Congress is off on recess, and so is The Fact Checker. The column will return Sept. 3.
Changes are in the works, too. Coming Sept. 9: a new format for the blog landing page and a new Fact Checker game.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker
CHARLIE ROSE: “Should this be transparent in some way?”
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “It is transparent, that’s why we set up the FISA court.”
— exchange on the “Charlie Rose” show, June 17, 2013
“How do your entire senior staff know about this for months and months and it’s never mentioned to the president?”
— House Speaker John Boehner, interview on CNBC, June 20, 2013
Readers frequently ask how we decide what items to fact check. Ideally, we strive for topics of broad interest to readers, on subjects that are currently in the news. We don’t try to play gotcha, meaning that we understand that politicians from time to time make unintentional errors.
Of course, some readers may believe we sometimes fall short of these standards, focusing on what they might consider trivial or inconsequential matters. It’s a judgment call, as are the number of Pinocchios we award.
Sometimes it is equally important what we choose not to fact check.
In this column, we are going to do something unusual: We are going to explain why we passed on two potential fact checks, even though each might have yielded many Pinocchios. One concerns a quote by President Obama, which earned him a dreaded “Pants on Fire” from our esteemed colleagues at PolitiFact; the other is a statement on the IRS scandal by House Speaker John Boehner.
Obama and the ‘transparent’ court
During an interview with Charlie Rose, Obama appeared to claim that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is “transparent.” The statement came in the midst of a complex exchange about the recent National Security Agency revelations that is worth reprinting in full.
Virtually all of this year’s fact checking was focused on the presidential election. So, in selecting our biggest Pinocchios of the year, we spent days going though old columns and reliving an election that seems rather distant now.
In many ways, it was depressing reading. So much of the campaign was fought over trivial or inconsequential issues. For instance, we wrote nearly 20 columns dissecting every possible claim about Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital, which came under attack both from his Republican rivals and the Obama campaign.
Romney left himself open to scrutiny because he incorrectly claimed that he helped create more than 100,000 jobs at Bain — he mainly created wealth for his investors — but the attacks often were equally false. A candidate’s experience and background is certainly worthy of debate, but all too often in 2012 it just turned into a game of political gotcha.
In this election, fact checking certainly became part of the conversation, with many additional news organizations joining FactCheck.Org, PolitiFact and The Washington Post in scrutinizing politician’s statements, especially during the debates. Since fact checking is a relatively new genre of journalism, however, it is frequently misunderstood.
It’s hard to believe this nasty and brutish presidential campaign has come to an end.
According to our Pinocchio Tracker, through most of the race President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney were neck and neck for the average number of Pinocchios, averaging about 2 Pinocchios each. But then, in the final months, Romney suddenly pulled ahead (so to speak) with a series of statements and commercials that stretched the limits. Obama’s average also got worse — and was nothing to be proud of.
In the end, Romney finished with an average ranking of 2.4 Pinnochios, compared to 2.11 for Obama. Not counting debates (when we awarded no Pinocchios), we rated 92 statements by Obama and 77 by Romney, as well as more than 200 claims made by surrogates and interest groups, as well as Republican presidential contenders.
Among the primary aspirants, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) finished with the worst rating overall of any candidate — an average of 3.08 Pinocchios.
Here are some of the lowlights of the 2012 campaign.
“You’ve got issues like Planned Parenthood, where that organization provides millions of women cervical-cancer screenings, mammograms, all kinds of basic health care.”
— President Obama during an interview on “The Tonight Show,” Oct. 24, 2012
President Obama appeared on “The Tonight Show” Wednesday, arguing his case for what’s at stake for women in the 2012 election after host Jay Leno prompted him to talk about a recent comment from Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock that pregnancies caused by rape are “something God intended.”
Obama suggested that Mitt Romney’s pledge to cut Planned Parenthood funding would deny women health services provided by the organization. But the incumbent’s reference to mammography prompted the Susan B. Anthony List antiabortion group to release a statement saying, “This oft-repeated myth has been repeatedly debunked, and it’s time the President stop misleading the American people in an effort to buoy his top political ally.”
We decided to investigate this issue to determine whether the president really stretched the truth about Planned Parenthood services.
Obama has talked about Planned Parenthood’s supposed mammography services throughout his 2012 campaign. Here are a few examples of his remarks:
“America cannot afford Romney economics. Mitt Romney will stick it to working people.”
— Former Ampad employee Randy Johnson during a speech at the Democratic convention, Sept. 5, 2012
The Democratic convention on Wednesday featured three speakers billed as “former employees at companies controlled by Romney’s Bain Capital,” who shared their experiences with layoffs, benefit reductions and plant closings while under the private-equity firm’s control. Each speaker tried to cast doubt on the notion that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is uniquely qualified to create jobs because of his work as a corporate executive.
Opponents have accused Romney of leading a firm that looted companies and drove them toward debt-induced bankruptcy. But a number of prominent Democrats have defended the firm.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company,” while Newark, N.J. Mayor Corey Booker said President Obama’s campaign should “stop attacking private equity.” Former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford, Jr. said “private equity’s not a bad thing; in fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances.”
Former president Bill Clinton cautioned voters not to judge Bain’s management practices based on a few deals that turned bad for workers. “I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say, ‘This is bad work, this is good work,’” he said, noting nonetheless that he strongly prefers Obama’s vision for the future over Romney’s.
We’ve noted in previous columns that former Obama administration “car czar” Steve Rattner also wrote a piece for Politico that said, “Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path.”
For easy reference, we’ve compiled a collection of Fact Checker columns dealing with the attacks on Romney’s record at Bain, most of which either lacked context or blamed the Republican candidate for job losses that occurred after he left the private-equity firm. Let’s examine the claims of these “former employees” to see how they hold up.
First, a little background on private equity. A December Washington Post article described how the practice works, explaining that firms like Bain acquire businesses, trim costs, often borrow money and acquire competitors in an effort to make the companies more profitable. The goal is to eventually sell the businesses for a gain.
Eight years ago, when Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) was the Democratic nominee for president, he blasted then-President George W. Bush for his record on jobs. He often noted that Bush was on track to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss in jobs.
Bush, by contrast, repeatedly proclaimed that 1.7 million jobs had been added since April 2003 — a cherry-picked date designed to put his jobs record in the best possible light.
With the economic shoe on the other foot, now it’s GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney who uses the attack lines honed by Kerry, and it’s President Obama who relies on Bush’s strained economic accounting.
Such manipulation of statistics is standard fare for political campaigns, which is one reason why voters should always take such claims with a grain of salt. Yet something deeper and more disturbing is also affecting the political system.
This post has been updated.
First lady Michelle Obama stayed above the fray during her speech Tuesday at the Democratic convention, praising her husband’s values and vision without attacking his opponents directly. Other Democrats weren’t so nice. Here are a few claims that stood out.
The details of President Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night are not known, but he’s been road-testing various claims about his record — and GOP rival Mitt Romney — for months. Here are five dubious assertions that he frequently makes on the campaign trail.
Our goal is to help voters understand the context of these claims as they watch the speech. We did a similar exercise last week for Mitt Romney. He used three of the five examples we highlighted and a variation of a fourth.
For all the outrage (on the left) about misrepresentations and misinformation in Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech accepting the Republican nomination for vice president, my reaction was: par for the course.
We are, of course, talking about a political convention. The whole point is for the party to put its best foot forward to the American people. By its very nature, that means downplaying unpleasant facts, highlighting the positive and knocking down the opposing team.
In fact, until Ryan showed up, in the traditional role of a vice president attack dog, my impression was that, given the nasty, brutish attacks by both sides in this campaign, the Republicans were generally on good behavior.
Wednesday’s speeches at the Republican National Convention struck us as somewhat safer than those from the previous day, but that doesn’t mean the event that day was completely free from misleading and factually incorrect remarks. Here are a few dubious comments that stood out.
The Fact Checker is away until August 27. We’re recharging our batteries in preparation for the Republican and Democratic conventions.
But we’ve left behind four one-minute videos that take a closer look at “gaffes” made by President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Find out what they really said — without the selective editing.
Why do the campaigns play such games? The answer is that the most politically effective use of such snippets is when they appear to reinforce existing stereotypes about an opposing candidate.
Romney: ‘Corporations are people, my friend.’
Romney: ‘Corporations are people, my friend.’
For interested readers, above is a video of a recent speech given by Glenn Kessler on fact checking the statements of President Obama, former governor Mitt Romney and their allies during this presidential season. In the June speech before the National Capital Area Skeptics, Kessler describes the Pinocchio ranking system, explains how he evaluates various claims and provides commentary on various television advertisements that he shows to the audience. He also answers questions — some skeptical — from the audience.
“FACT: In 2010 and 2011, Romney paid less than 15% in taxes on $42.5 million in income—much less than what many middle-class families pay.”
— Tweet by @BarackObama, July 3, 2012
We are avid readers of tweets by @BarackObama, though of course it is not the president himself but his campaign team that posts them. We are also very curious when politicians claim they have uttered “a fact.”
So, is it really true that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who is very wealthy, pays a tax rate “much less” than “many” middle-class families?
Romney released his 2010 tax return and an estimate of his 2011 return earlier this year. He earned a little more than $20 million each year, a good chunk of it in capital gains and dividends, which are taxed at a preferential rate as low as 15 percent.
Every six months, we provide an accounting of The Fact Checker ratings.
We do this in response to persistent questions from readers: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? Our Pinocchio Tracker provide a daily update of the ratings of the presidential candidates, but not of the political parties.
We frankly have no idea until we sit down and do some calculations. Many of the columns are generated by what’s in the news. (Hence, in March, there were lots of columns about political hot air concerning rising gas prices.) We do not consciously choose to focus on one party or another, believing it will all even out in the end.
While some readers in both parties are convinced we are either a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, depending on who we are dinging that day, the truth is that we pay little attention to party affiliation when evaluating a political statement. We have learned through long experience that both parties will twist the facts if they believe it will advance their political interests.
Still, it is clear that the average Pinocchio ratings this period have tended to be higher for Republicans than Democrats. We suspect it is because of the hard-fought primary battle on the Republican side, when many of our columns were about claims that Republicans made about each other. (Remember Newt Gingrich’s “King of Bain”? That was probably worse than anything the Obama campaign has thrown at Mitt Romney yet.)
The month of January, for instance, had 13 columns that resulted in Pinocchio ratings about Republican statements, compared to just four for Democrats—and that’s not even counting the debate round-ups. Things have evened out in recent months, with June featuring 11 Pinocchio-rated statements by Democrats and 10 by Republicans. Not all of our columns result in Pinocchio ratings, so those are not counted.
“As governor, Mitt Romney did reduce taxes — on millionaires like himself. But he raised taxes and fees on everyone else — $1.5 billion. Over a thousand fee hikes: on health care, on school-bus rides, on milk, on driver’s licenses, on nursing homes, on lead-poisoning prevention, on meat-and-poultry inspection, on fishermen, gun owners, on nurses, on electricians, on hospitals, on funeral homes, on health services, on hospice care...”
— Narration from Obama campaign ad
President Obama’s campaign team released this ad titled “Mosaic” last week, challenging the notion that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney reduced massive budget deficits without raising taxes. We wondered about the numbers it cited, as well as the specific increases named.
Let’s review what we found. Do Romney’s revenue hikes truly represent a 1,000-fee mosaic? While we’re at it, did the former governor really reduce taxes on Massachusetts millionaires?
The tax reduction for millionaires refers to Romney repealing a law that would have applied a rate increase on capital gains retroactively — as in, you owe us for the past because we decided to raise the rate mid-year (and before Romney took office). The Boston Globe editorial board, the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and eventually the Democrat-led legislature ended up supporting the governor’s repeal, as FactCheck.org mentioned in a recent article.
“There was an amazing article the other day, I believe it was in the Wall Street Journal, where Republicans in Congress openly were saying, ‘we’re not going to do anything until the election on the economy, because we want to help Mitt Romney.’ ... With an economy that needs help right now, with the middle class that’s struggling, it’s an amazing thing.”
“For all of this talk about government, for every private-sector job created in Massachusetts by Governor Romney, six public sector jobs.”
— White House senior adviser David Plouffe on “Fox News Sunday,” June 17, 2012
White House senior adviser David Plouffe made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows this week, making appearances on all the major networks except one. He used the opportunity to defend and clarify President Obama’s campaign message, but he also took swipes at presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
We wondered what article Plouffe was referring to when he said Republicans have talked openly about trying to improve Romney’s election chances by blocking economic progress. And what about the Republican challenger’s job-creation numbers? We wrote a column in the past about this issue, but Plouffe’s assertion about six government jobs for every private-sector job represented a new and inconceivable-sounding twist.
Let’s examine the veracity of these claims.
In terms of the “amazing article” Plouffe referred to, we found no reports quoting Republicans talking openly about sitting idle on the economy to improve Romney’s election chances.
“Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator. But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico. As governor, he did the same thing: Outsourcing state jobs to India.”
— Voiceover of new Barack Obama campaign ad
The Obama campaign apparently loves to ding former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with the charge of “outsourcing.” On several occasions, we have faulted the campaign for its claims, apparently to little avail.
Now, all of the claims have been combined in one 30-second ad, with the added incendiary charge that Romney was a “corporate raider.” Let’s look anew at this material.
The phrase “corporate raider” has a particular meaning in the world of finance. Here’s the definition on Investopedia:
"Now, an independent study says that about 70 percent of this new, $5 trillion tax cut would go to folks making over $200,000 a year. And folks making over a million dollars a year would get an average tax cut of about 25 percent.”
— President Obama, June 14, 2012, speaking about Romney tax plan
“One of the absolute requirements of any tax reform that I have in mind is that people who are at the high end, whether you call them the 1 percent or 2 percent or half a percent, that people at the high end will still pay the same share of the tax burden they’re paying now. I’m not looking for a tax cut for the very wealthiest. I’m looking to bring tax rates down for everyone.”
— Former governor Mitt Romney, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 17, 2012, also speaking about his tax plan
How are such opposing statements even possible?
The president declares on Thursday that his GOP rival will give the rich a 25 percent tax cut, citing an “independent study.”And then three days later, Romney insists that the rich will still “pay the same share of the tax burden.” In other words, no real tax cut.
Part of the explanation is that Obama is trying to nail Romney with specifics — and Romney is trying to avoid them. Let’s take a closer look.
First, let’s examine the tax burden under current law. When it comes to federal income taxes, the wealthy already pay most of the taxes. (The percentages change a bit when payroll taxes are included, but not much.) People at the lowest levels have a negative share because they get refundable tax credits. Here are the figures from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center:
“This is not my opinion. This is not political spin.”
— President Obama, remarks at Cuyahoga Community College, June 14, 2012
President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney delivered dueling speeches on the economy Thursday, but they need to freshen up their facts. With the exception of a few odds and ends, we have heard much of this before. But we are amused, as The Fact Checker, to see that the president believes he needs to tell his audience that he is not spinning them.
Let’s do a quick round-up. We will keep the focus mostly on Obama, since he claimed to have lots of facts. As is our practice, we will not do a Pinocchio rating at the end, in part because we have given ratings in the past for various statements that have been repeated.
“They haven't specified exactly where the knife would fall, but here's some of what would happen if that cut that they proposed was spread evenly across the budget.”
“Today, government at all levels consumes 37 percent of the total economy or GDP. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will reach half of the American economy.”
— Mitt Romney, economic speech, June 7, 2012
This is a startling assertion by the presumptive GOP candidate, which he has made in several forms in recent weeks.
David Corn of Mother Jones first spotted it when Romney made a victory speech in New Hampshire, arguing, “With Obamacare fully installed, government will come to control half the economy, and we will have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society.” Corn quoted a number of economic experts finding fault with Romney’s reasoning, such as former Ronald Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett saying “this analysis is so stupid it is hard to know where to begin.”
FactCheck.org then weighed in when Romney had tweaked the language somewhat, but also found it wanting, saying it was “a pure partisan fantasy” and “patently false and misleading.”
With such harsh reviews, one would think that Romney might drop the assertion from his speeches. But now a new iteration has appeared, so we will examine it.
The Romney campaign says this line is based on three separate claims. First, that in 2011, government expenditures amounted to 37.34 percent of the gross domestic product. Second, that with the president’s health plan in place in 2020, government expenditures are projected to climb to 39.18 percent. Finally, private health-care expenditures are projected to be 10.03 percent of GDP in 2020, so adding that altogether gets you to 49.21 percent.
(Relevant comments begin at about the 19:50 mark)
“Well, that [Konarka investment] was a loan that was approved by the prior administration. The governor made it clear that his philosophy was that government should not be in the business of venture investing.”
— Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on ABC’s “This Week,” talking about a Massachusetts investment in the failed solar-panel company Konarka Technologies, June 3, 2012
Mitt Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom squared off Sunday with President Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, on ABC’s “This Week,” with the two operatives defending their candidates’ records on clean-energy investments.
Earlier in the week, Romney held a news conference at Solyndra, describing the collapse of that federally backed solar-panel maker as proof that the Obama administration was misguided in trying to create jobs with targeted government investments — something the president’s critics have described as crony capitalism. But Massachusetts made similar investments when the presumptive GOP presidential nominee was governor of that state, and a small number of those companies have gone bust.
Does Romney have his own Solyndra situation? Let’s review the Bay State’s clean-energy programs to determine how much responsibility the former governor deserves for an investment in the now-defunct solar-panel start-up Konarka Technologies. We’ll also take a look at how much he supported government financing for green-technology development in general.
Romney held a news conference at the Konarka headquarters less than three weeks after becoming governor of Massachusetts, announcing that the state would shift $24 million from its long-established Renewable Energy Trust to a new Green Energy Fund. The plan allowed the state to partner with private investors to provide loans, venture capital and management assistance to start-ups, with an independent group making the investment decisions.
“In the seconds it takes to watch this, our national debt will increase $1.4 million…He’s adding $4 billion in debt every day. He’s borrowing from China for his spending.”
— Voiceover from Crossroads GPS ad “Stopwatch”
The newest Crossroads GPS ad gives us yet another opportunity to examine the other side of the spending debate: How much is President Obama responsible for the sharp rise in the national debt during his presidency?
There was a sharp increase in spending at the start of the administration, largely in response to the Great Recession, but spending increases have moderated since then, especially after Republicans took control of Congress.
But the national debt is not just the result of spending; it is also because revenues are not high enough to pay for government outlays. It is that mismatch that creates the national debt.
Once again, we will display our handy chart that illustrates this dynamic. The blue line represents spending; the red line shows revenues. The big shaded area at the right shows the recession.
“The truth is, the President’s supposed ‘spending binge’ is nothing but a myth, repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers. Federal spending growth has actually been slower under President Obama than under any other president since Dwight Eisenhower.”
The Obama campaign is doubling down on claim that President Obama has the slowest spending growth of any president since Dwight Eisenhower. The Democratic National Committee is also jumping into the act, asserting in a news release this week that “under his leadership, we’ve seen the lowest spending growth in nearly 60 years—in fact federal spending growth has been slower than under any President since Eisenhower.”
The Obama campaign’s Web site displays a modified version of a chart to this effect that originally appeared in a column by Rex Nutting for MarketWatch. The charts lists as among its sources: “Congressional Budget Office (CBO), nonpartisan analysis for the U.S. Congress.”
This sourcing to the CBO — though it was not CBO’s analysis that formed the basis of this claim — and the reference to “independent fact checkers” gives this page a patina of authenticity. But it remains a tendentious assertion.
Let’s take a look at who the Obama campaign cites as “fact checkers” — and what various fact checking organizations actually have said about this claim. We will also look more closely at Mitt Romney’s claim that Obama has engaged in a “spending inferno,” which the Obama campaign is responding to.
At the bottom of the page, the Obama campaign displays a “Fact Checkers Report.” Three quotes are listed, by The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, and Ezra Klein of The Washington Post.
“Romney Economics: It didn’t work in Massachusetts, and it won’t work now.”
— Slogan of a new series of Obama campaign ads
President Obama’s re-election team opened a new front last week in its effort to undermine the supposed strengths of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, shifting its focus from the candidate’s business background to his record as Massachusetts governor. The campaign is trying to convince voters that Romney’s executive experience is more of an embarrassment than a strong suit.
This ad, which came out Thursday, attacks the former governor in three core areas: jobs, taxes and debt. Former North Adams, Mass. Mayor John Barrett said Romney was an ineffective leader, claiming “the proof is in the pudding.” Let’s examine Romney’s record in the Bay State to see if he really left the state in such bad shape. We’ll focus on selected quotes that cover the main points of the ad.
