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Fact checking the CNBC debate

at 12:00 AM ET, 11/10/2011


(Paul Sancya/AP)

Well, we’re glad we don’t have to fact check the number of federal agencies Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to eliminate. Though the CNBC debate may only be remembered for the very awkward moment when Perry could only name two of the three on his list, here are some of the more dubious facts we heard last night — some of which were suggested by readers using #factcheckthis on Twitter or our Facebook page. As always, we may look deeper at some of these issues later in the week.

“I have never done any lobbying [for Freddie Mac]. Every contract was written during the period when I was out of the office, specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice. And my advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, “We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that’s what the government wants us to do,” as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.”

— Newt Gingrich

While it is not readily apparent what Gingrich may have privately told Freddie Mac executives in exchange for his $300,000 consulting fee, the Associated Press reported in 2008 that “Gingrich talked and wrote about what he saw as the benefits of the Freddie Mac business model.”

That role would be in keeping with the types of comments he made while he was speaker of the House. The recent book “Reckless Endangerment,” by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner, quoted from a speech Gingrich made while speaker. “Fannie Mae is an excellent example of a former government institution fulfilling its mandate while functioning in the market economy,” he said, which the authors note was not quite accurate since “there was nothing ‘former’ about Fannie Mac’s government status.

Gingrich certainly appears to be playing down his public role as a cheerleader for institutions like Freddie Mac.

(UPDATE, Nov. 15: Bloomberg News investigated and quoted former Freddie Mac officials as saying that Gingrich “was asked to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company’s public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it.” No one could recall him saying the business model was at risk, as he claimed during the debate.)

“Let me tell you this, if I’m president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith, and to our country, and I will never apologize for the United States of America.”

— Mitt Romney

No matter how many times Romney says this, it simply is not true. We have documented extensively — back in February — how Obama did not apologize for America in his trips overseas. It’s a four Pinocchio error.

“I think it is outrageous the Obama campaign continues to push this idea” that I am a flip-flopper

— Romney

The former Massachusetts governor conveniently ignores the fact that Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry, two of his rivals, have been running ads making exactly that case. The Huntsman ads actually are pretty funny, as is a Which Mitt? Web site run by the Democrats.

“It is fair. The reason it’s fair is because of the definition in Webster which says everybody gets treated the same.”

— Herman Cain, touting his 9-9-9 tax plan.

We have previously given Cain three Pinocchios for claiming his tax plan would lower taxes for everyone. He’s wrong again when he says everyone would be treated the same. Every credible study shows taxes would go up for poorer Americans and down for richer Americans.

“When you have 53 percent of Americans paying federal income taxes, but you have 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, you have a real problem.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann

This fact is essentially correct but it ignores a key component of the federal tax system — payroll taxes. For many Americans, payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare are a much greater part of their tax burden than income taxes. When all federal tax liabilities are included, it is clear that only a small percentage pay no form of federal tax. Bachmann is proposing a solution — making everyone pay at least the cost of two Big Macs — for which there is no problem.

“Governor Perry, every quarter I get to report the GDP [gross domestic product] figures, and it’s a negative number for housing, and we’ve lost some 2 million construction jobs. Housing creates jobs, as well, doesn’t it?”
“Not a negative number in Texas.”

— Exchange between moderator and Rick Perry

The question appears to be about construction jobs, and Perry simply got it wrong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of construction jobs in Texas fell from 669,000 from January 2008 to 601,000 in September of this year. The overall number of construction jobs has barely inched up since December, with some months showing a slight decrease.

“I want to keep our taxes down. I don’t want to raise any taxes anywhere. Let me tell you, I’m not looking to raise taxes.”

— Romney, Nov. 9

“Look, I don’t like temporary little Band-Aids, I want to fundamentally restructure America’s foundation economically.”

— Romney, Oct. 11

Once again, Romney dodged a question as to whether or not he would extend the payroll tax cut championed by President Obama. He certainly left the impression Tuesday night that he would extend it, though in the last debate he left the impression he would not. (Frankly, his full answer in October was confusing, since he was trying to argue that a temporary cut was not as effective for job creation as a permanent cut.) He clearly seems to be avoiding a yes or no answer, since he never gives it no matter how hard the moderators try to pin him down.

“We’ve sent so much interest money over to the Chinese to pay our debts off that we effectively built their aircraft carrier. And by 2015, we will be sending so much interest money over, we will be paying for the entire People’s Liberation Army of China, the number- one employer of the — of the world.”

— Bachmann

This fascinating factoid appears to come from a book titled “After America: Get Ready for Armageddon,” by Mark Steyn. He mentions the statistic about paying for the army by 2015 on page 6, but his footnote only cites an article saying the Chinese army is the world’s largest employer. So we did some of our own math. The official Chinese military budget is $91 billion, but the Defense Department pegs it as closer $150 billion. But the annual interest expense paid by U.S. taxpayers on the more than $1 trillion in debt held by the Chinese is $74 million a day, or $27 billion a year. That’s certainly a lot of money but we don’t see how that adds up to $150 billion — or more — by 2015.

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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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