The Fact Checker: Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann’s claim that she never said ‘anything inaccurate’ during the GOP debates

“I'm happy to say I don't think that I've said anything inaccurate in any of the debates. And I'm extremely grateful for that. It's a high-profile stage and so I'm grateful that I don't think I've made a blunder.”


Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann. (Paul Sancya - Associated Press)

— Rep. Michele Bachmann, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Nov. 25, 2011

In an interesting interview last Friday (which we missed as we recovered from Thanksgiving dinner), Bachmann acknowledged that she is sometimes truth-challenged.

“I wish I was perfection walking on air, but I'm not,” she told Steve Inskeep. “I've gotten things wrong. But I try very hard to get my facts right, and there's times when I've said things that are inaccurate and I regret that.”

But then she made the statement she said above. Nothing inaccurate in the debates? Let’s review the record.

 

The Facts

The Republican candidates for president have already held at least 10 full-fledged debates, and we have watched them all. Here are a few highlights of Bachmann’s performance during those sessions. During the debates, we don’t award Pinocchios unless we go back and write a fuller column on the statement. In that case, we will note whether she received any — or if a similar statement had already received Pinocchios.

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Fact checking the CNN national security debate

Hello, “Steve Gates.” While Rep. Michele Bachmann may have trouble living that blooper down, here are some of the more dubious assertions and facts we heard at the fascinating CNN debate Tuesday night, organized with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. We examine 15 statements in all, and as is our practice, may come back to do a deeper look in the coming days.

“This is one thing we know about Barack Obama: He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He’s outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann

Bachmann’s rhetoric is over the top here. The American Civil Liberties Union has actually been critical of President Obama for continuing many Bush-era anti-terror policies. On the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the ACLU issued a report entitled, “A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years after 9/11.”

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Fact checking the South Carolina debate

The GOP candidates met for a debate Saturday night sponsored by CBS and the National Journal, with a specific focus on foreign policy and national security. In foreign policy, there is often no right or wrong answer; the results of a policy are often ambiguous and its effectiveness is usually only determined by history. Still, there were a number of statements made by the candidates that were factually challenged, exaggerated or lacking context.

“It’s ironic to me that [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, who had been our ally for years, who had done everything he could to help the United States, who had helped us in the Iraq campaigns, who had done literally everything we had requested of him, he was dumped overnight by this administration in a way that signaled everybody in the world, don’t rely on the United States because they’ll abandon you in a heartbeat if they feel like it.”

--Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Whether Gingrich is right depends on your definition of “overnight.” At the time, the Obama administration was perceived as acting too slowly and hesitantly to the gathering forces for change in Egypt that began on Jan. 25, in part because of the reasons that Gingrich outlined in his comment. In fact, as we have documented, Obama had even cut back funding for democracy efforts in Egypt in order to curry favor with Mubarak.

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Fact checking the CNBC debate


(Paul Sancya/AP)

Well, we’re glad we don’t have to fact check the number of federal agencies Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to eliminate. Though the CNBC debate may only be remembered for the very awkward moment when Perry could only name two of the three on his list, here are some of the more dubious facts we heard last night — some of which were suggested by readers using #factcheckthis on Twitter or our Facebook page. As always, we may look deeper at some of these issues later in the week.

“I have never done any lobbying [for Freddie Mac]. Every contract was written during the period when I was out of the office, specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice. And my advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, “We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that’s what the government wants us to do,” as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.”

— Newt Gingrich

While it is not readily apparent what Gingrich may have privately told Freddie Mac executives in exchange for his $300,000 consulting fee, the Associated Press reported in 2008 that “Gingrich talked and wrote about what he saw as the benefits of the Freddie Mac business model.”

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Fact checking the CNN Republican debate in Las Vegas


(RICHARD BRIAN/REUTERS)

The Republican debate hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday night was certainty lively and at times feisty. Here’s a tour through some of the “facts” tossed around by the candidates. We may come back to some other facts later in the week.

“And all of the claims that are made against [Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan], it is a jobs plan. It is revenue neutral. It does not raise taxes on those that are making the least. All of those are simply not true.”

