Fact Checking the Post-Bloomberg debate

at 06:00 AM ET, 10/12/2011


Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. speaks during the presidential debate sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Tuesday. Talk show host Charlie Rose moderates the event, featuring eight Republican candidates. (Toni Sandys - THE WASHINGTON POST)
That was certainly a fascinating debate Tuesday night sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg. We posted 13 fact checks during the debate, assisted by Post reporters Josh Hicks and Lori Montgomery, and as is our practice will possibly delve more deeply into some issues in the coming days.

“Mr. Cain, in the past, you've been rather critical of any of us who would want to audit the Fed. You said — you've used pretty strong terms, that we were ignorant and that we didn't know what we were doing, and therefore there is no need for an audit anyway because if you had one you're not going to find out everything because everybody knows everything about the Fed.”

— Ron Paul to Herman Cain

“First of all, you have misquoted me. I did not call you or any of your people ‘ignorant.’ I don't know where that came from…Now, so you got to be careful of the stuff that you get off the Internet because that's just not something that I have said.  And I have also said, to be precise, I do not object to the Federal Reserve being audited.”

— Cain’s response

It seems Cain has forgotten his own words. We did do some Internet research, and found that Ron Paul had uploaded this clip below on Monday. (Talk about a gotcha question!) You can listen to the clip, but here is what Cain said:

"Some people say that we ought to audit the Federal Reserve. Here's what I do know. The Federal Reserve already has so many internal audits it's ridiculous. I don't know why people think we're gonna learn this great amount of information by auditing the Federal Reserve. I think a lot of people are calling for this audit of the Federal Reserve because they don't know enough about it. There's no hidden secrets going on in the Federal Reserve to my knowledge.”

Okay, so he didn’t say “ignorant.” But he certainly implied it.

“While this country was losing 2½ million jobs, Texas was creating 1 million jobs.”

— Rick Perry

The Texas governor is playing three-card monte with these figures. You have to look quickly to figure out how he manipulates the statistics.

During Obama’s presidency, the nation has lost about 2 million jobs (The number varies by about 800,000 depending on whether you count January 2009; Obama took office on Jan. 20.)

But that figure is not especially fair because so many jobs were lost in the early part of Obama’s presidency — about 2 million in the first three months alone — before any of his policies could take effect. We’ve argued it makes more sense to calculate job growth from the end of the recession (which was June 2009), since it took a few months for the stimulus to take effect. That produces a gain of just 536,000 jobs. Some Republicans count from when the stimulus passed, which would be a loss of 1.6 million jobs.

 But Perry rigs the deck because his “1 million” job-creation figure is not from the same time period. He derives it by counting his entire term of governor, all the way back to December 2000 — which would include Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Texas’s job growth from January 2009 through August of this year is just a paltry 91,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No wonder Perry likes to compare apples and oranges.

“Governor Romney, your chief economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, who you know well, he said that Romneycare was Obamacare. And Romneycare has driven the cost of small-business insurance premiums up by 14 percent over the national average in Massachusetts. So my question for you would be: How would you respond to his criticism of your signature legislative achievement?”

— Rick Perry to Mitt Romney

 

Perry made this charge about Columbia Business School Dean R. Glenn Hubbard, one of Romney’s campaign advisers. But it significantly expands the definition of “criticism.”

Perry is referring to a rather dry study that Hubbard co-authored in 2010 titled “The effect of Massachusetts’ Health Reform on Insurance Premiums.”  The actual statement in the report is less dramatic than the way Perry described it: “Because the plan’s main components are the same as those of the new health reform law, the effects of the plan provide a window onto the country’s future.”

 The report did conclude that health reform increased single-coverage employer-sponsored insurance premiums by about 6 percent, though the impact was higher on family premiums on small firms (14.4 percent — which is where Perry got that figure.)

The report concluded that the data was inconclusive but that it indicated the policy makers “should be concerned about the consequences of health reform for the cost of private insurance.”