We should point out that the Obama campaign only sought commentary from Democrats for this ad. Every legislator in the video is a member of the Democratic Party, while the past and present mayors are all registered Democrats.
“Women still earn just 70 cents for every dollar a man earns. It's worse for African American women and Latinas.”
— President Obama, Remarks on Equal Pay for Equal Work, June 4, 2011 (The White House later corrected the president’s statement to 77 cents.)
— White House Statement of Administration Policy on Paycheck Fairness Act, June 4
The debate over the latest legislation to address the gap in pay between men and women is a great opportunity to explore the various ways these data are collected and often used for political purposes. There is no perfect source of data — the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics come up with different numbers even though they can draw on similar data sets — but often advocates of action will tend to pick the worst possible figure to advance their cause.
We will ignore the president’s misstatement and assume he meant to say 77 cents. (We don’t play gotcha at The Fact Checker.) But we also will probe how Obama and the White House come up with the claim that the gap is “worse” for black and Hispanic women.
We were struck by the disparities in the data when we noticed that a news release by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) trumpeted the 77 cent figure, but it included a link to a state-by-state breakdown that gave a different overall figure: 81 cents.
“That stimulus he [President Obama] put in place — it didn’t help private sector jobs, it helped preserve government jobs. And the one place we should have shut back — or cut back — was on government jobs. We have 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let’s send them home and put you back to work.”
— Mitt Romney, in Craig, Colo., May 29, 2012
There’s a lot going on in this quote by the presumptive Republican nominee, which a reader asked us to fact-check. Romney disparages President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus bill for allegedly not helping to create private sector jobs. He also dings government workers, suggesting that the president’s policies have led to a bloat of government workers — and that this is a bad thing for other workers.
Let’s take a deeper look at his claims.
We have to admit that the statement is bit confusing, because it appears to mix different thoughts. The stimulus bill included payments to states to help save “government” jobs, such as those of teachers, firefighters and the like. But then Romney refers to “145,000 more government workers,” which is correct only if he is referring to federal workers, not state workers.
The Obama campaign this week launched an attack on Mitt Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor, calling particular attention to his records on jobs. We will fact check this latest Web video in detail in the coming days, but we came up with an interesting way to compare the job creation records of both men.
First a caveat: Attributing “job creation” to a politician, particularly a regional one, is a dicey proposition. The economy plays a huge role in the success or failure of various job initiatives. It takes time for policies to take effect, so a politician may reap the benefits of projects undertaken by his predecessor — or see his successor reap the rewards from his or her ideas.
A stronger case can be made that a president has more control over the economy than a governor, but we still think it is silly to date his job record from the moment he takes the oath of office. Nevertheless, that is the common political metric.
Take a look at the chart above, which uses seasonally adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data to show the change in the level of employment during the first 40 months of each man’s tenure as governor or president.
The similarities are actually more striking than the differences. Both men took office as the economy was plunging, but the hole (in percentage terms) turned out to be much deeper for Obama. The jobs picture started to turn around for both men at about the same time, but because Romney’s job deficit was comparatively smaller, he moved into positive territory sooner — though it still took him 36 months.
“There's been some disagreements between the PolitiFact and all the different fact checkers.”
— White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, May 30, 2012
Few things are more bothersome than that rare instance when fact checkers disagree. Our column last week, in which we awarded Three Pinocchios to Carney for citing a MarketWatch column on Obama’s spending patterns, stood in contrast to PolitiFact awarding a “Mostly True” to a Facebook post based on the MarketWatch column.
Note that we did not evaluate the same thing, which is one reason why we ended up in different places. Our focus was on the spokesman citing a blog post that we thought was deficient; PolitiFact evaluated the Facebook post based on whether the Congressional Budget Office baselines added up.
One critique we made of the MarketWatch report was that it did not use CBO’s analysis of the 2013 White House budget as the end point for its analysis, thus lowering the end result for Obama. (PolitiFact also took some heat for its analysis and published a roundup of some of the criticism.)
Rex Nutting, the author of the MarketWatch column, disputed our analysis of his work but said: “I have no problem with you assigning Pinocchios to the White House based on this. The White House clearly does not want all those 2013 spending cuts to take place, so it’s a bit disingenuous of them to tout my column as proof of their fiscal responsibility on the one hand, while trying their best to spend more money on the other.”
Former White House aide Jared Bernstein — whose blog Carney cited Wednesday — also said we were “right about the endpoint” but disagreed with the number of Pinocchios. (However, as we noted, we were not awarding them to Nutting, but to the White House.) Andrew Taylor, a budget writer for the Associated Press, meanwhile, weighed in with a sophisticated analysis that backed up our conclusions.
Still, PolitiFact’s judgment of “Mostly True” has allowed commentators to pick and choose among the fact checkers. Two liberal columnists at The Washington Post, Ezra Klein and Eugene Robinson, even chose to emphasize PolitiFact’s conclusion, not ours. (Dudes!)
For readers who are confused, we will explain why all these numbers end up in different places. UPDATE: PolitiFact has updated its original column to also emphasize we were rating different things. They noted: “The second portion of the Facebook claim -- that Obama’s spending has risen "slower than at any time in nearly 60 years" -- strikes us as Half True.” UPDATE: FactCheck.org also weighed in, finding fault with Nutting’s analysis and also claims by Mitt Romney that Obama started a spending “inferno.”
When looking at Obama’s spending, the key issue is what to do about the 2009 fiscal year. Since the federal government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, about four months took place in Bush’s presidency — and those were dramatic months of fiscal crisis and emergency spending.
“With regards to Bain Capital, they just put a report out about their record, the Bain Capital guys did. They noted they made about 350 investments since the beginning of their firm, and of those investments 80 percent of them grew their revenues.”
— Mitt Romney on Fox News, May 24, 2012
“The fact is that Bain Capital, there were a number of investments that didn’t perform well. In the case of Bain, it was less than 5 percent of the investments that ended up in bankruptcy. The fact is 80 percent of the companies he invested in grew. And that means that jobs were created. If you look, for example, at Sports Authority, 15,000; if you look at Brighter Horizons, 19,000; if you look at Staples, nearly 90,000 jobs created.”
— Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” May 27, 2012
Now that the “100,000 jobs created” talking point has been discredited, we sense a new talking point developing in the Romney campaign — that 80 percent of Bain Capital investments “grew their revenues.”
We’ve been highly skeptical of most of the attacks on Bain by the former Massachusetts governor’s GOP rivals and the Obama campaign, arguing on numerous occasions that the overall record of the investment firm is pretty good. But the point of private equity is to reward investors, not necessarily create jobs, which is where Romney’s defenders create problems for themselves.
So now Romney is citing Bain’s claim that 80 percent of their investments grew their revenues. Ed Gillespie, one of his aides, even suggested that revenues “means that jobs were created.” Is that the case?
This new statistic appears to have emerged in a lengthy defense that Bain Capital — which Romney headed until 1999 — sent to its investors in March. (We should note that the letter approvingly quotes The Fact Checker for one of our analyses of an anti-Bain ad by Newt Gingrich.) The Bain letter said:
“The teachers unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way. Whenever anyone dares to offer a new idea, the unions protest the loudest. Their attitude was memorably expressed by a longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers: He said, quote, ‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.’ ”
— Mitt Romney in an education speech at the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington, D.C, May 23, 2012
Mitt Romney veered from his standard talking points about the sluggish economy Wednesday to talk about education reform, a subject he said would be the top issue of the 2012 election if it weren’t for the housing crisis and the state of the economy. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee claimed that President Obama has bowed to powerful teachers unions, which he blamed for maintaining the status quo with failing schools.
The quote Romney cited could represent a serious indictment of teachers unions and their priorities, but only if the Republican candidate is correct in saying that it came from a longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers. We searched for evidence that a former head of that educators’ group, the second-largest of its kind in the United States, had really made such a statement.
For what it’s worth, the quote has appeared on a Madison, Wis.-area billboard sponsored by the self-proclaimed nonpartisan group Reforming Education And Demanding Exceptional Results in Wisconsin (READER-WI), according to a blogger for the left-leaning site Daily Kos.
A search on Wikipedia reveals that the quote in question appears in an entry for the late Albert Shanker, a teachers union icon who served as president of the American Federation of Teachers for more than 20 years. The statement is listed under the heading “Disputed quote,” which should have been an immediate red flag for the Romney campaign.
“I simply make the point, as an editor might say, to check it out; do not buy into the BS that you hear about spending and fiscal constraint with regard to this administration. I think doing so is a sign of sloth and laziness.”
— White House spokesman Jay Carney, remarks to the press gaggle, May 23, 2012
The spokesman’s words caught our attention because here at The Fact Checker we try to root out “BS” wherever it occurs.
Carney made his comments while berating reporters for not realizing that “the rate of spending — federal spending — increase is lower under President Obama than all of his predecessors since Dwight Eisenhower, including all of his Republican predecessors.” He cited as his source an article by Rex Nutting, of MarketWatch, titled, “Obama spending binge never happened,” which has been the subject of lots of buzz in the liberal blogosphere.
But we are talking about the federal budget here. That means lots of numbers — numbers that are easily manipulated. Let’s take a look.
First of all, there are a few methodological problems with Nutting’s analysis — especially the beginning and the end point.
“To me, Mitt Romney takes from poor, the middle class, and gives to the rich. It is the opposite of Robin Hood.”
— worker in latest Obama campaign ad
Mitt Romney’s role at Bain Capital continues to be a major issue in this presidential election, as the Obama campaign rolls out video after video about the travails of individual workers who suffered at companies owned by Bain.
The latest video, about a company called Ampad, must bring back bad memories for Romney because in 1994 he seemed on the verge of defeating the late Ted Kennedy in a bitter Senate race when striking Ampad workers showed up in Massachusetts and started showing up in Kennedy attack ads. The Ampad story turned the tide against Romney and Kennedy won.
The Obama ads are very slick, and we find them frustrating to fact check. Unlike some of the ads produced by Romney’s GOP rivals — such as the notorious “King of Bain” video produced by supporters of Newt Gingrich — the facts mentioned in the ads are generally correct. But then those facts are intercut with highly personal attacks on Romney by the workers themselves, such as the statement featured above.
We can’t fact check those statements, since they are personal sentiments. (Some of the lines are almost too perfect, which makes us wonder.) So that leaves us in the uncomfortable position of validating the facts in a highly negative attack.
So we are going to try a different tack: a guide for readers on how to evaluate claims about Romney and Bain Capital. We will use this particular deal as an example.
“Obama started spending like our credit cards have no limit ... his health-care law made health insurance even more expensive.”
— Voiceover of new Crossroads GPS television ad
The latest entry by Republican-leaning Crossroads GPS in the campaign ad wars is aimed directly at disillusioned supporters of President Obama. It depicts an older (presumably) single mother who had voted for the president now worried about how her grown children can’t get jobs, especially in a world of higher government debt.
But the ad uses some of the oldest tricks in the book to create a misleading impression. Let’s examine two key points — about the debt and the health-care law.
One can have a long argument about whether Obama — or the dreadful economy he inherited — is mostly responsible for the sharp rise in the national debt. The ad displays a chart showing the national debt increasing from $9 trillion to $15 trillion, but it’s one of those asymmetrical charts (starts at $9 trillion) that overemphasizes the increase.
“We have an SDN [Specially Designated Nationals] list that will be regularly updated — it’s not simply a one-time thing — that we will continue to refine.”
— “Senior administration official one,” Background briefing on Burma, May 17, 2012
We do not normally examine anonymous statements, but an interesting briefing was given last week by a pair of administration officials as part of the historic announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States was “suspending” sanctions on Burma, also known as Myanmar. The rules set by the State Department would not permit reporters to quote these officials by name.
But the officials’ comments about the list of so-called “bad apples” — individuals and companies which are blocked from doing business with U.S. firms — are a case study of the choices made in diplomacy. When an administration is looking to tout what it considers to be a diplomatic achievement — in this case, opening up the possibility of reform in what was a brutal military dictatorship — sometimes inconvenient facts get played down.
Some background: The pace of change in Burma has been remarkable, with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and activist long under house arrest, recently winning a seat in parliament. (She is pictured above with Clinton.)
Before the sanctions announcement, human rights groups had pressed the administration to “gradually relax sanctions,” paying close attention to conducting “a comprehensive update” of the SDN list. “If these precautions are not taken, new U.S. business activity permitted under the relaxation may directly benefit individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses, who contribute to corruption, or are otherwise acting to obstruct political reform,” nine groups said in a letter to President Obama sent on April 24.
When Clinton made her announcement on May 17 — on the same day Burma’s foreign minister was visiting Washington — the scope of the sanctions easing was unexpectedly broad. “Suspending” is a bit of a misnomer, because once U.S. firms flock to the energy and mineral rich nation, it may be rather hard to close the door again and force them to forsake their investments.
“The ideas that [Republicans are] putting forward have been tried. We tried them between 2000 and 2008, and it resulted in the most sluggish job growth that we’ve ever seen, resulted in all kinds of phony financial profits and debt, and resulted in the worst financial crisis and economic crisis we’ve seen since the 1930s.”
— President Obama during a campaign event in New York City, May 14, 2012
President Obama campaigned in New York City earlier this week, trying during a reception at an art museum to convince wealthy donors that he’s done the best he can to repair the broken economy he inherited. His message included a warning that voters shouldn’t trust the ideas Republicans have pushed during this election cycle.
It’s hard to argue that certain regulatory policies from the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton eras didn’t pave the way for the financial crisis and the severe recession that kicked in just before Barack Obama entered the White House. But deciding who deserves the most blame for today’s slow economic growth is up for debate.
We’ll set aside the issue of what caused the downturn — that argument could last forever — and focus instead on the president’s bold claim that the policies implemented between 2000 and 2008 “resulted in the most sluggish job growth that we’ve ever seen.” Let’s take a look at the data to find out who has the worst record, even though we’ve said many times that no one person in power controls all the economic levers.
There’s no perfectly objective way of looking at employment numbers in this case, since people disagree about when to begin blaming Obama for the lackluster job growth of recent years and when to stop faulting Bush. Then there’s the question of when to start the clock on Bush, since he inherited a bit of a recession himself.
“We were able to help create over 100,000 jobs. On the president’s watch, about 100,000 jobs were lost in the auto industry and auto dealers and auto manufacturers, so he’s hardly one to point a finger.”
— Mitt Romney, interview on Hot Air, May 16, 2011
The 100,000 jobs is back! The presumptive GOP nominee all but stopped mentioning he created 100,000 in the private sector after we declared in January that claim was untenable and unproven. The biggest problem is that Romney is counting all the jobs added by companies long after he had left the leadership of Bain Capital — and even after Bain’s investment in the companies had ended.
In the Hot Air interview, Romney even made this claim while at the same time arguing that a recent Obama campaign commercial slamming the job losses at a particular Bain investment was unfair because “the steel factory closed down two years after I left Bain Capital. I was no longer there, so that’s hardly something which is on my watch.” (Technically, Romney had not completely extricated himself from Bain but that’s another story.)
The logic there escapes us. Romney appears to be saying it is okay to count jobs created after he left Bain, but it’s not okay to count jobs lost after he left Bain.
As we have said, Romney “certainly has a good story to tell about knowing how to manage a business, spotting opportunities and understanding high finance.” But if he wants to wall off companies that failed after he stopped managing Bain, he also has to stop counting jobs created after he left Bain.
So Romney gets a “repeat offender” award — our crack graphics staff is still developing the icon — for once again saying he created 100,000 jobs. But let’s also look at his claim that 100,000 jobs were lost in the auto industry “on the president’s watch.” That’s a new one.
The Romney campaign often cites Bureau of Labor Statistics to make its case that the number of overall jobs has declined in Obama’s presidency, so that’s the first place we looked.
“If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, your taxes will not go up.” (quote from President Obama, 2008)
“Promise broken: Obamacare raises 18 different taxes.”
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” (quote from Obama, 2009)
“Promise broken: Millions could lose their health care coverage and be forced into a government pool”
--Assertions in a new Crossroads GPS ad, released Wednesday
The Republican-aligned Crossroads GPS has scheduled a massive $25 million ad buy, starting with this hard-hitting ad that purports to list a bunch of “broken promises” by President Obama.
We are not going to quibble with some of these claims. The president, for instance, certainly has not met his pledge to cut the budget deficit in half. But we were interested in exploring more craefully the two health care-related items listed above.
Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 was one of his signature pledges of the 2008 campaign. It would exempt about 98 percent of Americans.
“When you add up his policies, this president has increased the national debt by five trillion dollars.”
— Mitt Romney, in Des Moines, May 15, 2012
Who’s to blame for the national debt? In a speech in Iowa, the former Massachusetts governor on Tuesday pointed the finger at President Obama’s policies, naming in particular the 2009 stimulus (worth about $800 billion) and the health-care law, which has mostly not yet kicked in (and according to the Congressional Budget Office will not add to the deficit in its first 10 years).
The national debt is simply a matter of numbers, but the blame game is much more complicated. Let’s take a look.
The Treasury Department’s “Debt to the Penny” Web site makes it easy to track the growth of the national debt during Obama’s presidency. There are two key figures — for publicly held debt and for gross debt, which includes bonds that the government owes to itself (such as Social Security trust fund bonds.)
“It makes me angry. Those guys were all rich. They all had more money than they would ever spend, yet they did not have money to take care of the very people who made the money for them.”
— Former steel worker Joe Soptic, in a new Obama campaign ad on Mitt Romney’s business record
It’s no surprise that the Obama campaign chose the story of GS Industries for its first television ad attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital.
Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that were thrown at Romney during the GOP primaries, this is a relatively straightforward story: The initial investment in the steel company was made in 1993 by Bain under Romney’s leadership, and the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while paying Bain investors millions of dollars in dividends.
Romney was no longer actively managing Bain when the steel company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and closed its Kansas City plant, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs and health insurance, as well as part of their pensions. (More on that below.)
Using just the voices of angry former workers at the company, the ad is less about Romney’s business record and more about his values.
Romney is described by the workers as “a vampire” who destroyed people’s lives while seeking to make as much money as possible. “If he going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there,” one worker says. “He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country.” Ouch.
GS Industries has also been a tempting target for Romney’s GOP rivals. In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry mentioned it as an example of Romney being a “vulture” capitalist. The opposition research done by Sen. John McCain’s campaign in 2008 also highlighted GSI.
As usual in campaign ads, some important context is missing. Let’s fill in some of the blanks. There is also a longer, six-minute version for a Web site called romneyeconomics.com, but we will focus on the two-minute version airing in battleground states.
First of all, the investment was one of many done by Bain under Romney’s leadership, which the Wall Street Journal documented was a record mainly of success, not failure. The Romney campaign immediately countered the Obama ad with a Web ad focused on Bain’s successful investment in Steel Dynamics, featuring interviews with happy steel workers.
“President Obama might forget the recession but America hasn’t.”
--text from a new RNC web video, May 11, 2012
“When a woman in Iowa shared the story of her financial struggles, he gave an answer right out of an economics textbook. He said, ‘Our productivity equals our income,’ as if the only reason people can’t pay their bills is because they’re not productive enough. Well, that’s not what’s going on. Most of us who have spent some time talking to people understand that the problem isn’t that the American people aren’t working hard enough, aren’t productive enough -– you’ve been working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now -– the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade -– is that harder work isn’t leading to higher incomes. Bigger profits haven’t led to better jobs”
--President Obama, Remarks in Seattle, May 10, 2012
When a political campaign quotes an opponent, watch out. Some important context may be missing.
The Republican National Committee, in a new web video, blasts President Obama for forgetting about the recession, based on remarks that Obama made in Seattle.
Meanwhile, Obama, in that same Seattle speech, quotes presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as some sort of unfeeling business executive, based on remarks Romney made last year while campaigning in Iowa.
Let’s look at what Obama and Romney really said.
The RNC video actually runs a relatively long snippet from Obama’s speech, which to our mind undercuts the idea that Obama says he forgot about the recession. Here’s the full quote, with the part the RNC used in bold:
“My own view, by the way, was that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help. And frankly, that’s finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy. That was the right course I argued for from the very beginning. It was the UAW [United Auto Workers] and the president that delayed the idea of bankruptcy. I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.”
— Mitt Romney, May 7, 2012, in an interview with Cleveland’s WEWS-TV
What should we do when a politician keeps repeating a Pinocchio-laden claim — or even makes its worse?
