The Fact Checker: Mitt Romney

Rick Santorum’s claims about Massachusetts health reforms


(Matt Rourke, AP)

“There was just a survey that came out and said one in four [Massachusetts residents] don’t get the care they need because of the high cost. So you have a card, you’re covered, but you can’t get care.

“In Massachusetts, everybody is mandated -- as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts -- to buy health insurance, and if you don’t, you have to pay a fine. What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a preexisting condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama. So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after -- the people that were free-riding -- free ridership has gone up fivefold in Massachusetts. Five times the rate it was before.”

-- Rick Santorum, during the GOP debate in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 26, 2012

Santorum made these comments as part of a long exchange with rival Mitt Romney over the merits of the former Massachusetts governor’s health-care reform plan. He said the “free rider” problem grew worse when the law was supposed to alleviate it.

Romney defended his overhaul by pointing out that 98 percent of Bay State residents are now insured, and that “half of those people got insurance on their own; others got help in buying the insurance.”

Santorum has tried to discredit Romney’s health-care reforms in the past two GOP primary debates, insinuating that the former governor will be a liability challenging President Obama in the general election. We researched recent reports on the Massachusetts reforms to find out whether the former Pennsylvania senator had any basis for his most recent claims.

The Facts

The Santorum campaign did not respond to requests for information that would prove high costs have barred one in four Massachusetts residents from receiving care, although a spokesman did explain where the free-rider claim originated -- we’ll address that next.

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Revisiting Romney’s ‘deceitful, dishonest’ ad about Obama

“Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’”

— Then-Sen. Barack Obama, Oct. 16, 2008

We resisted writing about Mitt Romney’s first television ad when it was released just before Thanksgiving, on the grounds that the issue — whether the ad misquoted President Obama — had been thoroughly and quickly discussed. We sometimes also see little need to fact check items that have been already debunked by one political faction or the other.

 But readers have repeatedly asked us to weigh in, and the ad was once again in the news this week after a report in The New York Times by our former colleague Thomas Edsall quoted an anonymous “top operative” in the Romney campaign as defending the ad because “ads are propaganda by definition…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing…. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”

 Excuse us for appearing cynical, but Romney’s supposed adviser is simply stating a truth practiced by both political parties. We’ve seen plenty of Four-Pinocchio ads in our time, and this Romney ad does not make the cut.

 

The Facts

The ad opens with a headline: “On October 16, 2008, Barack Obama Visited New Hampshire.” Then grainy scenes flash by of Obama speaking as more headlines flash by, such as: “He Promised He Would Fix the Economy…. He Failed”

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Mitt Romney: Flip-flopper or not?

“And there's no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences.”

— Former governor Mitt Romney on Fox News, Nov. 29, 2011

Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem. Slowly but surely, the conventional wisdom is solidifying that the former Massachusetts governor often has changed his position to suit the politics of the moment. The story line has been advanced by his opponents, in both parties, but also in the media. Take a look at this wicked cartoon by our colleague Tom Toles, in which Romney tells an elephant dressed as Santa Claus: “What would you like me to ask for?”

 Of course, politicians have every right to change their minds. An inflexible attitude is not always the sign of an effective leader. But too many flips without enough explanation may give voters pause. In Romney’s case, many of his moves have been from the left — when he was governor of Massachusetts — to the right, as he has run for the Republican presidential nomination.

 Now the Democratic National Committee has assembled some of its best evidence of Romney-as-flip-flopper in a four-minute video ad. The DNC helpfully provided a detailed explanation of where each clip came from (see below), and we have picked through them to see whether the flip-flop charge holds up. We give a Pinocchio rating to each claim, in the order in which it is made in the commercial.

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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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Did Obama call Americans ‘lazy’ and ‘soft’?

“Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in a new television ad attacking President Obama

“Sometimes, I just don’t think that President Obama understands America. I say that because this week — or was it last week? — he said that Americans are lazy. I don’t think that describes America. Before that, I think it was in October, he was saying we have lost our inventiveness, and our ambition. Before that he was saying other disparaging things about Americans. I just don’t think he understands — he was saying we just weren’t working hard enough. I don’t think he gets what’s happening in this country.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Nov. 15, 2011

Republican president candidates have begun attacking President Obama for supposedly insulting Americans by calling them “lazy.” Perry has even framed a new television ad around the idea.

Since we once gave a Pinocchio to Obama for what we called unsubstantiated boosterism — “We have the most productive workers, the finest universities and the freest markets” — we were a little surprised to learn that he had suddenly turned so anti-American.

