Footnoting the (final) debate!

October 22, 2012

Workers prepare the set for Monday's presidential debate (AP)

President Obama and Mitt Romney debated for the last time before the election Monday night. Here we let you know where you can find more information and whether there were any red flags for how candidates used various pieces of evidence.

You can get a sense of how this works in these Wonkblog footnotes for the first and second presidential debate.  


[liveblog] 

Snap polls for the third presidential debate.

For whatever it's worth, most of the insta-polls after the debate gave the edge to Obama. Here they are:

--CBS News instant poll: Who won the debate? Obama: 53%, Romney: 23%, Tie: 24% (Margin of Error: 4%; Sample Size: 521)

--PPP poll of swing states: "53% of those surveyed in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin think Obama was the winner to 42% who pick Romney."

(On the other hand, note that only 37% of voters in the PPP poll said they were now more likely to vote for Obama, versus 38% more likely to vote for Romney.)

--CNN poll of debate-watchers: "Debate viewers split 48% for Obama and 40% for Romney in the poll, a margin within the sampling error of plus or minus 4.5%"

--Google Consumer Survey: Who do you think did the better job in the debate? Obama 45.1%; Romney 35.3%; They did the same, 19.6% (Margin of error: 4.4%)

US trade deficit with China, and with the world

Romney criticized Obama for having the trade deficit increase each year under his watch. The trade gap has increased overall, but it hasn't been a steady increase each year.

Here's our trade gap with China:

(Source: Data from the US Census)

Here's the US trade gap overall:


(Source: Cleveland Fed)

Romney’s “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed

You can read it here. Note that Romney calls for post-bankruptcy guarantees, not pre-bankruptcy guarantees. That's the rub: The credit markets were frozen, and most experts thought Detroit couldn't find the private financing to survive a masnaged bankruptcy. That's where federal money came in. Glenn Kessler fact-checked the exchange and gave the edge to Obama.

Defense Secretary lamenting “devastating” sequestration cuts

Romney made reference to Defense Secretary Panetta's description of the defense sequester cuts as "devastating." He was referring to a letter sent by Leon Panetta to Sen. John McCain last November:

The impacts of these cuts would be devastating for the Department. The enclosure outlines some of the potential effects, which are summarized below. In FY 2013, the reduction in defense spending under maximum sequestration would amount to 23 percent if the President exercised his authority to exempt military personnel. 

Five facts you need to know on China’s currency manipulation

From this post:

1) What you’re saying when you say you want to put an end to global currency manipulation is that you want a weaker dollar. That’s what currency manipulation is: An effort by other countries to artificially strengthen the dollar in order to make their currency — and thus their exports — comparatively cheaper. But if we want to weaken our dollar, we could just, you know, weaken the dollar.

2) China is not the world’s worst currency manipulator, or even particularly close to it. Singapore is worse than China. Taiwan is worse than China. These days, Switzerland and Japan are arguably worse than China. And there are other countries, like Israel, who aren’t worse than China, but who are still pretty bad. Here’s a list (which, for technical reasons, doesn’t include the role of Sovereign Wealth Funds) from Joe Gagnon, an economist at the Peterson Institution for International Economics who has been tracking currency manipulation:

Now, most of these countries are also much smaller than China, so we care about them a bit less. But still, it’s hard to take aim at China when so many other countries are getting worse. To the Chinese, it looks like you’re singling them out.

3) China is getting much better. They’ve allowed their currency to rise substantially in recent years. Gagnon told me that China’s ”current account peaked at 10.7 percent of GDP in 2007. This year, it looks like it’ll only be 2 percent.” It seems a bit weird to intensify the pressure on China, and to try and publicly humiliate them, at the exact moment when they’re doing what we’ve been asking them to do. As economist Nicholas Lardy toldNPR, ”there was a very good case for the [U.S.] to take action against China five years ago, but not now.”

4) Calling someone a “currency manipulator” doesn’t trigger some magical process that leads to them no longer manipulating their currency. On its own, its nothing but an international insult. But if you follow through, then it’s a first step towards slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. But then China can begin slapping retaliatory tariffs on our goods. Does anyone think that a trade war with China would be a good thing right now? If so, why?