— Business executive Herman Cain

Cain constantly asserts this about his plan — which would institute a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business transaction tax and a 9 percent sales tax — but the respected and nonpartisan Tax Policy Center on Tuesday issued the first comprehensive report on the impact of the “9-9-9” plan on individual taxpayers.

While the report said that the tax plan appeared to raise the same amount of revenue as the current system, it said that the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers, including the working poor, would see a tax increase while the wealthiest Americans would earn big tax cuts. So Cain is flat wrong when he asserts it will “not raise taxes on those making the least.”

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Fact Checking the Post-Bloomberg debate


Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. speaks during the presidential debate sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Tuesday. Talk show host Charlie Rose moderates the event, featuring eight Republican candidates. (Toni Sandys - THE WASHINGTON POST)
That was certainly a fascinating debate Tuesday night sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg. We posted 13 fact checks during the debate, assisted by Post reporters Josh Hicks and Lori Montgomery, and as is our practice will possibly delve more deeply into some issues in the coming days.

“Mr. Cain, in the past, you've been rather critical of any of us who would want to audit the Fed. You said — you've used pretty strong terms, that we were ignorant and that we didn't know what we were doing, and therefore there is no need for an audit anyway because if you had one you're not going to find out everything because everybody knows everything about the Fed.”

— Ron Paul to Herman Cain

“First of all, you have misquoted me. I did not call you or any of your people ‘ignorant.’ I don't know where that came from…Now, so you got to be careful of the stuff that you get off the Internet because that's just not something that I have said.  And I have also said, to be precise, I do not object to the Federal Reserve being audited.”

— Cain’s response

It seems Cain has forgotten his own words. We did do some Internet research, and found that Ron Paul had uploaded this clip below on Monday. (Talk about a gotcha question!) You can listen to the clip, but here is what Cain said:

"Some people say that we ought to audit the Federal Reserve. Here's what I do know. The Federal Reserve already has so many internal audits it's ridiculous. I don't know why people think we're gonna learn this great amount of information by auditing the Federal Reserve. I think a lot of people are calling for this audit of the Federal Reserve because they don't know enough about it. There's no hidden secrets going on in the Federal Reserve to my knowledge.”

Okay, so he didn’t say “ignorant.” But he certainly implied it.

“While this country was losing 2½ million jobs, Texas was creating 1 million jobs.”

— Rick Perry

The Texas governor is playing three-card monte with these figures. You have to look quickly to figure out how he manipulates the statistics.

During Obama’s presidency, the nation has lost about 2 million jobs (The number varies by about 800,000 depending on whether you count January 2009; Obama took office on Jan. 20.)

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Get out some popcorn, and watch some videos before the debate

We’re reposting links to our pre-debate videos, this time with links rather than embeds, for people who prefer to get to the video that way (or want to send the links to friend.). Let’s see how many of these bogus claims get repeated tonight.

The Fact Checker will also have a live fact check during The Washington Post-Bloomberg debate and then produce our usuual wrap-up of the highlights and lowlights.

‘Obamacare’

This video dissects claims by Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann on President Obama’s health care law.

The economic crisis

This video looks at the rhetoric used by Rick Perry, Romney and Ron Paul about Obama’s handling of the economy.

Obama’s foreign policy

This video looks at claims by Romney and Bachmann about Obama’s so-called Apology Tour and his handling of relations with Israel.

What are the most dubious things that presidential candidates say?

The Washington Post and Bloomberg News are sponsoring an economics-focused debate among the 2012 Republican presidential candidates at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

In preparation for that debate we have produced three videos that examine some of the most common sound bites used during previous debates — and what’s factually wrong with them. The videos cover three distinct areas.

‘Obamacare’

The economy

Foreign policy

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Introducing the candidate Pinocchio tracker

We are pleased to launch our Pinocchio tracker for the 2012 campaign, developed with the brilliant assistance of Lori Williams at Tableau Software.

 At a glance, it will tell you how the various candidates have fared in Pinocchio checks. It lists each rating, with a link to the relevant article. If you hover over a candidate’s name, the tracker will also calculate the average number of Pinocchios a person has received. We plan to update this tracker at the end of every week.