We have examined previously the former Massachusetts governor’s claim that he set the course for the managed bankruptcy of the auto industry—and also have examined critically some of President Obama’s claims on the bailout. But clearly it’s time for a refresher course.
“We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery.”
— Mitt Romney, May 4, 2012
The April jobs report, reporting that a disappointing 115,000 jobs were added to the economy, gave the presumptive GOP nominee a chance to demand that President Obama needs to do better.
But is Romney, speaking on “Fox and Friends,” setting too high a standard? Let’s examine the historical record.
Romney’s statement was not entirely clear, so we checked to see if the former Massachusetts governor really meant to suggest that 500,000 jobs a month was a “normal recovery.”
I’ve issued a challenge to President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney--give at least one 15-minute campaign speech without embellishing the truth.
Will they succeed?
Read my full article in The Washington Post’s Outlook section. The video above offers some tips for how they can meet this challenge.
“President Obama’s clean-energy initiatives have helped create jobs for projects across America, not overseas.”
“What about Mitt Romney? As a corporate CEO, he shipped American jobs to places like Mexico and China. As governor, he outsourced state jobs to a call center in India. He’s still pushing tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.”
— Ad from President Obama’s re-election campaign
President Obama’s campaign team fired back with this ad after the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity ran a commercial saying billions of dollars in stimulus funds went toward foreign jobs. We awarded that claim Four Pinocchios in a previous column, and the Obama crew quoted us in its rebuttal.
We certainly appreciate the mention, but we can’t let that stop us from checking the claims in this ad. Is presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney really such a fan of outsourcing? Let’s look at his record and proposals.
The Obama campaign pointed us to a series of SEC filings and news accounts showing that three companies within Bain Capital’s portfolio sent jobs overseas. Romney served as chief executive of the firm, which specialized in private-equity investment and leveraged buyouts during his tenure there. He left the company in February 1999 to become president and chief executive of the committee that organized the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“In order to pay for it, [House Republicans] are going to make an assault on women’s health, make another assault on women’s health, continue our assault on women’s health and pay for this with prevention initiatives that are in effect right now for childhood immunization; for screening for breast cancer, for cervical cancer; and for initiatives to reduce birth defects – a large part of what the Center for Disease Control does in terms of prevention.”
--House Minority Leader Nancy Perlosi (D-Calif.), April 26, 2012
“I’ll guarantee you that they’ve not spent a dime out of this fund dealing with anything to do with women’s health.”
--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), April 30, 2012
This is why Americans hate politics. How can two serious, major-league politicians have such a vehement disagreement over even basic facts?
At dispute is how to provide funding that would prevent a jump in the interest rates for subsidized loans made by the federal government to undergraduate college students. The House of Representatives voted last week to keep the rate from doubling, but funded it by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund that is part of President Obama’s health care law. (The House measure has little chance in the Senate controlled by Democrats.)
There is a bit of budget gamesmanship going on here, as well as a relentless messaging campaign by the Democrats. Just look at some of these quotes:
--“The only way they can find to pay for it is to attack women’s health and children’s health” (Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts).
--“Under the cover of being for student loans, they now are attacking women’s health in the most cynical fashion.” (Rep. George Miller of California.)
--“The way to pay for this assistance for students is not to shut down health for the women of this country.” (Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey).
--“House Republicans have demonstrated their complete disregard and contempt for women’s health.” (Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois)
We are not going to get into an argument about whether the preventive health fund is a good or bad thing — Democrats say it provides steady funding for preventive health, Republicans say it is a “slush fund” to get around regular appropriations — but we do think it would be useful to examine how much money in this fund goes to women’s health programs.
First of all, it makes a difference whether you look at the current fiscal year (2012) or proposals for the next fiscal year (2013). In the current fiscal year, there is very little money specifically allocated to women’s health programs.
The debate over which party promises a better future for women continued on Sunday, with NBC’s “Meet the Press” pitting various strategists and pundits against each other throughout the show. Host David Gregory pointed out that the female voting bloc represents the “deciders” in the 2012 election. President Obama holds a clear advantage with this demographic, but Romney chipped away at the double-digit lead last month.
Democrats have pushed for free contraceptive coverage, equal pay and renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, while Republicans such as Ed Gillespie, one of the top advisors for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, try to drive home the notion that women have fared worse than men during the Obama administration. As Gillespie put it, “It’s still the economy, and women aren’t stupid.”
Let’s look at the numbers Gillespie brought up. Are they accurate? Do they tell the whole story?
Gillespie relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau for his insurance numbers. Just like he said, the number of uninsured women has increased by about 2.7 million under Obama, according to the most recent data. But the latest Census numbers come from 2010, so that figure doesn’t represent the president’s entire tenure.
“I sent them a jobs bill that would have put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work repairing our roads, our bridges, schools, transit systems, along with saving the jobs of cops and teachers and firefighters, creating a new tax cut for businesses. They said no. I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling. Everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt. Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was. They still said no. There are bridges between Kentucky and Ohio where some of the key Republican leadership come from, where folks are having to do detours an extra hour, hour-and-a-half drive every day on their commute because these bridges don’t work. They still said no.”
--President Obama, remarks to the Building and Construction Trades Department conference, April 30, 2012
Let’s take a drive down memory lane.
Back in September, when President Obama first unveiled his jobs bill, we gave him Three Pinocchios for remarks he made regarding the aging Brent Spence Bridge on the Ohio River. The bridge connects Kentucky and Ohio, the home states of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and it was irresistible symbolism for the White House.
The crumbling infrastructure of the nation’s bridges is certainly an important issue, but symbolism can only go so far. The administration could never explain what, if anything, the jobs bill would do to improve the Brent Spence Bridge, especially since construction was not slated to start until 2015 — and Obama’s jobs bill would spend most of its money in its first year.
Moreover, there is a long history of bipartisan support for this project, but Obama framed it as if the Republicans were blocking its reconstruction with their opposition to his legislation.
When we heard the president’s words Monday, we feared he was slipping back into his old habits. Once again he framed it as GOP opposition to fixing the Brent Spence Bridge. But then he upped the ante by mentioning other bridges “between Kentucky and Ohio” that “don’t work.” So what’s he talking about?
An administration official said the president was referring to the Sherman Minton Bridge, which actually connects Indiana and Kentucky, near Louisville. Back in September, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) had to shut down the bridge because a 2 ½ inch crack had been discovered.
“Someone calculated that the taxes he [Obama] would raise in his Buffett Rule would pay for 11 hours of government.”
— Mitt Romney, April 16, 2012
President Obama’s proposal to add a tax surcharge to adjusted gross incomes over $1 million, named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, has generated scorn in Republican ranks, such as the comment above by the presumptive GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor. (Romney was borrowing an observation first made by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.)
It would seem to be a simple math exercise to check this fact. But this is Washington…..let’s have some fun with “baselines.”
The Republican calculation is based on the fact that in 2013, the Buffett Rule would raise $5.1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. (Alternatively, you can use the 10-year revenue figure of $47 billion and come up with an annual average of nearly $5 billion a year.)
“This was an idea that was supported by a strong majority of the American people — including nearly half of Republicans. The majority of millionaires supported it. And Senate Republicans didn’t listen.”
— President Obama, Lorain County Community College in Ohio, April 18, 2012
Many surveys, by pollsters such as Gallup and Washington Post-ABC News, show strong public support for the president’s proposal — killed in the Senate this week — to impose a tax surcharge on people with adjusted gross income of more than $1 million, known as the Buffett Rule.
But we were struck by the president’s assertion that even a majority of millionaires support such a tax. The claim that two-thirds of millionaires back the plan is also promoted on the Obama campaign Web site, under the headline: “Millionaires stand in support of the Buffett Rule.”
The White House directed us to an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which was headlined “Millionaires Support Warren Buffett’s Tax on Rich.” The article cited a study by Spectrem Group, which claimed that “68 percent of millionaires (those with investments of $1 million or more) support raising taxes on those with $1 million or more in income.”
“President Obama is the first president in history to openly campaign for reelection on a platform of higher taxes. He has already raised taxes on millions of Americans, but he won’t stop there. He wants to raise taxes on millions more by taxing small businesses and job creators.”
— Gail Gitcho, communications director for Romney’s campaign, in a statement, April 10, 2012
We are dubious about the first part of this claim — Harry Truman, after all, vetoed a big tax cut in the midst of his reelection campaign in 1948 — and we have already demonstrated how claims about the tax burden on “small businesses” are overstated. But a reader drew our attention to the central point of this statement — that Obama “has already raised taxes on millions of Americans.”
There is no question that Obama has proposed higher taxes on the wealthy, including ending the Bush tax cuts for people making above a certain income and imposing the so-called “Buffett Rule” on millionaires. But are “millions of Americans” already suffering under a tax yoke imposed by Obama?
When we asked the Romney campaign for evidence to back up the claim, we received a list of “19 tax increases,” many of which were contained in Obama’s health-care law. But virtually all of these taxes have not yet taken effect (more on that later) — and the key ones target people making more than $200,000 (singles) or $250,000 (married filers).
“For far too long women have been left behind in Obama’s job market. Of the 740,000 jobs lost since Obama took office, 683,000 of them were held by women. That is truly unsustainable.”
— Statement by Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, April 6, 2012
In an effort to fight back against Democratic claims of a Republican “war on women,” the Republican National Committee has rolled out a new and startling fact—that under Obama, women have lost seven times as many jobs as men.
We found this statistic surprising because we had been under the impression that men had fared worse than women in the recession. So do the RNC’s numbers add up?
First of all, readers know we frown on the somewhat arbitrary dividing line of measuring jobs statistics by presidential terms. It is a common journalistic — and political — metric. But restarting the employment clock from the moment the president takes the oath of office doesn’t tell you much about a his performance, especially since it takes time for the new president’s policies to take effect.
“Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.”
-- President Obama, discussing the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision over his health care law, April 2, 2012
“Let me be very specific. We have not seen a Court overturn a law that was passed by Congress on an economic issue, like health care, that I think most people would clearly consider commerce — a law like that has not been overturned at least since Lochner. Right? So we’re going back to the ‘30s, pre-New Deal.
“And the point I was making is that the Supreme Court is the final say on our Constitution and our laws, and all of us have to respect it, but it’s precisely because of that extraordinary power that the Court has traditionally exercised significant restraint and deference to our duly elected legislature, our Congress. And so the burden is on those who would overturn a law like this.”
-- Obama, clarifying comments he made the previous day, April 3
President Obama made these remarks during a series of high-profile news conferences last week, taking the unusual step of commenting on a Supreme Court case — the challenge to the Affordable Care Act, in this case — while the justices are still deliberating.
It’s clear that Obama’s “unprecedented” comment was dead wrong, because the Supreme Court’s very purpose is to review laws that are passed by the nation’s democratically elected Congress — regardless of how popular or well-intentioned those laws may be. This concept of judicial review was established in 1803 with Marbury v. Madison, a case that Obama should have been familiar with as a former law school lecturer and previous president of Harvard Law Review.
Still, we don’t know whether the president’s factual error was a mere slip-up or a purposeful attempt to mislead, and we generally don’t beat people over the head for off-the-cuff remarks. Let’s take a look at the president’s message in light of his clarifying remarks to see whether it holds up any better under scrutiny.
We took the liberty of re-phrasing the president’s initial remarks to get at his overarching message. We removed the word “unprecedented,” since Obama walked that back, and we inserted the word “economic” before “law,” since the president added that distinction in his follow-up. We kept the word “extraordinary” and the part about judicial activism, since Obama never backed away from any of that.
“I am not exaggerating. These are facts.”
— President Obama, April 3, 2012
With President Obama’s speech before the Associated Press on Tuesday, one can say the 2012 presidential contest has begun in earnest. For the moment, we will ignore some of his stylistic bloopers — “the Republicans running Congress right now” ignores the fact that the Senate is still in Democratic hands — and instead concentrate on how the White House backs up some of his claims about the House Republican budget. As usual, we will not judge the politics of the speech — just the facts. In this initial look, we will not award Pinocchios but simply explain how these figures were reached. We will also delve more deeply in other parts of the speech, such as the Medicare portion, later in the week.
“These proposed tax breaks would come on top of more than a trillion dollars in tax giveaways for people making more than $250,000 a year. That’s an average of at least $150,000 for every millionaire in this country — $150,000.”
The House Republican budget includes changes in tax rates, reducing the top rate to 25 percent, and also unspecified loophole closings. That possibly could result in a big tax cut for the very wealthy, but no one really knows because the House Budget Committee is leaving the precise plan up to the tax-writing committees.
“What if I told you that this man’s big government-mandating health-care included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs. Would you ever vote for him? What if I told you he supported radical environmental job-killing cap-and-trade and the Wall Street bailout? And what if I told you he dramatically raised taxes and stuck taxpayers with a $1 billion shortfall? One more thing. What if I told you the man I’m talking about wasn’t him [Obama]? It’s him [Romney]”
— narrator of a new Rick Santorum TV ad, as a photo of Barack Obama morphs into one of Mitt Romney
Desperate for a win in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, former senator Rick Santorum has begun running a tough ad there that takes only 30 seconds to throw just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at his chief rival, the former Massachusetts governor.
So do these claims add up? Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.
The individual mandate included in Romney’s health-care bill was originally a conservative idea, pushed by such groups as the Heritage Foundation. (That is a simplified version of a long and torturous path, which was best explained in articles by Forbes and The Washington Post.)
“Despite the fact that millions of taxpayer dollars were flowing to companies outsourcing state services like overseas call centers, he vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature that would have stopped the state from outsourcing contracts overseas, state contracts…No, I really mean it. I mean, that’s one, when I was told about it, I said, ‘I’m not going to say that until you fact check that for me again.’ I mean, think about it. It’s one thing for the local company to outsource a call service, but for the state government to outsource a call service that’s set up to answer questions for people in the state about a problem they have with the government, to outsource that, denying folks in Massachusetts the jobs that are attended to that.”
— Vice President Biden, remarks in Davenport, Iowa, March 28, 2011
Since the vice president brought it up, let’s delve into some ancient Massachusetts history again.
We were dubious about this charge when the pro-Obama Super PAC claimed, in a slashing web ad, that American jobs were “relocated” when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts. But it’s another matter when the vice president levels the charge – and says it’s been fact checked.
We always caution readers to be wary of claims made about particular votes — or in this case, a veto. What is the context for that person’s action?
Several months before the bill had landed on Romney’s desk in 2004, the governor proposed a $29-million plan to curb outsourcing of jobs out of the state, according to a March 23 article on the front page of The Boston Globe. But the plan landed with a thud and did not get very far in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
“Stimulus was supposed to be quick. In fact, they never intended to spend it and will not completely have effectively spent it until after the president’s re-elect. Always looking at how do you get the maximum hit when the president was up for re-elect.”
— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, March 19, 2012
This is a pretty serious charge by a senior member of the House of Representatives, made on “Fox and Friends” earlier this week. The president’s opponents usually say the stimulus was a failure and a waste of money, not that money was purposely held back. We immediately thought he must have some damning evidence that his investigators had turned up.
But when we asked for more information, we only got a statement blasting President Obama (more on that below). That wasn’t very illuminating, but as we will see, perhaps there is a reason his staff could not provide much information.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus, was passed into law just weeks after Obama became president. It was valued at about $800 billion — the precise number varies depending on when the estimate was done — and contained new spending, tax cuts and grants to municipalities and states.
"And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that."
— Mitt Romney, March 19, 2012
During an economic speech on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful charged that the Obama administration “banned” Thomas Edison’s light bulb.
Let’s take a look at this contentious issue.
Thomas Edison did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but he did make it commercially viable, filing his first patent for improvements in 1878. And, then 129 years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
“This IPAB board can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending. ...Medicare will be bankrupt in nine years.”
— Musician Pat Boone, in a television ad sponsored by the 60 Plus Association
A number of readers asked us to examine the latest claims about Medicare, made this week by both GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney and a conservative advocacy group called the 60 Plus Association.
Actually, there is little new in either the 60 Plus Association’s $3.5 million ad campaign, featuring the venerable Pat Boone, or the “Five Questions for President Obama on Medicare” issued by the Romney campaign. We feel we have dealt with similar claims in the past, but apparently that has not deterred such attacks.
The Romney statement is amusing because it constantly repeats the phrase “ending Medicare as we know it”—which in turn has been a Democratic attack line against a House GOP plan for Medicare. (Democrats used to simply say “end Medicare” or “kill Medicare” until The Fact Checker and other fact checking organizations called them on it.)
Indeed, both parties are absolutely shameless about Medicare. (For instance, the Democratic National Committee attacked Romney on Medicare this week.) Both claim that other party would kill/destroy/ruin/whatever Medicare; neither side has much of a leg to stand on.
Someone must be falling for this stuff, however, or else it would not keep getting repeated.
The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.
Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise is toeing the Republican Party line here, accusing the president of consciously trying to raise gas prices to wean Americans off carbon fuels. Earlier this month, we determined that Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels deserved three Pinocchios for making similar claims.
We mentioned in our previous column that we hadn’t found a single instance in which President Obama advocated higher gas prices. A reader later mentioned that he’d found an example, pointing out a June 2008 interview in which then-Sen. Obama discussed energy policy on CNBC. The trading and investment blog TownHallFinance.com used that same video to suggest we’d missed the mark with our analysis of Daniels’s remarks.
We reviewed the 2008 interview (which you can view below) and took yet another look at the current state of U.S. oil production to determine whether anything should change about our previous determination. If not, Scalise would deserve just as many Pinocchios as Daniels.
First, we’ll discuss the interview between then-Sen. Obama and CNBC’s John Harwood. Here’s an exchange from that meeting:
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.): “The original estimate for deficit reduction in the first 10 years was $143 billion, correct?”
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Yes–”
Johnson: “So now we, we’ve reduced that $143 billion by $86 billion – by not getting revenue from the CLASS Act – and now $111 billion because we’ve increased the mandatory costs of the exchanges, correct?”
Sebelius: “I’m assuming the numbers are correct. I’m sorry I don’t have them.”
Johnson: “So, when you add those together, that’s $197 billion added to the first 10-year cost estimate of Obamacare, so now we are instead of saving $143 billion, we are adding $54 billion to our deficit, correct?”
Sebelius: “Sir, I –”
Johnson: “We’ll submit that to the record. But, that’s basically true. So instead of saving $143 billion, by this administration’s own figures and budget, we’re now adding $54 billion to our deficit in the first 10 years.”
— Exchange during congressional hearing, March 7, 2012
A reader asked us to fact-check these claims by Sen. Johnson, a trained accountant who won election in part on clever ads that played up his experience in the real world of budget numbers. (See ad at bottom of the column.)
Secretary Sebelius certainly appears to be a bit clueless as Johnson tosses a bunch of numbers at her, clearly trying to show that the Obama health care law is now projected to show a deficit. But he gets his own facts and figures mixed up, as we will demonstrate.
To the senator’s credit, he called us directly to talk through these numbers and conceded that some may not add up.
“I am not hung up in the math here,” he said, saying that his larger point is that “previous estimates of entitlements have been wildly underestimated.” He cited, as an example, a McKinsey Quarterly study concluding that the Congressional Budget Office vastly underestimated how many employers will stop offering insurance as a result of the health care law, which has the potential to increase the cost of the law.
“It is the large numbers, not the small numbers” that are important, Johnson said, and it “is my job to press administration officials” for more information. He noted that Sebelius said she assumed the numbers he used were correct. (Note to Secretary Sebelius: Don’t assume the numbers are correct when you aren’t really sure.)
When the health care law was passed, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would reduce the deficit by $143 billion over ten years. That number has been controversial ever since the estimate was released, and we certainly acknowledge it should be accepted with a large caveat. Such ten-year figures are subject to change, and depend greatly on assumptions that may or may not be sound.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Now, because of these new standards for cars and trucks, they’re going to — all going to be able to go further and use less fuel every year. And that means pretty soon you’ll be able to fill up your car every two weeks instead of every week — and, over time, that saves you, a typical family, about $8,000 a year.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: “We like that.”
OBAMA: “You like that, don't you?”
OBAMA: “Eight thousand dollars — that's no joke. … It looks like somebody might have fainted up here.”
— Exchange during President Obama’s speech in Mount Holly, N.C., March 7, 2012
It is certainly possible to get carried away at a rally with adoring supporters. And every politician misspeaks from time to time. But these remarks stand out because the president engaged in conversation with the audience about his figure – savings of $8,000 a year in gasoline costs – and declared “that’s no joke.”
