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Fact checking Bill Clinton’s speech and other Democrats at the convention in Charlotte

at 06:02 AM ET, 09/06/2012


(LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)

“We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

— Former president Bill Clinton, quoting Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse

Whew. In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered the Clinton White House and always marveled at Bill Clinton’s speechifying, his apparent command of policy and his sometimes slippery use of the facts. We are going to offer an initial take on some of his claims — and those of other Democrats — and then may come back to others in the coming days. Everyone needs to get some sleep.

“He [Obama] has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade. For every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1. And he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission. … It passes the arithmetic test.”

— Former president Bill Clinton

“President Obama’s plan uses the bipartisan commission’s balanced approach. It reduces the deficit by more than $4 trillion.”

— Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

The repeated claim that Obama’s budget reduces the deficit by $4 trillion is simply not accurate.

By the administration’s math, you have nearly $3.8 trillion in spending cuts, compared to $1.5 trillion in tax increases (letting the Bush tax cuts expire for high-income Americans). Presto, $1 of tax increases for every $2.50 of spending cuts.

But virtually no serious budget analyst agreed with this accounting. The $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress. So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.

Moreover, the administration is also counting $848 billion in phantom savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the administration had long made clear those wars would end.

In other words, by projecting war spending far in the future, the administration is able to claim credit for saving money it never intended to spend. (Imagine taking credit for saving money on buying a new car every year, even though you intended to keep your car for 10 years.)

Rather than good arithmetic, independent budget analysts called the maneuver “a major budget gimmick.”

The administration also counts $800 billion in savings in debt payments (from lower deficits) as a “spending cut,” which is a dubious claim. We didn’t realize that debt payments were now considered a government program.

There are a number of other games being played, so fake money is being used to pay for real spending projects. In effect, most of Obama’s claimed deficit reduction comes from his proposed tax increases.

Meanwhile, both Clinton and Van Hollen claim Obama’s budget has the “balanced approach” of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission proposal. But the Simpson-Bowles plan is actually quite different, calling for tough spending cuts and substantial tax reforms — not the faux proposals contained in the president’s budget.

“We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero.”

— Clinton

Obama’s jobs plan was more of a rhetorical device, aimed at Republicans, rather than a real plan. He even used the same $1 trillion in previously-agreed savings with Republicans, mentioned above, that was supposed to be in his budget in order to pay for this plan. The jobs plan also would be paid for with the imaginary money from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The administration argued that the budget had never passed, so the money could be used again.)

Get the picture? Clinton praises Obama both for his sound budget math and for his jobs plan, even though the money to fund the budget and the jobs plan is used twice. That certainly doesn't pass the Arkansas 2+2=4 test.

We have noted the problems with Obama’s claim that 4.5 million private sector jobs have been created. (It is a cherry-picked figure.) As for whether 1 million jobs would be created through Obama’s jobs plan, that is merely a fuzzy and optimistic projection. Bloomberg News surveyed 34 economists and found that the median estimate was that the plan would add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls.

“During this period, more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created under President Obama. That’s the first time manufacturing jobs have increased since the 1990s.”

— Clinton

Clinton is referring to the period since February 2010, the administration’s preferred date for counting employment figures. If you count from the beginning of Obama’s term, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that manufacturing jobs have declined by more than 500,000. Manufacturing jobs have been on a long steep decline since the middle of Clinton’s term, with some 2 million jobs lost during the recession that started at the end of George W. Bush’s term.

“More than 3 million young people between 19 and 25 are insured for the first time because their parents’ policies can cover them.”

— Clinton

Interestingly, Clinton frames this more accurately than President Obama. The Department of Health and Human Services in June reported that more than 3 million young adults would not have health insurance without the health-care law.

Obama prefers to cite a private survey, published by the Commonwealth Fund, that showed that 6.6 million young adults “stayed on or joined their parents’ health plans” in 2011. Not all of those people were uninsured; some simply joined their parents’ plans for other reasons.

“For the last two years, after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years, health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.”

— Clinton

Clinton tried to attribute this decline in health costs to the health-care law, but much of it has not yet been implemented. Most economists say the slowdown is more likely because of the lousy economy.

“It’s tempting to think that provider initiatives are truly denting costs, but it’s hard for changes in provider behavior to influence costs before they occur,” said a recent article in Modern Healthcare magazine. “Instead, the drop in healthcare cost growth is primarily attributable to the Great Recession’s impact on employment, private health insurance, government revenues and budgets.”

Indeed, government actuaries in June published an article in Health Affairs predicting health-care costs would begin to spike as the health-care law was implemented. “For 2011 through 2021, national health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.7 percent annually, which would be 0.9 percentage point faster than the expected annual increase in the gross domestic product during this period,” the article said.