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Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?


(Associated Press)

“Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map.”

— President Obama, speech to the U.N. General Assembly, September 21, 2011

                                                                                          

“It was only perhaps three weeks ago that the president of Iran once again said that Israel should be eradicated off the face of the Earth.  As you recall, it was about in 2005 when he [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] said before that Israel -- he would use a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), September 19, 2011

                                                                                        

“Outrageous statements by Ahmadinejad, such as a pledge to wipe Israel off the map,  made it easier to keep that coalition together. Germany had been considered the weak sister of the group, but after Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel, the historical burden of the Holocaust made it difficult for Germany to appear too sympathetic to Iran.”

— Glenn Kessler (aka The Fact Checker), “The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy (St. Martin’s Press, 2007), page 188.

 “The Islamic Republic’s proposal to help resolve the Palestinian issue and heal this old wound is a clear and logical initiative based on political concepts accepted by world public opinion, which has already been presented in detail. We do not suggest launching a classic war by the armies of Muslim countries, or throwing immigrant Jews into the sea, or mediation by the UN and other international organizations. We propose holding a referendum with [the participation of] the Palestinian nation. The Palestinian nation, like any other nation, has the right to determine their own destiny and elect the governing system of the country.” 

— Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, October 2, 2011

Almost unnoticed, Iran this week joined the United States and Israel as one of the few countries in the world to oppose the statehood bid at the United Nations by the Palestinians. As the Tehran Times noted, the Iranian supreme leader “condemned any measure which would lead to the recognition of the Israeli regime and would ignore the legal right of the Palestinian people to their homeland.”

In other words, Iran continues to oppose the two-state solution. But does this mean that Iran wants to destroy Israel — “wipe it off the map” — as is commonly cited?  This is certainly the conventional wisdom, as seen in the statements above. But a colleague at The Washington Post, spotting the Bachmann and Obama statements during the U.N. festivities last month, suggested that this widely cited statement by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was actually a mistranslation.

 The Facts

The firestorm started when Nazila Fathi, then the Tehran correspondent of The New York Times, reported a story almost six years ago that was headlined: “Wipe Israel ‘off the map’ Iranian says.” The article attributed newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks to a report by the ISNA press agency.

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Bachmann’s claim that China ‘blinded’ U.S. satellites


(Steve Helber/AP)

“And don’t forget I sit on the Intelligence Committee. We deal with the nation’s classified secrets. This is an open-source document. I’m not sharing something I shouldn’t, but China has blinded United States satellites with their lasers.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Sept. 30

 

A reader sent us an article about Michele Bachmann’s comments on China during an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s show last week. The headline was “Bachmann: China Attacked US Satellites With Lasers.” That certainly got our attention, though when we actually listened to the quote, it was not quite as dramatic as “attacked.”

 Even Michele Bachmann is sometimes misquoted!

 Still, the idea that China has “blinded” U.S. satellites is a pretty dramatic charge. Bachmann cited her credibility as a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Is there much truth to this?

 

The Facts

Bachmann suggests that this is a recent event, mentioning an “open-source document.” But she seems to be referring to something that appears to have happened in 2006.

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Bachmann’s unproven claim about Obama’s approval rating


(Chris Carlson/AP)

“President Obama has the lowest public approval ratings of any president in modern time. He hasn’t gone to the basement yet. It’ll be a lot lower than what it is now.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) during the Fox News-Google GOP debate, Sept. 22

During last week’s Republican debate, Bachmann made a particularly interesting claim about President Obama’s approval rating as part of her argument for why the Republican Party should nominate “a strong constitutional conservative.”

This country has seen its share of unpopular presidents in recent years: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, to name a few. So it was interesting to hear that Barack Obama, in just three years, has apparently slid to a historically low mark.

It’s obvious that the president’s 40 percent approval rating is poor, and it’s close to his personal low of 38 percent. But could it really be the worst from a historical perspective?

The Facts

Bachmann’s campaign, as usual, didn’t respond to questions about her remark, so we looked at Gallup polling data to find out whether her claim has any merit. Keep in mind, this tracks only presidents dating back to Truman.

