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A ‘greatest hits’ of misleading Romney claims

at 06:02 AM ET, 10/21/2012

“If Barack Obama is reelected, what will the next four years be like? One, the debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars. Two, 20 million Americans could lose their employer-based health care. Three, taxes on the middle class will go up by $4,000. Four, energy prices will continue to go up. And five, $716 billion in Medicare cuts that hurt current seniors.”

— Voiceover in new Mitt Romney campaign ad titled “The Obama Plan”

We have often said that politicians in both political parties will stretch the truth if they think the misleading claim will move voters. As we enter into the final weeks of this bruising presidential campaign, we expect to hear all sorts of poll-tested, factually-challenged messages again and again — simply because the campaigns have data that shows these claims resonate with votes.

In that vein, a new ad released by the Romney campaign is almost a “greatest hits” version of claims that have been thoroughly debunked by fact checkers, including this column. Let’s spin the record once again!

The Facts

“The debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars”

Here, the Romney campaign is using “gross debt,” which includes U.S. Treasury bonds held by Social Security and Medicare. Generally, what matters for the federal budget is the publicly held debt, particularly the percentage of debt compared to the overall economy (gross domestic product.) The House GOP budget plan authored by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance focuses on its impact on publicly-held debt, no gross debt.

Even taking the Ryan budget plan at face value, it would do little better than the Obama plan over four years — gross debt would rise to $19 trillion in four years. Moreover, as we have often noted, a good chunk of the increase in the deficit under Obama was due to the Great Recession.

“Twenty million Americans could lose their employer-based health care.”

This is the worst case scenario in a recent Congressional Budget Office report, and thus using this “20 million” figure is fairly misleading.

The most positive scenario in the CBO analysis has 3 million people being added to employer coverage. “On balance, the number of people obtaining coverage through their employer would be about 3 million lower in 2019 under the legislation than under prior law,” the CBO concludes.

It’s worth noting that the baseline scenario — 3 million fewer people — represents just 2 percent of the people who now get insurance through their employers.

The CBO cautions that there is a “tremendous amount of uncertainty” about how employers and employees will respond to the legislation. “One piece of evidence that may be relevant is the experience in Massachusetts, where employment-based health insurance coverage appeared to increase after that state’s reforms,” the CBO noted.

Of course, Mitt Romney, as governor, ushered in health-care legislation that served as a model for Obama’s health plan

“Taxes on the middle class will go up by $4,000.”

The first time the Romney campaign made this claim, it earned three Pinocchios. But it just gets worse each time this bogus claim gets reasserted.

Obama has no plan to raise taxes on the middle class (just as Romney has no such plan, though the Obama campaign has asserted that is the logical consequence of trying to make his tax cut revenue neutral by eliminating popular tax deductions.)

Instead, this claim is drawn from a dry report from the American Enterprise Institute, titled “A Simple Measure of the Distributional Burden of Debt Accumulation.” The study tries to calculate the burden of servicing the national debt by various income groups, examining what would happen under current law, current policies and Obama’s budget.

(Current law refers to policies that are supposed to happen, such as expiring tax cuts; current policy reflects the fact that Congress has said it will not let certain tax cuts expire.)

Among the three scenarios, there’s actually not much difference, and the Obama administration’s budget falls right in the middle. In other words, the study shows how much lower taxes could be if the nation did not keep adding to the debt load; it does not show, as the ad suggests, that Obama has some sort of secret plan to raise taxes.

Presumably, a Romney budget would fall in the same range, but he has not provided enough detail on his budget so the AEI analysts said they could not evaluate it.

“Energy prices will continue to go up”

What’s the source on this? The Romney campaign based this claim about “energy” on just one fact: Gasoline prices have more than doubled from $1.85 per gallon to $3.82 per gallon during Obama’s presidency.

But this is a misleading comparison because cost of gas had plunged to an artificially low level at the start of Obama’s presidency because of the Great Recession.

What was the price of gas the week of Sept. 15, 2008, before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers triggered the economic crisis? It was $3.84 — virtually the same price as today, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Three months later, the price of gasoline had plunged to half that level.

“$716 billion in Medicare cuts that hurt current seniors”

We’re getting tried of writing about this claim, which stems from efforts to restrain Medicare spending in the Obama health care law.

The $716 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years (2013-2022) between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes that the law makes to reduce spending. Year over year spending on Medicare would continue to go up.

The savings mostly are wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries — who, as a result of the health-care law, ended up with new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs.

Still, some argue that those provider cuts will eventually result in poorer patient care. Medicare actuary Richard S. Foster has cast doubt on whether these reductions can be sustained because, by his estimate, about 15 percent of hospitals “could find it difficult to remain profitable, and, absent legislative intervention, might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing care for beneficiaries).”

Incidentally, the House Republican budget plan crafted by Ryan retains virtually all of the Medicare “cuts” contained in the health-care law. Romney has pledged to reverse these cuts even while saying he will look for ways to trim the cost of Medicare.

The Pinocchio Test

As we once wrote about one of Obama’s ads about Romney’s career at Bain Capital: “On just about every level, this ad is misleading, unfair and untrue… Simply repeating the same debunked claims won’t make them any more correct.”

For similar recidivism, the Romney campaign earns Four Pinocchios.

Four 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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