Oops. No wonder folks were fainting. The average annual cost for gasoline is less than $3,000, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
To be fair to the president, he has gotten this $8,000 figure correct on a number of occasions — at least four times in the past two weeks.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York made these remarks while speaking against the Blunt Amendment, a Senate proposal that would have undermined President Obama’s controversial mandate requiring employers or their insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives, as well as other preventive health services. Lawmakers effectively killed the Blunt measure on Thursday by a vote of 51-48.
Republicans have argued that the contraception-coverage rule violates the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that oppose birth control. Democrats contend that the real issue is women’s health. Both sides are trying to seize control of the debate and convince voters that their rights are in jeopardy.
We realize this is a controversial issue, with emotions running high on both sides, and we take no stand on it. But we were curious if Schumer stretched the truth with his remarks. Did the Senate just save women from a return to the 19th century? Would the measure truly ban contraception coverage when employers object to it?
The mandate in question comes from the 2010 health care reform law, which required employers to provide coverage of certain preventive health services without charging the insured. Churches have been exempt from the provision, but some religious leaders still object to it on grounds that church-affiliated institutions — such as Catholic hospitals — will have to pay for health services that violated their principles.
We’ve addressed similar ads and comments accusing Mitt Romney of being a disingenuous antiabortion candidate because of his policies while serving as governor of Massachusetts. Now we have a antiabortion super PAC drawing essentially the same conclusion based on nearly identical claims.
For this ad, we’ll review the facts again and take a look at the notion that Romney created a government-run health care system for the Bay State, even though we tackled that issue in a previous column.
Earlier this month, we awarded two Pinocchios to Gingrich and Santorum for insisting that Romney forced hospitals to provide emergency contraception — or “abortion pills,” as Gingrich called them — to rape victims.
It’s hard to believe we’ve fact checked all of the GOP debates — and this may be the last one. But once again we heard a blizzard of dubious statements, including many oldies but goodies. Here is an examination of ten claims, in the order in which they were said.
As usual, we do not award Pinocchios for debate roundups but reserve the option to revisit some of these claims in more detail in the coming days.
“Obviously the first thing we need to do is repeal “Obamacare.” That’s one entitlement that we can get rid of. And that’s a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years.”
— Rick Santorum
Santorum is only counting one side of the ledger — and overcounting it at that. Because the health care law raises some taxes and cuts Medicare spending, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that it slightly reduced the deficit in the first 10 years, though much of the law was not fully implemented in the first four years. All bets are off in the next 10 years, however.
“Three years ago, a newly elected President Obama told America that if Congress approved his plan to borrow nearly a trillion dollars, he would hold unemployment below 8 percent.”
— Mitt Romney, Feb. 4, 2012
We had dealt with this claim more than a year ago, but we unaware that it had slipped into the former Massachusetts governor’s talking points until loyal reader Chuck Smith sent us a homemade, five-minute YouTube video challenging Romney to a $10,000 bet to prove that Obama actually ever said this. (See video at bottom of the column.)
We welcome reader contributions, especially when folks do their own research. (Smith has a separate video proposing that candidates or their aides pay a fine if their claims don’t pass muster with The Fact Checker or other nonpartisan fact-checking organizations. We like that idea.)
Since this claim is bound to crop up again in the campaign, perhaps it is time for a refresher course. (Smith notes that GOP.com also touts a similar version of this claim.)
Interestingly, the information to disprove this claim exists on the Romney campaign Web site. Far from being anything that Obama said, the Romney campaign acknowledges that this 8 percent figure comes from a staff-written projection issued Jan. 9, 2009 — before Obama had taken the oath of office. Of course, the campaign still spins it as a negative.
“When you include the number of people who have quit looking for work because they're convinced the Obama administration's economy is so bad they can't find a job, it jumps up to about 12 percent. When you include the number of people who have part-time jobs who wish they had a full-time job, it's at 16 percent or 17 percent. I mean, this is an administration which has actually shrunk the workforce fairly dramatically. In the last year, it's the lowest male participation rate in the labor force since the 1940s — so right after World War II.”
— Newt Gingrich, discussing a jobs report that showed unemployment decreases, from a “Meet the Press” interview on Feb. 5, 2012
These types of comments are typical of critics of President Obama who have brushed off recent progress in lowering the national unemployment rate. Some say the improvements are too small, but Gingrich goes a step further, suggesting unemployment doesn’t gauge the true health of the job market. He recommended a few alternative measures after host David Gregory asked: “How is it that you can say this administration has not led economic recovery?”
Depending on the question, Gingrich actually has been inconsistent in his use of unemployment figures. He’s used the unemployment metric to argue that he was successful as Speaker of the House during the late 1990s. He said during a Jan. 19 interview with PBS’s “News Hour” that “we cut taxes in the largest capital gains tax cut in history, and the result was we got unemployment down to 4.2 percent.”
If the unemployment number is good enough for Gingrich, it should be good enough for Obama. Regardless, we looked at the speaker’s preferred metrics to determine whether they really paint a gloomier picture of the job market. Do they disprove the Obama supporters who say the economy is making progress?
Lori Williams of Tableau Software kindly developed some graphs for us to help readers visualize the data.
The numbers in question come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which defines the unemployment rate as the percentage of people in the workforce — those who are actively seeking work — who haven’t landed jobs. It does not count part-time workers or individuals who dropped out of the labor force.
“One in five men of prime working age and nearly half of all persons under 30 did not go to work today.”
— Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in the GOP response to the State of the Union address, Jan. 24, 2012
A loyal reader wrote us about this line in Daniels’ speech after the State of the Union speech given by President Obama, expressing surprise that half of the under-30 population did not go to work. (She assumed he must even be counting babies.) It took us a while to track down the facts in this case, but it turns out to be an interesting tale of a statistic that, in the end, does not really say much.
Something seemed fishy because the first part of Daniel’s quote refers to 20 percent of “men in prime working age” not going to work, while adding that a much higher number — nearly 50 percent — of those under 30 not having jobs. That’s a rather large gap that should immediately raise flags.
This is the video companion to our analysis of what happened to President Obama’s proposals in the 2011 State of the Union address.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of columns this week examining how factual former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Santorum’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Santorum talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
“I had absolutely nothing to do -- never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything -- with Grover Norquist and the, quote, K Street Project.”
-- Rick Santorum, during an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 25, 2006
“I have never called anybody or talked to anyone to try to get anybody a position on K Street with one exception, and that is if someone from my office is applying for a job and an employer calls me.”
-- Santorum, in an interview with The Washington Times, Jan. 30, 2006
Santorum made these comments while trying to distance himself from the so-called “K Street Project,” an effort by key Republicans to place party loyalists in top lobbying positions. The program, led by conservative activist Grover Norquist and former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), took place to varying degrees from roughly 1995 until about 2006. Its name refers to the D.C. corridor where lobbyists have set up shop in large numbers.
One of the key issues in any president’s reelection campaign is whether he has kept his promises. So a web video released this week by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with the Iowa caucuses, can be seen as an example of the White House laying the groundwork for making the case that the president has kept his promises.
The video shows Obama making his victory speech four years ago in Iowa, and then interjects it with headlines showing how the president has met his pledge. The overall result is slick, but a careful viewer will note that the words that follow in the headlines do not always quite match up with the president’s words.
“All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis. They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.”
— Former senator Rick Santorum, Nov. 21. 2011
A blog on The Jewish Week Web site highlighted this statement on Monday, which was also captured on tape and posted on YouTube. (See clip at the end of the column.) The statement is somewhat reminiscent of former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”
Gingrich’s comments spawned outrage at the time, but Gingrich actually spoke a couple of weeks after Santorum’s remarks, which were made in the context of defending Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank. As Jewish Week noted, Santorum’s “views got little attention at the time because he was considered a hopeless back-of-the-pack candidate and not being taken very seriously.”
In many ways, Santorum’s remarks have even more important policy implications than Gingrich’s statement, which was a historical observation (though a highly debatable one).
In the conversation captured on tape, Santorum argues that the West Bank belongs to Israel because Arab nations launched an “aggressive attack” in 1967 but Israel defeated them and acquired the land as part of the spoils of war.
“It was ground that was gained during war,” he said, similar to the United States gaining territory after defeating Mexico in the 19th century. “Should we give Texas back to Mexico?” he asked. “Bottom line, it is legitimately Israeli country.”
“And I'm very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs. By the way, we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president’s created in the entire country. So if the president wants to talk about jobs, and I hope he does, we’ll be comparing my record with his record and he comes up very, very short.”
— Mitt Romney, Jan. 3, 2012
It’s a new year, and we already have new claims about job creation. The Romney campaign was sufficiently proud of this quote, made on “Fox and Friends,” that it blast-e-mailed it to reporters.
As we have mentioned before, the notion that a president – or particularly a governor – can magically create jobs with a set of policies is a bit of a stretch. Broadly speaking, presidential policies can certainly have an impact, but even a president is at the mercy of the business cycle. Obama became president in the midst of the worst recession in memory, so obviously that is going to be a drag on his “job-creation record.”
The Romney campaign provided a link to Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that during Romney’s four-year term as Massachusetts governor, the number of jobs went up 61,000. By contrast, the number of jobs under Obama has dropped by 1.86 million.
It’s been one year since The Washington Post relaunched The Fact Checker column as a permanent feature, and so it seems an appropriate point to review and reflect on a year of fact-checking claims made by politicians. Most important, where did we go wrong and how can we improve?
Readers frequently ask: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? We had no idea until we sat down this week and did some calculations.
Let’s do the numbers!
“My priorities, you cut off all foreign welfare and foreign militarism and corporate welfare before you go after child health-care.”
-- Ron Paul remarks during Bloomberg TV interview, June 3, 2011
“I’ve never voted for an earmark in my life.”
-- Remark by Paul on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dec. 23, 2007
Paul addresses a number of issues with these comments, but the common thread is government favoritism. The congressman portrays himself as a strict budget hawk and a candidate who never supports corporate subsidies or special funding for his congressional district.
Lots of politicians blast earmarks but find ways to justify them for their own constituents. And plenty of lawmakers support tax breaks and corporate subsidies -- so-called corporate welfare -- as a way to create jobs, foster innovation, and even protect the environment in certain cases. We examined Paul’s record to find out whether he’s truly any different.
Paul’s campaign-finance record shows little indication of a politician who is tied to special interests. Individuals have provided the vast majority of his campaign cash, supplying 91 percent of the money since his first bid for office.
“Dr. Paul never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution. In the words of former Treasury Secretary William Simon, Dr. Paul is the ‘one exception to the Gang of 535’ on Capitol Hill.”
-- Biographical excerpt from the Ron Paul campaign site
“I have something different to offer. I emphasize civil liberties. I emphasize a pro- American foreign policy, which is a lot different than policemen of the world. I emphasize monetary policy and these things that the other candidates don’t talk about. But I think the important thing is, the philosophy I’m talking about is the Constitution and freedom.”
-- Paul, during Fox News GOP debate, Dec. 15, 2011
Paul has long portrayed himself as a constitutionalist, one who supports limited government and who values individual liberty above all else.
The term constitutionalist holds various meanings and incorporates numerous philosophies, but the main premise is that the government derives its powers from the Constitution. Paul applies the definition strictly, calling for the abolition of all federal programs not expressly authorized by the document.
We examined Paul’s record to find out whether he has lived up to his rhetoric. Could he really spend nearly 22 years in Congress without violating his principles?
Paul has earned the nickname “Dr. No” for refusing to cut deals and for opposing virtually every piece of legislation that could be interpreted as government overreach or interference with the free market.
“America must decide who to trust: Al Gore’s Texas cheerleader, or the one who stood with Reagan.”
— An ad from the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign Committee
We pulled this comment from an ad that accuses Rick Perry of trying to “undo the Reagan Revolution” when he backed Al Gore for president in 1988. Photos show Ron Paul looking chummy with the Gipper as a deep-voiced narrator describes the Texas congressman as a bold Reagan supporter. The gist: Paul has impeccable Reaganite credentials; Perry does not.
We examined Paul’s relationship with Reagan during the late 1980s to find out whether he was really so supportive of the Republican icon. Our colleagues at FactCheck.org covered this topic before, but we figure it’s worth another look as we continue our series on biographical claims of the 2012 Republican candidates.
Paul has little room to criticize politicians for changing their party affiliations. He campaigned for president as a Libertarian in 1988, after running for office seven times as a Republican and serving as a GOP member of the U.S. House for more than six years at that point.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of four columns this week examining how factual Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Paul’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Paul talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.
— Glenn Kessler
“I’m not a racist. As a matter of fact, Rosa Parks is one of my heroes, Martin Luther King is a hero — because they practiced the libertarian principle of civil disobedience, nonviolence.”
— Ron Paul, responding during a Jan. 10, 2008, CNN interview to questions about racially charged articles published in the “Ron Paul Political Report” during the 1990s.
“I never read that stuff. I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written, and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this.”
— Ron Paul, responding to more questions about the newsletters during an interview with CNN, Dec. 21, 2011
Accusations of racism against Paul first surfaced during the candidate’s 1996 congressional campaign, when Democratic opponent Lefty Morris unveiled racially tinged quotes from a newsletter the Texas libertarian had published during his 12-year hiatus from public office.
The national media latched onto the issue during Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, after the New York Times and the New Republic highlighted derogatory statements about blacks and gays from the bulletins.
The issue resurfaced as Paul moved to the front of the GOP pack in recent weeks, and the congressman appeared to be fed up with the matter as he walked away from an interview in which a CNN reporter pressed for more answers. (See the video below).
We won’t be the judge of whether Paul is a bigot, but we can examine the extent to which he had control over his publications. Are we to believe he never reviewed the newsletters that bore his name? Would he have eliminated the messages if he’d seen them?
Paul helped form the Ron Paul & Associates corporation in 1984, and the now-defunct company, for which he served as president, began publishing newsletters the following year. The monthly publications included Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, the Ron Paul Political Report and the Ron Paul Investment Letter.
Fact checkers are under assault!
Before we present our list of the biggest Pinocchios of the year, we would like to address the torrent of criticism addressed at fact checkers (primarily PolitiFact, Factcheck.org and The Fact Checker) in recent weeks. The Weekly Standard last week had a cover story denouncing fact checkers as a liberal plot to control the political discourse. This week, PolitiFact’s decision to award its “Lie of the Year” trophy to Democratic claims that the GOP “killed” Medicare has earned it and its fact checking brethren additional scorn from the left.
As a writer at Gawker put it: “Politifact is dangerous. Stop reading it. Stop reading the ‘four Pinocchios’ guy too. Stop using some huckster company's stupid little phrases or codes or number systems when it's convenient, and read the actual arguments instead. You're building a monster.”
My colleague Ezra Klein even opined that “the ‘fact checker’ model is probably unsustainable,” based on the questionable belief that “half of the public leans towards one party and about half of the public leans toward the other” and thus will tune out commentary with which they disagree. That’s a pretty depressing commentary on the state of our politics. Thankfully, it bears little relationship to the reality we experience every day at The Fact Checker.
“As Speaker, Gingrich supported taxpayer funding of some abortions.”
--from a new ad in Iowa sponsored by “Restore Our Future”
Super PACS will cause endless headaches for fact checkers this political season. The advertisements they produce are often insidiously inaccurate.
A good example is the latest advertisement trashing Newt Gingrich, “Smile,” by Mitt Romney’s Super PAC--Restore Our Future--which is spending more than $3 million just in Iowa in the weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses. The former House Speaker certainly has some baggage from his long political career, as the ad asserts, but that would be all the more reason not to need to twist the truth.
Brittany Gross, a Restore Our Future spokesman, declined to answer questions. “We aren’t commenting on the ad,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Thanks for reaching out.”
Let’s take a tour through some of the more egregious fouls in the ad.
“Freddie Mac, which helped cause the economic collapse, paid Newt Gingrich $30,000 an hour for a total of at least $1.6 million.”
The suggestion here is that Freddie Mac caused the 2008 economic crash, which is a simplistic assertion. Restore Our Future cited as a source an opinion article written by Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute.
“It tells you how capriciously political [the House ethics] committee was that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it.”
— Newt Gingrich, Dec. 5, 2011, talking to reporters about suggestions from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that she could reveal secret information from a 1990s House ethics investigation of the current GOP front-runner.
“I think what it does is it reminds people who probably didn't know this that she was on the ethics committee, that it was a very partisan political committee, and that the way I was dealt with related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than the ethics.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, answering questions about Pelosi and the ethics investigation during interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.
“The attrition effect on your members of that many ads and that many charges just gradually wore down people, and I gradually lost the ability to lead, because I was so battered by the process.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 7, 2011, during a meeting with the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Gingrich made these comments after Pelosi hinted that she could reveal damaging information about him “when the time’s right,” thanks to her involvement with a 1990 ethics investigation of the now-surging GOP candidate — a case that led to the first congressional reprimand of a House speaker.
We don’t question that Democrats relished the chance to nail Gingrich for ethics violations, especially after he gave the same treatment to former Democratic House speaker Jim Wright in 1988. But justice can still run its course fairly and impartially when enemies have blown the whistle, even if they enjoy watching you squirm.
We examined the congressional ethics committee that reprimanded Gingrich to find out more about its makeup. Was the panel truly as partisan as the Republican front-runner suggests, or has this prolific alternative-history writer crafted yet another fiction?
The congressional ethics panel that investigated Gingrich — when the GOP controlled the House — consisted of four Democrats and four Republicans, a perfectly bipartisan group that voted 7-1 to reprimand the then-speaker. Furthermore, the House voted 395 to 28 to support the committee’s decision, with backing from 196 Republicans.
“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, defending his contract with Freddie Mac during a CNBC debate in Michigan, Nov. 9, 2011
“There's a whole issue about whether or not government-sponsored enterprises have any legitimacy. Well, I can tell you as a historian they have been used in a variety of ways over all of American history. There are times they've been very, very useful and very valuable.
And so part of the question was, ‘Can you make that case? Can you put in context the history of these institutions?’”
-- Gingrich, again defending his contract with Freddie Mac during an interview on Fox News, Nov. 17, 2011
“I didn't speak for the people of Israel. I spoke as a historian who has looked at the world stage for a very long time. I've known [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] since 1984. I feel quite confident an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of and the casualties they're taking and the people who surround them who say, ‘You do not have the right to exist, and we want to destroy you.’”
-- Gingrich, defending remarks he made during an Iowa debate on Dec. 10, 2011, suggesting that Palestinians had based their “right of return” on an historically false story.
That’s at least three times that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has referred to himself as a historian during the 2012 election cycle. He’s gone a step further at times, suggesting that his knowledge of the subject gives him superior qualifications for policy -- and decision-making.
“What it does is, it gives you a really rich background to go to, to analyze things, to think about things, to put in context what you would do in a way that if you don’t know history, you can’t possibly reinvent it,” he told Iowa Public Radio this year.
So how did the GOP front-runner develop his supposed acumen? We analyzed his résumé and his life in academia to find out just how much experience the former House speaker draws from, and whether he has any credibility as a self-proclaimed authority.
Gingrich spent the great majority of his professional life in politics, serving as a member of Congress for 20 years. He devoted just eight fulltime years to academia and history -- 18 if you include his time as a student.
“Their proposal ... makes harmful cuts to things like education, that strengthen middle-class security. Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations, by protecting their loopholes and subsidies.”
--White House spokesman Jay Carney, Dec. 9, 2011
“What I understand is that in the Republican proposal you're talking about, they didn't spell out where the cuts would come. And I get that they were trying to hide the fact that this would be the result. … The result would be cuts in nondefense discretionary programs, education and clean energy, veterans programs. That's the effect of their proposal.”
--Carney, Dec. 12, 2011
There are few areas more confusing than the federal budget. In many ways, it is a funhouse mirror of numbers, allowing politicians to make claims that are designed to mislead and confuse voters.
The above quotes by White House spokesman Jay Carney provide a case study of this technique.
On Friday, reading from a prepared statement, he accused the House Republicans of making “harmful cuts” to education in order to fund their version of an extension of the payroll tax cut. On Monday, he said that “they didn’t spell out where the cuts would come from.” But, he still insisted the result of their plan would be cuts in “education and clean energy, veterans programs.”
It sounds pretty dreadful. Is it true?
The House Republican bill to extend the payroll tax for one year has a number of elements that concern the White House, but let’s keep the focus on the spending cuts. The best source for this information is the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the legislation, since the CBO is the nonpartisan scorekeeper.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been in describing his past achievements. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Gingrich’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Gingrich talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
— Glenn Kessler
“If you explore the mandate, it ultimately ends up with unconstitutional powers. It allows the government to define virtually everything. And if you can do it for health care, you can do it for everything in your life, and, therefore, we should not have a mandate.”
