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Fact checking the ABC News and ‘Meet the Press' debates

at 01:41 PM ET, 01/08/2012

Boy, three- and-a- half hours of debates to check this weekend! The candidates were up to their usual tricks and so the list of suspect statements is long and varied. We will go through them quickly, in the order the statements were made, beginning with the ABC News/Yahoo debate on Saturday night. After that, we tackle the Meet the Press/Facebook debate from Sunday morning. As always, we may take a deeper look at some assertions later in the week.

***

THE ABC NEWS/YAHOO DEBATE, JAN. 7, 2012

“But in the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.”

--Mitt Romney

Last week, when Romney mentioned this statistic, his campaign said the 100,000 figure was based on the number of employees at three companies with which Bain Capital was involved.

We had found that bit dubious, in part because it did not include job losses at other companies--and includes jobs created after Bain’s involvement had been completed. Romney now appears to have reverted to the phrase “net-net,” which in the debate he said “includes the net of both. I’m a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.” (Does that mean his campaign does not have good enough numbers guys?)

When George Stephanopolous noted that many of these jobs were created after Bain’s investment had ended, Romney conceded: “We’re only a small part of that, by the way. We were investors to help get them going.” We have previously ruled that it is all but impossible to verify Romney’s claim of 100,000 jobs “net-net” without access to more data.

“I took my state to number one in job creation, with all due respect to what Rick Perry has said about Texas, we did a little bit better. …I took that economy to the number one position, number one in job creation, as compared and contrasted with Massachusetts, which was number 47 during a time when I think leadership matters to the American people.”

--Jon Huntsman

Huntsman loves to bring this claim up in debates, but he’s mixing up different data sets; his record at Utah falls to number four when you use the data set that places Romney 47th. Using a nifty interactive graphic made for The Fact Checker by Tableau Software, we earlier demonstrated how many of these job-creation claims are bogus.

“If you haven’t been sued by CREW, you’re not a conservative. CREW is this left-wing organization that puts out a list every election of the top Republicans who have tough races and calls them all corrupt because they take contributions from PACs.”

--Rick Santorum

For what it is worth, the 2011 roster of “most corrupt” listed by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington contains nine Republicans and four Democrats. Three Democrats and two Republicans received a “dishonorable mention.”

“I don’t apologize for that any more than you did when you earmarked things and did things when you were a congressman in Texas.”

--Santorum to Ron Paul

“Here’s what frustrates me is that you go get the earmarks and then you vote against the bill? Now, I don’t know what they call that in other places, but Congressman Paul, in Texas we call that hypocrisy.”

--Rick Perry to Paul

These complaints have validity. We had earlier given Paul three Pinocchios for suggesting he was against government favoritism while at the same time pushing for congressional earmarks.

“I’ve run two American embassies, including the largest and most complicated we have in the world, the United States Embassy in China.”

--Huntsman

Unless the numbers have suddenly changed because U.S. forces have left Iraq—which happened after Huntsman stepped down as ambassador to China—the biggest American embassy is in Baghdad. The embassy in Beijing has been number two. As for “most complicated,” that may be debatable. Certainly the U.S. relationship with China is broad and wide-ranging, but the ambassador in Iraq has the thankless job of trying to keep the country from spiraling into sectarian violence.

“The president was silent when over a million voices took to the streets in Iran, voices he should have stood up for and said, we’re supporting you. And he’s failed to put together a plan to show Iran that we have the capacity to remove them militarily from their plans to have nuclear weaponry.”

--Romney

“And we had a president of the United States who stood silently by as thousands were killed on the streets and did nothing. Did nothing. In fact, he tacitly supported the results of the election. Now, Ahmadinejad announced right after the election of — polls were closed — that he won with 60-some percent of the vote, and the president of the United States said, well, that sounds like a legitimate election.”

--Santorum

These remarks may fall more in the realm of opinion. Obama certainly left the impression at first that he was more interested in pursuing his efforts at talks with the Iranian government than questioning the results of the election. (Administration officials at the time said they did not want the government to claim the protests were the result of American intervention.) But we do not believe he called the election legitimate and he indeed said “there are significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.”

“The fact is I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. …I wasn’t eligible for the draft.”

--Newt Gingrich

Our colleagues at Factcheck.org note that Gingrich’s stepfather told PBS “Frontline” in 1996 that Gingrich was “very nearsighted. … He has two of the flattest feet that there ever was. He was never physically capable or qualified to be military.”

