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Fact Checking the Fox News-WSJ debate in South Carolina

at 01:00 AM ET, 01/17/2012

And then there were five ... which made for a feisty evening of misstatements. We focused on 11, and may come back for more later in the week. Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.

“As [House] speaker, I came back, working with President Bill Clinton. We passed a very Reagan-like program: less regulation, lower taxes. Unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent. We created 11 million jobs.”

— Newt Gingrich

Former president Clinton would be shocked at this description, since he always credited the 22 million jobs created during his presidency to the deficit-reduction package he narrowly passed early in his tenure without a single GOP vote.

Gingrich led the charge against that bill, which included higher taxes on wealthy Americans. In any case, a key contributor to the booming economy — and the government surplus — in that period had little to do with government actions: the computer technology boom of the mid-1990s.

“And four of the companies that we invested in — they weren’t businesses I ran, but we invested in — ended up today having some 120,000 jobs. Some of the businesses we invested in weren’t successful and lost jobs….. We invested in well over a hundred different businesses.”

— Mitt Romney

A new and tweaked number from the former Massachusetts governor! Last week, we said his claim of helping to create more than 100,000 new jobs was untenable.

Romney is on more solid ground now. First he makes clear his company, Bain Capital, was only an investor. Then he focuses on four companies (presumably Staples, Sports Authority, Bright Horizons and Steel Dynamics, which he has mentioned on the campaign trail) and clarifies that now they employ this many people.

Finally, he acknowledges that some investments were not successful. A clever and reasonably accurate framing of the figures that, on the surface, is not a pull-back of the earlier statements. We wonder how many staff hours it took to come up with this phrasing.

“I was also proud of the fact that we balanced the budget every year I was in office. We reduced taxes 19 times.”

— Romney

Somehow, he always fails to mention that, in order to balance the budget, he created hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new fees and closed as much as $1.5 billion worth of corporate tax loopholes.

“My firm invested in that steel mill [Georgetown Steel] and another one in Kansas City, tried to make them successful — invested there for seven or eight years. And ultimately what happened from abroad, dumping steel into this country, led to some 40 different steel mills being closed.”

— Romney

Steel dumping was certainly a factor, but former workers told the local media that Bain Capital’s management practices left the company in a weakened state and less able to compete with overseas steel producers.

“We’ve got a president in office three years, and he does not have a jobs plan yet.”

— Romney

This is a strange comment, given that President Obama has just spent several months demanding that Congress pass his jobs plan.

“The GDP [gross domestic product] per capita in this country — income per capita in this country is about 50 percent higher than the average in Europe.”

— Romney

This is an interesting but obscure statistic that is the subject of much debate among economists.

Some people focus on real GDP growth, which accounts for population growth, and that shows growth rate has been the same over the last three decades. Other economists try to account for purchasing power parity, since the costs of good can vary widely.

Another obvious problem is that there are big differences among Europeans countries — and U.S. states. The blog Political Calculations did a useful exercise of breaking this down to small parts, so you can see the Netherlands is roughly equivalent to Florida — and that the overall European numbers are clearly dragged down by the former members of the Soviet bloc.

“The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”

— Gingrich

We have examined this issue before, giving Gingrich a Pinocchio for this statement.

This is an example of taking a fact — an all-time high for food stamp recipients — and taking it out of context. The president is struggling with the aftermath of an economic situation he inherited, while building on food stamp changes that preceded his tenure.

“When you have a country [Turkey] that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes, not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.”

— Rick Perry

This was the most jaw-dropping statement of the night.

The ruling party of Turkey is moderately Islamic, but it generally has not interfered with the country’s secular traditions. While Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has prodded the leadership about its commitment to media freedoms, few analysts — if any — would say the Turkish leadership is made up of “Islamic terrorists.” We really have no idea what Perry is talking about.

As for foreign aid, Turkey is a wealthy country that already gets virtually no foreign aid from the United States. The State Department this year made a request for about $5 million, which was earmarked for peace-keeping and security operations — not what one could consider traditional “foreign aid.”

“The most extraordinary thing that’s happened with this military authorization is the president’s planning on cutting a trillion dollars out of military spending.”

— Romney

Romney failed to mention that this figure is the result of a budget deal reached with Republican leaders — and that Obama has said he will seek to achieve the required deficit reduction though other means (i.e. higher taxes).

“But don’t forget who it was that cut Medicare by $500 billion. And that was President Obama, to pay for Obamacare.”

— Romney

As we have explained before, this is technically correct but misleading. First of all, under the health-care bill, Medicare spending continues to go up year after year. The health-care bill tries to identify ways to save money, and so the $500 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.

The savings actually are wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries. These spending reductions presumably would be a good thing, since virtually everyone agrees that Medicare spending is out of control.

In the House Republican budget, lawmakers repealed the Obama health care law but retained all but $10 billion of the nearly $500 billion in Medicare savings, suggesting the actual policies enacted to achieve these spending reductions were not that objectionable to GOP lawmakers.

“There are 185 separate bureaucracies with separate regulations all dealing with low-income Americans. We consolidate them into a single block grant, we send it back to the states, and we take the billions of dollars in federal overhead that saves and put that into Social Security in order to make up the difference. So in fact, Rick, it is a very sound plan, and I say this as somebody who helped balance the budget four times in a row.”

— Gingrich

As we have noted before, Gingrich consistently pads the number of years he was responsible for the balanced budget. (There was a surplus that lasted four years, bur Gingrich left Congress after the second year.)

Santorum correctly pointed out that the transition costs of moving to a private Social Security account system would be huge — easily more than $1 trillion — and consolidating a few government programs just won’t raise the funds.

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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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