— Remarks by Newt Gingrich during GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., June 13, 2011
“I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at HealthTransformation.net. I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.”
— Recorded statement by Newt Gingrich, from the GOP candidate’s Web site.
Gingrich has voiced resounding opposition to the “Obamacare” insurance mandate during his 2012 campaign, describing the policy as unconstitutional. He says he fought hard against it with the Center for Health Transformation, a health-care industry think tank he helped establish.
Fellow GOP front-runner Mitt Romney challenged this point, insisting that Gingrich inspired the insurance mandate he implemented as part of a health-care reform bill in Massachusetts. We took a look at the former House speaker’s past to find out whether the conservative icon known for innovative and often shape-shifting ideas might have experienced a change of heart.
Gingrich and Romney engaged in a brief but heated spat during the Oct. 18 GOP debate after the former speaker criticized Massachusetts’s health-care reform program as a big-government, high-cost solution for covering the uninsured. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:
"He has bowed to foreign dictators"
— Mitt Romney, Dec. 7, 2011
“1,584 holes since 2009”
— Romney campaign Web site fortyfore.com
In recent days, the Romney campaign has attacked President Obama on two seemingly trivial matters that seek to undermine his character — his alleged “bowing” to foreign leaders and his propensity to play golf. As the Web site says, “It’s time to have a president whose idea of being ‘hands on’ doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club.”
So what’s story behind these claims?
Bowing to foreign dictators
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that “the term ‘bowed to foreign dictators’ is metaphorical but the leaders Obama literally bowed to were the Saudi King, Emperor of Japan, and Chinese President Hu Jintao.”
“Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’”
— Then-Sen. Barack Obama, Oct. 16, 2008
We resisted writing about Mitt Romney’s first television ad when it was released just before Thanksgiving, on the grounds that the issue — whether the ad misquoted President Obama — had been thoroughly and quickly discussed. We sometimes also see little need to fact check items that have been already debunked by one political faction or the other.
But readers have repeatedly asked us to weigh in, and the ad was once again in the news this week after a report in The New York Times by our former colleague Thomas Edsall quoted an anonymous “top operative” in the Romney campaign as defending the ad because “ads are propaganda by definition…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing…. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”
Excuse us for appearing cynical, but Romney’s supposed adviser is simply stating a truth practiced by both political parties. We’ve seen plenty of Four-Pinocchio ads in our time, and this Romney ad does not make the cut.
The ad opens with a headline: “On October 16, 2008, Barack Obama Visited New Hampshire.” Then grainy scenes flash by of Obama speaking as more headlines flash by, such as: “He Promised He Would Fix the Economy…. He Failed”
Question: “How much time is he focused on the campaign on a given day?”
White House spokesman Jay Carney: “On a given day? I can’t do it on a given day. I would say on a given week about 5 percent of his time.”--White House press briefing, Nov. 29, 2011
President Obama obviously is seeking to be re-elected. But the question raised at one of this week’s news briefings is an interesting one: How much time is he spending on getting re-elected? He has a pretty important day job right now, after all.
We asked a White House official for an explanation of how Carney derived his estimate, and were told it was based on Carney’s knowledge of the president’s schedule. That did not seem like a particularly rigorous accounting (though Carney did not try to claim it was). So we decided to investigate further.
The precise details of how the president spends his day are a bit fuzzy, but the White House does release a daily schedule which the Washington Post’s POTUS tracker has meticulously cataloged, day in and day out. The tracker lists every event the White House makes public. Excluding events that turn up as “departing,” “leaving” and “no public events scheduled,” we discover that as of Dec. 1, the president has held 1,134 events this year. (We kept our focus on just this year because that was the context of the question asked of Carney.)
“And there's no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences.”
— Former governor Mitt Romney on Fox News, Nov. 29, 2011
Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem. Slowly but surely, the conventional wisdom is solidifying that the former Massachusetts governor often has changed his position to suit the politics of the moment. The story line has been advanced by his opponents, in both parties, but also in the media. Take a look at this wicked cartoon by our colleague Tom Toles, in which Romney tells an elephant dressed as Santa Claus: “What would you like me to ask for?”
Of course, politicians have every right to change their minds. An inflexible attitude is not always the sign of an effective leader. But too many flips without enough explanation may give voters pause. In Romney’s case, many of his moves have been from the left — when he was governor of Massachusetts — to the right, as he has run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now the Democratic National Committee has assembled some of its best evidence of Romney-as-flip-flopper in a four-minute video ad. The DNC helpfully provided a detailed explanation of where each clip came from (see below), and we have picked through them to see whether the flip-flop charge holds up. We give a Pinocchio rating to each claim, in the order in which it is made in the commercial.
“I'm happy to say I don't think that I've said anything inaccurate in any of the debates. And I'm extremely grateful for that. It's a high-profile stage and so I'm grateful that I don't think I've made a blunder.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Nov. 25, 2011
In an interesting interview last Friday (which we missed as we recovered from Thanksgiving dinner), Bachmann acknowledged that she is sometimes truth-challenged.
“I wish I was perfection walking on air, but I'm not,” she told Steve Inskeep. “I've gotten things wrong. But I try very hard to get my facts right, and there's times when I've said things that are inaccurate and I regret that.”
But then she made the statement she said above. Nothing inaccurate in the debates? Let’s review the record.
The Republican candidates for president have already held at least 10 full-fledged debates, and we have watched them all. Here are a few highlights of Bachmann’s performance during those sessions. During the debates, we don’t award Pinocchios unless we go back and write a fuller column on the statement. In that case, we will note whether she received any — or if a similar statement had already received Pinocchios.
“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?
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.
Did Texas improve air quality, lower emissions as much as Rick Perry claims? (Fact Checker biography)
“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.
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.
CNBC’s John Harwood: “Since you mentioned Fannie and Freddie, Speaker Gingrich, 30 seconds to you. Your firm was paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac in 2006. What did you do for that money? . . . Were you not trying to help Freddie Mac fend off the effort by the Bush administration to curb Freddie Mac?”
Newt Gingrich: “I have never done any lobbying, every contract that 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, is I said — I said to them at the time: This is a bubble. This insane. This is impossible.”
— Exchange during CNBC debate, Nov. 9, 2011
“I was approached to give strategic advice.”
— Gingrich, after it was revealed that he received as much as $1.8 million from Freddie Mac, Nov. 16, 2011
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has risen in the polls, bringing new scrutiny to his campaign. Bloomberg News, in particular, has done an excellent job of trying to figure out exactly what Gingrich did to earn his hefty consulting fee from controversial mortgage giant Freddie Mac. As more information has emerged, Gingrich’s explanations appear to have changed.
Gingrich’s initial claim during the CNBC debate that he gave “advice as a historian” now turns out to be too cute by half. After all, Gingrich’s PhD dissertation in history was “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960.” We’re not sure what value such historical insights would have that would be worth so much money to the executives of Freddie Mac.
“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?
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.
CNBC Debate moderator John Harwood: “Governor Romney, I want to switch to the bailout drama that we’ve lived through in this country, and no state understands it better than the state of Michigan. I'm going to talk a little bit about your record on that. Four years ago when you were running for the Republican nomination and the auto industry was suffering, you said, where's Washington?
“After the election, when the Bush administration was considering financial assistance for the automakers, you said no, let Detroit go bankrupt. Now that the companies are profitable again after a bailout supported by your Republican governor here in Michigan, you said, well, actually, President Obama implemented my plan all along, or he gravitated to my plan. With a record like that of seeming to be on all sides of the issue, why should Republicans be confident in the steadiness of your economic leadership?”
Mitt Romney: “My view some years ago was that the federal government, by putting in place CAFE requirements that helped foreign automobiles gain market share in the U.S., was hurting Detroit. And so I said, where is Washington? They're not doing the job they ought to be doing.
“My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process. We have capital markets and bankruptcy. It works in the U.S. The idea of billions of dollars being wasted initially -- then finally they adopted the managed bankruptcy. I was among others that said we ought to do that.
“And then after that, they gave the company to the UAW, they gave General Motors to the UAW, and they gave Chrysler to Fiat. My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the right private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction, as opposed to what we had with the government playing its heavy hand.”--Exchange during the CNBC Debate on Nov. 9, 2011
This exchange during Wednesday’s CNBC GOP debate encapsulated both a recurrent concern about the former Massachusetts governor—is he a flip flopper and on “all sides of the issue”—and the political problem he faces about appearing unconcerned about the fate of auto workers by urging “let Detroit go bankrupt.” If Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee, we are sure to hear a lot about this as he and President Obama battle over Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.
Already, the Democratic National Committee, on its amusing Which Mitt? Web site, has a YouTube blast suggesting Romney flip-flopped on help for the auto industry, saying different things depending on whether he was in or out of Michigan:
So let’s examine whether Romney was consistent, whether Obama adopted his plan, and whether Romney is correct that the Obama administration “gave” GM to the United Auto Workers and Fiat to Chrysler.
We reviewed many of Romney’s remarks in early 2008, when he unsuccessfully battled Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the Republican nomination. McCain had said that the auto jobs “were never coming back” and Romney saw an opening, criticizing McCain for giving up on the auto industry. That’s the context for the quote that the DNC highlights in its ad: “I’m not willing to sit back and say, ‘Too bad for Michigan, too bad—too bad for the car industry, too bad for the people who’ve lost their job.’”
Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidates have provided no shortage of fact-checker fodder so far this campaign. Our Pinocchio counts have covered the debates, tax plans, climate change and Social Security among other issues. And with the election a year away, there will be plenty more to keep us busy.
But we can’t keep track of everything coming out of the campaigns. So we’re hoping we can help you help us. When you spot a candidate speech, campaign ad or any election-related quotes that don’t pass muster, flag them for us to review in one of the following ways:
Send us details about the statement in question by completing this web form:
“Well there are larger things we can do. Obviously the American Jobs Act, all economists agree, would have a marked effect on economic growth and would create millions of jobs. We just have to get the Congress to act on it.”
— David Axelrod, senior campaign strategist to President Obama, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” October 30, 2011
During an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the president’s long-time adviser made a statement that jumped out for fact checking. “All economists,” he said, agreed that the president’s jobs plan would “create millions of jobs.”
We’ve never known economists to agree on anything. So what are they actually saying about the president’s (stillborn) jobs initiative?
The White House has refused to release its own estimate of the potential jobs that would be created, preferring instead to point to private surveys such as one by Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics.
“The state was giving over $1 billion away in free health care, much of it to people who could’ve paid something but were just gaming the system. You won’t be surprised that a lot of Democrats thought we should give them even more. I took on this problem and hammered out a solution that took a bad a situation and made it better — not perfect, but it was a state solution to our state’s problem.”
— Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, announcing his candidacy in New Hampshire, June 2, 2011
Romney’s campaign clarified his statement for us, saying it described how he reduced the amount of healthcare payments coming from the state’s uncompensated care pool as opposed to from insurance. We looked at the outcomes of the Massachusetts Health Care Reform plan — ie, “RomneyCare’ — to find out whether the program worked as he intended.
Keep in mind we’re testing how well Romney’s comments hold up to scrutiny, but are not making a judgment about whether his healthcare-reform plan is good or bad.
The number of higher-income Massachusetts residents without insurance fell from 5.2 percent before “RomneyCare” to 2.9 percent in 2007, according to a report by Sharon K. Long, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The study concluded there was no evidence of residents using state-subsidized insurance when they could afford their own plans, so there doesn’t appear to be a big problem with people abusing the program.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been in describing his past achievements. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Romney’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Romney talks about his past. After this week, he will turn to the other candidates. We welcome suggestions from readers for statements to vet. — Glenn Kessler
“We were able to balance our budget all four years without raising taxes. We were able to cut back on government spending and government employment, and so we were able to balance that budget and ultimately build a rainy-day fund much larger than when I took office.”
— Mitt Romney’s remarks during a July 5, 2011, campaign event in Iowa
Romney repeats these lines often on the campaign trail, and it’s easy to see why. He needs to convince the Republican base of his fiscal-conservative credentials.
These remarks obviously suggest that Romney reduced spending and balanced the budget without raising taxes. We researched his record in Massachusetts to find out how well his policies match his claims.
Romney increased the Massachusetts rainy-day fund from $640 million to $2 billion, so he did indeed build a larger reserve for the state.
“I am pro-life from conception... I don’t believe government should make that decision.”
— Herman Cain, interviewed by John Stossel on Fox Business, Oct. 11, 2011
“What it comes down to is not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make.”
— Cain, during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Oct. 19, 2011
“That first clip that you played was taken out of context... I simply said, if you get pushed to that extent, the family isn't going to be thinking about what the laws are at that point. They're going to be thinking about their family member and that baby. That's what I mean by it was taken out of context.”
— Cain, on Fox and Friends, Oct. 24, 2011
Confused yet by Herman Cain’s position on abortion?
Politics 101 says that any major-party candidate needs to have a position on abortion — and then stick to it. Just mouth the exact same sentence over and over again and you won’t get in trouble.
Cain has violated that rule repeatedly in recent weeks. We dare you to watch the clips below and tell us whether he’s for abortion rights or against them. In both cases, he actually sounds vaguely pro-choice.
So were his words taken out of context, as he claimed Monday?
Here’s the transcript of what Cain said on CNN:
“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 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.
“The entire plan will not add one penny to the federal debt, while creating 5 million new jobs.”
--news release by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about the Senate GOP jobs plan
“Paul said the bill would create 5 million new jobs—although he did not offer a specific time frame.”
--news article on unveiling of the plan, Oct. 14, 2011
Politicians love to make claims about how many jobs their proposals will create. As a practical matter, readers should immediately discount such assertions, since they are often based on guesstimates that are then extrapolated beyond reality. One good example of such a dubious claim is one made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in August about the Federal Aviation Administration funding bill, for which he earned Three Pinocchios.
But the current battle over the jobs bills is, of course, about jobs. President Obama has toured the country, making the case for his plan while frequently citing an estimate by one economist that nearly 2 million jobs would be saved or created. Bloomberg News surveyed 34 economists and came up with a decidedly smaller average – the plan would “add or keep 275,000 employees on payrolls.” Still, the economists concluded the president’s plan might help avoid a recession in the next year.
Senate Republicans, including Rand Paul (Ky.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), last week unveiled what they labeled as their alternative to Obama’s plan. Their plan was mostly a mish-mash of previous offered bills, such as that hardy perennial--a balanced budget amendment to the constitution. (Some experts would argue that such a requirement could hurt employment if government spending dropped too quickly.)
During the news conference, and in a news release, Paul claimed the GOP plan would create 5 million jobs
So, we wondered: Where did that figure come from?
Moira Bagley, a spokesman for Paul, said the figure was derived from three proposals: individual and corporate tax cuts that reduced the top tax rate of 25 percent, which the Heritage Foundation said would boost employment by 1.6 million jobs over the next decade; a tax holiday allowing U.S. companies to return cash held overseas, which a Chamber of Commerce study said would create 2.9 million jobs in two years; and a study by energy consultant Wood MacKenzie, which said allowing access to domestic energy resources and imports of Canadian oil would generate more than 1 million jobs by 2018.
“These programs have worked in the past. Republicans know they've worked in the past. But when you have a goal, your only goal is to follow your leader. And that leader, my friend Mitch McConnell, his goal is to defeat Obama. Of course they don't want to do anything that's constructive.”
--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Oct. 17, 2011
Senate Democrats this week plan to bring pieces of President Obama’s jobs bill to the floor of the Senate, in the wake of the full bill’s failure to advance to a vote. As evidence of Republican intransigence, Democrats appear determined to evoke repeatedly the noteworthy comment in 2010 by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
But we were struck by Reid’s assertion that Republicans in the Senate “don’t want to do anything that’s constructive.” How accurate is that?
During the president’s bus tour last summer, he called on Congress to take a number of important steps: pass trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia; pass trade adjustment assistance; pass patent reform; pass Federal Aviation Administration authorization; and pass an extension of the highway transportation bill.
“9-9-9 will pass, and it is not the price of pizza because, it has been well-studied and well-developed… The problem with that analysis [that it will not raise enough revenue] is that it is incorrect. The reason it's incorrect is because they start with assumptions that we don't make. Remember, 9- 9-9 plan throws out the current tax code. ... Now, what 9-9-9 does, it expands the base. When you expand the base, we can arrive at the lowest possible rate, which is 9-9-9.”
— Herman Cain, Washington Post-Bloomberg debate, October 11, 2011
A family of four making $50,000 a year “are still going to have some money left over.”
— Cain, on MSNBC, October 12, 2011
It almost sounds like something out of the movie “Dave,” in which the accidental president enlists his accountant friend, Murray Blum, to help him figure out the federal budget.
During Tuesday’s Washington Post-Bloomberg debate, Herman Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, named Rich Lowrie of Cleveland as “my lead economist” who helped develop Cain’s signature “9-9-9” plan for overhauling the federal tax system. “He is an economist, and he has worked in the business of wealth creation most of his career,” Cain said.
Actually, according to Lowrie’s Linked-In profile, he has a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from Case Western Reserve University, not economics. Lowrie, in an e-mail, said he did not consider himself an economist, just “senior economic advisor” to the Cain campaign. Donor information maintained by Opensecrets.org shows he has donated $1,500 to Cain in 2010 and 2011, but also contributed $2,300 to Mitt Romney in his first run for the presidency in 2007.
Okay, so Cain may have exaggerated the qualifications of his economic guru. But he has forcefully defended his ‘9-9-9’ plan, both during Tuesday night’s debate and on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” on Wednesday. Many readers have asked us to examine the plan and explain it, so let’s take it for a test drive.
The “9-9-9” label is actually a bit of misnomer. Cain would toss out much of the current federal tax code and replace it, eventually and only temporarily, with three taxes — a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business transactions tax and a 9 percent federal sales tax. On paper, the first two look like cuts, because payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare (now nearly 15 percent, including corporate contributions) would be repealed. The sales tax would be new, on top of existing state sales taxes.
“As I said, we’ve actually cut taxes for small business 16 times since I’ve been in office. So taxes for small businesses are lower now than they were when I came into office.”
--President Obama, Town Hall with LinkedIn, Sept. 26, 2011
We’ve been meaning to look into the administration’s claim that the president has cut small business taxes “16 times,” and now the president’s appearance in Silicon Valley has given us an opportunity. (The White House also has claimed as many as 17 small business tax cuts, including a tax cut in a bill signed at the end of 2010.)
The president, in fact, went even further this week and asserted: “Taxes for small businesses are lower now than they were when I came into office.” That’s a big claim. How true is this?
The White House first began to cite “16 tax cuts” last year, as the president prepared to sign a small business bill. The fact sheet distributed by the White House stated that bills signed by the president in 2009 and 2010 (primarily the stimulus bill) had yielded “eight separate small business tax cuts,” and that the new bill would add another eight.
“There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America.”
— President Obama, speech to a joint session of Congress, Sept. 8
“There’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this bill.”
— President Obama, speech in Cincinnati, Sept. 22
“There are just numerous, numerous projects. This one is symbolic. The fact is that if the American Jobs Act were passed, we could speed up the process of environmental and other approvals on this specific bridge.”
— White House spokesman Jay Carney, news briefing, Sept. 22
Symbolism is a key part of any president’s political arsenal. He visits a school, a factory, a national park or even a bridge to make a larger point about an important issue.
And certainly a trip to the aging Brent Spence Bridge on the Ohio River must have been irresistible to Obama’s political advisers, because not only does it symbolize the nation’s infrastructure crisis but it connects Kentucky and Ohio, where his two main nemeses reside — House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
But is there a point at which the symbolism becomes strained? President George H.W. Bush, for instance, was embarrassed in 1989 when it turned out that the bag of crack cocaine he held up in a televised address — “This is crack cocaine, seized a few days ago in a park across the street from the White House” — was the result of a drug buy specifically set up to match the words in the president’s speech. “Where the [expletive] is the White House?” asked the drug dealer when he was told the location for the drug sale.
In this case, what is the connection between this bridge and the jobs bill Obama is promoting?
The Fact Checker grew up in Cincinnati and knows the terror that motorists feel as they drive across this bridge coming from the airport, which is on the Kentucky side of the river.
“Any reform should follow another simple principle: Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it. It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.”
--President Obama, September 19, 2011
We have to admit we had overlooked this part of President Obama’s Rose Garden speech until we read David Brooks’s column in The New York Times Tuesday accusing the president of being misleading on the issue of taxes. “He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries,” Brooks wrote.