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Fact checking the GOP debate in Orlando


(Fox News)

Another lengthy presidential debate, and more bogus claims and counterclaims to check. Let’s see what the candidates got wrong this time at last night’s debate in Orlando, Fla., hosted by Fox News, Google and the Republican Party of Florida:

Question: “Do you stand by your statement that the HPV vaccine is potentially dangerous, and if not, should you be more careful when you’re talking about a public health issue?”
“Well, first, I didn’t make that claim, nor did I make that statement. Immediately after the debate, a mother came up to me, and she was visibly shaken and heartbroken because of what her daughter had gone through, and so I only related what her story was.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Bachmann, in trying to spin her way out of a political problem, is simply not telling the truth here. The transcript of her interview on NBC’s “Today” program shows that Bachmann not only said the vaccine “could potentially be a very dangerous drug,” but she made this statement before she ever mentioned the distraught mother.

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GOP debate preview: the so-called ‘facts’ that keep getting repeated

(This was originally written for the print edition of The Washington Post, but alas, space ran short last night so we are posting this as a special column on the blog.)

The candidates running for the Republican nomination for president have now had four debates, with a fifth scheduled for Thursday. As usual, they will come armed with an arsenal of facts, often designed to put the incumbent, President Obama, in the worst possible light.

The problem is, many of these facts are suspect. Here then is a guide to dubious claims you might hear Thursday—and, if not then, probably a debate after that.

Obama’s health-care law

Both Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have repeatedly charged that Obama “stole” or “cut” $500 billion from Medicare and used the money to fund his health care law. The claim rests on a technicality.

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Fact checking the CNN and Tea Party Express debate in Tampa


(Reuters)

The Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., co-hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express, was feisty and provocative, with many of the candidates relying once again on bogus “facts” that we have previously identified as faulty or misleading.

The debate marked a remarkable shift in tone by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the issue of Social Security, barely five days after he labeled the venerable old-age program “a Ponzi scheme” doomed to fail. This week, he said it was a “slam dunk guaranteed” for people already on it.

Last week, we explained why the Ponzi scheme label was not true — and also provided readers with a primer on Social Security for those who want to learn more. In Monday night’s debate, Perry and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney tangled over the issue again, and Romney had better command of the facts, as far as the two men’s books were concerned.

“The real issue is that in writing his book Governor Perry pointed out that, in his view, that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states … . Governor Perry, you’ve got to quote me correctly. You said ‘it’s criminal.’ What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security Trust Fund is like criminal, and that is, and it’s wrong.”

— Mitt Romney

Romney gets points for correctly quoting both Perry’s book, “Fed Up,” and his own book, “No Apology.” On page 58, Perry labels Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and even unemployment insurance as “unnecessary, unconstitutional programs.” While promoting his book last year on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Perry went further, suggesting Social Security should be dismantled and simply become a state responsibility.

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Fact checking the GOP debate at the Reagan library


(Jae C. Hong/AP)

That was a rip-roaring Republican debate Wednesday night at the Reagan library. As is our practice, we will quickly assess a number of claims and then perhaps come back later with a deeper look at some issues.

The debate started with a back and forth between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry over job creation during their tenures. This in many ways is a silly discussion — governors and even presidents are very much at the mercy of the economic situation they inherited — and Romney actually framed it well:

“The states are different. Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right-to-work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things. But Governor Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, why, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”

(Gore actually did not put it quite that way, but never mind.)

So, for the moment, we are going to set aside the job discussion, stipulating that each man has his claims and counterclaims, and focus on other issues.

“It is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there.”

— Gov. Perry

Perhaps the governor does not know the dictionary definition of a Ponzi scheme. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: “An investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks.”

