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Fact checking the ‘final arguments’

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  Charlie Neibergall — AP

We had more or less thought we were done fact checking this election cycle when we handed out our Pinocchio awards over the weekend ... and then we saw the candidates’ “closing argument” speeches.

 So, one more time, here’s a roundup of their factually challenged assertions.

 Mitt Romney

Speech in Englewood, Colo., Nov. 3

“He was going to focus on creating jobs. Instead, he focused on creating Obamacare that killed jobs.”

 The health-care law has barely been implemented yet. Generally when Republicans describe it as a job-killer, they are referring to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that over the next decade the health-care law would reduce the number of overall workers in the United States by one-half of 1 percent, which translates to 800,000 people. But that’s not the same as saying it would “kill” that many jobs.

In dry economic language, buried in a few paragraphs in a long report, the CBO essentially said that some people who are now in the workforce because they need health insurance would decide to stop working because the health-care law guarantees they would have access to health care. (As an example, think of someone who is 63, a couple of years before retirement, who is still in a job only because he or she is waiting to get on Medicare at age 65.)

 The number might seem large — 800,000 — but the United States is a big country. One-half of 1 percent is basically a rounding error, especially when making a projection so far in the future.

“He said he was going to cut the federal deficit in half, but then he doubled it.”

 Obama has certainly failed to make much of a dent in the deficit, let alone cut it in half. But is it fair to say he doubled it? No.

 The deficit for fiscal year 2008 was $438 billion. But the CBO’s deficit estimate for fiscal year 2009 — made in January 2009, shortly before Obama even took office — was $1.2 trillion.

The final tally for the 2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion, or about 10 percent of the gross domestic product. For the fiscal year just ended, the deficit was $1.1 trillion, or about 7 percent of GDP.

“And, then, he said he would bring the unemployment rate down to 5.2 percent by now. And we just learned on Friday, it's 7.9 percent. It is 9 million jobs short of what he promised.”

 Republicans like to cite this “promise” by Obama, but it is not as simple as that.

Before Obama took the oath of office, two aides, Christina Romer, the nominee to head the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, an incoming economic adviser to Vice President-elect Biden, wrote a 14-page report that attempted to assess the impact of a possible $775 billion stimulus package and how much of a difference it would make compared to doing nothing.

Thus, it was not an official government assessment or even an analysis of an actual plan that had passed Congress.

Page 4 of the report included a chart that showed that unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009, compared to 9 percent in 2010 if nothing was done. For 2012, the report suggested the unemployment rate would be 5.2 percent after stimulus. But the report also contained numerous caveats and warnings because, after all, it was merely a projection.

Still, the administration later cited the report in congressional testimony, giving it an official imprimatur. So, while Obama officials may not have “pledged” such a goal, it was certainly part of the administration’s talking points.

In recent weeks, Romney has cited another “promise” regarding the growth of the economy. That figure is plucked from the White House’s 2010 mid-session budget review — which predicted an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent in 2012.

“He raided $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his Obamacare.”

 As we have repeatedly explained, Medicare spending is not being reduced. It still goes up year after year, so spending on Medicare over that 10-year period would still be $7.8 trillion. (This claim actually earned a mention in our Pinocchios of the year.)

 The $716 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes the law makes to reduce spending. Moreover, the savings mostly are wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries, and generally did not involve traditional Medicare benefits. (It is worth noting that, given past practices, the Medicare actuary has doubted whether such cuts will ever come to pass.)

 In fact, House Republicans adopted many of these same cuts in their own budget. (They argue they devote the savings to reforming Medicare, not funding a new entitlement.) Both parties agree that controls are needed on Medicare spending — that is the only way that the Medicare trust funds last longer — but they disagree over the best path forward.

“He also said he would lower health premiums by some $2,000 a family, but, instead, they’ve gone up by $3,000 a family.”

 Actually, in the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to lower health-care premiums by $2,500 — but even that came with a major asterisk: He was not saying premiums would fall by that amount, as Romney asserts, but that costs would be that much lower than anticipated. It was such an iffy pledge that it earned Obama Two Pinocchios from this column back in 2008.

 But Romney earned Four Pinocchios for this claim because the math behind the supposed $3,000 increase was nonsensical. Our original column has the details: It starts with Bush’s terms and then attributes health-cost increases to the new law, which has largely not been implemented.

Bonus quote:

“Together, we built names like Staples, Bright Horizons, and the Sports Authority — and helped create over 100,000 jobs.”

 In delivering the Republican response to Obama’s weekly address on Saturday, Romney resurrected an old claim — that he helped create more than 100,000 jobs as a business executive.

As we have written before, this is an untenable figure. Bain was in the business of creating returns for investors, and any jobs that were created were just a happy coincidence. (Sometimes investments thrived when jobs were cut.)

Most of the jobs were created long after Bain’s involvement had ended — and yet Romney throughout the campaign insisted he could not be held accountable for things that happened after he left Bain.

Barack Obama

Speech in Cincinnati, Nov. 4

“Today, our businesses have created nearly 5.5 million new jobs.”

This is a cherry-picked figure, since it focuses only on the private sector — and then only since February 2010.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total job creation — public and private — during Obama’s presidency is only marginally positive or negative, depending on whether you start the count in January or February 2009. (The economy lost 818,000 jobs in January, though Obama only took office on the 20th.)

“We're less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in 20 years.”

This is a trend that began before Obama became president — in 2005 — and it is also the result of declining consumption due to the the 2008 economic crisis,  according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“After President Clinton, we had eight years in which we tried giving big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. We tried giving insurance companies and oil companies and Wall Street a free license to do whatever they pleased. And what we got was falling incomes, and record deficits, and the slowest job growth in 50 years, and an economic crisis that we're still cleaning our way out of.”

 This is an expansion of an assertion from one of Obama’s ads that earned him Three Pinocchios. President Bill Clinton actually signed the laws that repealed the separation of commercial and investment banks and removed derivatives contracts from regulatory oversight.

Moreover, there is no evidence that the George W. Bush tax cuts led to the recession, but Obama here expands the critique to also include budget deficits, making it more accurate.

“Another $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthy — not change.”

 As we have repeatedly noted, the Romney tax plan is supposed to be revenue neutral — and Romney says he will start by removing tax breaks for the wealthy. But he has not provided details on how he would do that, and nonpartisan studies say that math does not add up.

“I won't turn Medicare into a voucher just to pay for another millionaire's tax cut.”

 Republicans have supported changing Medicare to a “premium support” model, but the savings is not intended to be used for a tax cut, but rather to reduce rising costs.

Bonus quote:

“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”

Actually, this is an Obama quote from the second presidential debate. Readers may recall that the White House objected to our fact check, in which we said Obama did not call the attack on the U.S. mission a “terrorist attack” for at least 15 days and thus Romney’s broader point in the debate was accurate. We stood by that ruling after looking at the evidence again.

Now CBS has suddenly released the full transcript of a 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft that was held shortly after that Rose Garden appearance.

KROFT: “Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya attack. Do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?”

OBAMA: “Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”

 It is up to media critics to determine whether CBS erred in not releasing this earlier. But this new information certainly confirms our initial ruling that there is a world of difference between “terrorist attack” and “act of terror.”  

In retrospect, Obama’s answer in the debate was even more disingenuous than we had originally suspected.

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