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A ‘greatest hits’ of misleading Obama claims

at 06:00 AM ET, 11/02/2012

“Mitt Romney’s plan… …rolls back regulations on the banks that crashed our economy.”

“Medicare…voucherized.”

“Catastrophic cuts to education”

“Millionaires will get one of the largest tax cuts ever…while middle class families pay more.”

— voiceover from a new Barack Obama ad, “Remember”

Just as Mitt Romney recently released an ad with a “greatest hits” of misleading claims, so too has the Obama campaign. Let’s spin this record again too! As we shall see, one song is more or less on-key, but others are off-kilter.

“Mitt Romney’s plan… …rolls back regulations on the banks that crashed our economy.”

 This statement, by itself, is relatively correct. Romney has said he would repeal the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, saying the regulations are “overwhelming,” but he has been vague about what he would replace it with.

The ad cites a comprehensive Boston Globe article, “Mitt Romney mum on how to regulate big banks,” that lays out the concern of economic specialists that Romney has not fully explained how he would prevent Wall Street from engaging in risky practices that helped lead to the Great Recession.

Romney’s vagueness gives the Obama campaign an opening to say he will at least “roll back” the Dodd-Frank rules — even though Romney is on record as saying that some rules are needed, such as “greater transparency in the trading of derivatives” and “rules for what kind of capital has to stand behind each kind of asset on Wall Street and banks.”

Moreover, in the first presidential debate, Romney said “we have to have regulation on Wall Street.” He also said that “there are some parts of Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world,” such as a provision that sets broad mortgage-lending standards.

“Medicare…voucherized.”

This claim cites the AARP, the nonpartisan organization for people over the age of 50, but AARP has protested the use of its name in Obama campaign advertising, saying it does not endorse political candidates.

In any case, the AARP letter that the Obama campaign provides as backup does not refer to “vouchers,” which is a Democratic attack line about the GOP plan for Medicare advanced by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Instead, the March 21, 2002, letter to members of Congress calls the GOP proposal by its proper name — “premium support.” Under the proposal, the Medicare beneficiaries would choose from a variety of plans, including traditional Medicare, with the government paying a set amount for premiums.

 The AARP letter, however, is indeed critical:

 

Yesterday's budget proposal appropriately acknowledges that health care costs must be addressed if the federal budget is to be balanced. However, rather than recognizing that health care is an unavoidable necessity which must be made more affordable for all Americans, this proposal simply shifts these high and growing costs onto Medicare beneficiaries, and it then shifts even higher costs of increased uninsured care onto everyone else. The typical Medicare beneficiary today, living on an income of roughly $20,000, already struggles to pay for their ever-rising health and prescription drug costs — and nearly 20 percent of their income currently goes to health care costs. By creating a "premium support" system for future Medicare beneficiaries, the proposal is likely to simply increase costs for beneficiaries while removing Medicare's promise of secure health coverage — a guarantee that future seniors have contributed to through a lifetime of hard work.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently published a deep look into premium support systems and concluded that most seniors would pay more than under the current system, but there would be wide geographic disparities. Moreover, the increase appears to be much less — $6,400 extra a year — than what Democrats have claimed.

The ad does not repeat that misleading figure, but the term “voucherized” is certainly code for much higher costs, especially with the AARP symbol attached.

“Catastrophic cuts to education”

 The source for this claim is not an objective analysis, but an editorial in the Denver Post endorsing Obama for president. Moreover, the editorial referred to “catastrophic cuts” to discretionary programs. It did not specifically single out education.

Here is the phrase in context in the editorial:

Romney's approach is one of tax cuts for all, drastic Medicare reform, increased defense spending, and what would be catastrophic cuts to other discretionary programs . In the Republican primary, he said he couldn’t support a plan that included even $10 in cuts for every $1 in new revenue. To expect the country to balance its budget without additional revenue, in our view, is nothing short of fantasy.

One could certainly question whether Romney’s math — higher defense spending and less nondefense spending — would be sustainable. The White House calculated that the House GOP budget plan would have resulted in a cut of 19 percent in nondefense spending by 2014. But, as we have noted before, that is an across-the-board cut — when in fact Romney could eliminate some programs and spare others.

 Indeed, in the Oct. 3 president debate, Romney declared: “I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college. I'm planning on continuing to grow, so I'm not planning on making changes there.”

 Obviously, however, shielding education from cuts would mean that other programs would have to be reduced even more than 19 percent, assuming Romney sticks to his campaign promise to sharply reduce government spending.

“Millionaires will get one of the largest tax cuts ever…while middle class families pay more.”

 This is not “Romney’s plan,” as the ad asserts, but rather a claim based on a study that tried to replicate Romney’s tax plan.

Romney has said he will cut tax rates by 20 percent, and make other tax changes, while at the same time making the plan revenue neutral by eliminating tax deductions and loopholes. However, Romney has not detailed what he would eliminate, though he has suggested he might cap tax deductions at a level of $17,000 or $25,000.

 The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, in a report disputed by the Romney campaign, concluded that the numbers did not add up. In particular, it found that there were not enough tax deductions that could be eliminated for the wealthy without beginning to also affect middle-class Americans. That’s where the Obama campaign gets its line that millionaires would get a tax cut while middle-class families would have to pay higher taxes.

Our colleagues at WonkBlog this week unveiled a nifty calculator that shows how difficult it would be for Romney to achieve all of his stated goals in his tax plan. The calculator demonstrates the difficult policy choices involved — but one can safely assume any president would be reluctant to broadly raise taxes on the middle class.

 In any case, though the Obama campaign cites a credible source, it goes too far when it simply declares that millionaires “will” get a tax cut while the middle class will get a tax increase. We have been influenced by the comment of Donald Marron, the director of the Tax Policy Center, after the Obama campaign began citing the study:

I don’t interpret this as evidence that Governor Romney wants to increase taxes on the middle class in order to cut taxes for the rich, as an Obama campaign ad claimed. Instead, I view it as showing that his plan can’t accomplish all his stated objectives. One can charitably view his plan as a combination of political signaling and the opening offer in what would, if he gets elected, become a negotiation.

The Pinocchio Test

 As we frequently say, simply repeating the same debunked claims won’t make them any more correct. This ad would have come close to Four Pinocchios, simply because of recidivism, but the Obama campaign skates by with Three because the claim about bank regulations stays within the boundaries of fact.

 

Three Pinocchios





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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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