5) Many experts think calling China a “currency manipulator” will backfire.China, at times, seems to run a pride-based foreign policy. If the rest of the world demands they do something, they simply refuse to do it. After all, it doesn’t look good to ordinary Chinese if China is permitting America to set its monetary policy. Thus, if you want to call China a “currency manipulator,” you need an explanation for why that’s a better strategy than the one we’re following, which has actually led to China permitting its currency to appreciate. “Getting tough” is a posture, not a policy argument.

Tire tariffs are a bad deal for the US

Barack Obama touted his support for tariffs against Chinese tires to protect US manufacturers. Too bad those tariffs are awful policy. A paper by Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Sean Lowry at the Peterson Institute explains that it saved very few jobs (about 1,200) at a huge cost of $1.1 billion in higher prices. That's almost a million dollars per job, all borne by consumers (presumably lower-income consumers) when it came time to buy tires. And most of that additional money spent didn't go to tire workers - it went to executives.

Drone strikes have spiked under Obama

Romney says he's on the same page as Obama with regard to using drones. Here's a look at the increase in drone strikes per year, courtesy of ProPublica, which also explains why the Obama administration's numbers in terms of civilian casualties don't add up.


(Source: ProPublica)

That Israel letter that 38 Democratic Senators signed

Gov. Romney mentioned a letter, signed by 38 Democratic senators, pushing back on a tense relationship with Israel. It was sent in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and organized by AIPAC back in April 2010. A short excerpt: 

We recognize that our government and the Government of Israel will not always agree on particular issues in the peace process. But such differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies. We must never forget the depth and breadth of our alliance and always do our utmost to reinforce a relationship that has benefited both nations for more than six decades.

Ben Smith has more background here

No, Romney did not want to ask permission to pursue bin Laden

Obama alleged that Mitt Romney wanted to ask Pakistan permission to kill bin Laden. This is a misrepresentation of a criticism Romney issued against Obama in 2007, before Obama was president, when he promised to enter Pakistan to pursue al-Qaeda targets. Here's what Romney actually said:

 It’s wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say, “We’re going to go into your country unilaterally.” Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don’t go out and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn’t think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out.” We don’t say those things. We keep our options quiet.

So he explicitly was not ruling out going into Pakistan. He was ruling out saying we would do so.

Mitt Romney believes he doesn’t need congressional authorization to attack Iran

Romney to CBS News:

I can assure you if I'm president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don't believe at this stage, therefore, if I'm president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate for instance have written letters to the president indicating you should know that a containment strategy is unacceptable. We cannot survive a course of action which would include a nuclear Iran we must be willing to take any and all actions.

Given Obama's willingness to bomb Libya without an authorization of force, it seems likely he agrees.

Romney’s investments in a Chinese oil company

During their back-and-forth over Iran, Obama accused Romney of investing in a Chinese oil company that was doing business with Iran while the United States was pursuing sanctions. For those curious, here's what Obama's talking about:

Mitt Romney’s trust invested in Cnooc at a time when the US was growing concerned about the Chinese oil company’s multibillion-dollar dealings with Tehran, according to the 2011 tax return released by the Republican nominee for president. ... 

Mr Romney has repeatedly said he had no control over the decisions by the blind trust that held the investments, which are controlled by a trustee named R. Bradford Malt....

The first investment by Mr Romney’s trust in Cnooc Limited, in October of 2009, was made about seven months after the group’s state-owned parent company was widely reported to have signed a deal with Iran to develop the huge North Pars gasfield for an LNG export project.

In the US, the deal was viewed as part of a worrying effort by China to secure energy interests.

 

How are sanctions affecting Iran?

Obama talked up the "crippling sanctions" that the U.S. and Europe have levied on Iran in order to strong-arm the country into ending its nuclear program. Here's one way to look at how they're affecting the Iran--the country's crude oil output has plummeted over the past year:

Here's more on how the U.S.-E.U. sanctions are squeezing Iran's oil industry.

The sanctions have also been brutal for people inside Iran. Hyperinflation has struck many of the markets in the country. And the Guardian recently reported that sanctions have been hitting medicine imports.

U.S. spends more on military than next 10 countries combined

That's what Obama said. Here's the chart:

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Obamacare and the budget

Gov. Romney says he'll repeal the health care law to help balance the budget. The most recent Congressional Budget Office report estimates that the health care law saves the federal government $109 billion over the next decade. You can read that here. It means that Obamacare repeal increases the deficit rather than decreases it. 

Can you balance the budget on Mitt Romney’s web site?