What’s going on here?

The Facts

When a president makes a similar offhand comment at least two times, our experience tells us that something is on his mind. Maybe he read a book, perhaps there was a briefing, perhaps he even saw a television documentary. A clear sign that this notion has begun to sink in is that he begins to muse about it in public.

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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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Was Mitt Romney consistent on the question of an auto bailout?


(Scott Olson/GETTY IMAGES)

CNBC Debate moderator John Harwood: “Governor Romney, I want to switch to the bailout drama that we’ve lived through in this country, and no state understands it better than the state of Michigan. I'm going to talk a little bit about your record on that. Four years ago when you were running for the Republican nomination and the auto industry was suffering, you said, where's Washington?

“After the election, when the Bush administration was considering financial assistance for the automakers, you said no, let Detroit go bankrupt. Now that the companies are profitable again after a bailout supported by your Republican governor here in Michigan, you said, well, actually, President Obama implemented my plan all along, or he gravitated to my plan. With a record like that of seeming to be on all sides of the issue, why should Republicans be confident in the steadiness of your economic leadership?”

Mitt Romney: “My view some years ago was that the federal government, by putting in place CAFE requirements that helped foreign automobiles gain market share in the U.S., was hurting Detroit. And so I said, where is Washington? They're not doing the job they ought to be doing.

“My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process. We have capital markets and bankruptcy. It works in the U.S. The idea of billions of dollars being wasted initially -- then finally they adopted the managed bankruptcy. I was among others that said we ought to do that.

“And then after that, they gave the company to the UAW, they gave General Motors to the UAW, and they gave Chrysler to Fiat. My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the right private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction, as opposed to what we had with the government playing its heavy hand.”

--Exchange during the CNBC Debate on Nov. 9, 2011

This exchange during Wednesday’s CNBC GOP debate encapsulated both a recurrent concern about the former Massachusetts governor—is he a flip flopper and on “all sides of the issue”—and the political problem he faces about appearing unconcerned about the fate of auto workers by urging “let Detroit go bankrupt.” If Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee, we are sure to hear a lot about this as he and President Obama battle over Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.

Already, the Democratic National Committee, on its amusing Which Mitt? Web site, has a YouTube blast suggesting Romney flip-flopped on help for the auto industry, saying different things depending on whether he was in or out of Michigan:

So let’s examine whether Romney was consistent, whether Obama adopted his plan, and whether Romney is correct that the Obama administration “gave” GM to the United Auto Workers and Fiat to Chrysler.

The Facts

We reviewed many of Romney’s remarks in early 2008, when he unsuccessfully battled Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the Republican nomination. McCain had said that the auto jobs “were never coming back” and Romney saw an opening, criticizing McCain for giving up on the auto industry. That’s the context for the quote that the DNC highlights in its ad: “I’m not willing to sit back and say, ‘Too bad for Michigan, too bad—too bad for the car industry, too bad for the people who’ve lost their job.’”

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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 Mitt Romney’s fiscal policy speech


(Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press)

We will leave to others the economic analysis of Romney’s big speech on fiscal policy last Friday. How accurate were some of his facts?

“It took 43 presidents over 200 years to accumulate $6.3 trillion in debt. President Obama is on track to do that in just one term. His fundamental error is that he believes government creates jobs. He’s wrong. He puts his faith in government. I put my faith in people.”

This fact is technically correct but a bit misleading with the emphasis on 43 presidents and 200 years. The debt doubled under Obama’s predecessor, so Romney could have just as easily said that it took 42 presidents more than 200 years to accumulate $3.3 trillion in debt but George W. Bush about doubled it. Spending certainly accounted for a large part of the increase in the debt, but so did the dramatic decrease in tax revenue as a result of the Great Recession.

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Romney’s dubious explanation for slow Massachusetts job growth (Fact Checker biography)


(Win McNamee, Getty Images)

“As the governor of Massachusetts, when I came in, jobs were being lost month after month after month. We turned that around. We were able to add jobs, balance our budget and get Massachusetts back on track. And, by the way, our unemployment was below the federal level three of the four years I was in office.”

— Mitt Romney, during the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa, Aug. 11, 2011

Chris Wallace: “Job growth during your years in office was the third lowest of any state in the nation. And manufacturing employment declined more than 14 percent — the third-worst in the country. Governor, why should voters think that you’re going to do any better for the country’s economy than you did for your own state of Massachusetts?”

