target range of 2 percent, and the Fed raised interest rates by a quarter of a percent on Wednesday — the eighth straight increase.

He warned on Wednesday that more rate hikes were coming, noting that “the job is not fully done.”

Ben White contributed to this report. 

Blinken's China trip postponed over Chinese balloon

Politico -


Secretary of State Antony Blinken's Beijing trip has been postponed due to concerns over the suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the U.S., the State Department said Friday.

Blinken had been scheduled to meet with top officials in China Feb. 5-6 in a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in Bali in November, in which Biden pledged to “maintain open lines of communication” with Beijing at a time of worsening bilateral tensions.

But that was scuttled after the Pentagon announced Thursday that it had discovered a Chinese airship hovering over Montana, saying it had “very high confidence” the balloon had been sent to the U.S. to collect sensitive information.

The balloon’s intrusion constituted a “clear violation of our sovereignty” and prompted the State Department to indefinitely delay Blinken’s visit until “conditions are right,” a senior State Department official said in a press briefing.

The official slammed the incursion of a suspected Chinese spy balloon into U.S. airspace as an “unacceptable and irresponsible incident.” The official gave the briefing to reporters on condition of anonymity.

Beijing said Friday it “regrets” that its balloon violated U.S. sovereign airspace and said it’s a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological purposes. China’s Foreign Ministry said it had strayed from its original course due to winds that affected its steering capabilities.

The State Department wasn’t buying that explanation. “There is a Chinese high altitude surveillance balloon currently over the United States," official said, adding that it is a "clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred."

The incident undermined the purpose of Blinken’s trip, the official said, adding that “this issue would have narrowed the agenda in a way that would have been unhelpful and unconstructive.”

Archives Releases 7 Statements on Trump, Zero on Biden

Real Clear Politics -

The National Archives' list of press releases about presidential records shows that, while seven of the releases address documents received from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home, none report on the documents found at President Joe Biden's Delaware home and former D.C. office.

The Politics of Classified Docs

Real Clear Politics -

Culture editor of The Federalist website Emily Jashinsky, RCP White House correspondent Phil Wegmann, and Washington bureau chief Carl Cannon join Andrew Walworth on today's RealClearPolitics Takeaway podcast.

The Yo-Yo Economy

Real Clear Politics -

It's the most important economic lesson of the decade: What goes up must come down (and what's gone down will probably go up, again).

Jobs blowout: What the employment report means for Biden and Powell

Politico -


The U.S. economy generated 517,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong number that underscores the remarkable resilience of the labor market but could stiffen the Federal Reserve’s determination to squeeze the economy to fight 40-year-high inflation.

The unemployment rate fell to 3.4 percent, the lowest in more than a half-century, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The number blew away the Wall Street consensus of 190,000 jobs and suggests that the Fed’s efforts to cool the labor market by hiking interest rates at the fastest pace in decades are not yet having the desired impact.

President Joe Biden celebrated the report as evidence the economy is continuing to hum along, and the number is likely to blunt attacks from Republicans over the administration's spending policies. But senior officials in the West Wing were privately hoping for a less-robust number. So was Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

Here’s how the number is likely to play with four key political and economic figures.



Biden — The White House can view the report as evidence that economists’ predictions of an imminent recession are off-base. But inflation is Biden’s biggest enemy on the economy, and the report will cause some unease within the administration, given that it could mean the Fed will crack down harder on growth to curb prices.

Still, the report clashes with the expectations of many economists and Wall Street CEOs that the U.S. will fall into a recession this year. And it was quickly embraced by Biden's allies. "Sometimes good news is just good news," outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain emailed POLITICO. "And this time it's great news."

Biden often describes the recent slowdown in job growth that preceded Friday’s number as a good thing as the economy transitions from the rapid Covid-19 comeback to a period of what he calls more “steady and stable growth.