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Michele Bachmann’s too-good-to-be-true stat on federal workers


(JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

“Well, I think the one thing we have to do is reject the new normal level of spending under the Obama administration, because President Obama amped up spending to never-seen-before levels. . . . I mean, one example I'll give you is, we had one employee at the federal Department of Transportation that made $170,000 a year at the beginning of the recession. We had the trillion-dollar stimulus, and 18 months into the recession, we had 1,690 employees making over $170,000. Government has really been growing at — a lot of largesse, but the people in the real world aren’t. And that’s what has to change. Government has no conformity at all with the real world.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Aug. 14, 2011

 

By popular demand, we are going to vet a statement in the column that we had previously discussed in an online chat. We probably did not do it full justice then, and Bachmann continues to say it — including on the Sunday morning TV shows this past weekend. A number of readers sent e-mails curious to know the truth, so we are happy to oblige.

On the surface, the fact appears astonishing — a huge increase in big-paying government jobs under Obama. But this is one of those statements one has to unpack very carefully, because Bachmann uses what is essentially a correct statistic regarding government salaries in a very misleading way. 

The Facts

Note that although the GOP presidential aspirant starts out by talking about the “never-seen-before levels” of spending under Obama and then mentions “the trillion-dollar stimulus,” the example she cites — the number of Transportation Department employees making more than $170,000 — uses the metric of “the beginning of the recession.” There’s a reason for that phrase: The recession started in December 2007, 13 months before Obama became president.

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Fact checking the GOP debate in Iowa


(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

That was some collection of facts and statistics during the GOP debate in Iowa on Thursday night that aired on Fox News.

We’re going to take an instant stab at nine of the statements, and then perhaps come back next week with a more extended look at other assertions. We also will have a chat Friday morning at 11 a.m. in which we will take your questions on the debate, the debt ceiling or any other issues you want to raise.

Please join us for the discussion. We plan to host a chat at least every week, though the time will vary.

“Back in the days of John F. Kennedy, the federal government took up, along with the state and local governments, 27 percent of the economy. Today, government consumes 37 percent of the economy. We’re inches away from no longer having a free economy.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney

Romney gets his statistics essentially right, according to White House historical records (see table 15.5), but the numbers are missing context. In 1961, there was no Medicare and Social Security only made up about 2 percent of the overall economy (the Gross Domestic Product.) Excluding other payments to individuals and national defense, overall federal spending was also just 2 percent of the economy. (State and local spending was nearly 9 percent of the economy.)

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Michele Bachmann’s inaccurate recounting of the debt-ceiling saga


(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“What we saw last week is the markets unfortunately agreed with me. Because the markets saw what happened in Washington when Obama got a $2.4 trillion check. And one thing you learned is you can't fool the markets. …We just raised the debt ceiling and added $2.4 trillion more to the debt.…The reason why they [Standard & Poor’s] lowered the rating is because we dumped another $2.4 trillion in debt on the backs of Americans of the next generation.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), August 8, 2011

 

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, earlier this week (full video clip below) is a good demonstration of the passion the GOP presidential aspirant brings to her speeches and the enthusiasm she generates from her supporters.

 But does her story about the debt limit — and her opposition to raising it — match the facts? Did markets decline because the federal debt ceiling was increased by $2.4 trillion? And did Standard & Poor’s lower the government’s credit rating because the debt ceiling was increased?

The Facts

Bachmann starts out by perpetuating a myth by saying that President Obama received “a $2.4 trillion check.” Congress has already committed to spend much of this money, under budgets passed in previous years. Lifting the debt ceiling merely means that the Treasury now has the authority to make good on bills that are coming due.

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Obama and Israel: stalled diplomacy or ‘suspicion and distrust’?


(Associated Press)
“He seems firmly and clearly determined to undermine our longtime friend and ally.  He’s treating Israel the same way so many European countries have: with suspicion, distrust and an assumption that Israel is at fault.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 2, 2011

***

 “Nowhere has President Obama’s lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel.  It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally.  …  Today the president doesn’t really have a policy toward the peace process.  He has an attitude.  And let’s be frank about what that attitude is:  he thinks Israel is the problem.  And he thinks the answer is always more pressure on Israel.”

— Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, June 27, 2011

***

   “I never will do what the president of the United States did to our ally in May. I will never say to Israel you must pull back your boundaries to the 1967 indefensible lines. I will not do that because I am here to declare today in Des Moines, Iowa, that I stand with Israel.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), July 2, 2011

The latest Gallup poll shows that President Obama has 60 percent approval rating among Jewish Americans. Jews generally are a reliable vote for Democrats, and in the 2008 election, exit polls show Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote. That gap has sent GOP hearts aflutter, though the polling should be viewed with caution; 60 percent approval is still 14 percent higher than the president’s overall approval rating.

 Still, GOP candidates for president sense an opening. A line attacking Obama and his policies on Israel is now a standard part of their stump speeches. The question is whether these attacks are fair or accurate?

 The Fact Checker delves into this issue with some trepidation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has bedeviled presidents for decades and there are no easy answers. Both sides in the conflict have deeply held narratives about how things have come to this point.

We would be foolish to venture an opinion on each side’s collection of historical facts because, seriously, it is a no-win situation. But Obama’s treatment of Israel has become such a key part of the GOP arsenal that it is worth exploring the president’s performance.

 Obama, perhaps because of his name and his background, found his views on Israel under scrutiny even during the last election. He didn’t help matters then by making observations that antagonized some of Israel’s more loyal supporters: “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”

(Ironically, once he became president, Obama ended up with a Likud prime minister with whom he has had a testy relationship.)

Indeed, key congressional Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), recently have also been critical of Obama’s treatment of Israel. Congress is often very pro-Israel, but the comments by congressional Democrats give a bipartisan gloss to the critique.

 The Facts

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is often considered a central test of a president’s diplomatic skills. Former president George W. Bush was criticized for appearing to ignore the issue until the last months of his administration; he was reacting in part to the unsuccessful, last-gasp efforts of Bill Clinton to strike a deal. Obama decided to take on the challenge from day one, appointing a special envoy to prod the parties toward peace. 

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Explaining the debt ceiling debate


(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
“It isn't true that the government would default on its debt because, very simply, the treasury secretary can pay the interest on the debt first and then, from there, we have to just prioritize our spending…. It is scare tactics because, Bob, the interest on the debt isn't any more than 10 percent of what we're taking in. In fact, it's less than that. And so the treasury secretary can very simply pay the interest on the debt first, then we're not in default. ”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), June 26, 2011, on CBS’s “Face the Nation”

 

“If we never raise the debt ceiling again, we're going to pay our bills, we're going to pay Social Security. …We won't default. We'll be going back to budget levels of about eight years ago.”

— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), June 26, on CNN’s “State of the Union”

 

“If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, the government would default on its legal obligations – an event unprecedented in American history. This would cause investors here and around the world to doubt, for the first time, whether the United States will meet its commitments. That would precipitate a self-inflicted financial crisis potentially more severe than the one from which we are now recovering.”

— Treasury Department fact sheet, “Debt Limit: Myth v. Fact”

Confused about the debt-limit debate?

 This is turning into one of those classic Washington showdowns: A political event is being forced by an extremely technical matter that few really understand. The debt limit is really what filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock used to call a “MacGuffin” — a device used to propel the plot forward, even though it may be meaningless.

 Congress instituted the debt limit back in 1917, during World War I, so that it could stop having to approve every single spending request by the Treasury — but still have a measure of control over spending.

 Even under the most conservative budget plans, the United States would have to keep adding to the national debt in order to meet all sorts of current obligations, such as Social Security payments, Medicare and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the debt limit will have to be raised, one way or the other.

 But lawmakers are using the pending breach of the debt limit, currently estimated to be in early August, to force the administration to accept significant cuts in spending. (Republicans have ruled out raising taxes.)

 That’s their prerogative. In Washington, there is apparently nothing wrong with playing politics with the debt limit. When he was a senator, President Obama famously refused to approve a debt limit increase in 2006 without a plan to reduce the deficit. Now, he calls that  “a political vote.”

 In any case, we have now reached the stage where some lawmakers — see the Bachmann and DeMint quotes above — shrug off the potential consequences of not reaching an agreement in August. But the Treasury Department warns that this event would be “unprecedented” and three credit-rating agencies — Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch — have warned the United States could lose its triple-A credit rating if a deal is not reached by August 2.