Mitt Romney: “Massachusetts is a high-tech state and a capital goods state. And that’s a sector of the economy that responds very slowly to turnarounds, and so we worked very hard to re-stimulate the economy there and to encourage job growth.

“I came into a state that had no pipeline, no sales force. Believe it or not, they had literally no sales force that called on companies and encouraged them to come into the state. There was no activity of any significance to bring jobs to the state. And we went to work, the legislature and I, to try and change that.”

— Exchange between Mitt Romney and “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, Jan. 20, 2008

The comments we’ve highlighted here come from two very separate discussions, but they deal with a common theme: Romney on jobs.

The remarks from Iowa show the former governor casting himself in a familiar light — as a turnaround artist who can put any troubled house in order. For what it’s worth, he’s earned a prized Geppetto Checkmark and a Verdict Pending this week — albeit with certain caveats — for remarks with the same basic premise.

The exchange from “Fox News Sunday,” although admittedly dated, illustrates some of the excuses Romney has made for anemic job growth in Massachusetts during his time as governor.

Romney has never disputed that his state ranked 47th in the nation for job growth during his administration, although his GOP rivals have grilled him on the subject many times during this year’s debates. Instead, he has cast the facts in a positive light, describing a lemons-to-lemonade type of turnaround.

This is a pattern for Romney, who shows signs of being a polished politician in this, his fourth, run for public office. He generally appears well aware of the facts behind his record and is good at spinning them in his favor.

Romney has backed away from making excuses for his state’s lagging employment numbers. We couldn’t readily find an instance from 2011 of him referring to the same factors — the manufacturing- and tech-based economy and the supposed lack of a sales force to attract new jobs — for slow job growth in Massachusetts.

We’ve mentioned before that elected officials can’t control all the variables affecting the economy, so they shouldn’t have to answer for all that transpires in that arena. But these types of statements deserve scrutiny, especially when candidates trumpet their supposed successes.

The Facts

Massachusetts lost jobs three months in a row before Romney took office, and it ended with a net gain by the time he left, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Does Romney deserve Olympic bragging rights? (Fact Checker biography)


(Win McNamee, Getty Images)

“He revamped the [Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s] leadership, trimmed the budget, and restored public confidence. He oversaw an unprecedented security mobilization to assure the safety of the athletes and millions of international visitors, staging one of the most successful games ever held on U.S. soil.”

— Mitt Romney’s official campaign Web site, explaining the GOP candidate’s work as chief executive of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which planned the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Romney took control of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee after an alleged bid-rigging scandal that tarnished the group’s reputation and caused two of its top leaders to resign. He claims the SLOC was facing a potential doomsday scenario, with fundraising stalled and planners struggling to close a massive budget gap.

“It was the most troubled turnaround I had ever seen,” he wrote in his book, “Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games.”

We looked back at the planning stages of the 2002 Winter Olympics to gauge the accuracy of Romney’s characterization. We also looked at the outcomes of the Salt Lake Games to determine whether his claims of success are true.

The Facts

Romney was always upfront about the challenges facing the SLOC, and he had good reason to paint as grim a picture as possible. His early characterizations helped lower expectations and positioned him to appear all the more heroic for any successes that would come.

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The new and misleading ad about ‘Mitt Romney’s America’

“Unregulated. Isolated. Decimated. Relocated. Privatized. Slashed. Repealed. Mitt Romney’s America is not our America.”

— closing words of a new ad by the pro-Obama group, Priorities USA Action

 Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama group, on Wednesday released a new Web ad that, perhaps unconsciously, evokes memories of the famous speech by the late senator Edward Kennedy, “Robert Bork’s America.” At least one analyst has argued that Kennedy’s attack on Bork launched the “beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics.”

 If this ad is any indication, we’re in for a mean election year.

 Our favorite moment is when Romney utters his somewhat odd defense of companies — “Corporations are people. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people” — and quick images of a suit pocketing money and a corporate jet flash by. Then Romney says, “Where do you think it goes?” and the ad focuses in on the now-famous photograph from a Bain Capital brochure of a young Romney with his pockets stuffed with cash.

 In fact, the ad is so over the top, both in its images and its accusations, that it is hard to believe it would persuade anyone but hard-core partisans. That may indeed be the point — an effort to energize demoralized Obama supporters for the tough fight ahead.

 But that does not mean we can hold it to a lesser standard of accuracy.

