Fact checking the CNN Republican debate in Las Vegas

at 12:15 AM ET, 10/19/2011


(RICHARD BRIAN/REUTERS)

The Republican debate hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday night was certainty lively and at times feisty. Here’s a tour through some of the “facts” tossed around by the candidates. We may come back to some other facts later in the week.

“And all of the claims that are made against [Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan], it is a jobs plan. It is revenue neutral. It does not raise taxes on those that are making the least. All of those are simply not true.”

— Business executive Herman Cain

Cain constantly asserts this about his plan — which would institute a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business transaction tax and a 9 percent sales tax — but the respected and nonpartisan Tax Policy Center on Tuesday issued the first comprehensive report on the impact of the “9-9-9” plan on individual taxpayers.

While the report said that the tax plan appeared to raise the same amount of revenue as the current system, it said that the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers, including the working poor, would see a tax increase while the wealthiest Americans would earn big tax cuts. So Cain is flat wrong when he asserts it will “not raise taxes on those making the least.”

“You want nine cents on top of that and nine cents on a new home — or 9 percent on a new home, 9 percent on your Social Security, 9 percent more? I don’t think so, Herman. It’s not going to fly.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Perry does not quite understand the of the details about Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. According to the Cain campaign, people would not pay any income tax on Social Security payments. Under current law, some people start paying taxes on at least some of their benefits after they pass a $25,000 income threshold. But, under the 9-9-9 plan, the elderly would have to pay a new federal sales tax on purchases.

“He sent a letter the day of the vote on the floor of the House saying pass the economic plan. There was only one plan, and that was the plan that was voted on the floor. It was TARP. You sent a letter on that day saying vote for that plan. Now you can send a letter later saying I didn’t mean it, but when you said it, it was the only plan that was in play, and that was the TARP plan.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum knocking Rick Perry for alleged support of the Troubled Assets Relief Program passed by Congress in 2008.

This is a complicated issue that is not as simple as Santorum describes. Perry, who was then chairman of the Republican Governors Association, did co-sign a letter with his Democratic counterpart making a vague plea for action by Congress to “leave partisanship at the door and pass an economic recovery package.”

But after news organizations began reporting that the governors were pressing for approval of the $700 billion bailout, Perry’s office that same day issued a clarifying statement, saying he opposed the use of tax dollars to finance a bailout.

“In a free market economy, government should not be in the business of using taxpayer dollars to bail out corporate America,” the statement said, according to an account in the Houston Chronicle, saying the statement put Perry “at odds with the rescue plans being debated in Washington.”

In other words, Perry appears to have been for the bailout before he was against it. His spokesman conceded to the Chronicle at the time that “people are confused.”

“And Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective because you hired illegals in your home, and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”

— Rick Perry

Perry raised an embarrassing episode that first emerged during the 2008 campaign. The Boston Globe exposed the fact that a lawn company used by Romney had hired illegal aliens. While Romney had said he took care of the matter, the Globe reported a year later that the company still employed illegal immigrants on Romney’s property. That’s when he finally fired it.

The episode loomed large in the 2008 campaign — with former New York City major Rudy Giuliani accusing Romney of running a “sanctuary mansion.” (Indeed, the Fact Checker column in 2007 wrote at length on the question of Romney’s handling of this matter.) But Perry may overstate the case when he says Romney “knew about it for a year.” But Romney cannot claim, as he did during the debate, that he has never hired an illegal alien. Clearly he hired a company that employed illegal aliens on his property.

“And then you have states, the big states of illegal immigrants are California and Florida. Over the last 10 years they’ve had no increase in illegal immigration. Texas has had 60 percent increase in illegal immigrants, in Texas.”

— Romney to Perry

This claim appears correct. It comes from a report by the Department of Homeland Security, which the Romney campaign eagerly shipped out to reporters. See table three, for the period between 2000 and 2010. However, whether Perry is to blame for this increase is another question. We still need to dig into Romney’s other claim, that “40 percent, almost half the jobs created in Texas were created for illegal aliens.” We found the study on which this assertion was based, but the group, the Center for Immigration Studies, is very conservative on immigration, so we cannot at this time verify its numbers.

“There’s a lot of money spent in the military budget that doesn’t do any good for our defense. What — how does — how does it help us to keep troops in Korea all these years? We’re broke. We have to borrow this money. Why are we in Japan? Why do we subsidize Germany, and they subsidize their socialized system over there because we pay for it.”

— Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.)

On the surface, this is a fairly ridiculous claim. Yes, the United States maintains 287 military facilities in Germany — with a replacement value of about $85 billion — but Germany largely pays to host the bases. The U.S. presence does bolster the local economies but given that the overall German economy is $3.3 trillion, the economic contribution of those bases can only be a small part of that. Paul could be suggesting that the U.S. military presence there permits Germany not to spend as much on its own armed forces, but that’s not entirely clear. In either case, his assertion is a stretch.

“The biggest problem with this administration and foreign policy is that President Obama is the first president since Israel declared her sovereignty [to] put daylight between the United States and Israel.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

This is not correct. President George H.W. Bush had a serious dispute with Israel over settlement expansion, suspending some funding. Then Secretary of State James A. Baker even announced, “Everybody over there should know that the telephone number [of the White House] is 1-202-456-1414. When you’re serious about peace, call us.”

“With regards to track record in the past, Governor, you were the chairman of Al Gore’s campaign.”

— Romney to Perry

This is an overstatement, as PolitiFact Texas has documented. Perry was a supporter of Al Gore in 1988, but never the chairman of his campaign.

“Mitt, the governor of Massachusetts just is coming forward saying we have to pick up the job left undone by Romneycare, which is doing something about cutting health care costs. What you did is exactly what Barack Obama did: focused on the wrong problem.
“The right problem is health care costs. What you did with a top-down, government-run program was focus on the problem of health care access. You expanded the pool of insurance without controlling costs. You’ve blown a hole in the budget up there.”

— Santorum to Romney

“I’m sorry, Rick, that you find so much to dislike in my plan, but I’ll tell you, the people in Massachusetts like it by about a 3-1 margin.
“What Obama has done is imposed on the nation a plan that will not work, that must be repealed. And when it comes to knowledge about health care and how to get our health care system working … I sure understand how to bring the cost of health care down and how to also make sure that we have a system that works for the American people.
“We don’t have a government insurance plan. What we do is rely on private insurers, and [for] 93 percent of our people who are already insured, nothing changed. For the people who didn’t have insurance, they get private insurance, not government insurance.”

— Romney’s response

We haven’t had a chance to speak with Santorum’s campaign since the debate, so we don’t know precisely what he meant by claiming Massachusetts health-care reform blew a hole in the state budget. Regardless, a report from Los Angeles Times suggests quite the opposite of what he said.

“The law has not blown a hole in the state budget, according to a 2009 analysis by the fiscally conservative Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The group concluded that out of a state budget of $30 billion, the coverage expansion added just $88 million a year to state spending over the first four years.”

Romney is on-target in terms of his claim that Massachusetts residents approve of his plan 3 to 1. A poll by the Harvard School of Public Health and The Boston Globe found that 63 percent of Massachusetts residents support the 2006 health law, compared to 21 percent who opposed it.

The former governor appears to be winning the exchange up to this point, but he runs into problems by asserting that he knows how to bring down the cost of health care. Theoretically, he may have created a great new plan that could work wonders for America. But in practice, his Massachusetts program didn’t get the job done.

A state report from 2010 concluded that average private fully insured premiums increased 12.2 percent between 2006 and 2008. (see page 20 of the report). Furthermore, the study says that “per capita spending on health care in Massachusetts is 15 percent higher than the rest of the nation, even when accounting for the state’s wages and spending on medical research and education.”

As for Romney’s claim that Massachusetts doesn’t have government insurance, the statement is misleading at best. His reform law created two state-subsidized programs for people who can’t afford coverage themselves (See MassHealth and Commonwealth Care).

Perhaps the governor meant to say that his law didn’t create a public option that would compete against private plans. But then, the Obama plan didn’t do that either. If Romney was trying to draw a distinction between the national program and his own, he failed.

— Josh Hicks

“Look, we’ll let everybody take a look at the fact checks”

— Romney, defending himself from attacks that he had planned to take the Massachusetts health plan nationwide.

We love references to fact checks. Here’s what we wrote about this claim. Romney is generally correct that he did not plan to take his plan across the country, preferring a state-by-state approach, though in the end, whether he likes it or not, his plan did form the basis for Obama’s nationwide effort.

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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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