We’re not going to get into an argument between Brooks and Obama. We understood Obama’s comments to be specific to the situation that investor Warren Buffett outlined in his famous opinion article in The New York Times, in which he noted that he paid a lower tax rate than other people in his office. But, looking at Obama’s words again, we can see why Brooks thought Obama was saying that in general middle-class families were paying more in taxes than millionaires. (For the record, the White House says that was not Obama’s intent.)
Indeed, the plan Obama released on Monday simply states the “Buffett Rule” as this: “No household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay.”
But the report never really explains what that means, and administration officials have refused to lay out any detailed proposal. Already, on average, most teachers, nurses, construction workers and the like already pay a lower rate than people making more than $1 million.
Still, there are so many numbers tossed around about taxes that it seems a good time to take a step back and look at the data. After all, Republicans frequently note that 50 percent of Americans pay no income taxes. So how is it that Democrats can complain that billionaires are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries? And does the so-called “Buffett Rule” make sense as tax policy?
The numbers are so confusing because the data points are so different. Democrats speak of tax rate averages, and include payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare). Republicans tend to focus on just federal income taxes and marginal rates, which is the tax on each next dollar of earnings.
“Everything in this proposal, everything in this legislation, everything in the American Jobs Act is the kind of proposal that in the past, at least, has been supported by Democrats and Republicans. Everything in it will be paid for.”
— President Obama, Sept. 14, 2011, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
We had not intended to wade into this issue, thinking the answer was self-evident, but we have been bombarded with requests from readers who want to know whether the president’s claims are correct.
Has “everything in this legislation” been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans?
Is everything in his $447 billion proposal paid for?
Seriously, if you really believe any of that, we have the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you. But, to be sure, the president is only following time-honored Washington traditions when he makes both of these claims.
We asked an administration official for documentation that both Democrats and Republicans previously supported every single proposal in the jobs bill. We received an impressive-looking 30-page document, complete with quotes and links to bill votes and the like.
“While the output has declined, the bureaucracy at the DOD [Department of Defense] has increased. There is enormous waste. Let me give you an example that was reported to me by former secretary of the Navy John Lehman. During World War II we built 1,000 ships a year. And there were 1,000 people in the Bureau of Ships. That's the purchasing department, if you will. In the 1980s we built 17 ships per year, and we had 4,000 people in purchasing. Today we build nine ships a year. Guess how many people are in purchasing? Twenty-five thousand people.”
--Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, Aug. 30, 2011
In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, Romney told a story that was so good that it just cried out for checking.
He repeated a set of statistics that John Lehman, Navy secretary during the Reagan administration, has mentioned in speeches. Lehman’s point has been echoed by others, including mostly recently former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). In testimony before the House Budget Committee in July, Talent quoted at length from one of Lehman’s speeches on the subject.
Certainly, the issue of Pentagon bloat and inefficiency is an important one, especially as lawmakers seek to trim hundreds of billions of dollars from the budget. But our eyebrows went up when we heard Romney tell this story, in part because it already is a stretch to compare ships made 60 years ago with the modern battleships of today. The U.S. population has more than doubled since then, while technology and complex systems have vastly improved.
Let’s check the numbers.
Lehman quickly got on the phone to explain how he had developed these statistics. He emphasized that “this is not a partisan issue” at all and that the current undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Ashton B. Carter, “really gets it” and is trying to deal with the problem of bloat. Carter was recently nominated to be deputy secretary, largely because of his skill at finding budget savings.
The Fact Checker is taking a couple of days off in order to take Fact Checker Jr. off to college. The column will return Aug. 31.
In the meantime, we wanted to share a reader contribution — a fact check of the fact checker, so to speak. In a column last week, we referenced what we called “a standard definition of job creation” during a presidency — the number of jobs created in a president’s term. We’re not saying we agree with this definition, only that, as we have written, it is common in political ads.
“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 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.
“Well, I think the one thing we have to do is reject the new normal level of spending under the Obama administration, because President Obama amped up spending to never-seen-before levels. . . . I mean, one example I'll give you is, we had one employee at the federal Department of Transportation that made $170,000 a year at the beginning of the recession. We had the trillion-dollar stimulus, and 18 months into the recession, we had 1,690 employees making over $170,000. Government has really been growing at — a lot of largesse, but the people in the real world aren’t. And that’s what has to change. Government has no conformity at all with the real world.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Aug. 14, 2011
By popular demand, we are going to vet a statement in the column that we had previously discussed in an online chat. We probably did not do it full justice then, and Bachmann continues to say it — including on the Sunday morning TV shows this past weekend. A number of readers sent e-mails curious to know the truth, so we are happy to oblige.
On the surface, the fact appears astonishing — a huge increase in big-paying government jobs under Obama. But this is one of those statements one has to unpack very carefully, because Bachmann uses what is essentially a correct statistic regarding government salaries in a very misleading way.
Note that although the GOP presidential aspirant starts out by talking about the “never-seen-before levels” of spending under Obama and then mentions “the trillion-dollar stimulus,” the example she cites — the number of Transportation Department employees making more than $170,000 — uses the metric of “the beginning of the recession.” There’s a reason for that phrase: The recession started in December 2007, 13 months before Obama became president.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation, and the regular column will return tomorrow. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
Old Fact Checker columns never really get stale because the misstatements keep getting repeated. If you have only recently become a regular reader, you may find these earlier columns especially interesting.
In today’s installment, we look at an AARP ad on the federal budget that we said “perpetuates the worst stereotypes about how easy it would be to balance the budget.” The over-50 organization earned Four Pinocchios.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation, and the regular column will return on Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
Old Fact Checker columns never really get stale because the misstatements keep getting repeated. If you have only recently become a regular reader, you may find these earlier columns especially interesting.
In today’s installment, we look at President Obama’s accounting about the auto bailout during a Saturday radio address. We concluded this was “one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech,” and the president earned Three Pinocchios.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation, and the regular column will return on Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
Old Fact Checker columns never really get stale because the misstatements keep getting repeated. If you have only recently become a regular reader, you may find these earlier columns especially interesting.
In today’s installment, we look at a series of misstatements by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin during her bus tour. There were so many bloopers in just a 30-minute interview that she ended up with Four Pinocchios.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation, and the regular column will return on Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we look at the claim by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, that the Republican plan for Medicare would “throw you to the wolves.” She ended up with Three Pinocchios.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation and the regular column will return on Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we look closely at President Obama’s statement that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” In what proved to be a controversial statement, we concluded that his statement represented a major diplomatic shift.
So many readers had questions about this column that we addressed them in another column. We also looked at how Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) twisted the president’s words, giving her Four Pinocchios.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation and the regular column will return on Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we look at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s disastrous debut as a presidential candidate. He told whopper after whopper on “The Sean Hannity Show,” and we gave him Four Pinocchios.
Fact Checker Favorites: Kathleen Sebelius’s claim that the GOP Medicare plan will make people ‘die sooner’
The Fact Checker is away on vacation and the regular column will return Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we look at Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s claim that the GOP Medicare plan could cause people with cancer “to die sooner.” We gave her Three Pinocchios, saying she “could have chosen to highlight the trade-offs people might face, or questioned the vagueness of Ryan’s proposals to deal with people who can’t afford to pay their bills. Instead, she decided to present a highly inflammable comment as a statement of fact.”
The Fact Checker is away on vacation and the regular column will return Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we look at the question of whether the Bush tax cuts or increased government spending were the primary reason for the disappearance of a predicted $5.6 trillion surplus. Using previously undisclosed data from the Congressional Budget Office, we showed that new spending exceeded the estimated revenue loss of the Bush-era tax cuts. But we concluded that “the nation has a revenue problem and a spending problem — or else there would not be a deficit.”
The Fact Checker is away on vacation and the regular column will return Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we examine Republican claims that their plan for Medicare would model it after the same system that members of Congress have. We gave this Two Pinocchios, saying, “the reference to the health plan for members of Congress gives a false and misleading impression to ordinary people.”
In today’s installment, we look at a claim by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that 6 million poor seniors were at risk at losing their meals under GOP budget proposals. We gave her Four Pinocchios, saying that, “In a city with overheated rhetoric, Pelosi’s statement ranks high on this year’s list of bloviated bluster.”
In today’s installment, we look at whether Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had indeed admitted to the double-counting of Medicare funds in the new health care law. We gave Two Pinocchios to Republicans “who keep flogging this issue without acknowledging their own past complicity” in this type of government accounting.
The Fact Checker is away on vacation and the regular column will return on Aug. 9. In the meantime, we will be presenting links to some of our most popular, controversial or provocative columns over the past six months.
In today’s installment, we look at the bogus claims that Democrats made about the health-care law when they celebrated its one anniversary. This column was written before we started giving blended Pinocchio ratings for a series of statements. If we wrote this today, we would have given it Three Pinocchios.
In today’s installment, we examined the sad state of knowledge about the federal budget by the American people.
“No matter what rhetoric politicians use about the budget, people need to find out the facts in order to understand the costs, the trade-offs and the challenges ahead,” we wrote when we gave Four Pinocchios to the American people.
In today’s installment, we examine Republican claims that President Obama has repeatedly apologized for the United States and its behavior. We concluded that “the claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the fact, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context.” We gave the claim Four Pinocchios.
In today’s installment, we look at a foreign-policy issue: How committed was the Obama administration to supporting democracy-minded civic and social organization in Egypt before the Arab Spring? We concluded “the administration’s performance appears to fall short” and awarded Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Two Pinocchios for pretending otherwise.
Old Fact Checker columns never really get stale because the misstatements keep getting repeated. If you have only recently become a regular reader, you may find these earlier columns interesting.
In today’s installment, we take a look at an email on President Obama’s health care bill that we still continue to get letters and questions about. We concluded that the email was based on a letter to the editor by a nonexpert who had misinterpreted a very early version of the legislation. We awarded Four Pinocchios to “anyone who keeps forwarding this email.”
“The last time there was a bipartisan budget agreement, it balanced the budget by cutting spending and cutting taxes. The 1997 bipartisan budget agreement between President Clinton and a Republican Congress balanced the budget by bringing spending down to 18.2% of gross domestic product.”
— Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in a memo to Republican members of the House Budget Committee, July 11, 2011
Politicians love to cite the lessons of history. But sometimes the wrong lessons are learned — or remembered.
In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered both the 1997 balanced-budget agreement and George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cut. We are frequently amazed at how politicians appear to forget why those bills passed, how they were crafted and what they were intended to accomplish.
Ryan’s citation of the 1997 balanced budget deal — explaining why he thinks that a bipartisan deal on the debt ceiling cannot have tax increases — is an example of this. So too is his insistence in the memo to his colleagues — “Americans are not under-taxed” — that any changes in the Bush tax cuts simply cannot be contemplated now, even though they were scheduled to expire last year.
(Democrats are equally guilty of such historical amnesia, as we demonstrated when we gave Sen. Barbara Boxer Pinocchios for a highly misleading account of the budget surplus.)
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what really happened in 1997 and 2001.
The 1997 “balanced budget” agreement was made possible by the gusher of tax revenue that had little to do with Democrats and Republicans — a sudden boom in technology stocks (and stock options) that resulted in an unexpected bounty of capital gains tax revenue.
"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.”
— President Obama, July 12, 2011
“So are we really going to start paying interest to Chinese who hold Treasuries and we're not going to pay folks their Social Security checks?”
— President Obama, June 30, 2011
The president’s language has evolved on whether $23 billion Social Security checks will get paid on Aug. 3, the day after the administration says the U.S. government will reach the debt limit.
Last week, at a news conference, he suggested the Treasury could not make Social Security payments if it wanted to keep paying interest to bond holders and not default on the debt. Tuesday, in an interview with CBS News, he added some caveats — that there was no “guarantee” or that there “may” not be enough money.
(If you look at the full exchange, which is at the bottom of this column, you will see Obama never directly answers a question about Social Security checks. He dodges it by saying, “This is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans’ checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out.”)
Clearly, if the debt limit is reached, the nation’s finances would be pretty rocky. The Bipartisan Policy Center recently issued an interesting report that looks day by day at how much money would be going into the government and how much is committed to go out. On Aug. 3, for instance, the daily inflow is estimated to be $12 billion, compared to $32 billion in committed spending that day (most of which would be the Social Security checks.)
But what if there is a way to keep paying Social Security benefits, despite hitting the debt ceiling?
The answer to this question is highly technical. The Bipartisan Policy Center report, which looked closely at the problem, is silent on this issue. We queried the administration about this when Obama made his statement last week, and got a confusing answer. In effect, we were told, the answer is complex but as a practical matter is no, because there would not be enough cash to pay benefits.
“As I’ve said, Social Security is not the primary driver of our long-term deficits and debt.”
— President Obama, July 11, 2011
“Social Security has never contributed a dime to the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt…not one penny to our federal budget deficit this year or any year in our nation’s history.”
— Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). July 8, 2011
President Obama, at a news conference Monday, continued to press for the “biggest deal possible” that would combine spending cuts and new tax revenue in order to reach an agreement on raising the debt limit. He made it clear that some sort of tinkering with Social Security could be on the table.
“It’s not an option for us to just sit by and do nothing,” Obama told reporters. “And if you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term.”
That kind of talk has some Democrats nervous. Rep. Xavier Becerra, vice chair of the House Democratic Congress, made a declarative statement last Friday that Social Security has “never contributed a dime” to the national debt, “not one penny” to the budget deficit this year. He feels so passionate about this fact that, after the Fact Checker called his office about the statement, Becerra immediately got on the phone himself to defend it, saying it does not deserve any Pinocchios.
Obama, in his news conference Monday, put it a little differently, saying, “Social Security is not the primary driver of our long-term deficits and debt.” That phrasing would suggest it contributes in some way to long-term deficits and debt, though not in a substantial way. Obama indicated he was focused on the future: “The reason to do Social Security is to strengthen Social Security to make sure that those benefits are there for seniors in the out-years,” he said.
So what’s going on here?
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 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.
“He seems firmly and clearly determined to undermine our longtime friend and ally. He’s treating Israel the same way so many European countries have: with suspicion, distrust and an assumption that Israel is at fault.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 2, 2011
“Nowhere has President Obama’s lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel. It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally. … Today the president doesn’t really have a policy toward the peace process. He has an attitude. And let’s be frank about what that attitude is: he thinks Israel is the problem. And he thinks the answer is always more pressure on Israel.”
— Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, June 27, 2011
“I never will do what the president of the United States did to our ally in May. I will never say to Israel you must pull back your boundaries to the 1967 indefensible lines. I will not do that because I am here to declare today in Des Moines, Iowa, that I stand with Israel.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), July 2, 2011
The latest Gallup poll shows that President Obama has 60 percent approval rating among Jewish Americans. Jews generally are a reliable vote for Democrats, and in the 2008 election, exit polls show Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote. That gap has sent GOP hearts aflutter, though the polling should be viewed with caution; 60 percent approval is still 14 percent higher than the president’s overall approval rating.
Still, GOP candidates for president sense an opening. A line attacking Obama and his policies on Israel is now a standard part of their stump speeches. The question is whether these attacks are fair or accurate?
The Fact Checker delves into this issue with some trepidation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has bedeviled presidents for decades and there are no easy answers. Both sides in the conflict have deeply held narratives about how things have come to this point.
We would be foolish to venture an opinion on each side’s collection of historical facts because, seriously, it is a no-win situation. But Obama’s treatment of Israel has become such a key part of the GOP arsenal that it is worth exploring the president’s performance.
Obama, perhaps because of his name and his background, found his views on Israel under scrutiny even during the last election. He didn’t help matters then by making observations that antagonized some of Israel’s more loyal supporters: “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”
(Ironically, once he became president, Obama ended up with a Likud prime minister with whom he has had a testy relationship.)
Indeed, key congressional Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), recently have also been critical of Obama’s treatment of Israel. Congress is often very pro-Israel, but the comments by congressional Democrats give a bipartisan gloss to the critique.
The Israeli-Palestinian issue is often considered a central test of a president’s diplomatic skills. Former president George W. Bush was criticized for appearing to ignore the issue until the last months of his administration; he was reacting in part to the unsuccessful, last-gasp efforts of Bill Clinton to strike a deal. Obama decided to take on the challenge from day one, appointing a special envoy to prod the parties toward peace.
"I actually worked with Speaker Boehner to pass a payroll tax cut in December that put an extra $1,000 in the pockets of almost every single American."
"In exchange, we were able to get this payroll tax that put $1,000 -- tax cut that put $1,000 in the pockets of every American, which would help economic growth and jobs."
"The payroll tax cut that we passed in December put an extra thousand dollars in the pockets of every family in America."
— President Obama, July 6, 2011, in the “Twitter Town Hall”
We were off Wednesday so we are a day late looking at the president’s “Twitter Town Hall.” The quotes above jumped out at us because the president had some difficulty remembering his talking point, since he frames the impact of this year’s payroll tax cut three different ways.
Take your pick: The tax cut gave $1,000 to “almost every single American.” Or it “put $1,000 in the pockets of every American.” Or it “put an extra thousand dollars in the pockets of every family in America.”
The president hit the trifecta. None of those assertions is correct.
The president also brought up “millionaires and billionaires” again, as he did in his news conference, when he asserted: “If all we do is just go back to the pre-Bush tax cut rates for the top income brackets, for millionaires and billionaires, that would raise hundreds of billions of dollars. And if you combine it with the cuts we’ve already proposed, we could solve our deficit and our debt problems.”
We think it is a stretch to claim that the president $4 trillion-”framework” would “solve our deficit and our debt problems,” but assuming there are none of the usual budget gimmicks it certainly would be an improvement over his initial budget.
But the reference to “millionaires” also allows us to address the many reader questions we have received since we reviewed the president’s news conference last week and criticized him for not making clear that he would raise taxes on couples making an adjusted gross income of more than $250,000 a year (singles would face the higher taxes at $200,000 AGI.)
A number of readers asserted we had made a mistake because, they said, most people making more than $200,000 or $250,000 have a net worth of more than $1 million, thus making them “millionaires.” This is an interesting question and worthy of further discussion.
The December agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans cut the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. In other words, for every dollar a person earns, they would keep two cents that ordinarily go to pay for Social Security. (No tax is paid on any income over $106,800.)
The Fact Checker was off Wednesday, celebrating his birthday. But since the column has now run for six months, it seems an appropriate moment to look at some numbers.
Readers frequently ask: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? Which candidate does? We frankly had no idea until we sat down last week and did some calculations.
Many of the columns are generated by what’s in the news. There are some days when we walk in the office having no clue what we will write about, but calm in the knowledge that somewhere out there, there’s a statement waiting to be fact checked. We do not consciously choose to focus on one party or another, believing it will all even out in the end.
The hardest part about the job is deciding how many Pinocchios need to be awarded. Since we do not use ½ Pinocchios, there are a bunch of 2’s that could have been 3’s — or vice versa. (The 1’s and 4’s are easier to spot, though readers sometimes vehemently disagree.) We admit the process is somewhat subjective. Not all of the columns result in Pinocchios either.
Looking back at the past six months, we think we have been relatively consistent. For instance, last week we gave Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) three Pinocchios for revisionist history on the budget surplus. We were pleased to see that in March we similarly awarded former Bush administration budget director (and now Indiana Gov.) Mitch Daniels three Pinocchios for similar revisionism on why the budget surplus disappeared.
Let’s do the numbers!
“President Obama has ignored that lesson of history. Instead of promoting democracy – whose fruit we see now ripening across the region – he adopted a murky policy he called ‘engagement.’”
— Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, June 28, 2011
Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations last week, GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty delivered a detailed and blistering critique of President Obama’s foreign policy, but interestingly, one of his main targets was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Generally, secretaries of State are seen as above politics, but of course Clinton was a senator and a first lady before she became a diplomat. She is also known for her style of blunt speaking, and Pawlenty makes adroit use of some of her more provocative quotes to make his case against the president.
In the speech, Pawlenty plays off Obama’s theme of re-engaging with the world after the perceived unilateralist approach of former George W. Bush. (In truth, the Bush team tried to re-engage in the second term, but the effort was hampered by the lingering distrust overseas of actions taken by Bush during his first term.) There’s room for criticism here. Even a sympathetic account of Obama’s “engagement” efforts has found a gap between the administration’s rhetoric and its results.
In this column, we will take a detailed look at the fairness of Pawlenty’s critique of Secretary Clinton, and whether he quoted her correctly and in context. We will leave for another day his criticism of Obama’s handling of Israel, which is a common theme among Republican candidates. We will probably address this question by looking at all the candidates’s quotes on this issue. Reader thoughts are welcome, especially via the email address email@example.com.