 

The Facts

 This ad is the commercial equivalent of the kitchen sink, so we will not go into detail but instead will quickly point out some of its more glaring inaccuracies or out-of-context moments. The group’s Web site provides a helpful list of supposed evidence for the ad, but much of that is suspect, too.

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Romney’s claims about Bain Capital job creation (Fact Checker biography)

“In those hundreds of businesses we invested in, tens of thousands of jobs net-net were created. I understand how the economy works.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, talking about layoffs versus job creation for Bain Capital during a GOP debate in Iowa, Aug. 11, 2011

Romney essentially uses this same response every time he has to address skepticism about his record on job creation in the private sector. Before entering government, he spent 25 years both working as a management consultant and leading the resoundingly successful investment firm Bain Capital, which he co-founded.

A Bain prospectus obtained by the Los Angeles Times shows that the company yielded an astronomical 88 percent average annual internal rate of return under Romney’s leadership. The American Enterprise Institute said, “Few, if any, VC [venture capital] firms have ever matched Bain Capital’s performance under Mitt Romney,” although Stanford economics expert Alex Gould noted in the Times piece that some of the firm’s highly profitable short-term investments may have distorted the lofty average.

Bain invested mostly in start-ups early on but eventually shifted its focus to the cutthroat world of leveraged buyouts, which involves buying controlling shares in a company, with the purchase financed mainly through borrowing. (That’s the “leverage.”) If all goes well, the value of business increases well beyond the debt load, and investors make huge profits on their investments.

We wondered if much downsizing was required to yield these profits. Not all the information is public, so we couldn’t know for sure. Bain also doesn’t track employment at the companies in which it has invested, as noted by The Boston Globe.

Regardless, we found plenty of trustworthy news accounts detailing layoffs at the companies Bain acquired under Romney’s leadership.

The Facts

Romney’s campaign provided current employment numbers for some of Bain’s greatest success stories: Staples has 89,000 workers, the Sports Authority 15,000 and Domino’s 7,900. Based on that information, we know the private-equity firm did indeed create jobs during Romney’s tenure by providing seed capital and advice to these start-ups.

But that list does not include the leveraged buyouts. By itself, it’s not enough to prove a net-net gain in employment numbers.

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Romney’s problematic claims of reducing health care subsidies (Fact Checker biography)


(Steve Gooch/AP)

“The state was giving over $1 billion away in free health care, much of it to people who could’ve paid something but were just gaming the system. You won’t be surprised that a lot of Democrats thought we should give them even more. I took on this problem and hammered out a solution that took a bad a situation and made it better — not perfect, but it was a state solution to our state’s problem.”

— Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, announcing his candidacy in New Hampshire, June 2, 2011

Romney’s campaign clarified his statement for us, saying it described how he reduced the amount of healthcare payments coming from the state’s uncompensated care pool as opposed to from insurance. We looked at the outcomes of the Massachusetts Health Care Reform plan — ie, “RomneyCare’ — to find out whether the program worked as he intended.

Keep in mind we’re testing how well Romney’s comments hold up to scrutiny, but are not making a judgment about whether his healthcare-reform plan is good or bad.

The Facts

The number of higher-income Massachusetts residents without insurance fell from 5.2 percent before “RomneyCare” to 2.9 percent in 2007, according to a report by Sharon K. Long, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The study concluded there was no evidence of residents using state-subsidized insurance when they could afford their own plans, so there doesn’t appear to be a big problem with people abusing the program.

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Romney’s fiscal policies as governor (Fact Checker biography)


(AP)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been in describing his past achievements. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Romney’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Romney talks about his past. After this week, he will turn to the other candidates. We welcome suggestions from readers for statements to vet. — Glenn Kessler

***

“We were able to balance our budget all four years without raising taxes. We were able to cut back on government spending and government employment, and so we were able to balance that budget and ultimately build a rainy-day fund much larger than when I took office.”

— Mitt Romney’s remarks during a July 5, 2011, campaign event in Iowa

Romney repeats these lines often on the campaign trail, and it’s easy to see why. He needs to convince the Republican base of his fiscal-conservative credentials.

These remarks obviously suggest that Romney reduced spending and balanced the budget without raising taxes. We researched his record in Massachusetts to find out how well his policies match his claims.

The Facts

Romney increased the Massachusetts rainy-day fund from $640 million to $2 billion, so he did indeed build a larger reserve for the state.