Senior White House aides have said they are happy with declining numbers — as long as they stay positive — making it easier on the Fed to end the rate increases as soon as possible. They believe the decline in inflation is already well underway, with consumer price growth slowing for six straight months.

But Biden took a victory lap, arguing that the report shows his policies are working.

“For the past two years, we’ve heard a chorus of critics write off my economic plan," the president said in remarks before leaving the White House for a trip to Philadelphia. "They said it’s just not possible to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out," he said. "Today’s data makes crystal clear what I’ve always known in my gut: These critics and cynics are wrong.”

Nick Bunker, head of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab, said that while Friday's report will get a lot of attention, we've been seeing “a juggernaut of the labor market” for several months.

“Employers have added an average of 356,000 jobs a month over the past three months, and the unemployment rate dropped to a level not seen since before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon,” he wrote in a note. The economy added a robust 4.8 million jobs in 2022.




Powell — The report is likely to come as a jolt to the Fed chair. Powell said in a recent speech that the economy only needs to gain about 100,000 net jobs a month to keep up with the number of new people entering the workforce.

He’s strongly committed to bringing inflation to the central bank’s target range of 2 percent. Since the Consumer Price Index peaked last June at 9.1 percent, inflation has steadily fallen, hitting a still-high 6.5 percent in December.

Powell and the Fed on Wednesday again raised rates by a quarter of a percent, the eighth straight increase. But it was the smallest bump since March. He cautioned at his press conference that more hikes lay ahead, saying “the job is not fully done.”

Any single report can be an outlier and is unlikely to sway the Fed. But Powell is worried about the hot jobs market driving up wages, fueling inflation. So any news showing the market heating rather than cooling could be unwelcome.

“My base case is that the economy can return to 2 percent inflation without a really significant downturn or a really big increase in unemployment,” Powell said Wednesday. “I think that's a possible outcome. I think many, many forecasters would say it's not the most likely outcome, but I would say there's a chance of it.”

In one positive sign for Powell, wages rose 0.3 percent in January, down from 0.4 percent in December. What the Fed chair fears most is a “wage-price spiral” in which higher wages drive prices and create a dangerous inflation cycle. That is not evident in this report.

There is also a chance that seasonal factors, which often make January jobs figures hard to read, helped trigger the surprising number.

“The blowout 517,000 increase in total employment was almost certainly a function of seasonal noise and traditional churn in early year job and wage environment and exaggerates what is already a robust trend in hiring,“ Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at consulting firm RSM US, said in a client note.

The survey week that produces the jobs number was also unusually warm, something that could have boosted the total, said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “My guess is February will be back down around 200,000 because the trend is still slower.”

Economist Larry Summers — The former Treasury secretary under former President Bill Clinton has long been saying that more Fed rate hikes will be needed to rein in the labor market. This report could offer more fodder for that argument.

Summers was among the few who predicted fairly early that inflation would soar and stay high for a long period of time. At the time of his initial call last February, the Fed, the White House and other Democrats were still assuring Americans that the inflation spike would be “transitory.” It wasn’t.

Summers has also repeatedly irritated the White House by suggesting that the trillions in new spending approved by Democrats in Congress and signed into law by Biden over the last two years played a role in the inflation spike.

He also maintained for months that the Fed’s rate-hiking campaign, while necessary, would almost certainly lead to significant recession and a near doubling in the unemployment rate. He has more recently softened his tone and been more receptive to the idea that a soft landing is even possible.

"I'm still cautious, but with a little bit more hope than I had before,” Summers said last month. “Soft landings are the triumph of hope over experience, but sometimes hope does triumph over experience.” This number is likely to get Summers to tilt back toward experience.




House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — The stunning jobs report will undercut the argument by McCarthy and other Republicans that Biden’s economy is fading fast under the weight of inflation, which they say is driven by big spending bills.

Still, the more aggressive the Fed feels it has to be in killing inflation, the higher the risk that the central bank will push the economy into recession. A slumping economy would give the Republicans ammunition to use against Biden and the Democrats in the 2024 campaign.

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