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Fact-checking the GOP debate in New Hampshire

at 06:00 AM ET, 06/14/2011


(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

That was some collection of facts and statistics during the GOP debate in New Hampshire on Monday night that aired on CNN.

We’re going to take an instant stab at some of them, and then perhaps come back later this week with a more extended look at other assertions. Depressingly, some of these we have heard before.

We will have to keep dinging the candidates till they get their facts right.

“The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs. What could the president be thinking by passing a bill like this, knowing full well it will kill 800,000 jobs?”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

We hadn’t heard this yarn much since we debunked it four months ago with three Pinocchios. But here it has popped up again.

The Congressional Budget Office last August had 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 one 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 that 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.

Note also that the estimate was made five months after Obama signed the health care bill into law, so Obama did not know “full well” about it.

Obama “didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse and longer. And now we have more chronic long-term employment than this country has ever seen before.”

--Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

In the first part of this statement, Romney is reprising a line from his announcement speech, but we didn’t think it was accurate then. It is still not accurate now.

After all, National Bureau of Economic Research, the nonpartisan research organization that identifies recessions, last year declared that the recession ended in June 2009 — two years ago. So, with NBER saying the economy is now out of a recession, it is difficult to see how Romney can claim that Obama made it worse.

In the second part of his statement, Romney is riffing off a line from his new ad, which incorrectly asserted, “Long Term Employment Is Now Worse Than the Great Depression.”

That statement was based on an erroneous CBS News report which we debunked a few hours before the debate started. We awarded Romney two Pinocchios for using it.

Kudos to Romney for tweaking the wording so that it is somewhat more accurate. Long-term employment was surely worse in the Depression but there is no nationwide data to compare it with today. The percentage of people out of work for more than six months — about 45 percent — is the worst since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data after World War II. So “ever seen” makes it ever so slightly technically correct.

“We think you can save $70 billion to $120 billion in Medicare and Medicaid annually by not paying crooks.”

--Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)

Gingrich loves this statistic — repeats it everywhere — but it is wildly inflated. Yes, the government estimated that there were $125 billion in improper payments across the entire federal government, but that doesn’t mean they were all fraudulent or went to crooks.

The improper payment rate for the government is about 5.49 percent. As the federal government defines it, “‘Improper payments’ occur when funds go to the wrong recipient, the recipient receives the incorrect amount of funds (including overpayments and underpayments), documentation is not available to support a payment, or the recipient uses funds in an improper manner.”

The improper payment rate is higher for Medicare and Medicaid, but the numbers still don’t add up to Gingrich’s figures. In Medicaid, there were $22.5 billion in improper payments and in Medicare, a total of $48 billion in fee-for-service and Medicare Advantage.

Yes, that adds up to $70 billion, but much of this is not going to “crooks.”

“It was a very narrow question, which said, should Republicans impose an unpopular bill on the American people? Now, I supported the Ryan budget as a general proposal. I actually wrote a newsletter supporting the Ryan budget. And those words were taken totally out of context.”

--Gingrich

Gingrich is still trying to make up to Republicans after he was perceived to have trashed the plan to overhaul Medicare crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) But is his description of the exchange on “Meet the Press” accurate?

Host David Gregory actually asked Gingrich a simple question: “Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support and — so that they can go out and buy private insurance?”

Here are the guts of Gingrich’s answer:

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. … [The Ryan plan] is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the — I don’t want to — I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

What about “too big a jump” is taken out of context?

“If you’re an average couple and you paid your entire amount into Medicare, you would have put $140,000 into it. And in your lifetime, you will take out more than three times that much.”

--Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.)

This eye-catching figure comes from a study by two respected analysts at the Urban Institute that was the subject of a widely read New York Times article. Paul quoted the numbers right.

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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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