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Romney’s problematic claims about illegal immigration in Texas


(Chris Carlson/AP)
“The fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country . . . they’re coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, CNN debate, Oct. 18, 2011

“You put in place a magnet — you talk about magnets — you put in place a magnet to draw illegals into the state, which is giving $100,000 of tuition credit to illegals that come into this country. And then you have states, the big states of illegal immigrants are California and Florida. Over the last 10 years, they’ve had no increase in illegal immigration. Texas has had 60 percent increase in illegal immigrants.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in response

“With regards to the record in Texas, you probably also ought to tell people that if you look over the last several years, 40 percent, almost half, the jobs created in Texas were created for illegal aliens.”

— Romney, later in the debate

We got a bit distracted at the end of last week, debunking dubious GOP and Democratic claims regarding dueling jobs bills. But we want to weigh in on a pair of charges that Mitt Romney threw at Rick Perry during the contentious debate last week in Las Vegas.

Romney obviously came well-prepared with these “facts,” as his campaign immediately e-mailed reporters with specific references to the data that he cited. But the more we looked into his claims, the shakier they became.

Let’s take a look under the hood of these revved-up statistics.

The Facts

The claim that Texas has had a 60 percent increase in illegal immigrants since 2000, compared to no increase in California and Florida, comes from a study by the Department of Homeland Security. At first glance, that appears to give a government imprimatur to Romney’s assertion.

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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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The Obama campaign’s spin on the Romney tax plan

David Axelrod, a longtime political adviser to President Obama, held a telephone news conference with reporters last week to attack GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for remarks he made during a candidates debate held by The Washington Post and Bloomberg News (see full transcript below). In particular, he faulted Romney for appearing to oppose an extension of a payroll tax cut, as proposed in Obama’s new jobs plan. The former Massachusetts governor instead said he was interested in trying “to fundamentally restructure America’s foundation economically,” not “little Band-Aids.”

Axelrod blasted Romney for, in his campaign economic plan, touting the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends for people who earn less than $200,000. During the debate, Romney said he had targeted the tax cut because “if I’m going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus it on where the people are hurting the most, and that’s the middle class.”

Clearly, there’s a general-election theme emerging there, and Democrats appeared eager to cast Romney as actually kowtowing to the wealthy.

But there are moments when Axelrod’s spin got ahead of the facts. Let’s take a look at some of his statements.

“You heard Governor Romney essentially oppose the extension of the payroll tax cut that the president is fighting for in Congress as part of the American Jobs Act that would be a $1,500 tax cut for 160 million working Americans or families.”

This is inaccurate. Obama wants workers to pay 3.1 percent of wages up to $106,800 in Social Security payroll taxes, down from 4.2 percent this year and 6.2 percent in a typical year. According to a Treasury Department analysis, when the initial payroll tax cut was instituted, 159 million Americans would get some kind of payroll tax cut.

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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.

Rick Perry’s new ad about Mitt Romney and ‘RomneyCare’


(Evan Vucci/AP)

“RomneyCare cost $8 billion.”

“RomneyCare killed 18,000 jobs.”

-- Text from an ad about Mitt Romney’s healthcare law, sponsored by the Rick Perry campaign, October 10, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched an ad Monday attacking Mitt Romney on the healthcare-reform law that not so affectionately bears his name among conservatives. The overall theme of the ad--that Romney’s health care law is intellectual father of Obama’s law--is correct. But then it goes even further than that.

The ad, strikingly similar to a Hollywood movie trailer in terms of its quality and dramatic effect, paints “RomneyCare” as an economic disaster similar to the way conservatives portray Obama’s national healthcare law. (Much of Obama’s law has not been implemented yet, so that is a bit premature.)

The ad also flashes images of Obama, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, delivering an almost subliminal message that Romney is akin to those liberal icons.

The ad continues with a line disappearing from Romney’s book “No Apologies,” suggesting the GOP front-runner has changed his tune in regard to whether the plan would work for the entire nation.

Perry’s attack doesn’t stop there. The ad shows a cleverly trimmed excerpt from an interview in which the late :Meet the Press” host Tim Russert asks Romney why he wouldn’t apply his reform plan to the rest of the country. Romney replies, “I would.”

We delved into the two reports that Perry’s campaign relied on for its claims about the negative impacts of the Massachusetts healthcare-reform plan. We also looked at the full transcript of Romney’s interview with Russert to find out whether the ad left out anything important.

We’ve already scrutinized Perry’s attack on the Romney book edits, so we won’t spend any more time on that. Suffice it to say we awarded three Pinocchios to the Texas governor for manufacturing a phony issue.

