The debate questions we would like to see
By Glenn Kessler,
“Mitt Romney plans to turn himself into a one-man truth squad during the first presidential debate next week, casting President Barack Obama as someone who can’t be trusted to stick to the facts or keep his promises.”
— Politico, Sept. 27, 2012
“At the First Debate, Facts Will Matter”
— Memo by Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod, Sept. 28
There has been a campaign to arrange for independent fact-checkers to be present at the presidential debates. We’re not sure what that would accomplish. Would we be like Olympic judges, holding up signs after each exchange with a numerical score for truthiness?
But we do applaud the idea of keeping the conversation grounded in facts, with either the moderator or the candidates themselves challenging misstatements, half-truths and exaggerations that have appeared in campaign ads and speeches throughout this election season. All too often, neither man has been directly challenged about their misleading statements. So here are some questions we would like to see.
Romney to Obama: You claim to have a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, but every nonpartisan analyst has said that figure is based on suspect accounting. In particular, you claim $800 billion in savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for nation-building at home, even though you have repeatedly criticized President George W. Bush for running those wars on a credit card. Aren’t you simply claiming a nonexistent peace dividend in order to keep running up the tab on the same credit card?
Obama to Romney: You claim to have a plan to greatly reduce the size of government while boosting defense spending and reversing a needed slowdown in Medicare spending, yet every nonpartisan analyst has said the numbers don’t add up unless you are willing to cut to the bone any non-security-related function of government. Since you have given few details of your cuts, I have been free to speculate they will be draconian. Here’s your chance: What will you specifically cut, and by how much, in order for your numbers to add up?
Romney to Obama: You earned Four Pinocchios last week for claiming that 90 percent of the deficit on your watch comes from policies promoted by President George W. Bush. PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org also rated that claim “false.” We all know you took office during a poor economy, but when will you take responsibility for the actions that happened on your watch? Is there any decision you regret making regarding the economy?
Obama to Romney: You have attacked me repeatedly for looming defense cuts that congressional Republicans, including your running mate, supported as part of a budget deal that was designed to spread the pain and force hard choices on the budget. Will you concede that both parties are responsible for this dilemma — and you have offered no plan to resolve it?
Romney to Obama: You have long said you want to raise taxes on Americans making more than $250,000 a year while retaining the Bush tax cuts for people making less than that. But that’s not going to raise nearly enough money to fix our budgets woes, even with your rather vague “Buffett Rule.” Can you admit that’s the case?
Obama to Romney: You expanded your tax plan in the midst of the Republican primaries, and clearly no one on your team double-checked the math. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded that there was no way you could keep it revenue-neutral, as you promise, without eliminating tax deductions that will force taxes up for middle-class families. Don’t bother claiming that five other studies say otherwise, because they don’t. Will you concede that the numbers don’t add up — or at least explain which tax deductions are actually off the table?
Obama to Romney: You have promised to reverse what you call $700 billion in Medicare cuts, even though your running mate adopted virtually the same cuts in his budget plan. I realize his excuse is that he was going to use the money to save Medicare, not expand health care to Americans, but let’s face it, government money is fungible. Besides, don’t you agree we need to look for savings in Medicare in order to get our budget in shape?
Romney to Obama: You keep running attack ads claiming my running mate’s Medicare plan is going to raise annual costs for seniors by $6,400. But when you spoke at the AARP convention, you conceded that this number — which is only a guesstimate far in the future — was based on an old version of the plan, not the more generous current version that adopted the same growth path as your budget. Will you stop using that figure?
Obama to Romney: You keep saying that health insurance premiums have gone up by $2,500, as if “Obamacare” had anything to do with it. You know most provisions of that law have not gone into effect yet, so experts say that only a small portion of the increase is because of the law. Your number is also wrong. Insurance premiums have gone up, by about $1,300, but that is largely because of higher health-care costs. So, why blame me for something that is not my fault?
Romney to Obama: You keep claiming that health-care premiums will go down for people in the individual and small group markets. But isn’t it correct that, because of a variety of provisions in the law, premiums are going to go up for young Americans and healthier individuals? In fact, a survey of states found that many expect premiums will go up for individuals, although tax subsidies might mitigate some of the increased costs. Why haven’t you been straight with Americans about the trade-offs inherent in the law?
To read previous Fact Checker columns, go to washingtonpost.com/