 

“Texas has the sixth-lowest debt per capita when I started as the governor back in 2000.  And today, Texas has the second-lowest debt per capita in the United States.  I think that's what America's looking for, is a president of the United States that understands how to balance budgets, how to deal with the spending issue and how to get Americans back working again.”

— Rick Perry

 

Perry appears to be relying on 2009 data from the Tax Foundation showing state debt per capita.

First of all, that information is old. Second, it’s not in line with data from another debt tracker, usgovernmentrevenue.com, which lists Texas at 36th in the nation for 2009.We won't try to decide which tracker is more accurate, but suffice it to say that these sources come up with vastly different conclusions.

 Perry’s statement poses a third problem: looking at state debt per capita isn’t the best method to determine which state has a more favorable debt situation. The more accurate measure is to compare state debt per capita as a percentage of gross state product (GSP), because governments are supposed to spend according to their means — with GSP being the best reflection of a state's means.

 Texas isn’t doing near so well in that regard if you look at 2011 data from usgovernmentrevenue.com. The state ranks 25th in the nation with its debt totaling 16.69 percent of its GSP. The real number-two state is North Carolina, which owes 11.34 percent of its GSP.

Other states ranking better than the Lone Star State in 2011 include New Mexico at 7th, Pennsylvania at 13th, and Utah at 21st. We mention those states because they are home to fellow GOP candidates former governor Gary Johnson, former senator Rick Santorum, and former governor Jon Huntsman respectively. 

 Perry is also wrong about his state ranking sixth-best in the nation in 2000. According to usgovernmentrevenue.com, Texas was 20th in the nation that year in terms of debt as a percentage of GSP.

 We gave Perry the benefit of the doubt by looking at just debt per capita on usgovernmentrevenue.com. The governor was wrong. Texas ranks 37th.

— Josh Hicks

“Last summer I was a leading voice in the wilderness of Washington, and a lone voice as a matter of fact, saying: Do not increase the debt ceiling. By that, what I was saying is, let's not give Barack Obama another $2.4 trillion blank check to spend. ...We are spending 40 percent more than what we take in.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann

It’s hard to know where to start with Michele Bachmann’s characterization of the problems with the federal budget. According to Bachmann, “every year we are spending about 40 percent more than what we take in,” the reason is out-of-control spending and the debt-limit deal that gave Obama “another $2.4 trillion blank check to spend.”

 Whew!

 Let’s start with the debt-limit deal. Congress approved an increase in the debt limit to pay bills already incurred by Congress. It does not give Obama new authority to spend more money. It just lets the federal government continue sending out Social Security checks, feeding soldiers in the field and paying doctors who see Medicare patients. And guess what?

Even if Obama wins not a dime of additional spending, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again in early 2013. Even the House Republican budget, an austere document drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), calls for nearly $2 trillion in additional borrowing by the end of next year.

 So, the debt-limit deal let Obama keep the government functioning, not spend more money.

 Now, it is true that the federal government has spent dramatically more than it has taken in over the past few years, since tax collections collapsed in the wake of the housing meltdown, the banking crisis and the recession.

In 2009, the nation borrowed about 40 percent of every dollar it spent (spending 67 percent more than it took in — Bachmann got the proportions wrong). In 2010, the government again borrowed nearly 40 percent of what it spent. But that figure fell to around 35 percent this year and is projected to drop even more sharply in 2012, to about 27 percent, assuming the economy continues to grow and tax collections continue to recover.

 Finally, spending has indeed risen sharply during the recession due to unemployment insurance and other spending on the newly poor, in addition to stimulus spending to boost economic activity. But the collapse of tax revenues — now at their lowest point as a percentage of the economy in 50 years — has contributed at least much to the problem.

— Lori Montgomery

 

“Since you were number 47 as governor of the state of Massachusetts — where we were number one for example — and the whole discussion around this campaign is going to be job creation, how can you win that debate given your background?”