The Facts

The Perry campaign based its economic claims off two studies from the Massachusetts-based Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative group affliated with Suffolk University in Boston known for its hostility toward taxes and insurance mandates.

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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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Mitt Romney’s ‘apology’ fixation

“As President of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America. …I believe we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world. Not exceptional, as the President has derisively said, in the way that the British think Great Britain is exceptional or the Greeks think Greece is exceptional. In Barack Obama’s profoundly mistaken view, there is nothing unique about the United States.”

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The DNC’s ridiculous attack on Mitt Romney’s Social Security stance

 
(Jeff Siner/AP)

“Mitt Romney would privatize Social Security and allow Wall Street brokers to gamble away on the stock market, and he said so repeatedly. . . . Privatizing Social Security is an absolute nonstarter for them [seniors]. Romney supports plans that would drastically change or end programs that have delivered for seniors for generations, preserved the safety net for senior for generations, and Mitt Romney would dismantle it. The American people rejected privatization of Social Security when George W. Bush tried to get it done as president, and they will reject Mitt Romney for trying it, too.”

--Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Oct. 5, 2011

Those were pretty tough words by the DNC chair as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney arrived in Florida on Wednesday for a campaign swing. We spotted a Huffington Post account of Romney’s visit—in which he berated Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his comments on Social Security—and spotted a line in which Wasserman Schultz told reporters during a conference call that “Romney was in favor of ‘dismantling’ Social Security and letting people invest retirement funds in the stock market.”

When we listened to the recording of the call, it turns out Wasserman Schultz actually said Romney would dismantle the “safety net” for seniors, not necessarily Social Security. But she still accused him of wanting to “privatize Social Security and allow Wall Street brokers to gamble away on the stock market, and he said so repeatedly.” She charged that Romney’s plan was actually the same as then-President George W. Bush’s plan to carve out private retirement accounts in Social Security.

So, is there any truth to her claim?

 

The Facts

When we asked the DNC for evidence, they sent us a few clips from 2007—when Romney first ran for president.

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Romney‘s claim that ‘right to work’ states get more ‘good jobs’


(Stephen Morton/GETTY IMAGES)

“And the right course politically at this stage is to have states carry out their own right-to-work legislation. And as you know, right-to-work states, those 22, have created 3 million jobs over the last 10 years. The union states have lost about half a million jobs. So right to work is the way to go if you want good jobs.”

-- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at American Principles Project Palmetto Freedom Forum in Columbia, S.C. on Sept. 5, 2011

Romney’s comments go to the heart of the right-to-work debate, so they deserve some scrutiny and analysis.

Right-to-work states are those that prohibit “closed shops,” which require their workers to become dues-paying union members as a condition of employment. Twenty-two states have outlawed this practice.

Romney refers to the 28 states that don’t have right-to-work laws as “union states.” Workers in these states can forego union membership in a unionized workplace, but they still have to pay dues. Labor groups have their reasons for pushing mandatory dues on employees: they don’t want non-members asking for the same benefits and wages that union officials painstakingly negotiated for the workers in their ranks.

But is there really a documented link between “good jobs” and these state laws?

The Facts

We searched the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site to find data on each state’s non-farm, seasonally adjusted employment during the past 10 years. Just as Romney said, right-to-work states have better employment numbers on the whole.

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Updates to two previous columns on regulations and ships

Sometimes Fact Checker columns generate debate and discussion that reverberate in other quarters, yet we don’t always have an opportunity to update readers who may be interested in these issues. So here is an attempt to alert readers to some of this new information, on two unrelated columns—though we admit some of it may seem a bit in the weeds.

How many pending regulations?

 Earlier this month, we awarded Three Pinocchios to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for the statement that the Obama administration “has 219 new rules in the works that will cost our economy at least $100 million.” We dug into some of the regulations and concluded the number of potential regulations was inflated, as well as the potential impact.

 That conclusion was later attacked on the National Review Web site by a former Bush administration official for having “missed the forest as well as the trees.”

 Now, Susan Dudley, the director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center—who produced the original 219 figure— has conducted a much deeper analysis of the White House budget database that was the source of the figure.

 As we wrote, the number is smaller when the data is closely studied. Dudley identifies just 158 pending actions at the $100 million threshold. But she also makes the interesting point that the database has its limitations, especially regulations completed on a expedited basis or those issued by independent regulatory commissions. Her full analysis can be found on the Web site RegBlog or at the GW Regulatory Studies Center.

