The Fact Checker: Rick Perry

Fact checking the CNN national security debate

Hello, “Steve Gates.” While Rep. Michele Bachmann may have trouble living that blooper down, here are some of the more dubious assertions and facts we heard at the fascinating CNN debate Tuesday night, organized with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. We examine 15 statements in all, and as is our practice, may come back to do a deeper look in the coming days.

“This is one thing we know about Barack Obama: He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He’s outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann

Bachmann’s rhetoric is over the top here. The American Civil Liberties Union has actually been critical of President Obama for continuing many Bush-era anti-terror policies. On the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the ACLU issued a report entitled, “A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years after 9/11.”

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Did Obama call Americans ‘lazy’ and ‘soft’?

“Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in a new television ad attacking President Obama

“Sometimes, I just don’t think that President Obama understands America. I say that because this week — or was it last week? — he said that Americans are lazy. I don’t think that describes America. Before that, I think it was in October, he was saying we have lost our inventiveness, and our ambition. Before that he was saying other disparaging things about Americans. I just don’t think he understands — he was saying we just weren’t working hard enough. I don’t think he gets what’s happening in this country.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Nov. 15, 2011

Republican president candidates have begun attacking President Obama for supposedly insulting Americans by calling them “lazy.” Perry has even framed a new television ad around the idea.

Since we once gave a Pinocchio to Obama for what we called unsubstantiated boosterism — “We have the most productive workers, the finest universities and the freest markets” — we were a little surprised to learn that he had suddenly turned so anti-American.

What’s going on here?

The Facts

When a president makes a similar offhand comment at least two times, our experience tells us that something is on his mind. Maybe he read a book, perhaps there was a briefing, perhaps he even saw a television documentary. A clear sign that this notion has begun to sink in is that he begins to muse about it in public.

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Did Texas improve air quality, lower emissions as much as Rick Perry claims? (Fact Checker biography)

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a stop in Jackson, Miss. Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. (Greg Campbell - AP)

“We cleaned up our air in Texas more than any other state during the decade of the 2000s. And no it wasn’t the EPA’s regulations. As a matter of fact, they tried to come into Texas after we cleaned up our air and take it over, and what they’ll do is just kill a bunch of jobs and won’t clean up the air at all. We lowered our ozone levels by 27 percent during the decade of the 2000s and we lowered our nitrogen oxide levels by 58 percent.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, during a town hall speech in Derry, N. H., Sept. 30, 2011

Perry claims Texas topped the charts in terms of air-quality improvements, and his remarks suggest that the state knows how to clean up just fine without oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency, thank you very much.

We wondered where Perry found his data and how bad Texas was doing before he took office. We also wondered whether federal regulations really kill jobs — a subject the Post already covered this week.

The Facts

Perry cited data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The state agency calculates its ozone numbers based on a three-year average of the monitors that showed the fourth-highest eight-hour emissions concentration for each of the three years.

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Rick Perry’s record on education (Fact Checker biography)

(Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images)

“Perry has signed into law state budgets that have invested billions of dollars more in education.”

-- Passage from, the official presidential campaign web site for Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Brian Williams: “Your state ranks among the worst in the country in high school graduation rates, as we established. Yet you recently signed a budget cut for millions in education funding. You pushed for greater cuts than were in budget that the legislature passed. You’ve said that education is a top priority, but explain cutting it the way you did, please.”

Perry: “I think the reductions that we made were thoughtful reductions. And the fact of the matter is Texas has made great progress in the 10 years that I’ve been governor, from the standpoint of our graduation rates now are up to 84 percent, higher than they’ve been during any period of time before that. When you share the border with Mexico, and when you have as many individuals that we have coming into the state of Texas, we have a unique situation in our state. But the fact is, I stand by a record from what we’ve done with the resources that we’ve had, and I think that the reductions that we put in place were absorbed by our schools.”

-- Exchange between Perry and moderator Brian Williams during a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Sept. 7, 2011

Perry’s record on education may never matter if he becomes president. He did, after all, vow to abolish the Department of Education en route to his “oops” moment at the CNBC debate in Michigan.

Still, these types government-overhaul promises rarely stick, so we decided to fact-check the governor’s comments.

Some of Perry’s claims appear to contradict each other. Did he make “thoughtful reductions” or invest billions more in education? We figured it might be both. But then, what was the net effect?

Perry also said his state’s graduation rates have reached an all-time high. We looked at the data to find out whether Texas has improved to the extent he suggests.

The Facts

We compared Texas’s state education funding from the 2000-2001 and 2012-2013, representing the last biennial budget approved before Perry took office and the one he signed this year. Our calculations show that the state has increased general revenue appropriations for K-12 schools by about $200 million, adjusted for inflation.

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How Rick Perry ‘cut spending’ in Texas (Fact Checker biography)

(Chris Keane/Reuters)

“I was the first governor since World War II to cut general revenue spending in our state budget.”