 

The Facts

 “Unprecedented” may be a stretch. There are actually three instances when the United States could be seen to have defaulted on its obligations — in 1790, in 1933 and in 1971.

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Fact-checking Michele Bachmann’s announcement speech and Sunday interviews


(CHARLIE RIEDEL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
“Of course a person has to be careful with statements that they make. I think that's true. And I think now there will be an opportunity to be able to speak fully on the issues. I look forward to that.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann, responding to a question about being “a flake” on “Fox News Sunday,” June 26, 2011

 

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who on Monday formally announced her candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, is a terrific public speaker with a long history of playing fast and loose with the facts. (For a list of our recent articles on Bachmann’s statements, click here.)

 Monday’s address, given in Waterloo, Iowa, was mostly a vision statement, with only a few assertions worth double-checking. We will take a look of those — as well as more  dubious statements she made on the Sunday morning news shows in advance of her speech.

Announcement speech, June 27

 “Five decades ago in America, we had less debt than we have today. We had $300 billion or less in debt. A gallon of gasoline was 31 cents and owning a home was part of the American dream. Today, that debt stands at over $14 trillion. A gallon of gas is outrageously expensive and unfortunately, too many millions of Americans know what it is to have a home that's in foreclosure.”

Context matters a lot when you use numbers. In this case, Bachmann creates a false impression by using figures from a half-century ago without adjusting for inflation or other factors. 

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Bachmann’s nonsensical Medicare-‘Obamacare’ claim


(SEAN GARDNER/REUTERS)
“While we've been seeing the liberals in the last few weeks trying to scare Americans about Medicare, and especially senior citizens, what's been ignored is President Obama's plan for senior citizens regarding Medicare. … And do you know what the president's plan is? This hasn't been talked about very much. The president's plan for senior citizens is Obamacare. We all think for our senior citizens that somehow Medicare is going to go on. And I think very likely -- and I'm speculating -- I think very likely what the president intends is that Medicare will go broke, and then ultimately that answer will be Obamacare for senior citizens.”

--Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), June 17, 2011

It’s hard to know what to make of this comment by Rep. Michele Bachmann, made during her speech last Friday to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. She also repeated elements of this claim during an interview with CNN (there is a clip at the end of this column.)  “I think the president’s plan is Obamacare for senior citizens,” Bachmann told CNN.  “They don’t want Obamacare; they want Medicare, and that’s why I am committed to making Medicare solvent.”

 In her speech, the presidential aspirant also made the debunked assertion that regulations are  “$1.7 trillion burden on our job creators.” We had examined this several months ago and the Congressional Research Service in April also critiqued the study that is the source of this statistic. Bachmann also repeated the incorrect claim that President Obama took $500 billion “out of Medicare to give it to younger people.”

 But Bachmann’s claim that the president’s plan is to replace Medicare with “Obamacare” is what most intrigued several readers. One should always be wary of a politician when he or she says they are “speculating,” since that is an apparent license to throw facts to the wind. A spokeswoman for the Bachmann presidential campaign did not respond to a request for clarification, so we will have to parse this language and her CNN interview ourselves.

 

The Facts

 The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance. 

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Fact Checking the GOP debate: $500 billion in cuts to Medicare?


(Darren McCollester/GETTY IMAGES)

“Senior citizens get this more than any other segment of our population, because they know in Obamacare the president of the United States took away $500 billion -- a half-trillion dollars -- out of Medicare, shifted it to Obamacare to pay for younger people. And it's senior citizens who have the most to lose in Obamacare."

— Rep. Michele Bachmann  (R-Minn.) at the GOP debate, June 13, 2011

 “Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, at the debate

The two Republican aspirants perceived to have performed the best in the GOP debate broadcast Monday by CNN made strikingly similar claims about the impact of the new health care law on Medicare. Bachmann, as usual, made her assertion in a more colorful and memorable statement.

 Their comments are an echo of the politically effective — but misleading — charge the GOP made against Democrats in 2010 midterm elections — that the health care law “cut” $500 billion from Medicare. In this case, the candidates are suggesting President Obama is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

 Several readers have also asked us to explain why the House Republicans retained these $500 billion in “savings” in their Medicare reform bill, and how that would be different than Obama’s plan.

