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Fact-checking Mitt Romney’s ‘prebuttal’ speech

at 05:25 PM ET, 01/25/2012

Mitt Romney on Tuesday issued a “prebuttal” to President Obama’s State of the Union address, delivering his remarks at a shuttered drywall factory in Tampa. The speech made sense for the struggling GOP candidate on several levels: The former Massachusetts governor wanted to look presidential to dampen the surge by rival Newt Gingrich, and he wanted to dull any campaign edge that the president might gain that evening through his national address.

Romney focused his attacks on economic issues, listing a series of supposed facts about Obama’s policies and their results. Here are some of the key claims:

“The President will do what he does best. He will give a nice speech with a lot of memorable phrases. But he won’t give you the hard numbers. Like 9.9 – that’s the unemployment rate in this state.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Florida show that Romney was right about this one.

The next statement deals with the effect of the mortgage crisis on Florida:

“Twenty-five percent -- that’s the percentage of foreclosed homes in America that are right here in Florida.”

Numbers from RealtyTrac.com indicate the Sunshine State accounted for 12 percent of the nation’s home foreclosures in 2011, representing a drop from 16 percent the previous year.

Romney’s campaign explained that its numbers came from the Mortgage Bankers Association, which provides data behind a paywall. The association confirmed that Florida foreclosures represent 25 percent of the nationwide total.

Regardless of which set of numbers you look at, Florida has consistently ranked as one of the top states for foreclosures since the housing bubble burst, but it may not as bad as Romney made it out to be in his appeal to the state’s voters.

On the national debt:

“$15 trillion -- that’s the size of our national debt.”

True. The United States’ total outstanding public debt. stood at $15.2 trillion on the day of Obama’s address.

Referring to the White House stimulus package:

“He spent $787 billion on a stimulus bill and put us on track to borrow and spend $5 trillion in just his first term.”

Romney’s number for the stimulus cost is actually a bit low, but that’s understandable considering how the estimates have risen several times since the program took effect. The last figure from the Congressional Budget Office was $821 billion, an increase of $34 billion since the bill was passed in 2009.

As for the $5 trillion figure, the former governor appears to be talking about the increase in public debt. Obama began his term with a debt of $6.3 trillion in January 2009, and the Office of Management and Budget has projected a total of $11.31 trillion in debt by the end of fiscal 2012.

On the president’s health care reform act:

“He forced through Obamacare – a trillion-dollar entitlement we don’t want and can’t afford.”

Romney probably pulled his trillion-dollar figure from a report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which claimed the price tag had risen to somewhere between $938 billion and $1.445 trillion. We previously fact-checked the report and gave it three Pinocchios based on some badly inflated numbers. The real cost of the health care reforms, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is projected at $794 billion. However, the law also included new taxes, and the combined effect was to reduce the nation’s deficit slightly over 10 years. (The Obama administration has since dropped one provision designed to raise revenue, which is why we are not providing a precise figure.)

It’s debatable whether the president “forced through” his plan. Both chambers of Congress approved it, but with virtually no Republican support.

Romney aired views on auto company bailouts and student assistance:

“He took over auto companies and student loans.”

The Treasury Department committed $62 billion to help General Motors and Chrysler through a painful restructuring during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, according to the General Accounting Office. The GAO said last May that more than $34 billion of that “remains to be recovered.”

As a condition for the assistance, the federal government took partial control of GM and Chrysler as the companies restructured and emerged from bankruptcy. The government now holds about 26 percent of GM shares, and an independent health care trust for United Auto Workers owns about 13 percent, according to the latest report we could find.

Italian automaker Fiat now owns a 53.5 percent stake in Chrysler, while the UAW holds 46.5 percent of the shares.

True to Romney’s remarks, the president did force commercial banks out of the student loan business in 2010 with a bill that lacked GOP support. The legislation ended federal subsidies to the banks and backing for the loans that boosted the banks’ profits. The law dramatically increased funding for federal Pell grants.

On White House energy policy:

“When we needed more domestic energy to keep prices low and create jobs, he imposed bans on oil drilling and turned his EPA regulators loose to slow our development of natural gas.”

The Obama administration imposed a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling in 2010, but only after the disastrous BP oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico. He later gave BP the okay to conduct offshore drilling in the region.

The president had actually approved an increase in offshore drilling weeks before the massive spill began, leaving a considerable amount of egg on his face.

Contrary to Romney’s suggestion that the president has curbed natural-gas drilling, Obama rejected a temporary halt of fracking in the Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania and New York in 2010. But he has also pressed for strict regulations. Environmentalists say the rules still don’t go far enough.

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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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