“Cash-strapped states are also feeling the burden of the Medicaid entitlement. The program consumes nearly 22 percent of states’ budgets today, and things are about to get a whole lot worse.”
— Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), June 23, 2011, at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee
“Medicaid is the lion’s share of that spending burden as it now consumes about 22 percent of state budgets now and will consume $4.6 trillion of Washington’s budget over the next ten years.”
— Former Kentucky governor Ernest Lee Fletcher (R), June 23, 2011, at the same hearing
“Across the country, governors are concerned about the burgeoning cost of Medicaid, which in fiscal 2010 consumed nearly 22 percent of state budgets, according the National Association of State Budget Officers. That’s larger than what states spent on K-12 public schools.”
— Washington Post front page article, June 14, 2011
When a statistic is universally tossed around as a certified fact, it’s time to get suspicious.
Such is the case with this oft-cited statistic that 22 percent of state budgets is being gobbled up by Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health coverage for the poor and the disabled. Medicaid supposedly is even dwarfing what is spent on educating children and teenagers.
But note the phrase “state-federal.” There’s billions of dollars in federal money involved, and the “22-percent” statistic obscures that fact. Let’s dig a little deeper into the numbers.
Medicaid was a central part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative in the mid-1960s. Each state administers its own Medicaid program, but with federal oversight, federal requirements—and plenty of federal dollars. On average, the federal government provides 57 percent of Medicaid funds.
“I think we ought to go back to the people and the party that was the only party and the only people to balance the budget in 40 years. I hate to break it to my Republican friends, but that is the Democratic Party. We are the ones who did it. We did it when Bill Clinton came into office. We did it after hard work. We did it after painful cuts. We did it with smart investments.”
— Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), June 29, 2011
Each party in Washington seems to have their own narrative. Sen. Boxer’s comment above, from a long floor speech Wednesday lambasting Republicans for pushing a balanced budget amendment to the constitution, is a case in point.
In Boxer’s telling, the budget surplus that emerged in 1998 and continued for four years sprang forth from a critical moment — the passage of Bill Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction bill. For those who don’t remember, it was a cliffhanger vote in both houses of Congress, with not a single Republican lawmaker supporting it.
“Lucky for us, a lot of us are still here who made that fateful vote. We didn't have one Republican voting for that budget, and when they came to the floor — I have all the quotes, chapter and verse--they said: This is horrible. It will never balance the budget. This is going to lead to a depression. This is the worst thing,” Boxer recounted.
Boxer added: “But we know what happened. We not only balanced the budget, but we had a surplus. We not only had a surplus, but the debt was going down so fast we thought we would never have to have Treasury bonds again. On top of that, we created 23 million jobs.”
But is that really what happened? Were Republicans — who controlled the House and essentially the Senate when the budget was in surplus in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 — irrelevant to the process?
President Clinton’s deficit plan certainly was a political and economic gamble.
“The tax cuts I'm proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.”
— President Obama, June 29, 2011
The president, clearly intending to increase pressure on the GOP, lambasted Republicans for, in his words, refusing to get rid of “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” before cutting aid to the less well-off. He also addressed questions on Libya.
Let’s parse some of his answers and explain what he means — and how factual he was.
“The tax cuts I'm proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owner. . . . Before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children's education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it's only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up that tax break that no other business enjoys.”
The White House and Congress have been looking for ways to cut the deficit over 10 years by $2 trillion to $4 trillion. Republicans want to cut spending, while Democrats have sought ways to increase revenues — a nonstarter for most Republicans.
“It isn't true that the government would default on its debt because, very simply, the treasury secretary can pay the interest on the debt first and then, from there, we have to just prioritize our spending…. It is scare tactics because, Bob, the interest on the debt isn't any more than 10 percent of what we're taking in. In fact, it's less than that. And so the treasury secretary can very simply pay the interest on the debt first, then we're not in default. ”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), June 26, 2011, on CBS’s “Face the Nation”
“If we never raise the debt ceiling again, we're going to pay our bills, we're going to pay Social Security. …We won't default. We'll be going back to budget levels of about eight years ago.”
— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), June 26, on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, the government would default on its legal obligations – an event unprecedented in American history. This would cause investors here and around the world to doubt, for the first time, whether the United States will meet its commitments. That would precipitate a self-inflicted financial crisis potentially more severe than the one from which we are now recovering.”
— Treasury Department fact sheet, “Debt Limit: Myth v. Fact”
Confused about the debt-limit debate?
This is turning into one of those classic Washington showdowns: A political event is being forced by an extremely technical matter that few really understand. The debt limit is really what filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock used to call a “MacGuffin” — a device used to propel the plot forward, even though it may be meaningless.
Congress instituted the debt limit back in 1917, during World War I, so that it could stop having to approve every single spending request by the Treasury — but still have a measure of control over spending.
Even under the most conservative budget plans, the United States would have to keep adding to the national debt in order to meet all sorts of current obligations, such as Social Security payments, Medicare and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the debt limit will have to be raised, one way or the other.
But lawmakers are using the pending breach of the debt limit, currently estimated to be in early August, to force the administration to accept significant cuts in spending. (Republicans have ruled out raising taxes.)
That’s their prerogative. In Washington, there is apparently nothing wrong with playing politics with the debt limit. When he was a senator, President Obama famously refused to approve a debt limit increase in 2006 without a plan to reduce the deficit. Now, he calls that “a political vote.”
In any case, we have now reached the stage where some lawmakers — see the Bachmann and DeMint quotes above — shrug off the potential consequences of not reaching an agreement in August. But the Treasury Department warns that this event would be “unprecedented” and three credit-rating agencies — Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch — have warned the United States could lose its triple-A credit rating if a deal is not reached by August 2.
“Unprecedented” may be a stretch. There are actually three instances when the United States could be seen to have defaulted on its obligations — in 1790, in 1933 and in 1971.
“Of course a person has to be careful with statements that they make. I think that's true. And I think now there will be an opportunity to be able to speak fully on the issues. I look forward to that.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann, responding to a question about being “a flake” on “Fox News Sunday,” June 26, 2011
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who on Monday formally announced her candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, is a terrific public speaker with a long history of playing fast and loose with the facts. (For a list of our recent articles on Bachmann’s statements, click here.)
Monday’s address, given in Waterloo, Iowa, was mostly a vision statement, with only a few assertions worth double-checking. We will take a look of those — as well as more dubious statements she made on the Sunday morning news shows in advance of her speech.
Announcement speech, June 27
“Five decades ago in America, we had less debt than we have today. We had $300 billion or less in debt. A gallon of gasoline was 31 cents and owning a home was part of the American dream. Today, that debt stands at over $14 trillion. A gallon of gas is outrageously expensive and unfortunately, too many millions of Americans know what it is to have a home that's in foreclosure.”
Context matters a lot when you use numbers. In this case, Bachmann creates a false impression by using figures from a half-century ago without adjusting for inflation or other factors.
"On the budget, we have known about the long-run fiscal challenge facing the country for 40-plus years, and that problem has not gotten materially worse in the last two years. That problem is rooted in the aging of the population, the acceleration of health care costs, and I would argue, some of the tax policy choices made in the 2000's."
--Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, June 10, 2011
On the face of it, this comment that the nation’s fiscal challenge “has not gotten materially worse in the past two years” appears strange--and certainly provocative.
Indeed, when Austan Goolsbee, one of President Obama’s chief economic aides, made this assertion this month, one reporter covering his speech felt compelled to note: “The national debt has increased from $10.4 trillion to $14.3 trillion since Obama took office in 2009.”
Still, Goolsbee’s comment raises an interesting question. As negotiations to reach a budget deal heat up before the United States breaches its debt limit, are lawmakers and administration officials too focused on the recent run-up in the debt? There have been some proposals this year to deal with long-term health costs—notably the controversial House Republican plan for Medicare—but overall the debate has revolved around current spending.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, defended Goolsbee’s comment as not controversial at all.
“The baby boom's implication for future imbalance has been documented for decades and has gotten two years closer but the demographics haven't changed,” the official said. “The deficits caused by the business cycle over the last two years and the added debt only impacts our long run fiscal situation by, essentially, the interest we pay on the additional debt. The $10 to $14 trillion is not the long run fiscal challenge.”
So we decided to test the question of whether the fiscal challenge has gotten “materially worse” under President Obama. We will try not to get too wonky.
Both left-leaning and right-leaning economists agreed that the best source for the answer to this question are regular studies on the fiscal challenge done largely by Alan Auerbach, an economics professor at University of California at Berkeley, and William Gale, an expert on federal economic policy at the Brookings Institution.
“Democrats like to picture us as pushing grandmother over the cliff or throwing someone under the bus. In either one of those scenarios, at least the senior has a chance to survive. But under this IPAB [Independent Payment Advisory Board] we described that the Democrats put in ‘Obamacare,’ where a bunch of bureaucrats decide whether you get care, such as continuing on dialysis or cancer chemotherapy, I guarantee you when you withdraw that the patient is going to die. It’s rationing."
— Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), June 22, 2011
The body count in the war between Democrats and Republicans over Medicare continues to mount.
First, Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebilius said that cancer patients would “die sooner” under the House Republican Medicare proposal. (She earned Three Pinocchios for that statement.) Now, Rep. Phil Gingrey has charged that a provision in the Obama health-care law — the creation of an Independent Payment Advisory Board — will lead to the death of people on dialysis or cancer chemotherapy because of “rationing” by “bureaucrats.”
Who knew that politicians on each side were so determined to let people die? (We embed the notorious “Granny off the cliff” ad at the end of this column.) Turning the tables on Democrats who claim the GOP plan would “kill Medicare,” Gingrey said that by supporting the IPAB, “President Obama has already ended Medicare as we know it.”
Rhetoric aside, Gingrey’s comment seems like an opportune time to try to examine this mysterious entity and what it is intended to do. Many senior Republican lawmakers have complained about it, and we imagine it will be featured in future presidential debates.
Beginning in 2014, the 15-member IPAB (made up of experts subject to Senate confirmation) is designed to help reduce the rate of growth in Medicare spending if it exceeds a certain target rate. The board would make recommendations to reduce costs.
“When hundreds of billions of dollars of our money is being spent, it can’t be in secret and I think the Federal Reserve has become so important to our economy and it affects our lives in so many ways that we the American people have the right to know how our money is being spent. …We should repeal the Dodd-Frank bill…This economy is going to stay mired in a bad economy until we bring the Fed under control and we repeal the Dodd-Frank bill ”
— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), in a new campaign video titled “Who Got the Money?”
With exquisite timing, former House speaker Newt Gingrich released a new presidential campaign video titled “Who Got the Money?” on the same day reports surfaced that Gingrich had a second line of credit at Tiffany and Co., this one valued at $500,000 to $1 million.
The two-minute video (embedded at the end of the column) is a somewhat confusing attack on the Federal Reserve, which appears to be part of an attempt by Gingrich to appeal to supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a fierce critic of the Fed.
In the video, Gingrich also calls for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank law, the financial regulatory overhaul that was signed into law less than a year ago. In the video, Gingrich never quite makes clear the reasons for repeal, besides an animus for the Democratic lawmakers whose names adorn the bill, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.)
The video, which closes with an appeal to demand an audit of the Fed, leaves the impression that the Fed has not disclosed what it did to shore up financial institutions during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Is that the case?
On the Federal Reserve website, there’s a section titled “Usage of Federal Reserve Credit and Liquidity Facilities.” As the website explains, the page provides “detailed information about the liquidity and credit programs and other monetary policy tools that the Federal Reserve used to respond to the financial crisis that emerged in the summer of 2007.”
“I'm Jon Huntsman, and I'm running for President of the United States.”
--Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman(R)
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman delivered his presidential announcement speech Tuesday, and we were prepared to fact check it as we have the other presidential announcement speeches.
But not only was his speech fairly content-free, it was also fact-free. No slashing attacks on the president to check. No hyperbolic claims to debunk. No strange statistics seemingly conjured out of thin air.
This certainly is in keeping with Huntsman’s strategy of being an unconventional candidate. Perhaps the former envoy to China believes that facts spouted by politicians are so devalued these days that it doesn’t make much sense to use them? Anyway, here are a few things we found.
“We are the most productive society on earth. We have the finest colleges and universities.”
The Huntsman campaign says these lines are just “figures of speech” and are not intended to be factual.
“While we've been seeing the liberals in the last few weeks trying to scare Americans about Medicare, and especially senior citizens, what's been ignored is President Obama's plan for senior citizens regarding Medicare. … And do you know what the president's plan is? This hasn't been talked about very much. The president's plan for senior citizens is Obamacare. We all think for our senior citizens that somehow Medicare is going to go on. And I think very likely -- and I'm speculating -- I think very likely what the president intends is that Medicare will go broke, and then ultimately that answer will be Obamacare for senior citizens.”
--Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), June 17, 2011
It’s hard to know what to make of this comment by Rep. Michele Bachmann, made during her speech last Friday to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. She also repeated elements of this claim during an interview with CNN (there is a clip at the end of this column.) “I think the president’s plan is Obamacare for senior citizens,” Bachmann told CNN. “They don’t want Obamacare; they want Medicare, and that’s why I am committed to making Medicare solvent.”
In her speech, the presidential aspirant also made the debunked assertion that regulations are “$1.7 trillion burden on our job creators.” We had examined this several months ago and the Congressional Research Service in April also critiqued the study that is the source of this statistic. Bachmann also repeated the incorrect claim that President Obama took $500 billion “out of Medicare to give it to younger people.”
But Bachmann’s claim that the president’s plan is to replace Medicare with “Obamacare” is what most intrigued several readers. One should always be wary of a politician when he or she says they are “speculating,” since that is an apparent license to throw facts to the wind. A spokeswoman for the Bachmann presidential campaign did not respond to a request for clarification, so we will have to parse this language and her CNN interview ourselves.
The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.
Man #1—“If Congress really wants to balance the budget,”
Woman #1—“They could stop spending our money on things like…”
Woman #2—“A cotton institute in Brazil,”
Man #2—“Poetry at zoos,”
Woman #1—“Treadmills for shrimp,”
Man #1—“But instead of cutting waste,”
Man #2—“Or closing tax loopholes.”
Woman #1—“Next month Congress could make a deal that cuts Medicare…”
Woman #2—“even Social Security.”
Man #1—“I guess it’s easier to cut the benefits we earned, than to cut pickle technology.”
— Dialogue from a new ad by AARP
With talks on reaching a deal to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling reaching a critical stage, the venerable over-50 organization AARP has weighed in with a television advertisement that seeks to shift the focus from entitlement programs such as Medicare onto what it deems to be wasteful spending by Congress.
We had earlier given the American public four Pinocchios for failing to understand the basics of the federal budget. We reached that conclusion after a new poll showed 63 percent of those surveyed believe the federal government spends more on defense and foreign aid than it does on Medicare and Social Security. (That’s wrong.) A similar majority believes that problems with the federal budget can be fixed by just eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” — and that 42 percent of every federal dollar is wasted.
Given those beliefs, it seems that the AARP pitch would have a receptive audience. But is it right?
We asked AARP to provide data on the programs mentioned in the ad, all of which certainly sound amusing or bizarre. (A video of the shrimp on a treadmill experiment is so funny we embed the video at the end of this article.)
“When President Obama took office, the month before he was inaugurated, the economy was bleeding 750,000 jobs a month, David. And we were not headed in the right direction. …You fast-forward two and a half years later now, and the economy has created 2.1 million private sector jobs.”
— Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” June 12, 2011
“The Chairwoman is living in Fantasyland. We know that the facts are the facts, and we can’t get away from that, and Barack Obama is defenseless to the truth on what’s going on in the American economy. We have lost 2.5 million jobs since Barack Obama has been president.”
— Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, moments later on the same program
A reader who watched NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday found his head spinning as the DNC chief and the RNC chief battled with dueling factoids about the employment record under President Obama. He was particularly amused that Wasserman Schultz said there were 2 million more jobs and Priebus asserted there were 2.5 million fewer jobs.
Whew, that’s a swing of nearly 5 million jobs in just a few seconds! He had wanted host David Gregory to call for a stop in the debate and have the two party chiefs explain themselves. They can’t both be right, can they?
Amazingly, they are. Priebus is on more solid ground, rhetorically, but both are cherry-picking the statistics to make the best possible case for their side.
The recession that greeted Obama when he took office was one of the worst recessions since the end of World War II. It started in December 2007, but the bottom really fell out in late 2008, after the investment firm Lehman Brothers collapsed—a moment that probably sealed Obama’s victory.
“Senior citizens get this more than any other segment of our population, because they know in Obamacare the president of the United States took away $500 billion -- a half-trillion dollars -- out of Medicare, shifted it to Obamacare to pay for younger people. And it's senior citizens who have the most to lose in Obamacare."
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at the GOP debate, June 13, 2011
“Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, at the debate
The two Republican aspirants perceived to have performed the best in the GOP debate broadcast Monday by CNN made strikingly similar claims about the impact of the new health care law on Medicare. Bachmann, as usual, made her assertion in a more colorful and memorable statement.
Their comments are an echo of the politically effective — but misleading — charge the GOP made against Democrats in 2010 midterm elections — that the health care law “cut” $500 billion from Medicare. In this case, the candidates are suggesting President Obama is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Several readers have also asked us to explain why the House Republicans retained these $500 billion in “savings” in their Medicare reform bill, and how that would be different than Obama’s plan.
Essentially, the federal budget is like a funhouse mirror so it looks completely different depending on where you stand. We will try to make this all clear without getting too much in the budgetary weeds.
First of all, under the health care bill, Medicare spending continues to go up year after year. The health care bill tries to identify ways to save money, and so the $500 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes the law makes to reduce spending. (Look at slide 15 of this nifty tutorial on the law’s impact on Medicare by the Kaiser Family Foundation to see a chart of the year by year savings.)
That was some collection of facts and statistics during the GOP debate in New Hampshire on Monday night that aired on CNN.
We’re going to take an instant stab at some of them, and then perhaps come back later this week with a more extended look at other assertions. Depressingly, some of these we have heard before.
We will have to keep dinging the candidates till they get their facts right.
“The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs. What could the president be thinking by passing a bill like this, knowing full well it will kill 800,000 jobs?”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
We hadn’t heard this yarn much since we debunked it four months ago with three Pinocchios. But here it has popped up again.
“The radical GOP has not given up on its drive to kill Medicare. Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to tie the debt ceiling vote to ending Medicare. He’s willing to let the United States default on its obligations – putting our economy in peril – to take needed health care coverage away from our seniors. McConnell’s approach is unconscionable. The GOP Medicare Plan must be taken off the table – and Republican Senate candidates have a responsibility to tell McConnell to stand down. Sign below and demand that Republican Senate candidates side with seniors, not GOP party leadership.”
--From a petition on the Web site of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Last week, we looked in depth at a “Mediscare” ad concocted by the National Republican Campaign Committee, apparently designed to counteract the impact of the equally misleading –and successful-- “Mediscare” campaign waged by Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.). We recommended that TV viewers simply mute the sound whenever a Medicare-related ad by either political party appears on the screen.
Frankly, we did not plan to write on Medicare so soon again, but the language of the DSCC petition (above) leaves us little choice. It’s strong, take-no-prisoners stuff: The GOP plans to “kill Medicare” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is willing to let the United States go into default “to take needed health care coverage away from our seniors.”
In a few short sentences, the DSCC essentially says: The House Republican budget plan would eliminate Medicare, would take health coverage away from seniors today, and that McConnell has tied the debt ceiling vote to approval of this plan.
It sounds scary but is it true?
The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance. The new system envisioned by House Republicans would transform Medicare into a competitive market for people who are now younger than 55, while they say the current system would remain in place for people who are older. (Democrats disagree; more on that below.)
“We tried buying off the Kremlin with technologies in the 1970s. That policy was a component of ‘detente,’ and the hope was that if we would share our technologies with them, they would become more peaceful. Things, of course, didn’t work out that way. The Kremlin took Western technologies and embarked on a massive military building program.”
--Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a Facebook posting titled “Another ‘WTF’ Obama Foreign Policy Moment,” June 9, 2011
Sarah Palin made a provocative attack on President Obama on Thursday over a relatively obscure issue relating to missile defense.
“President Obama wants to give Russia our missile defense secrets because he believes that we can buy their friendship and cooperation with this taxpayer-funded gift,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “But giving military secrets and technologies to a rival or competitor like Russia is just plain dumb. You can’t buy off Russia. And giving them advanced military technology will not create stability.”