--Texas Gov. Rick Perry, at the RedState 2011 Gathering in South Carolina, August 13, 2011

“We cut state spending for the first time since World War II. I was proud to sign that budget that said no, we can operate within our needs. We don’t have to raise taxes just so that some people can say, you know, you can’t live without government spending at this level. We’re doing it in my home state.”

-- Perry, Derby, N.H. townhall meeting, Sept. 30, 2011

“I pushed Texas to the second lowest debt per capita in the US...I’ve signed six balanced budgets in Texas.”

-- Perry, during GOP debate at Dartmouth College, N.H., Oct. 11, 2011

Perry’s comments suggested he took historic and fiscally conservative measures to balance his state’s budgets. We examined his lengthy record -- he’s been governor for more than a decade -- to find out whether he spoke accurately.

The Facts

We have to clarify the difference between general-revenue and all-funds spending before parsing these comments, because Perry appears to be talking about both. They don’t constitute the same thing.

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Rick Perry’s record on taxes (Fact Checker biography)

(Richard Shiro, AP)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“I’ve cut taxes. I’ve delivered historic property tax reductions.”

-- Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the RedState 2011 gathering in Charleston, S.C., Aug. 13, 2011

“I know how to create jobs. You let the private sector free them up from over-taxation, free them up from over-regulation, free them up from over-litigation, then government, get out of the way. Let the private sector do what the private sector knows how to do.”

-- Perry, speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 15, 2011

“One of the things we did in my home state, just so you’ve got a record to back up -- not just hear somebody talking -- we reduced our franchise tax from 4.5 percent down to 1 percent. And that’s the type of message that you send across the board.”

-- Perry, during Derby, N.H. town hall meeting, Sept. 30, 2011

Perry’s comments fit with his usual vilification of taxes. His remarks in New Hampshire suggest the federal government has over-taxed businesses, while the others suggest he backs up his tax rhetoric with action.

We examined the Texas governor’s record to see whether his policies match his tax-less mantra, or whether he runs into the semantics issue we documented with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Perry’s centrist rival who found new ways to raise revenue without adding taxes by name.

The Facts

Perry negotiated a reduction in school property taxes in 2006, when Texas schools were facing a shutdown. To cover the gap, he signed tax hikes on cigarettes and revamped the state’s franchise tax, lowering the rate but applying it to a broader range of businesses.

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Rick Perry’s job creation record in Texas (Fact Checker biography)

(Andy Dunaway - AP)

“Since June 2009, about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas.”

-- Texas Governor Rick Perry during a June 14, 2011 cameo appearance on “Glenn Beck”

Gov. Rick Perry: “What Americans are looking for is someone who can get this country working again. And we put the model in place in the state of Texas. When you look at what we have done over the last decade, we created 1 million jobs in the state of Texas -- same time America lost 2.5 million. So I will suggest to you that Americans are focused on the right issue, and that is who on this stage can get America working, because we know for a fact that the resident of the White House cannot.”

Brian Williams: “But you know by now the counterargument to that is the number of low-wage jobs and the fact that unemployment is better in over half the states of the union than it is right now in Texas.”

Perry: “Well, the first part of that comment is incorrect, because 95 percent of all the jobs that we’ve created have been above minimum wage. So I’m proud of what we’ve done in the state of Texas.”

-- Exchange between Perry and moderator Brian Williams during GOP debate at Reagan Library, Sept. 7, 2011

Texas’s job-creation record may be the strongest hand Perry can play on the campaign trail because during and since the Great Recession the nation has endured negative and stagnant employment growth. The governor rarely makes an appearance these days without mentioning gaudy employment numbers for the Lone Star State.

We wondered whether Texas really put as many people to work as Perry claims it did. We also had to question whether one state -- albeit a very large one -- could really account for nearly half the new jobs created since the recession. And even if it did, what types of jobs did the state attract?

The Facts

Texas experienced a net growth of 1.2 million jobs from January 2001 through September 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The United States as a whole lost 1.1 million jobs, so on the surface, at least, it appears Texas under Perry’s leadership more than doubled the figure for the national decline.

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Fact checking the South Carolina debate

The GOP candidates met for a debate Saturday night sponsored by CBS and the National Journal, with a specific focus on foreign policy and national security. In foreign policy, there is often no right or wrong answer; the results of a policy are often ambiguous and its effectiveness is usually only determined by history. Still, there were a number of statements made by the candidates that were factually challenged, exaggerated or lacking context.

“It’s ironic to me that [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, who had been our ally for years, who had done everything he could to help the United States, who had helped us in the Iraq campaigns, who had done literally everything we had requested of him, he was dumped overnight by this administration in a way that signaled everybody in the world, don’t rely on the United States because they’ll abandon you in a heartbeat if they feel like it.”

--Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Whether Gingrich is right depends on your definition of “overnight.” At the time, the Obama administration was perceived as acting too slowly and hesitantly to the gathering forces for change in Egypt that began on Jan. 25, in part because of the reasons that Gingrich outlined in his comment. In fact, as we have documented, Obama had even cut back funding for democracy efforts in Egypt in order to curry favor with Mubarak.

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Fact checking the CNBC debate

(Paul Sancya/AP)

Well, we’re glad we don’t have to fact check the number of federal agencies Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to eliminate. Though the CNBC debate may only be remembered for the very awkward moment when Perry could only name two of the three on his list, here are some of the more dubious facts we heard last night — some of which were suggested by readers using #factcheckthis on Twitter or our Facebook page. As always, we may look deeper at some of these issues later in the week.

“I have never done any lobbying [for Freddie Mac]. Every contract was written during the period when I was out of the office, specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice. And my advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, “We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that’s what the government wants us to do,” as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.”

— Newt Gingrich

While it is not readily apparent what Gingrich may have privately told Freddie Mac executives in exchange for his $300,000 consulting fee, the Associated Press reported in 2008 that “Gingrich talked and wrote about what he saw as the benefits of the Freddie Mac business model.”

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Rick Perry’s head-scratching TV ad

(AP Photo/Perry Presidential Campaign)

“That will create jobs and will reduce our reliance on oil from countries that hate America.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry in his new television ad

Our colleague Nia-Malika Henderson, over at the Election 2012 blog, has already dissected Perry’s head-scratching pledge in his new TV ad to create 2.5 million jobs. (Briefly, that’s actually a very low bar for job creation in a presidential term.)

 So we want to focus on his notion that the United States gets its oil from countries that “hate America.”  This is also a head-scratching statement. Who could be on that list?


The Facts

 According to the Energy Department, here are the top petroleum importers to the United States through July of this year:


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Bogus claims that just keep getting repeated — and a further explanation of the Pinocchio scale

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“You have 219 new regulations coming out, costing over $100 million each.” 

— Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Oct. 27, 2011


As much as we try to expose wrongheaded rhetoric in today’s political debates, some of these “facts” keep popping up. It sometimes really feels like whack-a-mole.

 Imagine our surprise on Thursday when we saw that Rep. Paul Ryan made the statement above concerning federal regulations on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”  We thought we had driven a stake through this myth when we gave three Pinocchios to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in early September for making virtually the same statement.

 As we detailed then, there are serious problems with that “219” figure. Many of the regulations had no due date for completion; others had already been completed. The rules are listed as being economically significant if they have “economic impact” of $100 million, which could mean costs, benefits or both. It is incorrect to assume all of the potential regulations have only costs.

 Moreover, after our column appeared, the source of the figure — Susan E. Dudley, director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center — decided to do a deeper examination of the data. She found that the number of pending regulations that met the $100 million threshold in the database she examined was actually 158. There were also limitations in the database.

It is also worth noting that Bloomberg News this week reported that “Obama’s White House has approved fewer regulations than his predecessor George W. Bush at this same point in their tenures, and the estimated costs of those rules haven’t reached the annual peak set in fiscal 1992 under Bush’s father.”

Paul Ryan needs to get his talking points updated. He gets Three Pinocchios.

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Rick Perry’s flat tax plan, built on misleading statistics

(Mary Ann Chastain/AP)

“Central to my plan is giving every American the option of throwing out that 3 million words of the current tax code and, I might, add, the cost of complying with all of that code in order to pay a 20 percent flat tax on their income. You know, the size of the current code is more than 72,000 pages. That's represented by this pallet right over here and the reams of paper. That's what the current tax code looks like.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Oct. 25, 2011

Rick Perry, trying to relaunch his sagging campaign, on Tuesday announced that he would push for an optional 20-percent flat tax. We will leave the merits of such a system to other analysts, but the key to his argument is that such a system would be so simple that taxpayers could file their return on a post card.

So we were struck by his use of two figures — 72,000 pages and the 3 million words of the tax code — as a way to illustrate the complexity of the current system. He even pointed to 72,000 pages of paper before holding up a post card he had stuffed in his jacket pocket.

We are always suspicious when politicians mention page numbers. Are these numbers correct?

The Facts

Anyone with basic math skills would instantly notice there is a disconnect between those numbers. If you divide 3 million words by 72,000 pages, that would mean 42 words per page. That’s rather big type.

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Romney’s problematic claims about illegal immigration in Texas

(Chris Carlson/AP)
“The fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country . . . they’re coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, CNN debate, Oct. 18, 2011

“You put in place a magnet — you talk about magnets — you put in place a magnet to draw illegals into the state, which is giving $100,000 of tuition credit to illegals that come into this country. And then you have states, the big states of illegal immigrants are California and Florida. Over the last 10 years, they’ve had no increase in illegal immigration. Texas has had 60 percent increase in illegal immigrants.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in response

“With regards to the record in Texas, you probably also ought to tell people that if you look over the last several years, 40 percent, almost half, the jobs created in Texas were created for illegal aliens.”