Mitt Romney said you can go on his web site and see how he gest to a balanced budget. You're certainly welcome to try. Here's the relevant page, but it doesn't specify anywhere near enough cuts to balance the budget. It doesn't even specify enough cuts to pay for his new military spending.

Obama’s plan for his second term

Obama made repeated reference to his plan to invest in manufacturing, education, and infrastructure, as well as his own defense budget. Most of this is outlined in his 2013 budget, which you can read here.

Romney doesn’t care about class sizes. Neither does Arne Duncan.

Obama attacked Romney for his comments dismissing the importance of small class sizes.  And there's some grounds for that - Raj Chetty has found that students in small kindergarten classes make hundreds of thousands more in their lifetimes than students in larger classes. But it's worth noting that the Obama administration has diminished the role of class size too, with Arne Duncan stating, "Class size has been a sacred cow and I think we need to take it on."

Romney wants defense spending to be much higher

Romney says he wouldn't cut the defense budget. That's certainly right: According to his budget principles, he'd increase defense spending to $7.9 trillion between 2013 and 2022, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 2013, he'd increase it by $96 billion, according to the Center for a New American Security. 

Here's how Romney's defense budget for 2013 compares to other plans, as well as a survey of ordinary Americans:


(SOURCE: CALCULATIONS BASED ON DATA FROM THE STIMSON CENTER, CNN MONEY)

And here's how it'd look in the longer-term:

United States more popular in many parts of world since 2008–except in Middle East and Pakistan

Romney noted that the U.S. is losing influence around the world. Obama disagrees. So who's right?

This is a bit of a hazy debate to settle, though it's worth noting that according to Pew Research Center, opinions of the United States have generally risen around the world in country's polled since Obama's election in 2008--with two big exceptions.

We're getting even more unpopular in Pakistan, where just 12 percent of citizens view the U.S. favorably, down from an already-low 19 percent in 2008. And our popularity in several Middle East countries has gone down, including Egypt, where just 19 percent of citizens now have favorable views of the U.S.

Admiral Mullen thought the debt was our top national security threat. His successor disagrees.

Mitt Romney mentioned that that Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called our debt our chief national security threat. Here's one of the many speeches he gave making that point. It's worth noting that he makes the point in part to argue that the military needs to accept spending cuts as part of the shared sacrifice necessary to cut the deficit. Romney wants to dramatically increase military spending.

It's also worth noting that Mullen's successor, General Martin Dempsey, disagrees that debt is the greatest threat facing the country. Here's what he told the Senate Armed Forces Committee:

I wouldn’t describe our economic condition as the single biggest threat to national security. There are a lot of clear and present threats to our security in the current operational environment. That said, there is unquestionably a relationship between US security and the debt. However, national security didn’t cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it. I agree that the national debt is a grave concern. Our national power is the aggregate of our diplomatic, military, and economic influence. We have to address our economic stature, but that doesn’t mean we can neglect the other instruments of national power.

$1 trillion in defense cuts

Romney said the defense budget would be subject to $1 trillion in cuts due to the sequester. The sequester has $1.2 trillion in total cuts, of which about $500 billion come from the military, and $200 billion are savings on interest payments. Here's the White House's plan for implementing both the defense and non-defense parts of the sequester. However, you combined the 2013 cuts with the $450 billion cuts that have already been enacted, it would total $1 trillion in cuts, as Defense Secretary Panetta has explained.

What is the U.S. actually doing in Syria?

Romney and Obama are sparring over what the U.S. should do about the violence in Syria between rebel groups and Bashar Al-Assad's government, in which 30,000 people have now died. But let's start with the basic facts: What is the Obama administration actually doing about Syria right now? The Congressional Research Service had a helpful primer recently:

President Obama and his Administration have been calling for Asad’s resignation since August 2011, and have been vocal advocates for United Nations Security Council action to condemn the Syrian government and end the bloodshed. The United States closed its embassy in Damascus, and Ambassador Robert Ford left Syria. U.S. officials are actively participating in efforts to improve international policy coordination on Syria. The Administration has given no indication that it intends to pursue any form of military intervention. U.S. officials and some in Congress continue to debate various proposals for ending the violence and accelerating Asad’s departure.

