Fact checking the GOP debate at the Reagan library

at 03:20 AM ET, 09/08/2011


(Jae C. Hong/AP)

That was a rip-roaring Republican debate Wednesday night at the Reagan library. As is our practice, we will quickly assess a number of claims and then perhaps come back later with a deeper look at some issues.

The debate started with a back and forth between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry over job creation during their tenures. This in many ways is a silly discussion — governors and even presidents are very much at the mercy of the economic situation they inherited — and Romney actually framed it well:

“The states are different. Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right-to-work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things. But Governor Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, why, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”

(Gore actually did not put it quite that way, but never mind.)

So, for the moment, we are going to set aside the job discussion, stipulating that each man has his claims and counterclaims, and focus on other issues.

“It is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there.”

— Gov. Perry

Perhaps the governor does not know the dictionary definition of a Ponzi scheme. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: “An investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks.”

This is a frequent mistake politicians make when talking about Social Security. It is not an investment vehicle; it is intended to provide income security as well disability and life insurance. Just more than 60 percent of the 54 million beneficiaries are retired workers; the rest are disabled workers, dependents or survivors.

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, which means that payments collected today are immediately used to pay benefits. Until recently, more payments were collected than were needed for benefits. So Social Security loaned the money to the U.S. government, which used it for other things. In exchange, Social Security received interest-bearing Treasury securities. The value of those bonds is now about $2.6 trillion. (We have written about this at length.)

In any case, Perry is wrong to label Social Security a Ponzi scheme. Ponzi schemes ultimately go bust and everyone (except possibly early investors) generally loses their money. Social Security faces a long-term funding issue, but one that most experts say is manageable. After all, the Social Security actuary says that Social Security’s shortfall is 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product over the next 75 years.

“Obamacare is killing jobs. We know that from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Bachmann won’t give up on this factoid, even though we debunked it seven months ago and said it was worth three Pinocchios. It’s just not correct, and remains a perfect example of how politicians twist the facts.

The Congressional Budget Office in August 2010 estimated that the new health-care law over the next decade would reduce the number of overall workers in the United States by one-half of 1 percent, which translates into 800,000 people. But that’s not the same as saying it would “kill” that many jobs.

In dry economic language, 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 guaranteed 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.)

These jobs would disappear, not to be replaced, so there is an intellectually defensible argument one could make that this is bad for the economy; others, however, might argue that this is a small price worth paying for universal health care.

But in any case, the CBO did not say the health law was killing jobs.

“We’ve had requests in for years at the Health and Human Services agencies to have that type of flexibility, where we could have menus, where we could have co-pays. And the federal government refuses to give us that flexibility.”

— Perry

Perry gives a misleading account of this application for a waiver on Medicaid rules. The George W. Bush administration rejected the application in 2008, saying it was incomplete and riddled with problems. As far as we can tell, the state has not resubmitted the waiver.

“Obamacare took over one-sixth of the American economy… . If we fail to repeal Obamacare in 2012, it will be with us forever and it will be socialized medicine.”

— Bachmann

“In our state, our plan covered 8 percent of the people, the uninsured. His plan is taking over 100 percent of the people.”

— Romney

It is simply not true, no matter how often candidates say that the Obama health care law represents socialized medicine or took over one-sixth of the economy. Socialized medicine is a single-payer system, in which the government pays the bills and controls costs (much like Medicare.)

Obama’s law was modeled closely on the law passed by Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts — an inconvenient fact that Romney tries hard to run away from. His comparison here is misleading, since both plans try to deal with the problem of the uninsured by requiring an individual mandate.

“For the president of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it’s ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country, or he was an abject liar to the American people. It is not safe on that border.”

— Perry

Perry is referring to a speech that Obama gave May 10, in which he did some boasting that earned the president a Pinocchio. Obama did not put it quite as bluntly as Perry suggests, and calling the president an “abject liar” seems over the top for the politically tinged comments Obama actually made.

“He only went along with the Libyan mission because the United Nations told him to.”

— Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.)

Actually, Santorum has it backwards. The United States requested the U.N. resolution to gain international backing for the NATO-led intervention in the Libyan uprising.

“The idea that we would put Americans’ economy in jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean, and I told somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said, here is the fact — Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”

— Perry

We previously awarded Perry Four Pinocchios for his comments suggesting scientists were increasingly saying climate change was a fiction. We will note he repeatedly did not answer the question at the debate about whether he could name a scientist he thought was credible on the issue.

“As a matter of fact, what he’s done is, he’s said in fact to Israel that they need to shrink back to their indefensible 1967 borders.”

— Bachmann

Obama never said this. The president in May did give a controversial speech, in which he said the de facto border of 1967 should be a starting point for negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, with agreed swaps of territory. A few days later, he further clarified his comments to make clear he was not saying the lines should be Israel’s border, to the point that he was thanked by the Israeli prime minister in a speech to Congress.

We’ve given Bachmann Four Pinocchios for making a similar claim in the past.

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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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