— Romney, later in the debate

We got a bit distracted at the end of last week, debunking dubious GOP and Democratic claims regarding dueling jobs bills. But we want to weigh in on a pair of charges that Mitt Romney threw at Rick Perry during the contentious debate last week in Las Vegas.

Romney obviously came well-prepared with these “facts,” as his campaign immediately e-mailed reporters with specific references to the data that he cited. But the more we looked into his claims, the shakier they became.

Let’s take a look under the hood of these revved-up statistics.

The Facts

The claim that Texas has had a 60 percent increase in illegal immigrants since 2000, compared to no increase in California and Florida, comes from a study by the Department of Homeland Security. At first glance, that appears to give a government imprimatur to Romney’s assertion.

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Fact checking the CNN Republican debate in Las Vegas


The Republican debate hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday night was certainty lively and at times feisty. Here’s a tour through some of the “facts” tossed around by the candidates. We may come back to some other facts later in the week.

“And all of the claims that are made against [Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan], it is a jobs plan. It is revenue neutral. It does not raise taxes on those that are making the least. All of those are simply not true.”

— Business executive Herman Cain

Cain constantly asserts this about his plan — which would institute a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business transaction tax and a 9 percent sales tax — but the respected and nonpartisan Tax Policy Center on Tuesday issued the first comprehensive report on the impact of the “9-9-9” plan on individual taxpayers.

While the report said that the tax plan appeared to raise the same amount of revenue as the current system, it said that the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers, including the working poor, would see a tax increase while the wealthiest Americans would earn big tax cuts. So Cain is flat wrong when he asserts it will “not raise taxes on those making the least.”

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Gov. Perry’s shaky defense of Texas investment funds

GOV. RICK PERRY: “I don’t think the federal government should be involved in that type of investment, period. If states want to choose to do that, I think that’s fine for states to do that.”

KAREN TUMULTY: “And you have in Texas done that with the emerging technology fund. But your own state auditor said earlier this year that that fund is neither accountable nor transparent. The Dallas Morning News reported that that fund gave $16 million to companies that are connected to your campaign contributors. And like Solyndra, some of the emerging technology fund investments have gone bust. So how is this different in principle from the Obama administration’s efforts to pick winners in the future economy?”

PERRY: “Well, first off, the Texas legislature has full oversight of that committee. It’s approved it for -- I think since 2003. So every two years the Texas legislature looks at it and it’s had full oversight, and I can promise you the 54,600 jobs that have been created and the 14-plus billion dollars worth of investment that has come out of the Enterprise Fund in the state of Texas, those people that have jobs today in the state of Texas, they are absolutely happy that we’ve got a program like that. And 75 percent of my appointees never made a contribution to me, period.”

TUMULTY: “But you talk about oversight. The fact is that in some instances your appointees have overruled the regional boards that have tried to turn back some of these deals.”

PERRY: “Every one of those projects had the lieutenant governor, the speaker and the governor’s office. So there’s extraordinary amount of oversight in those programs, and we’re proud of them. I mean, we feel like those are part of the reason that Texas has led the nation in the creation of jobs.”

— Exchange between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty during the Washington Post-Bloomberg GOP debate, Oct. 11, 2011

Staunch conservatives characterize government-run investment programs as “corporate welfare.” Perry’s remarks suggests he thinks the initiatives are fine at the state level, but not for the federal government — an argument typically reserved for state’s rights issues.

The governor’s comments shed no light on his logic. We still don’t know how these programs can be wrong for one type of government and right for the other. At the end of the day, these funds work the same, investing taxpayer dollars in companies that can supposedly grow jobs and prosper.

Perry suggests his initiatives have been wild successes in terms of job growth. He also suggests that the state provides adequate oversight, regardless of whether his campaign donors stood to gain from investments. How accurate are his claims?

The Facts

Perry and Tumulty were talking about two pools of investment money, the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technologies Fund. The enterprise fund has doled out $440 million over the past seven years, while the technology fund has awarded $334 million since 2005.

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Fact Checking the Post-Bloomberg debate

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. speaks during the presidential debate sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Tuesday. Talk show host Charlie Rose moderates the event, featuring eight Republican candidates. (Toni Sandys - THE WASHINGTON POST)
That was certainly a fascinating debate Tuesday night sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg. We posted 13 fact checks during the debate, assisted by Post reporters Josh Hicks and Lori Montgomery, and as is our practice will possibly delve more deeply into some issues in the coming days.

“Mr. Cain, in the past, you've been rather critical of any of us who would want to audit the Fed. You said — you've used pretty strong terms, that we were ignorant and that we didn't know what we were doing, and therefore there is no need for an audit anyway because if you had one you're not going to find out everything because everybody knows everything about the Fed.”