 

How many people building ships?

Meanwhile, this month we also awarded two Pinocchios to former Massachusetts governor. Mitt Romney for repeating a tall tale about “enormous waste” in the military. We checked into the story, which came from former Navy secretary John Lehman, that during World War II, the Bureau of Ships had 1,000 people to build 1,000 ships and now the Navy has 25,000 people just to build nine ships. We found that the actual number today is closer to 500 people, not 25,000.

 Lehman forwarded our e-mail exchanges to current Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who in turn sent us a copy of his reply. Here’s a copy of his letter, which includes updated numbers on the personnel at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the entity that now includes the functions of the former Bureau of Ships.

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Perry’s phony attack ad on changes to Romney’s book

“In his 2010 book, Mitt Romney wrote Romneycare was a national model. . . . When No Apology was published in paperback on Feb. 1, 2011, Romney deleted his own words praising Romneycare.”

— From a new campaign ad by Texas Gov. Rick Perry

The battle of the books has now turned into an ad war.

The Rick Perry campaign on Monday released an advertisement that reiterates the Texas governor’s charge, made during last week’s debate, that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney altered the text of his book “No Apology” between the publication of the hardcover edition in 2010 and the paperback version in 2011. Specifically, Perry claims that Romney deleted a sentence suggesting that the health-care plan he passed in Massachusetts was a model for the rest of the nation.

Romney forcefully denied that claim during the debate — a clip the Perry campaign uses in this ad. “Please don’t try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book,” Romney said. “I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did. And I believe that the people of this country can read my book and see exactly what it is.”

When Romney says he stood by what he wrote, Perry nods his head, smiles and says, “Good.” Perhaps he was already thinking of the attack ad he could craft?

On the evening of the debate, we looked at this issue briefly and concluded that Perry had substantially overstated the significance of the changes in the text. But this ad raises the stakes and thus requires a deeper look.

The Facts

The key sentence that Perry focuses on in his ad is this one, which is in a chapter on Romney’s successful drive to bring universal health care to his state: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.” (Page 177.)

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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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Perry vs. Romney vs. Huntsman on jobs


(Jae C. Hong/AP)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry:  “He [Romney] had one of the lowest job creation rates in the country. So the fact is while he had a good private sector record, his public sector record did not match that. As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: “I came into a state that was in real trouble. … We ended up with 4.7 percent unemployment rate. I'm proud of what we were able to do in a tough situation.”

Perry: “But Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt.”

Romney: “Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.”

Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman: “I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number-one job creator in this country during my years of service. … And to my good friend Mitt, 47th just ain't going to cut it, my friend — not when you can be first.” 

— Exchange during the GOP debate at the Reagan library, Sept. 7, 2011

That was a remarkably silly discussion over job creation at last week’s GOP presidential debate, as two former governors and one current governor tangled over who performed best at creating jobs.

Business cycles play an important role in job creation, as do events (such as national economic policy) that are far beyond a governor’s control. The quality of jobs matters, too, rather than just numbers. A governor can implement policies that have some impact, but the effectiveness of those policies might only be felt long after that person was in office.

Politicians can also slice and dice the data to put their performance in the best possible light. Huntsman has released a video ad to make his case that he was No. 1 in job creation while Romney was only No. 47. But as our colleagues at Factcheck.org pointed out, Huntsman’s campaign compared different data sets. Using the same data changed the results. When Massaschusetts placed in 47th place, Utah under Huntsman ranked fourth — not first.

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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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Romney’s too-good-to-check fact on Pentagon bloat


(Eric Gay/AP)

“While the output has declined, the bureaucracy at the DOD [Department of Defense] has increased. There is enormous waste. Let me give you an example that was reported to me by former secretary of the Navy John Lehman. During World War II we built 1,000 ships a year. And there were 1,000 people in the Bureau of Ships. That's the purchasing department, if you will. In the 1980s we built 17 ships per year, and we had 4,000 people in purchasing. Today we build nine ships a year. Guess how many people are in purchasing? Twenty-five thousand people.”

--Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, Aug. 30, 2011

 

In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, Romney told a story that was so good that it just cried out for checking.

 He repeated a set of statistics that John Lehman, Navy secretary during the Reagan administration, has mentioned in speeches. Lehman’s point has been echoed by others, including mostly recently former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). In testimony before the House Budget Committee in July, Talent quoted at length from one of Lehman’s speeches on the subject.