— Jon Huntsman to Mitt Romney

Politicians can also slice and dice the data to put their performance in the best possible light. Huntsman has released a  video ad to make his case that he was No. 1 in job creation while Romney was only No. 47. But as our colleagues at Factcheck,org pointed out, Huntsman’s campaign compared different data sets. Using the same data changed the results. When Massaschusetts placed in 47th place, Utah under Huntsman ranked fourth — not first.

These claims also lack context. As our colleagues at Politifact discovered, there is little evidence that Michael Dukakis was better at job creation than Romney; in fact, the business community criticized him for not being more supportive. The main difference between Dukakis and Romney is that Massachusetts was emerging from a recession when Romney became governor — and the computer industry was booming when Dukakis was governor. 

“Get serious about bringing down the national debt. The only way we're going to do that is, the first year that I'm president and I oversee a fiscal year budget, make sure that revenues equals spending.”

— Herman Cain

This would be a very tall order — one that even House and Senate Republicans have not even attempted. The House budget plan that was passed earlier this year envisioned a deficit every year until 2021, when it would have reached $391 billion (down from more than $1 trillion this year.) And that plan was considered bold, even radical.

Indeed, in a weak economy, there are substantial reasons for not cutting the deficit so quickly because such a decline in government spending could harm the already fragile economy. Last month, the director of the Congressional Budget Office warned the so-called “super committee” charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction in the next decade to not cut spending or raise taxes too quickly.

“If economic growth occurs at the slow pace that CBO anticipates, a large portion of the economic and human costs of the recession and slow recovery remains ahead,” Douglas Elmendorf said.

“I don’t want to brag Governor [Perry], but Pennsylvania is the gas capital of the world right now, not Texas. We're doing a great job.  And energy prices and gas went down by 75 percent.”

— Rick Santorum

 

Santorum is saying Pennsylvania has surpassed Texas in oil production, and that the increased production in his state has reduced gas prices by 75 percent. 

 There may be more to this than we’ve found on the fly, but the group Energy In Depth, which promotes oil and natural gas drilling, contradicts Santorum’s statement with an article titled “Pennsylvania Rising: Study Shows Positive Impact on Regional Economy,” posted July 20, 2011.

The article, which cites a Penn State study, says the Keystone State is “the second largest producer of natural gas behind Texas.” So Santorum appears to be wrong that Pennsylvania has surpassed the Lone Star State. 

 The article also says that Marcellus Shale has reduced natural gas prices by 12.6 percent, a far cry from the senator’s 75 percent estimate.

 Here’s the full passage:

 “The Commonwealth is on track to become “the second largest producer of natural gas behind Texas,” according to a new Penn State study released today.
 “In 2010, the increase in Marcellus Shale gas production reduced natural gas prices by an estimated 12.6% versus projected natural gas prices in a Commonwealth that would have never experienced Marcellus exploration. This reduction in natural gas prices suggests total energy expenditures declined by $633 million in 2010. In other words, without the Marcellus, consumers would pay more than $633 million in additional energy costs. Residential customers enjoy electricity and natural gas bills that are $245.1 million lower due to regional gas production. A good chunk — $217.4 million — comes from reduced costs in natural gas bills and the other $27.7 million is due to cheaper electric bills. Commercial and industrial customers pay lower bills of $190 million and $198.3 million respectively, all thanks to the Marcellus.”

 Keep in mind that we haven’t researched this exhaustively, so there could be something we don’t know. But for a first crack at this issue, a Penn State study seems as reliable as anything. In addition, Energy In Depth has no reason to manipulate the facts in this case. The article is simply touting the benefits of extracting natural gas from Marcellus Shale. 

— Josh Hicks

 

“If you go back a few years before that clip and go to JFK's time, the government at all levels, federal, state, and local, was consuming about 27 percent of the U.S. economy. Today it consumes about 37 percent of the U.S. economy. It is on track to get to 40 percent. We cease, at some point, to be a free economy.”