— Ron Paul to Herman Cain

“First of all, you have misquoted me. I did not call you or any of your people ‘ignorant.’ I don't know where that came from…Now, so you got to be careful of the stuff that you get off the Internet because that's just not something that I have said.  And I have also said, to be precise, I do not object to the Federal Reserve being audited.”

— Cain’s response

It seems Cain has forgotten his own words. We did do some Internet research, and found that Ron Paul had uploaded this clip below on Monday. (Talk about a gotcha question!) You can listen to the clip, but here is what Cain said:

"Some people say that we ought to audit the Federal Reserve. Here's what I do know. The Federal Reserve already has so many internal audits it's ridiculous. I don't know why people think we're gonna learn this great amount of information by auditing the Federal Reserve. I think a lot of people are calling for this audit of the Federal Reserve because they don't know enough about it. There's no hidden secrets going on in the Federal Reserve to my knowledge.”

Okay, so he didn’t say “ignorant.” But he certainly implied it.

“While this country was losing 2½ million jobs, Texas was creating 1 million jobs.”

— Rick Perry

The Texas governor is playing three-card monte with these figures. You have to look quickly to figure out how he manipulates the statistics.

During Obama’s presidency, the nation has lost about 2 million jobs (The number varies by about 800,000 depending on whether you count January 2009; Obama took office on Jan. 20.)

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Get out some popcorn, and watch some videos before the debate

We’re reposting links to our pre-debate videos, this time with links rather than embeds, for people who prefer to get to the video that way (or want to send the links to friend.). Let’s see how many of these bogus claims get repeated tonight.

The Fact Checker will also have a live fact check during The Washington Post-Bloomberg debate and then produce our usuual wrap-up of the highlights and lowlights.


This video dissects claims by Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann on President Obama’s health care law.

The economic crisis

This video looks at the rhetoric used by Rick Perry, Romney and Ron Paul about Obama’s handling of the economy.

Obama’s foreign policy

This video looks at claims by Romney and Bachmann about Obama’s so-called Apology Tour and his handling of relations with Israel.

Rick Perry’s new ad about Mitt Romney and ‘RomneyCare’

(Evan Vucci/AP)

“RomneyCare cost $8 billion.”

“RomneyCare killed 18,000 jobs.”

-- Text from an ad about Mitt Romney’s healthcare law, sponsored by the Rick Perry campaign, October 10, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched an ad Monday attacking Mitt Romney on the healthcare-reform law that not so affectionately bears his name among conservatives. The overall theme of the ad--that Romney’s health care law is intellectual father of Obama’s law--is correct. But then it goes even further than that.

The ad, strikingly similar to a Hollywood movie trailer in terms of its quality and dramatic effect, paints “RomneyCare” as an economic disaster similar to the way conservatives portray Obama’s national healthcare law. (Much of Obama’s law has not been implemented yet, so that is a bit premature.)

The ad also flashes images of Obama, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, delivering an almost subliminal message that Romney is akin to those liberal icons.

The ad continues with a line disappearing from Romney’s book “No Apologies,” suggesting the GOP front-runner has changed his tune in regard to whether the plan would work for the entire nation.

Perry’s attack doesn’t stop there. The ad shows a cleverly trimmed excerpt from an interview in which the late :Meet the Press” host Tim Russert asks Romney why he wouldn’t apply his reform plan to the rest of the country. Romney replies, “I would.”

We delved into the two reports that Perry’s campaign relied on for its claims about the negative impacts of the Massachusetts healthcare-reform plan. We also looked at the full transcript of Romney’s interview with Russert to find out whether the ad left out anything important.

We’ve already scrutinized Perry’s attack on the Romney book edits, so we won’t spend any more time on that. Suffice it to say we awarded three Pinocchios to the Texas governor for manufacturing a phony issue.

The Facts

The Perry campaign based its economic claims off two studies from the Massachusetts-based Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative group affliated with Suffolk University in Boston known for its hostility toward taxes and insurance mandates.

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What are the most dubious things that presidential candidates say?

The Washington Post and Bloomberg News are sponsoring an economics-focused debate among the 2012 Republican presidential candidates at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

In preparation for that debate we have produced three videos that examine some of the most common sound bites used during previous debates — and what’s factually wrong with them. The videos cover three distinct areas.


The economy

Foreign policy

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Introducing the candidate Pinocchio tracker

We are pleased to launch our Pinocchio tracker for the 2012 campaign, developed with the brilliant assistance of Lori Williams at Tableau Software.

 At a glance, it will tell you how the various candidates have fared in Pinocchio checks. It lists each rating, with a link to the relevant article. If you hover over a candidate’s name, the tracker will also calculate the average number of Pinocchios a person has received. We plan to update this tracker at the end of every week.

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Rick Perry’s claim of higher returns from Social Security alternatives

(Craig Ruttle/AP)

Question: “Governor Perry, what would you do to transform it [Social Security] from what you have described as a ‘Ponzi scheme?’”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R): “One of the other things that we talked about in the book, ‘Fed Up,’ was that states could open back up for their employees and/or their retirees -- we did that in the state of Texas back in the `80s. Those counties that participated in that have somewhere between 3 and 5 percent more going to their — or three to five times more going to their participants who opted out of Social Security.”