“Soon the insurance companies — not the government, the insurance companies — will have millions of new customers, many of them middle-class people with preexisting conditions who never could get insurance before.”
— Clinton

Actually, the original Congressional Budget Office estimate is that 16 million people would end up in private coverage and 16 million would end up on Medicaid. But the Medicaid number may shrink as a result of the Supreme Court ruling allowing states to opt out of the expansion of the program.

“The administration agreed to give [welfare] waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment.”

— Clinton

We have written previously how the Romney campaign is exaggerating the immediate effect of the change in welfare rules, while at the same time it appears clear the Obama administration issued this notice without much consultation with Republicans in Congress. Something fishy may be going on.

The subject is worthy of a longer fact check in the future, but it is worth noting that prominent critics of the shift have raised interesting questions about this supposed 20-percent requirement. Clinton used this figure as a defense of the administration’s move, but there may be less to this than meets the eye.

“Democrats will preserve and strengthen Medicare. Republicans will end the Medicare guarantee.”

— House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.)

“He also didn’t tell you that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wanted to end the Medicare guarantee and turn it into a voucher, which would leave seniors with the increased cost.”

— Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)

The claim that Republicans will “end the Medicare guarantee” has been a frequent refrain at the convention, perhaps in response to fact-checker complaints about the incorrect charge last year that Republicans would “end Medicare.” But this phrase is a bit odd since there is no actual “guarantee” for any program that can be changed by some future Congress.

The most recent version of the Medicare overhaul promoted by GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan would allow all seniors to remain on traditional Medicare or try private plans subsidized by the government. The plan’s emphasis on reducing costs might require seniors to pay more out of pocket, but much is still uncertain about the full impact — years from now.

“Let me ask you: What do you think Mitt Romney would have done if that call came in? Well, Mitt Romney already told us what he would do. Mitt Romney says he likes to fire people. And Barack Obama? He likes to see people hired.”

— Gov. Jack Martell (Del.)

“After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.”

— Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren

These are a good examples of Democrats taking comments out of context, just as Republicans at last week’s convention devoted an entire evening to an out-of-context Obama quote. (Of course, it was Republican rival Jon Huntsman who first tried to make hay out of the “fire people” statement earlier this year.)

Here’s what Romney actually said, in a speech to the Nashua Chamber of Commerce: “I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If, you know, if someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say, you know, that I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

In other words, he was making a point about choice in health care — not hiring.

The remark about corporations, meanwhile, was an off-the-cuff response to a heckler as part of an exchange in which he added that “everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.”

For more, look at the four videos we have produced that show how both campaigns have taken such gaffes out of context.

“Because when Mitt Romney says he’ll get rid of Planned Parenthood and turn the clock back on a century of progress, it has real consequences for the 3 million patients who depend on Planned Parenthood each year.”

— Cecil Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

This is another example of Romney’s remarks being taken out of context.

This is his full statement:

“You get rid of Obamacare, but there are others,” Romney told CNN affiliate KDSK of St. Louis. “Planned Parenthood, we’re gonna get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I would eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, both excellent programs, but we can’t afford to borrow money to pay for these things.”

In other words, he was talking about government funding.

“He singled out some areas of the budget he would eliminate or curtail, all in the name of achieving a balanced budget,” Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said later. “It would not be getting rid of the organization. They have other sources of funding besides government operations, but in order to achieve balance, we have to make some tough decisions about spending.”

A federal budget cut might be painful for the organization. Planned Parenthood’s budget is more than $1 billion, of which $489 million is for government health services grants, much of it for Medicaid funding. About $75 million of that is for family planning, none of which can be used for abortions.

“No, there wasn’t any discord…. It was absolutely two-thirds.”

— Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), DNC chair, interviewed on CNN

Wasserman Schultz, who on Wednesday earned Four Pinocchios for denying she made a statement that was caught on tape, insisted to the news network that Democrats were united in adding a reference to the Democrats’ platform that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital. The move was made after Republicans called attention to the fact that language from the 2008 platform had been dropped, alarming Jewish Democrats.

Yet Wasserman Schultz’s remarks are puzzling because Convention Chairman Antonio R. Villaraigosa had to ask three times for “aye” votes before concluding that the amendment had a two-thirds majority.

As The Post’s Scott Wilson reported, “The vote was far from decisive, however, and left many delegates who opposed the reinstatement of the language angry about the outcome. Some stood up from their seats inside the Time Warner Arena, shaking their fingers at Villaraigosa.”

Mark Landler of The New York Times reported that the change was “approved in a voice vote that had to be taken three times because of a chorus of noes in the arena.... The changes were meant to be a routine bit of business.... But they turned into a minor spectacle after the hall seemed balanced between yes and no votes, providing an unruly start to an evening meant to showcase attacks on Mitt Romney by former President Bill Clinton and others.”

Given such on-the-ground reporting, her claim of “no discord” is simply not credible.

(As is our practice, we generally do not award Pinocchios for these instant wrap-ups.)

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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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