 Essentially, the federal budget is like a funhouse mirror so it looks completely different depending on where you stand.  We will try to make this all clear without getting too much in the budgetary weeds.

 

The Facts

 First of all, under the health care bill, Medicare spending continues to go up year after year. The health care bill tries to identify ways to save money, and so the $500 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes the law makes to reduce spending. (Look at slide 15 of this nifty tutorial on the law’s impact on Medicare by the Kaiser Family Foundation to see a chart of the year by year savings.)  

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Fact-checking the GOP debate in New Hampshire


(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

That was some collection of facts and statistics during the GOP debate in New Hampshire on Monday night that aired on CNN.

We’re going to take an instant stab at some of them, and then perhaps come back later this week with a more extended look at other assertions. Depressingly, some of these we have heard before.

We will have to keep dinging the candidates till they get their facts right.

“The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs. What could the president be thinking by passing a bill like this, knowing full well it will kill 800,000 jobs?”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

We hadn’t heard this yarn much since we debunked it four months ago with three Pinocchios. But here it has popped up again.

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Michele Bachmann twists Obama’s words on Israel


(AP/JD Pooley)

“President Obama has announced his support of returning Israel and Palestine to the pre-war borders of 1967.”

— new Web ad by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Bachmann, a likely candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, has posted an ad on the Web accusing President Obama of having “betrayed Israel” with his statement on the 1967 boundaries of Israel during his speech last week on the Middle East.

 Obama’s comments attracted wide attention, because as we documented last week, U.S. presidents have generally shied away from mentioning the 1967 boundaries. We ruled that in diplomatic terms his statement was “a major shift,” largely because he said something publicly that had only been acknowledged privately or in code. But did he really say Israel should return to those boundaries?

 

The Facts

 Here’s what Obama actually said in his speech: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

 

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Michele Bachmann’s fundraising prowess


(Alex Brandon - Associated Press)

"I have been able to raise more money than any member of the House of Representatives in the history of the United States Congress."

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), March 24, 2011 

Bachmann, who is seriously toying with the idea of running for president, has touted her fundraising prowess as a reason for Republicans to support her in a head-to-head contest with President Obama in the 2012 race. “I have been able to demonstrate broad national support,” she told Fox News.

But given Bachmann’s propensity to make sweeping statements — check out this Fact Checker column, this one and this one — we wondered about her claim. Could a three-term member of Congress really have raised more money than any member of the House in the history of the Republic?

The Facts

There is no question that Bachmann is an impressive fundraiser. In the 2009-2010 election cycle, she brought in $13.5 million, according to data on the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics. Virtually all of her contributions came from individuals, with more than 50 percent from people contributing $200 or less.

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Michele Bachmann’s ‘bombshell’ on a ‘hidden’ $105 billion


(NBC- Meet the Press)
“There was a Congressional Research Service report that just was issued in February, and we discovered that secretly, unbeknownst to members of Congress, over $105 billion was hidden in the ‘Obamacare’ legislation to fund the implementation of ‘Obamacare’. This is something that wasn't known. This money was broken up, hidden in various parts of the bill.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann, March 6, 2011

“This is a crime against democracy. No one knew that Harry Reid, [Nancy] Pelosi and Obama put $105 billion in spending in the bill. ... This is a bombshell." 

— Bachmann, March 8, 2011

You have to give Rep. Michele Bachmann credit. The Minnesota Republican certainly knows how to command attention — and how to liven up a dreary discussion of the federal budget on the Sunday morning talk shows by holding up a sign that declares: “$105,464,000,000.”

Even in Washington, $105 billion is real money.

But her assertion raises questions. Is it possible for a major piece of legislation, carefully analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office before final passage, to “secretly” contain so much spending? Let’s find out.

The Facts

Bachmann is correct that there was a Congressional Research Service report issued in February, titled “Appropriations and Fund Transfers in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” It is actually an update of an earlier report first issued in October.

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