— Exchange on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Sept. 29, 2011

As Texas Gov. Perry continues to run away from some of the more pointed statements in his book, “Fed Up,” such as calling Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme” (see page 61), he has strived to emphasize his interest in finding solutions for the old-age retirement program. One example he has pointed to is the decision by three Texas counties — Galveston, Matagorda and Brazoria — to opt out of Social Security and start their own retirement plans.

In his book, Perry mentions the Texas counties’s move on the same page he labels Social Security a Ponzi scheme, but he doesn’t really explore it as an option for fixing Social Security. He simply mentions it as an example of where individuals would have done better on their own. “Employees in those private plans, having exercised their liberty at Washington’s sufferance, are reaping the benefits,” he asserted.

In his CNBC appearance, Perry was specific — that participants are getting “three to five times more” than people in Social Security. Is this correct? And does it make sense to even make this comparison?


The Facts

Social Security was created in response to the pervasive poverty during the Great Depression. It is designed to provide workers with a basic level of income in retirement, as well as disability pay and life insurance while they work. Just over 60 percent of the 54 million beneficiaries are retired workers; the rest are disabled workers, dependents or survivors. (For more information, read our popular primer on Social Security.)

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Rick Perry’s phony ad on Mitt Romney (part 2)

Not to belabor the point, but the Rick Perry campaign seems intent on playing games with snippets of quotes by his main rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. This morning, we’ve already deconstructed his made-up attack on Romney’s book, but then today here comes another one, this time on Romney’s supposed support for President Obama’s “Race to the Top” education initiative.

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Perry’s phony attack ad on changes to Romney’s book

“In his 2010 book, Mitt Romney wrote Romneycare was a national model. . . . When No Apology was published in paperback on Feb. 1, 2011, Romney deleted his own words praising Romneycare.”

— From a new campaign ad by Texas Gov. Rick Perry

The battle of the books has now turned into an ad war.

The Rick Perry campaign on Monday released an advertisement that reiterates the Texas governor’s charge, made during last week’s debate, that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney altered the text of his book “No Apology” between the publication of the hardcover edition in 2010 and the paperback version in 2011. Specifically, Perry claims that Romney deleted a sentence suggesting that the health-care plan he passed in Massachusetts was a model for the rest of the nation.

Romney forcefully denied that claim during the debate — a clip the Perry campaign uses in this ad. “Please don’t try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book,” Romney said. “I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did. And I believe that the people of this country can read my book and see exactly what it is.”

When Romney says he stood by what he wrote, Perry nods his head, smiles and says, “Good.” Perhaps he was already thinking of the attack ad he could craft?

On the evening of the debate, we looked at this issue briefly and concluded that Perry had substantially overstated the significance of the changes in the text. But this ad raises the stakes and thus requires a deeper look.

The Facts

The key sentence that Perry focuses on in his ad is this one, which is in a chapter on Romney’s successful drive to bring universal health care to his state: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.” (Page 177.)

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Fact checking the GOP debate in Orlando

(Fox News)

Another lengthy presidential debate, and more bogus claims and counterclaims to check. Let’s see what the candidates got wrong this time at last night’s debate in Orlando, Fla., hosted by Fox News, Google and the Republican Party of Florida:

Question: “Do you stand by your statement that the HPV vaccine is potentially dangerous, and if not, should you be more careful when you’re talking about a public health issue?”
“Well, first, I didn’t make that claim, nor did I make that statement. Immediately after the debate, a mother came up to me, and she was visibly shaken and heartbroken because of what her daughter had gone through, and so I only related what her story was.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Bachmann, in trying to spin her way out of a political problem, is simply not telling the truth here. The transcript of her interview on NBC’s “Today” program shows that Bachmann not only said the vaccine “could potentially be a very dangerous drug,” but she made this statement before she ever mentioned the distraught mother.

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GOP debate preview: the so-called ‘facts’ that keep getting repeated

(This was originally written for the print edition of The Washington Post, but alas, space ran short last night so we are posting this as a special column on the blog.)

The candidates running for the Republican nomination for president have now had four debates, with a fifth scheduled for Thursday. As usual, they will come armed with an arsenal of facts, often designed to put the incumbent, President Obama, in the worst possible light.

The problem is, many of these facts are suspect. Here then is a guide to dubious claims you might hear Thursday—and, if not then, probably a debate after that.

Obama’s health-care law

Both Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have repeatedly charged that Obama “stole” or “cut” $500 billion from Medicare and used the money to fund his health care law. The claim rests on a technicality.

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Rick Perry’s newbie mistake on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Question: Do you believe there should be a Palestinian state?

