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Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston

at 12:35 AM ET, 01/20/2012


(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Two debates in a week…and another two next week. This could get tiring. Here’s quick round-up of some of the more dubious or interesting claims at the CNN Debate in Charleston, examined in the order in which they were made. As always, we may come back to do a fuller look at other, more elusive claims in the coming days.

Glenn Kessler will live chat with readers today at 1 p.m. ET about fact checking this debate. Submit your questions and opinions now.

A reminder: we do not award Pinocchios in these sorts of debate round-ups, only in full-length columns.

“The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study — not to complete — to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months.”

— Newt Gingrich

We are not sure whether the U.S. involvement in World War II has any relevance to a study about whether to deepen the Charleston Port from 45 to 50 feet. Kudos to Gingrich for knowing local issues, but according to local news reports the Corps said that such a study would normally take five to eight years but “Corps officials say they are streamlining the review and approval process as much as possible to save time.”

“Georgetown Steel would be a case here, and a company in Gaffney, South Carolina — specific cases where Bain Capital’s model, which was to take over a company and dramatically leverage it, leave it with a great deal of debt, made it less likely to survive.”

— Gingrich

The McClatchy News this week had a comprehensive look at these two cases, one of many investments made by Bain Capital under Romney’s leadership. Romney has argued that Chinese dumping of steel hurt the steel company, not Bain’s business practices. He might also dispute that Bain’s business model was to always to leave a company “with a great deal of debt.”

“Four [Bain investments] in particular created 120,000 jobs as of today. We started them years ago. They’ve grown well beyond the time I was there, to 120,000 people that have been employed by those enterprises. There are others we’ve been with, some of which have lost jobs. People have evaluated that since — well, since I ran four years ago, when I ran for governor. And those that have been documented to have lost jobs lost about 10,000 jobs.”

— Mitt Romney

Romney’s math gets a little funny here. In defending his tenure at Bain, he focuses on four companies that now employ 120,000, even though Bain’s investment ended years ago. His number of 10,000 jobs appears to mostly count losses when Bain owned the companies, or shortly after it sold them. But it is really an apples and oranges accounting.

In any case, Romney’s role at Bain was not to create jobs but to provide for good returns for his investors. For more on this subject, look at our examination of Romney’s untenable figure.

“I was talking to a state official the other day in Iowa that told me that the state of Iowa is being fined because they’re not signing up enough people on to the Medicaid program.”

— Rick Santorum

Santorum has made this puzzling comment before. ABC News investigated and found there was little to it.

“Iowa, like other states, receives federal reimbursement for the money it disburses in Medicaid fees,” Huma Khan reported. “There is no quota system or target that the state has to meet in order to be eligible for federal money. The amount of money that each state receives is dependent on its economy.” She quoted a state official as saying that any reduction in payments “is not a punishment. This is a recognition that Iowa’s economy is improving relative to other states.”

“We are 20 percent more costly than our top nine trading partners, and that’s excluding labor costs.”

— Santorum

This comes straight out of a report by the Manufacturing Institute and the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, which claims the cost differential is largely because of policies on “corporate tax burden, employee benefits, tort costs, pollution abatement compliance, and energy costs.” The Institute is an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, which often argues against corporate regulations, so one might consider the source of this statistic before repeating it.

“The president of the United States can’t cut one penny out of the social welfare system and he wants to cut a trillion dollars out of our military and hit our veterans and that’s disgusting.”

— Santorum

This is incorrect. The $1 trillion figure is the result of a budget deal reached between President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress, and is supposed to be imposed next year because a special congressional committee could not reach agreement on how to cut overall spending.

But Obama opposes a defense cut of this magnitude and says he wants to work with Congress to avoid it.

Gingrich “stood up and said that you should have an individual mandate or post $150,000 bond.”

— Santorum

Santorum hit Gingrich for his long support of an individual mandate to buy health insurance, a key tenet of Obama’s health law.