After over a year of unrest and violence, Syria’s crisis is characterized by dilemmas and contradictions. A menu of imperfect choices confronts U.S. policymakers, amid fears of continued violence, a humanitarian crisis, and regional instability. The potential spillover effects of continued fighting raise questions with regard to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel. Larger refugee flows, sectarian conflict, or transnational violence by non-state actors are among the contingencies that policy makers are concerned about in relation to these countries. The unrest also is creating new opportunities for Al Qaeda or other violent extremist groups to operate in Syria. The security of Syrian conventional and chemical weapons stockpiles has become a regional security concern, which will grow if a security vacuum emerges. Many observers worry that an escalation in fighting or swift regime change could generate new pressures on minority groups or lead to wider civil or regional conflict.

Whether these moves are sufficient is, of course, what the candidates are sparring over...

Romney wanted to leave troops in Iraq. But so did Obama.

The two candidates debated how many troops Romney wanted to leave in Iraq as part of the phase-down of that war. Romney did, as Obama alleged, suggest he would have left 10-30,000 troops:

"I think we're going to find that this president, by not putting in place a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi leadership, has pulled our troops out in a precipitous way and we should have left 10-, 20-, 30-thousand personnel there to help transition to the Iraqi's own military capabilities," Romney said.

But Obama only didn't leave troops behind because he failed to negotiate a status of forces agreement that included more troops. Some, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, wanted to leave 16,000 troops, a request which others in the administration, most notably National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, shrunk to 10,000. At Obama's request, that number shrunk further to 3,500. But the Iraqi government did not agree to any continued presence, and no agreement was struck.

Romney’s opposition to a nuclear treaty with Russia

Obama said that Romney opposed a nuclear treaty with Russia. Here's Romney's explanation:

[Obama] continued the same “we give, Russia gets” policy by signing the New START treaty in 2010. While the agreement compels the U.S. to reduce our nuclear launcher and warhead limits, the levels its sets for Russia are above what the Russians possessed at the time the agreement was reached. In other words, New START gave Russia room to expand its arsenal while requiring the United States to reduce our own, and the latest inventory of the Russian arsenal indicates that Russia has done just that since the signing of New START. President Obama has glossed over the creeping authoritarianism of the Putin regime, even congratulating the Russian president on winning what was widely seen as an election marred by irregularities and manipulation.

The treaty passed the Senate in December 2010 by a 77-21 vote.

Romney on Russia as our “number one” foe

Obama attacked Romney for calling Russia "our number one geopolitical foe." Romney countered that he said that a nuclear Iran was the "greatest threat that the world faces." Here are his remarks from his interview with Wolf Blitzer in March:

ROMNEY: And if he's planning on doing more and suggests to Russia that - that he has things he's willing to do with them, he's not willing to tell the American people - this is to Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.  They - they fight every cause for the world's worst actors. The I - the idea that he has some more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling, indeed.

BLITZER:  But you think Russia is a bigger foe right now than, let's say, Iran or China or North Korea? Is that - is that what you're suggesting, Governor?

ROMNEY:  Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors.  Of course, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran.  A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough.

Mali makes a brief appearance in the debate

In Mitt Romney's opening statement, he mentioned strife in northern Mali. That's not a topic that makes it in the news often. Here's a primer from the Council on Foreign Relations on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)'s actions in Mali:

AQIM and other Islamist groups, like Ansar al-Din, initially aided the semi-nomadic Tuaregs—an historically disenfranchised minority ethnic group—that launched a rebellion in early 2012 against Mali's government forces and captured control of the country's sparsely populated north. But they have since marginalized Tuareg forces and begun implementing a severe brand of sharia law in the breakaway northern territory. According to the UN, the jihadist influx has been particularly brutal for women, many of whom have been raped or forced into marriage and prostitution.

Here's what the State Department's doing:

Prior to the March 2012 coup, the U.S. State Department described Mali as "a leading regional partner in U.S. efforts against terrorism," and continues to stress that "the best strategy for dealing with AQIM remains working with regional governments to increase their capability, foster regional cooperation, and counter violent extremism."

Libya: What did Obama actually say?

The first question of the debate was about Libya, where Mitt Romney has attacked Obama's response to the slaying of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. But as was pointed out in the last debate, Obama immediately called Stevens' killing an "act of terror." Here's Obama's statement from the Rose Garden, with the relevant portion emphasized:

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

 

Mitt Romney’s Oct. 8 speech on foreign policy, in full

Mitt Romney's initial answer on the Middle East was, in a sense, a condensed version of his Oct. 8 foreign-policy at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. Here are his prepared remarks in full.

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Dylan Matthews | October 22, 2012