“I certainly have some concerns. The first step in any peaceful negotiation for a two-state solution for the Palestinians is to recognize the right of Israel’s existence. They have to denounce terrorism in both word and deed. And they have to sit down and negotiate with Israel directly. Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), in an interview with Time magazine, Sept. 15, 2011

Handling the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is one of the most delicate and time-consuming tasks faced by a U.S. president, as demonstrated by this week’s drama concerning the Palestinian push for recognition as a state by the United Nations. In fact, one can argue that missteps early in President Obama’s tenure have helped lead the administration to the crisis it now faces today.

 That’s why Perry’s comments to Time magazine struck us as interesting and potentially revealing. How deep is his understanding of this long-running conflict?


The Facts

 Perry’s statement had three parts: Palestinians must recognize Israel’s existence; they have to denounce terrorism; they have to negotiate with Israel directly. “Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion,” he declared.

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The Texas showdown at the GOP debate


Rep. Ron Paul:   “I'm a taxpayer there [Texas]. My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he's been in office. Our spending has gone up double. Our debt has gone up nearly triple. So, no, and 170,000 of the jobs were government jobs. So I would put a little damper on this, but I don't want to offend the governor, because he might raise my taxes or something.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry : “While I've been governor, we have cut taxes by $14 billion, 65 different pieces of legislation. You may have not seen them, Representative Paul.”

— Exchange during the CNN-Tea Party Express debate, Sept. 12

This story has been updated.

A Texas showdown erupted briefly during Monday night’s Republican debate in Tampa when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Texas Rep. Ron Paul whether Lone Star Gov. Rick Perry deserves credit for job creation in their state.

Paul laughed off the suggestion and made four claims about Perry’s tenure: rising taxes, increased spending, growing debt and more government jobs.

Perry shot back that he signed 65 tax-saving measures to cut $14 billion in taxes.

All politicians slice and dice statistics to put their record in the best possible light. Who had the better argument in the debate?


The Facts

 We asked both campaigns to justify their claims. The Paul campaign answered with a detailed fact sheet, but the Perry campaign did not respond to calls or e-mails. Still, we found a document on the Perry Web site that helped explain where he got the $14 billion figure for his tax cut claim.

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Tampa debate leftover: Perry and illegal immigrants


“We decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity their pursuing citizenship in this country, rather than saying, you know, we're going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life.”

--Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sept. 12, 2011

This line in Monday’s GOP debate, sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express, puzzled us.

 Perry, under attack by his rivals for allowing illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid at Texas’ public universities, responded that he was trying to make sure they did not end up on welfare.

 That’s an interesting but strange argument.  We sent a query to the Perry campaign, asking for an explanation, and as usual did not get a response.


The Facts

After the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that illegal immigrant children must be educated free of charge in public schools, Texas in 2001 became the first state in the country to pass an in-state tuition law. Many states have now followed suit.

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Fact checking the CNN and Tea Party Express debate in Tampa


The Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., co-hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express, was feisty and provocative, with many of the candidates relying once again on bogus “facts” that we have previously identified as faulty or misleading.

The debate marked a remarkable shift in tone by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the issue of Social Security, barely five days after he labeled the venerable old-age program “a Ponzi scheme” doomed to fail. This week, he said it was a “slam dunk guaranteed” for people already on it.

Last week, we explained why the Ponzi scheme label was not true — and also provided readers with a primer on Social Security for those who want to learn more. In Monday night’s debate, Perry and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney tangled over the issue again, and Romney had better command of the facts, as far as the two men’s books were concerned.

“The real issue is that in writing his book Governor Perry pointed out that, in his view, that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states … . Governor Perry, you’ve got to quote me correctly. You said ‘it’s criminal.’ What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security Trust Fund is like criminal, and that is, and it’s wrong.”

— Mitt Romney

Romney gets points for correctly quoting both Perry’s book, “Fed Up,” and his own book, “No Apology.” On page 58, Perry labels Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and even unemployment insurance as “unnecessary, unconstitutional programs.” While promoting his book last year on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Perry went further, suggesting Social Security should be dismantled and simply become a state responsibility.

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Perry vs. Romney vs. Huntsman on jobs

(Jae C. Hong/AP)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry:  “He [Romney] had one of the lowest job creation rates in the country. So the fact is while he had a good private sector record, his public sector record did not match that. As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: “I came into a state that was in real trouble. … We ended up with 4.7 percent unemployment rate. I'm proud of what we were able to do in a tough situation.”

Perry: “But Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt.”

Romney: “Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.”

Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman: “I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number-one job creator in this country during my years of service. … And to my good friend Mitt, 47th just ain't going to cut it, my friend — not when you can be first.” 

— Exchange during the GOP debate at the Reagan library, Sept. 7, 2011

That was a remarkably silly discussion over job creation at last week’s GOP presidential debate, as two former governors and one current governor tangled over who performed best at creating jobs.