His claim is essentially correct, though in the 2008 video that was unearthed recently Gingrich spoke of a “$100,000 to $150,000 bond.”

Santorum also charged that Romney’s health care law was an “abject disaster.” Rather than get too deep in the weeds on his charges, we will simply note we have previously taken a look at whether Romney was exaggerating claims about his health care law.

The Obama plan is “a 2,700-page massive tax increase, Medicare-cutting monster.”

— Romney

Here, the former governor melds together two of his favorite, but misleading, talking points. The size of the health care law actually tells you very little, and the number of pages is inflated because Congress had to pass two bills for parliamentary reasons. (There were also non-health care related items in the bill.)

The actual consolidated bill is much smaller, probably about 907 pages.

As we have previously examined, the claim of “cutting” Medicare is dubious too. If the cuts were so bad, why have virtually all of them been adopted in the House GOP budget?

“Under Jimmy Carter, we had the wrong laws, the wrong regulations, the wrong leadership, and we killed jobs. We had inflation. We went to 10.8 percent unemployment.”

— Gingrich

Actually, unemployment reached 10.8 percent during the term of Gingrich’s hero, Ronald Reagan. The unemployment rate did not get higher than 7.8 percent under Carter.

“Mr. Speaker, you talk about all the things you did with Ronald Reagan and the Reagan revolution and the jobs created during the Reagan years and so forth. I looked at the Reagan diary. You’re mentioned once in Ronald Reagan’s diary. And in the diary, he says you had an idea in a meeting of young congressmen, and it wasn’t a very good idea and he dismissed it. That’s the entire mention.”

— Romney

Good fact checking by Romney. He’s right. Interestingly, the reference refers to Gingrich proposing to freeze the 1983 budget, which Reagan said was “tempting” but “it would cripple our defense program.” Reagan even referred to a meeting with “young Repub. congressmen” — a subtle dig by Romney at Gingrich’s frequent claim that he “worked” with Reagan even though he only just arrived in Congress.

“While we’ve got $15 trillion of debt, he said, ‘Look, I’m going to put another $1 trillion of debt for Obamacare.’”

— Romney

Actually, the Congressional Budget Office said that the health care law would slightly reduce the deficit. Romney is only counting the cost side, not the tax increases or budget savings designed to make it more or less revenue neutral in the first ten years.

“I could have stayed in Detroit like him and gotten pulled up in a car company. I went off on my own. I didn’t inherit money from my parents. What I have I earned. I worked hard, the American way.”

— Romney

No one questions that Romney earned huge sums on his own — he is now worth an estimated $200 million or more — but he has been inconsistent in the past on the question of his inheritance. He has said he did inherit money but gave it away.

In a 2006 interview with C-SPAN, he said that “I did inherit some funds from my dad. But I turned and gave that away to charity. In this case I gave it to a school which Brigham Young University established in his honor, the George W. Romney School of Public Management.”

More recently, in an interview with Reuters, he said: “What I got from my parents when they passed away I gave away to charity and to my kids.”

Moreover, The Boston Globe and the new book “The Real Romney” have reported that he lived off stock investments as a college student and he received a loan from his father to buy his first house.

“After he became pro-life, Romneycare does pay for tax-paid abortions. Romneycare has written into it Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, by name. Does not have any right to life group written into it. He did appoint pro-abortion judges. And a branch of the government which included his appointees did agree to fund an abortion clinic for Planned Parenthood. All that occurred after he had become pro-life.”

— Gingrich

“I stood as a pro-life governor and that’s why the Massachusetts Pro-Life Family Association supported my record as governor, endorsed my record as governor.”

— Romney

Almost verbatim, Gingrich recited charges from a TV ad for which we had previously given two Pinocchios. Some of Romney’s actions after he announced he was “pro-life” caused angst among anti-abortion forces but by and large Gingrich’s claims are exaggerated.

As for Romney, he now touts the endorsement from the pro-life groups but when he was running for governor in 2002 he adamantly rejected it, as this video clip shows.

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    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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