 Certainly, the issue of Pentagon bloat and inefficiency is an important one, especially as lawmakers seek to trim hundreds of billions of dollars from the budget. But our eyebrows went up when we heard Romney tell this story, in part because it already is a stretch to compare ships made 60 years ago with the modern battleships of today. The U.S. population has more than doubled since then, while technology and complex systems have vastly improved.

 Let’s check the numbers.

 

The Facts

 Lehman quickly got on the phone to explain how he had developed these statistics. He emphasized that “this is not a partisan issue” at all and that the current undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Ashton B. Carter, “really gets it” and is trying to deal with the problem of bloat. Carter was recently nominated to be deputy secretary, largely because of his skill at finding budget savings.

 

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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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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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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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A new GOP talking point on long-term unemployment falls short

“Long Term Employment Is Now Worse Than the Great Depression”

— From a new ad by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) titled “Bump in the Road”

"We have unemployment that rivals the Great Depression. …We have lost 2.5 million jobs since Barack Obama has been president. And of that 2.5 million jobs, almost 45 percent of those people have been out of work for six months. That number rivals the Great Depression."

— Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, June 12, 2011

We have a new talking point! Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has unveiled a hard-hitting ad aimed at President Obama’s handling of the economy, which includes the claim that long-term employment is now worse than during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made a similar statement on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” though he garbled it. (There are actually 6.2 million workers who have been without a job for 27 weeks or more, which represents 45.1 percent of the unemployed.)

 These statements appear to have started with a report on CBS News on June 5, which said that “45 percent of all unemployed workers have been jobless for more than six months, a higher percentage than during the Great Depression.” The report appeared to list the Bureau of Labor Statistics as a source.

 So, is this correct?

 

The Facts

 There’s one problem with this statistic: The Bureau of Labor Statistics data only go back to 1948. The data set certainly shows that the duration of long-term unemployment is higher than any period since World War II (though it actually reached its peak in May 2010, when the percentage reached 45.6 percent). Even during the deep recession of Ronald Reagan’s presidency the percentage of long-term unemployment got no higher than 26 percent. 

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Fact checking Mitt Romney’s announcement speech


(BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters)

“I'm Mitt Romney. I believe in America. And I'm running for President of the United States.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 2, 2011

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney officially announced his run for the presidency last week with a speech in New Hampshire that evoked a Reaganesque faith in America while hitting President Obama hard for his handling of the flagging economy.

 As is typical of such speeches, there was a heavy sprinkling of “facts,” some of which we have cited for Pinocchios in the past. (Note to the campaign: we find this depressing.) Candidates must believe these facts are “too good to check.” Other facts Romney cited have only a tenuous connection to reality.

 So, let’s dig deeper, examining the claims in the order in which Romney said them. 

 

 “When he took office, the economy was in recession, and he made it worse, and he made it last longer.”
 

With the unemployment rate ticking up in May , to 9.1 percent, the economy is definitely a weak spot for Obama. But Romney is stretching it here when he suggests that Obama has made the recession “worse…and made it last longer.”

 

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Mitt Romney’s strange counting of pages to distinguish ‘Romneycare’ from ‘Obamacare’


(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“If I become president, I will repeal ‘Obamacare.’ My bill was 70 pages. His bill is 2,700 pages. In those extra 2,630 pages he’s doing a lot of stuff that is just devastating to the health care system in this country. He’s wrong.”

--Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), May 31, 2011

Mitt Romney has a problem—the sweeping universal health care bill he signed into law five years ago. President Obama has cited “Romneycare” as a model for his own health care law, making it a political albatross for the former Massachusetts governor in the contest to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

So Romney has tried his best to emphasize that the law he signed was different and unique to Massachusetts and should not have been considered a template for the rest of the country. Nevertheless, our friends at PolitiFact.com have put together a clever quiz that demonstrates just how difficult it is to tell the difference between the two laws.

This week on NBC’s “Today” show, Romney asserted that the difference was evident in the sheer bulk of the bills — a mere “70 pages” for his law and a behemoth “2,700 pages” for the president’s law. This is an old politician’s trick — lots of pages suggest something nefarious is going on — but we decided to dig deeper and see whether this is even a relevant apples-to-apples comparison.

The Facts

Obama’s law was actually two bills: a Senate version and a reconciliation bill that made changes to accommodate concerns of the House. The complicated procedure became necessary after the Democrats lost their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but it means that the bill was bulkier than the usual bill in which lawmakers had settled differences in a House-Senate conference.

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