Business cycles play an important role in job creation, as do events (such as national economic policy) that are far beyond a governor’s control. The quality of jobs matters, too, rather than just numbers. A governor can implement policies that have some impact, but the effectiveness of those policies might only be felt long after that person was in office.

Politicians can also slice and dice the data to put their performance in the best possible light. Huntsman has released a video ad to make his case that he was No. 1 in job creation while Romney was only No. 47. But as our colleagues at pointed out, Huntsman’s campaign compared different data sets. Using the same data changed the results. When Massaschusetts placed in 47th place, Utah under Huntsman ranked fourth — not first.

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A primer on Social Security

(Chris Carlson/AP)

“It [Social Security] is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years today you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there.”

--Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Sept. 8, 2011

When the front-running presidential candidate for the Republican Party makes such an inaccurate statement about such a fundamental government program during a debate, it’s time for a primer on Social Security. Here are some answers to basic questions about the program, which is frequently mischaracterized in political discourse.

What is Social Security?

Social Security was created in response to the pervasive poverty during the Great Depression. It is designed to provide workers with a basic level of income in retirement, as well as disability pay and life insurance while they work.

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Fact checking the GOP debate at the Reagan library

(Jae C. Hong/AP)

That was a rip-roaring Republican debate Wednesday night at the Reagan library. As is our practice, we will quickly assess a number of claims and then perhaps come back later with a deeper look at some issues.

The debate started with a back and forth between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry over job creation during their tenures. This in many ways is a silly discussion — governors and even presidents are very much at the mercy of the economic situation they inherited — and Romney actually framed it well:

“The states are different. Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right-to-work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things. But Governor Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, why, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”

(Gore actually did not put it quite that way, but never mind.)

So, for the moment, we are going to set aside the job discussion, stipulating that each man has his claims and counterclaims, and focus on other issues.

“It is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there.”

— Gov. Perry

Perhaps the governor does not know the dictionary definition of a Ponzi scheme. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: “An investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks.”

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Rick Perry’s claim that Obama has ‘killed more jobs’ than any other president

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“The president’s been on a jobs tour. As a matter of fact, we crossed paths when we were in the state of Iowa. He had his big ol’ bus – his big ol’ 1.2 million-dollar bus, made in Canada – but, anyway, the real issue is our president’s out there, and he goes on a jobs tour. This is the president of the United States that has killed more jobs in America than I think any president in history, certainly in my lifetime. I think the only job he cares about is the one he’s got.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 19, 2011

The Texas governor speaks in no-nonsense, blunt sentences, and the statement above, made while campaigning in Florence, S.C., is a prime example.

Perry was a little high on the cost of the presidential bus — it was $1.1 million — but he is correct that the shell of the bus is from Canada. Still, only one company makes this kind of bus — and then it was retrofitted by a Tennessee company.

Perry does not mention that George W. Bush tooled around in the same type of bus in 2004 — or that the Secret Service ordered an identical bus for the GOP presidential nominee. We’re not sure what Perry (or whoever becomes the GOP nominee) would do if they want to have a bus tour in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign. Would he/she really reject the Secret Service’s advice to use the bus?

But what really caught our eye was the statement that President Obama “has killed more jobs” than any other president in history. That’s somewhat similar to a line former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney trotted out about six months ago, for which he earned one Pinocchio, but Romney’s statement was much more cleverly and carefully worded — in effect, a reflex hammer compared to the sledgehammer of Perry’s statement.

The Facts

Here’s what Romney said in February: “President Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history.”

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Rick Perry’s made-up ‘facts’ about climate change


“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed. But I do not buy into, that a group of scientists, who in some cases were found to be manipulating this data.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 17, 2011

This is a pretty sweeping statement about global warming by the newly announced GOP candidate for president. Perry has long been a skeptic of the science behind global warming, having highlighted that stance in his book, “Fed Up!”

But these remarks, made in New Hampshire on Wednesday, seem to take his skepticism to a new level, with significant and specific allegations:

1. A substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so they will have dollars rolling into their projects.

2. Almost weekly or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.

How true is this?


The Facts

 The question of whether humans have contributed to climate change in recent years has generated increasing skepticism among the American public, especially as proposals to deal with the problem, such as reducing carbon emissions, have come with high price tags. But Perry is wrong to suggest that that skepticism has gained strength among scientists.

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Fact checking Rick Perry’s announcement speech


Well, goodbye Tim Pawlenty, hello Rick Perry.

The Texas governor announced that he is running for president on Saturday, just hours before the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa that ended Pawlenty’s presidential aspirations. As has been our custom, we will take a look at some of the assertions made in Perry’s announcement speech and then render a blended Pinocchio rating.

“Since June of 2009, Texas is responsible for more than 40 percent of all of the new jobs created in America. Now think about that. We’re home to less than 10 percent of the population in America, but 40 percent of all the new jobs were created in that state.”

This is a great-sounding statistic, and likely will form the core of Perry’s campaign against a presidency that thus far has negative job creation.

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