 — Mitt Romney

Romney gets his statistics essentially right, according to White House historical records (see table 15.5), but the numbers are missing context. In 1961, there was no Medicare and Social Security only made up about 2 percent of the overall economy (the Gross Domestic Product.) Excluding other payments to individuals and national defense, overall federal spending was also just 2 percent of the economy. (State and local spending was nearly 9 percent of the economy.)

Fast forward to today. Social Security and Medicare are more than 8 percent of the economy. National defense has fallen in half, to 5 percent of the economy. The other functions of the federal government (i.e., excluding payments to individuals and defense) has actually fallen to just 1.6 percent of GDP. So the federal government in many ways is actually smaller.

Romney’s statement that the United States is “inches away” from not having a free economy is rhetorical nonsense. There are many metrics one could use to disprove it.

“I think if you look at the problem with the economic meltdown, you can trace it right back to the federal government. …It was the federal government that pushed the subprime loans. It was the federal government that pushed the Community Reinvestment Act.”

—Michele Bachmann

The notion that the CRA, approved nearly 35 years ago in 1977, had anything much to do with a lending crisis that flowered in 2007 and 2008 has been roundly discredited. In a 2008 speech, Randall Kroszner, a federal reserve board governor, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and a business professor at the University of Chicago responded to the charge.

”Some critics of the CRA contend that by encouraging banking institutions to help meet the credit needs of lower-income borrowers and areas, the law pushed banking institutions to undertake high-risk mortgage lending. We have not yet seen empirical evidence to support these claims, nor has it been our experience in implementing the law over the past 30 years that the CRA has contributed to the erosion of safe and sound lending practices,” Kroszner said, before discussing a Fed analysis of mortgage data “that runs counter to the charge that the CRA was at the root of, or otherwise contributed in any substantive way to, the current subprime crisis.”

 Other experts have noted that the majority of subprime loans were made by firms that are not subject to the CRA. University of Michigan law professor Michael Barr has testified on Capitol Hill that half of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject to comprehensive federal supervision and another third were made by affiliates of banks or thrifts that are not subject to routine supervision.

In a 2008 blog post, Robert Gordon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted: “It’s telling that, amid all the recent recriminations, even lenders have not fingered CRA. That’s because CRA didn’t bring about the reckless lending at the heart of the crisis. Just as sub-prime lending was exploding, CRA was losing force and relevance. And the worst offenders, the independent mortgage companies, were never subject to CRA — or any federal regulator. Law didn’t make them lend. The profit motive did.”

--Lori Montgomery

 “I think that senior citizens across the country have no idea that President Obama plans for Medicare to collapse, and instead everyone will be pushed into ‘Obamacare.’”

— Michele Bachmann

We previously looked at this claim and gave it Four Pinocchios.  Medicare today is in effect a European-style, socialized health care program, so we never understood what Bachmann means when she says Obama wants to take a program that is already socialized medicine and turn it into Obamacare. A single-payer option — much like Medicare — was rejected when the Democratic-led Congress drafted the health care law.

 Instead, the Obama health care law sets up “health insurance exchanges” in which people can shop for policies. Depending on the income level, they may qualify for a government subsidy. Ironically, one can make a case that the House Republican budget plan is designed to turn Medicare into a program that has some of the key features of Obama’s health care law. For instance, seniors would be given government subsidies, which they would then use to shop for coverage from private companies in a new kind of marketplace called an “Exchange.”

It is strange for Bachmann to suggest that Obama wants to replace Medicare with Obamacare, which relies on the private insurance market. If Obama had had the votes in Congress, he would have pushed for a Medicare-like option in his health care law — but not the other way around.

“The IRS is already planning on 19,500 new employees to administer that mandate. That will stay, and that's the ruinous part of ‘Obamacare.’”

— Jon Huntsman

 

We’re not sure where Huntsman gets his figure, which seems absurdly high. The IRS budget request for 2012 says the agency plans to hire about 1,300 full-time workers to administer the new health care law.

“Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 presents a major challenge to the IRS,” the budget request said. “ACA represents the largest set of tax law changes in more than 20 years, with more than 40 provisions that amend the tax laws.”

 

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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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