“Well, it’s been explained many times. And there were things written 20 years ago, approximately, that I did not write. So concentrating on something that was written 20 years ago that I didn’t write, you know, is diverting the attention from most of the important issues. But the inference is obvious that -- you even bring up the word racial overtones.”

--Paul

Paul once again missed an opportunity to explain the racist language in newsletters published under his name. He had previously earned three Pinocchios for implausible statements about his role in these publications.

“Government at all levels, during the days of John F. Kennedy, consumed 27 percent of our economy, about a quarter. Today it consumes 37 percent of our economy. We’re only inches away from no longer being a free economy.”

--Romney

Romney recycles a line from one of the earliest debates, though some people might be confused by the word “consume” to mean taxes. In the past, he has used this fact to talk about government spending.

He 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.)

Fast forward to today. Social Security and Medicare are more than 8 percent of the economy. National defense has fallen in half, to 5 percent of the economy. The other functions of the federal government (i.e., excluding payments to individuals and defense) has actually fallen to just 1.6 percent of GDP. So the federal government in many ways is actually smaller.

Romney’s statement that the United States is “inches away” from not having a free economy is simply rhetorical nonsense.

***

MEET THE PRESS/FACEBOOK DEBATE, JAN. 8, 2012

“People have watched me over my term as governor and saw that I was a solid conservative and that I brought important change to Massachusetts. They recognized that I cut taxes 19 times. Balanced the budget every one of the four years I was in governor.”

--Romney

As we have written before, Romney’s account of his record on taxes is incomplete. He does not mention the many loophole closings and fee increases he pushed through in order to help keep the budget balanced.

“We created more jobs in Massachusetts than Barack Obama’s created in the entire country.”

--Romney

This is an apples-and-oranges comparison that gives a misleading impression. Romney earned a Pinocchio for this statement just last week.

“You had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president.”

--Gingrich to Romney

A Boston Globe review found that Romney in 2006 spent all or part of 219 days out of the state, apparently in preparation for a presidential run.

“You know, we should have the same kind of healthcare the members of Congress have. Well, that’s pretty much what Paul Ryan’s plan is.”

--Santorum

We have previously looked into this assertion by Republicans about the Ryan plan for Medicare and found it to be overstated. Ryan will not have a key feature of the current Congressional plan — a promise that the government will pick up as much as 75 percent of the health-care tab.

“What unfortunately happens is with all the multiplicity of federal programs, you have massive overhead, with government bureaucrats in Washington administering all these programs, very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.”

--Romney

Romney speaks much too broadly here, claiming that “very little” of the money from federal programs gets to people in need because of administrative costs. Even the food-stamp program, which has relatively highly administrative costs for a federal program, spends 15.8 cents on administrative costs per dollar of food stamps issued, according to a recent study. That means almost 85 cents gets to the people who need the help.

“I come from a right to work state. And I will tell you, if New Hampshire wants to become the magnet for job creation in the Northeast, you pass that right to work legislation in this state.”

--Rick Perry

We looked at this claim when Romney said something similar in September. The evidence is slim that there is a connection between job creation and right-to-work laws.

“That’s why I put in a plan that reduces government spending. I’d cut programs, a whole series of programs. By the way, the number one to cut is Obamacare. That saves $95 billion a year.

--Romney

This is an example of where context is important. Romney first used this $95 billion figure in a fiscal policy speech in November, and it is a correct statement when you are only looking at the spending side of the equation. The Congressional Budget Office shows that outlays for the health law would be about $95 billion in 2016, and so repealing the law would certainly reduce government spending.

However, repealing the health law might also marginally increase the deficit because the health care law included various taxes and unrelated legislation in order to meet a goal of being revenue neutral. Over a 10-year period, the costs of and revenue from the health-care law essentially balance out, especially because the administration last year dropped the revenue-raising CLASS Act, which would have provided for long-term care.

“One of the ads I complained about, you had four Pinocchios from The Washington Post. Now to get four Pinocchios in a 30-second ad means there’s virtually nothing accurate, in 30 seconds.”

--Gingrich

We thank the former Speaker for highlighting our Pinocchio scale. Four Pinocchios means the claim, or the ad, is a whopper. We will let the column speak for itself, but it focused on a number of exaggerated claims, in particular some egregious language on abortion that Romney during the debate appeared to agree went too far. The column did not say there was “virtually nothing accurate” in the ad--in fact there were claims in the ad which we did not dispute--but we would agree Gingrich has every right to be upset at the overall impression it conveys.

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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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