The Fact Checker

The Fact Checker: Obama's 2011 State of the Union address

The Fact Checker
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down [health-care] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."

Since his time in the Senate, President Obama has favored certain ways of trying to lower costs related to malpractice.

Essentially, he has been a proponent of reducing the number of such cases that reach the courts. In September 2009, he announced that the Department of Health and Human Services would start to give out $25 million in grants to encourage states to experiment with ways to deter such lawsuits. These demonstration projects, underway in 21 states, have built on hospital programs in which doctors who make a mistake apologize early and try to negotiate a payment. They also include screening systems in which states have formed panels of medical experts who must rule that patients' complaints have merit before they may sue.

But Obama does not like all ideas for changing the medical malpractice system. Even though the president said in his speech that he wants to work with Republicans, he has never supported one step that the GOP has long said would control malpractice costs: creating federal limits on the size of damage awards.

So both Obama and the GOP favor lowering medical malpractice costs. They just disagree sharply over how to do it.

- Amy Goldstein

"Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world."

Big companies often complain that the top U.S. corporate tax rate, 35 percent, is one of the highest in the world. But a recent University of North Carolina study of the period from 2003 to 2007, spotlighted in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, suggests that the effective tax rate - what multinationals pay after credits, deductions and tax strategies - in the United States is really not much different than in the rest of the world.

U.S. multinational corporations paid about 26 percent on average, compared with a global average of 25 percent. Some companies fared rather well, such as General Electric, with an effective tax rate of 11.5 percent, and Pfizer, with a tax rate of 18.7 percent.

- Glenn Kessler

"To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 - because the more we export, the more jobs we create at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs."

The administration has made the doubling of exports a top goal of its economic policy, and, as a general rule, it contends that each additional $1 billion worth of exports supports about 6,000 jobs. That figure is based on complicated models of the U.S. economy, but it also rests on assumptions that are in steady flux.

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