Introducing Ad Watch

August 20, 2012

As the campaign heats up, swing state voters are getting barraged by ads from the two presidential campaigns, not to mention lavishly funded super PACS.

These ads, by and large, are quite substantive. The Obama campaign's latest ad, for instance, focuses on Paul Ryan's votes on Planned Parenthood funding, while Mitt Romney's focuses on the Obama administration's welfare policies. So we at Wonkblog thought it'd be worthwhile to highlight new videos and check on how accurate the candidates and third party groups are being about the policies being debated.

To start, the Obama and Romney campaigns have two new ads each, while Americans for Prosperity — the third-party group funded by the Koch brothers and backing Romney – and Priorities USA, a pro-Obama super-PAC run by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, had one each.

Barack Obama - "The Same"

Here the Obama campaign focuses on Paul Ryan's record on women's issues, specifically his opposition to Planned Parenthood funding, his support for allowing hospitals to deny women birth control and cancer screening, and his and Romney's opposition to abortion rights even in cases of rape and incest.

Most claims check out. Ryan has indeed voted, along with many other House Republicans, to strip Planned Parenthood of funding, a position supported by Romney. Romney also supports the Blunt-Rubio amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny coverage for any condition to which they have a religious objection; Ryan isn't on record about that specific proposal but has indicated he thinks mandating employers provide contraceptive coverage is an affront to religious liberty. Contraception is the biggest case here, but theoretically any procedure, including cancer screenings, could be ruled out under the Blunt-Rubio language if the employer judges it impermissible.

The ad errs a bit on the candidates' views on abortion. Paul Ryan does support (Word file) banning abortion in cases of rape and incest, but Mitt Romney has consistently stated that he favors exemptions in those cases, with his campaign stating today that a Romney-Ryan administration would support a rape exemption.

Barack Obama - "Facts"

This ad cites the AARP in support of the Affordable Care Act's changes to Medicare and critiques the Ryan budget's treatment of the program, as well as a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report claiming the 2012 Ryan budget wouldl increase the average senior's share of Medicare costs by $6,400 (the specific number is $6,350, but the ad rounds up). The latter claim checks out. The Congressional Budget Office estimated (pdf) that the Ryan plan doubles average seniors' contribution to Medicare, just as the CBPP report suggests. So there's no question that, as the Obama campaign alleges, the Ryan plan involved a huge shift in costs onto seniors.

That said, the 2013 version of the Ryan budget softened some of these policies and was less clear as to who paid if Medicare's costs exceeded its targets. So while the ad is accurate in its description of Ryan's 2012 budget, that's not the latest version of Ryan's budget. On the other hand, it is difficult to say that it is unfair for the Obama administration to hold Ryan accountable for a budget he wrote and voted for within the last two years.

What about the claim that the Affordable Care Act, despite its cuts to Medicare, strengthens the program? As Sarah has noted, the main Medicare cuts are to Medicare Advantage - a public-private partnership intended to reduce costs that have actually increased them - and to hospital reimbursement rates, with hospitals agreeing to the later cuts due to the influx of new customers expected to come with the new law's implementation. Recent evidence suggests that cuts to reimbursement rates in the 1990s had negative consequences for quality of care, but those cuts are much bigger than anything in the ACA. The Medicare trustees have also concluded that the law's cuts extend the program's solvency and strengthen the trust fund.

So it's hard to say if the Obama cuts will hurt quality, though it seems clear they help the program's finances. And the Ryan budget preserves the cuts and then extends them, so if cutting reimbursement rates hurts quality, the same effects would be present under Ryan's plan. Thus, the claim that the ACA strengthens Medicare, understood as a claim about the law's finances, is accurate.

Mitt Romney - "Richmond Times-Dispatch on Welfare Reform"

This ad accuses the Obama administration of having "ended the work requirement" for welfare. This is plainly false. The Obama administration has issued a call for waiver requests from states to allow state governments to experiment with different welfare models, stipulating that those waivers cannot be used to weaken the work requirement in the 1996 welfare reform law. In any case, none of the waiver requests have been submitted and none have been approved. Welfare work requirements have not changed one iota since Obama took office.

Mitt Romney - "Our Generation's Time"

Here, Paul Ryan condemns the Affordable Care Act, stating "Medicare should not be a piggy bank for Obamacare." It's worth noting that Ryan's budget contains the exact same cuts to Medicare. The implication that using those cuts to fund Obamacare, as opposed to tax cuts and defense spending increases in the Ryan plan, constitutes using the program like a piggy bank is a little odd.

Americans for Prosperity - "Has President Obama Earned Your Vote?"

This ad features former Obama supporters who are backing Romney this time around. A lot of the claims they make are not checkable, but those that are generally bend the facts. One woman states, ""I had hoped that the new president would bring new jobs, not new layoffs." But the best evidence indicates that Obama's economic policies, in particular the stimulus, created millions of jobs. Another notes that Obama said he would cut the deficit in his first term - and sure enough, the deficit is smaller than it was in 2009. Obama did pledge to cut it in half, which hasn't happened, due to the severity of the recession and the extension of the Bush tax cuts, but progress has been made.

The deficit critic in the ad continues, ""I've seen zero interest in reducing spending. He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse." Again, on both deficits and jobs there has been improvement. Not just that, but federal spending as a percentage of GDP fell from 25.2 percent in 2009 to 24.1 percent last year, and Obama released a plan to reduce spending still further, cutting the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years. Obama has certainly shown greater than zero interest in reducing spending.

Priorities USA - "Small-Minded"

This ad notes that Romney would pay 1 percent - or 0.82 percent, to be precise - of his income in taxes under Paul Ryan's tax plan, whereas the median family would see taxes increase by $1,000. Both of these claims are true, though the CBPP report cited in the ad puts the tax increase faced by people making $50,000 to $75,000 a year at $900 rather than $1,000. But again, this refers to the Ryan budget for fiscal year 2012, as opposed to fiscal year 2013. The latest version of the budget was more vague on how the tax code would be reformed, and somewhat less regressive in what it actually proposed.

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Brad Plumer · August 20, 2012