Palin said her concern was prompted by an article that appeared on the Foreign Policy Web site that asserted that the White House intends to share missile defense information with Moscow as part of a recently approved missile defense treaty.
Palin inaccurately claims that Obama has threatened a veto over some provisions, specifically section 1228, in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would limit his ability to share such information.
The Statement of Administration Policy does threaten a veto over three other provisions in the bill, such as detainee issues, but not the specific issue raised by Palin.
Instead, the administration said it “strongly objects” to section 1228 because it would inhibit an exchange of data that “may improve the ability of the United States and NATO to provide effective missile defenses.” A related provision, the administration said, raises “constitutional concerns” because it encroaches on the president’s “exclusive authority” to conduct international negotiations.
Palin’s concern about the administration’s plan hinges on her recounting of the history of U.S.-Soviet relations during the period of detente. We will not try to sort the claims and counterclaims about this provision--that’s for the editorial page. But in the aftermath of the Paul Revere episode, we are interested in whether her Cold War history is correct.
Detente occurred over a brief period, lasting from the Nixon administration in the early 1970s to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 during the Carter administration. Under detente, the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to reduce tensions, partly through regular meetings, arms limitation agreements and growing economic exchanges (such as wheat sales from the United States to Russia).
“To grow old in America is to be one illness away from bankruptcy, and Jerry Costello is making it worse. Costello backs a Democrat plan that the media says would ‘decimate Medicare.’ The Costello-backed plan would lead to ‘political rationing’ of health care, taking choices from seniors; ‘shred the social safety net’; and leave seniors at risk. Call Jerry Costello. Tell him to stop bankrupting Medicare.”
— from a new TV advertisement by the National Republican Campaign Committee aimed at Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.)
Do two wrongs make a right?
Newly elected Rep. Kathy Hochul (D) unexpectedly won a special election last month in a conservative Upstate New York congressional district, in part because of an effective attack on the House Republican Medicare plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.)
Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to fact-check the ads in that race, but our friends at Factcheck.org did, calling that campaign a “test market for spin.” Many of the ads would have merited three or four Pinocchios under our scale.
We have, however, assigned many Pinocchios to Democrats such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) for comments that mischaracterized GOP plans for Medicare.
Republicans now apparently have decided to turn the tables, accusing Democrats of seeking to destroy Medicare. In fact, a new National Republican Campaign Committee ad says that Democrats would “decimate” Medicare — the same word that was often used in news releases sent out by the Hochul campaign.
This ad is being accompanied by targeted NRCC calls along the same theme aimed at nine Democrats (one of whom, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, has announced he’s leaving Congress).
“Washington Democrats already cut $500 billion from Medicare with their government takeover of health care, and [insert name of Democrat X] is making it worse,” the call script says. “[Democrat X] backs a partisan plan that the media says would quote ‘decimate Medicare.’ The [Democrat X]-backed plan will cut Medicare benefits by 17 percent and lead to ‘political rationing’ of health care . . . taking personal health care choices away from seniors.”
Interestingly, Republicans appear to have dropped the idea of saying that the Democrats have “no plan” for Medicare. Instead, they have begun arguing that even the status quo amounts to “a plan” that would lead to massive cuts in benefits.
It’s enough to make a voter’s head spin. Is there truth in either side’s claims?
First of all, the new NRCC campaign is one of those misleading ads that cites biased editorials and pretends that the quotes are from objective news sources, i.e., “the media.” We would think viewers should be wise to these kinds of games, but perhaps not.
“Cutting just 1 percent of overall federal spending for six consecutive years would balance the federal budget by 2017.”
— Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R), June 7, 2011
Tim Pawlenty delivered on Tuesday what was billed a major economic speech, in an apparent effort to burnish his free-market credentials in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
Speaking at the University of Chicago, the former Minnesota governor called for huge cuts in taxes — no income taxes at all for couples making less than $100,000 and no capital gains, dividend or estate taxes. At the same time, he called for cuts in government spending and a goal of achieving 5 percent growth in the gross domestic product — without providing many specifics of his policies to achieve this objective.
We will leave to others whether this is good economic policy, but we are interested in making sure the numbers add up or his facts are accurate. On that score, it is a less-than-stellar performance.
Let’s look at Pawlenty’s claims in the order he made them.
“Our health care system — thanks to Obamacare — is more expensive. And less efficient.”
The health care law does not take full effect until 2014, and yet Pawlenty is already blaming it for higher costs? There’s certainly debate about how effective the law will be in reducing costs, but this is really putting the cart before the horse. The administration has not even gotten doctors and hospitals to agree to its draft regulations for getting quality health care at less cost.
“Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency.”
— President Obama, June 4, 2011
This post has been updated.
With some of the economic indicators looking a bit dicey, President Obama traveled to Ohio last week to tout what the administration considers a good-news story: the rescue of the domestic automobile industry. In fact, he also made it the subject of his weekly radio address.
We take no view on whether the administration’s efforts on behalf of the automobile industry were a good or bad thing; that’s a matter for the editorial pages and eventually the historians. But we are interested in the facts the president cited to make his case.
What we found is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan.
Let’s look at the claims in the order in which the president said them.
“Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency — and it repaid that money six years ahead of schedule. And this week, we reached a deal to sell our remaining stake. That means soon, Chrysler will be 100 percent in private hands.”
Wow, “every dime and more” sounds like such a bargain. Not only did Chrysler pay back the loan, with interest — but the company paid back even more than they owed. Isn’t America great or what?
“I'm Mitt Romney. I believe in America. And I'm running for President of the United States.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 2, 2011
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney officially announced his run for the presidency last week with a speech in New Hampshire that evoked a Reaganesque faith in America while hitting President Obama hard for his handling of the flagging economy.
As is typical of such speeches, there was a heavy sprinkling of “facts,” some of which we have cited for Pinocchios in the past. (Note to the campaign: we find this depressing.) Candidates must believe these facts are “too good to check.” Other facts Romney cited have only a tenuous connection to reality.
So, let’s dig deeper, examining the claims in the order in which Romney said them.
“When he took office, the economy was in recession, and he made it worse, and he made it last longer.”
With the unemployment rate ticking up in May , to 9.1 percent, the economy is definitely a weak spot for Obama. But Romney is stretching it here when he suggests that Obama has made the recession “worse…and made it last longer.”
“This Sunday, May 29th, Governor Palin and the SarahPAC team will begin a trip through our nation's rich historical sites, starting from Washington, DC, and going up through New England. The ‘One Nation Tour’ is part of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation's founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America.”
— Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s Web site
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has spent this week taking a high-profile bus tour up to New Hampshire, in what may or may not be a prelude to a presidential run in 2012. She spent half an hour the other day chatting with Fox News’s Greta van Susteren. The full interview is posted on Palin’s Web site, but we watched all of it so you don’t have to.
Much of the interview consisted of fluffy stuff, but every so often van Susteren diverted into asking about policy issues. Palin responded with her trademark style of making broad assertions with only a shaky command of the facts. We’ll go through the key statements in the order in which she said them, which allows us to begin and end with some absolute whoppers.
“We don’t have the $2 billion [to give to Egypt]. Where are we going to get it? From China? We are going to borrow from foreign countries to give to foreign countries. … We want to know where those dollars are going because we don’t have the money to be providing foreign countries, not in this day and age when we are going broke.”
Palin managed to get almost everything wrong in this comment. She clearly was not listening too closely to President Obama’s speech on the Middle East, because otherwise she would have realized that he was not talking about spending more taxpayer dollars.
“If I become president, I will repeal ‘Obamacare.’ My bill was 70 pages. His bill is 2,700 pages. In those extra 2,630 pages he’s doing a lot of stuff that is just devastating to the health care system in this country. He’s wrong.”
--Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), May 31, 2011
Mitt Romney has a problem—the sweeping universal health care bill he signed into law five years ago. President Obama has cited “Romneycare” as a model for his own health care law, making it a political albatross for the former Massachusetts governor in the contest to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
So Romney has tried his best to emphasize that the law he signed was different and unique to Massachusetts and should not have been considered a template for the rest of the country. Nevertheless, our friends at PolitiFact.com have put together a clever quiz that demonstrates just how difficult it is to tell the difference between the two laws.
This week on NBC’s “Today” show, Romney asserted that the difference was evident in the sheer bulk of the bills — a mere “70 pages” for his law and a behemoth “2,700 pages” for the president’s law. This is an old politician’s trick — lots of pages suggest something nefarious is going on — but we decided to dig deeper and see whether this is even a relevant apples-to-apples comparison.
Obama’s law was actually two bills: a Senate version and a reconciliation bill that made changes to accommodate concerns of the House. The complicated procedure became necessary after the Democrats lost their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but it means that the bill was bulkier than the usual bill in which lawmakers had settled differences in a House-Senate conference.
“The Republicans have a plan to end Medicare as we know it. What they would do is they would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them, ‘You know what? You’re on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health-care insurance market. We’re going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions. We’re going to give you X amount of dollars and you figure it out.’ ”
— Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, May 29, 2011
Something about the debate over Medicare prompts eye-popping rhetoric. A few weeks ago, it was Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the Republican plan for Medicare would let cancer patients “die sooner.” This weekend, on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Wasserman Schultz said Republicans would “throw you to the wolves.”
We’ve previously taken Republicans to task for claiming their plan is “a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have.” Not so. We also criticized Sebelius for her assertion. So where does the DNC leader stand in this collection of conflicting claims?
The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance. The new system envisioned by House Republicans would transform Medicare into a competitive market for people who are now younger than 55.
The Fact Checker is off to his 30th college reunion. My, how time flies. The column will return on Wednesday, June 1.
“Barack Obama promised that spending 800 billion dollars on a pork-filled stimulus bill would keep unemployment under 8 percent. He promised that bailouts for well-connected businesses were a good deal for the country. He promised that a federal takeover of health care would keep costs under control. And hard as it is to believe, he even promised the deficit would be cut in half in his first term!”
— Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R), May 23, 2011
“T-Paw,” the former Minnesota governor, threw his hat into the ring Monday for the GOP presidential nomination. The paragraph above comes from his announcement speech, and it struck us as a pretty fair summary of the Republican indictment against President Obama’s reelection.
“A litany of broken promises . . . a failed, pork-laden stimulus bill . . . soaring unemployment . . . bailouts for the undeserving . . . a government takeover of health care . . . out-of-control deficits!”
So let’s dig beneath these sentences to find out what they are based on and what truth there is to the assertions.
“Barack Obama promised that spending 800 billion dollars on a pork-filled stimulus bill would keep unemployment under 8 percent.”
This mixes up a number of complaints about Obama’s stimulus plan, but its core — that Obama “promised” his plan would keep unemployment under 8 percent — is false. Obama promised no such thing. Nor did anyone else in his administration.
Updated 7:00 p.m.
NEWT GINGRICH: You know, we don't do elaborate things.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Did you owe a half-million dollars to a jewelry company at one point?
GINGRICH: We had a revolving fund.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what does that mean?
GINGRICH: It means that we had a revolving fund. It was a –
SCHIEFFER: I mean, who buys a half-million dollars worth of jewelry on credit?
GINGRICH: No. It's a — go talk to Tiffany's. It's a standard, no-interest account.
SCHIEFFER: How long did you owe it?
GINGRICH: I have no idea, but it was paid off automatically. We paid no interest on it. There was no problem with it. It's a normal way of doing business.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, it's very odd to me that someone would run up a half-million-dollar bill at a jewelry store.
GINGRICH: Well, go talk to Tiffany's. All I'm telling you is we are very frugal. We, in fact, live within our budget. We owe nothing.
— Exchange on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” May 22, 2011
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s claim of being “very frugal” reminded us of this Reliable Source item from 1999:
When Newt and lady love Callista Bisek shared dinner at the Old Angler's Inn in Potomac Saturday night, he ordered the priciest item on the wine list — a $450 bottle of 1983 Chateau Latour. That's twice the price of the restaurant's next most expensive wine — a $220 Opus One Baron de Rothschild 1996 from California's Mondavi Vineyard.
Unfortunately for Gingrich, he overpaid — the 1983 was a mediocre year for the Latour vineyard. But perhaps he learned his lesson from overpaying for so-so wine and now he’s frugal?
We’re not sure. But we are also puzzled by his claim that he had a “standard, no-interest account” at Tiffany & Co. The disclosure filings that Gingrich’s third wife, Callista, provided to the House of Representatives when she worked for the Agriculture Committee listed debts to Tiffany of $250,001 to $500,000 on a “revolving charge account” for two straight years. (The disclosure forms also show debts of $15,001 to $50,000 to American Express.)
Would Tiffany really charge no interest for that period of time on that amount of money?
As Gingrich urged, we tried first to talk to Tiffany. We e-mailed and called three different spokesmen in the New York headquarters. One spokeswoman curtly said they were aware of Gingrich’s comments and they would try to respond. But so far, we have received no answer or explanation.
“I say that, at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more.”
— President Obama, April 13, 2011
“The president says he wants to eliminate deductions, but he also wants to raise rates. That includes raising the top rate to 44.8 percent.”
— Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), May 16, 2011
Ryan’s speech to the Economic Club of Chicago on Monday caught our attention with its figure of a top marginal tax rate of almost 45 percent. Generally, the media’s coverage of the president’s 2012 budget has focused on Obama’s desire to return the top tax rate to 39.6 percent, the same as it was before the Bush-era tax cuts.
The top rate is currently 35 percent. So when President Obama said in his speech on fiscal policy last month that the wealthy (those making above $390,050 a year) would “pay a little more,” we thought he meant an extra 4.6 percent. But Ryan is suggesting the increase is much more than that.
The president framed his statement by claiming the tax burden on the wealthy is “at its lowest level in half a century.” It’s certainly among the lowest periods, but not the lowest, according to a 2010 Congressional Budget Office study that examined average tax rates over the past three decades.
“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
— President Obama, May 19, 2011
This sentence in President Obama’s much-anticipated speech on the Middle East caused much consternation Thursday among supporters of the Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will meet with Obama on Friday, adamantly rejected it.
For people not trained in the nuances of Middle East diplomacy, the sentence might appear unremarkable. However, many experts say it represents a significant shift in U.S. policy, and it is certainly a change for the Obama administration.
As is often the case with diplomacy, the context and the speaker are nearly as important as the words. Ever since the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it has been clear that peace with the Palestinians would be achieved through some exchange of land for security.
Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians have held several intensive negotiations that involved swapping lands along the Arab-Israeli dividing line that existed before the 1967 war — technically known as the Green Line, or the boundaries established by the 1949 Armistice agreements. (Click here for a visual description of the swaps discussed between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.)
So, in many ways, it is not news that the eventual borders of a Palestinian state would be based on land swaps from the 1967 dividing line. But it makes a difference when the president of the United States says it, particularly in a carefully staged speech at the State Department. This then is not an off-the-cuff remark, but a carefully considered statement of U.S. policy.
Here is a tour through the diplomatic thicket, and how U.S. language on this issue has evolved over the years.
The pre-1967 lines are important to both sides for setting the stage for eventual negotiations, but for vastly different reasons.
“Any [Democratic] ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood and because I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.”
— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), May 17, 2011
After denouncing the House Republican budget plan for Medicare as “right-wing social engineering” and “radical change” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) found himself on the defensive and his nascent presidential bid in shambles.
Within two days, he popped up on Fox’s “On the Record” to explain to host Greta van Susteren that he had apologized to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the main author of the plan.
Ryan, in a radio interview, confirmed that. “Basically, he called and apologized. And I accepted his apology,” Ryan told Mark Levin. “I think he understands that this is an inaccurate characterization, I think he just misspoke.”
But does Gingrich really believe that? In the Fox appearance and in other venues, Gingrich never really took back the words he had said about the Ryan plan. Even as he appeared to apologize, he bolstered the idea that he had significant problems with Ryan’s plan.
Speaking to van Susteren, Gingrich said he made the “mistake” of answering a “hypothetical question” and a mistake with “some of the words I used.” But then he added: “But I was trying to say something that's really important.”
We acknowledge this issue does not easily fit the definition of a “fact” that can be checked, but it is an excellent example of how a politician can give a potentially misleading impression though words and body language. So let’s roll the videotape.
“Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked Gingrich a simple question: “Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support and — so that they can go out and buy private insurance?”
“The people of Mexico, their government called it an act of war and quite frankly, if you deliberately and knowingly let weapons go into a country that prohibits guns and where gun violence is the number one thing killing their federal agents, they’re pretty close to right.”
— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), April 20, 2011
Earlier this week, talk radio host Rick Amato posted quotes from a May 12 interview he had with Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in which he quoted him as saying this about the Mexican reaction to a controversial Justice Department program to track guns into Mexico: “The Mexican government has called this ‘an act of war’.”
That’s pretty strong stuff, given that Mexico is one of the closest trading and diplomatic partners of the United States.
When we inquired with Issa’s office about this quote Tuesday, spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins came back to say she had listened to a tape of the interview and Issa did not say that at all.
Instead, she rendered the quote as thus: “In many ways, we have to put confidence back in the system on both sides of the border, that law enforcement doesn’t let weapons walk, doesn’t contribute to a situation the Mexican government has called an active war.” (In other words, she explained, he was referring to the war on drugs.)
Watkins added: “We’re working with Rick to clear up any confusion on Mr. Issa’s exact statement as well.”
You can listen to the tape as well, if you click here and go to Hour 1, at the 19:00 mark. We listened to it a few times and it certainly sounds like “act of war” to us — otherwise the quote makes little sense — but others may disagree. (Amato, after being contacted by Issa’s staff Tuesday and listening to the tape again, edited his web posting to change the phrase to “active war.”)
Nevertheless, Issa also called it an “act of war” a few weeks ago on the Rick Roberts show. (Go to the 15:38 mark). The phrase is pretty clear there.
So, has the Mexican government called this an “act of war”?
Operation Fast and Furious is a federal program that was designed to let weapons from the United States pass into the hands of higher echelons of Mexican drug cartels. But officials lost track of hundreds of firearms, and some of those weapons have been linked to killings such as the fatal shooting of a Border patrol agent. Reports about the apparently bungled operation certainly spawned outrage in Mexico.
“Let's keep in mind: These detainees, they've had things they've never had before. Do you know what the biggest problem in Gitmo is right now? It's obesity. They're eating better than they've ever eaten before and they have better medical care, they have better — they have legal counsel. I mean, you know, you've got to draw the line somewhere. Let's draw it here.”
— Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), May 13, 2011
Inhofe made this statement Friday during an appearance on “Fox and Friends,” making the case that the detainees housed at Guantanamo Bay should not receive family visits. The Washington Post reported two days earlier that this “unprecedented step” was being considered “to ease the isolation of inmates who in some cases have been held at the U.S. facility for close to a decade.”
Inhofe is a fierce defender of the facility at the Navy base on Cuba — which President Obama has unsuccessfully sought to close — but his comment struck us as an interesting perspective on life at Guantanamo. There are 172 detainees remaining there, 48 of whom are expected to be held indefinitely under the laws of war. Is obesity really the “biggest problem” at the facility?
We asked the senator’s office for documentation. Inhofe spokesman Jared Young first provided us with some news clippings dating from 2006. The Associated Press, for instance, reported that detainees have gained an average of 20 pounds, and most are now "normal to mildly overweight or mildly obese."
“I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement.”
— Sen. John McCain, on the Senate floor, May 12, 2011
“He is simply incorrect”
-- Former attorney general Michael Mukasey, May 12, 2011
It’s a rare sight to see a Republican senator and a former Republican attorney general trading charges of dishonesty and falsehood. But this is exactly what Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Michael Mukasey have been doing in recent days regarding the use of harsh interrogations -- what McCain and other critics call torture — and their role in discovering the location of Osama bin Laden.
McCain was a victim of torture in Vietnam and takes this issue as a personal crusade. He wrote about this issue in The Washington Post, in part in response to an article written by Mukasey in the Wall Street Journal, and also at length on the Senate floor. (See clip above.)
But the political stakes are high for former members of the Bush administration. Within days of becoming president, Obama announced that he was scrapping the CIA interrogation program, in what was intended as a rebuke of the Bush tactics. If harsh methods did indeed lead to bin Laden, that would be seen as a vindication of those tactics. For that reason, it is also in the Obama administration’s interests in minimize the importance of such interrogation techniques in the search for bin Laden.
The truth may not be known for years. We, at this point, don’t feel comfortable enough to make a judgment without being privy to more information. Mukasey had top-secret clearance and presumably knows what information was obtained (though he could be spinning the facts to serve his purposes.) For his part, McCain cites an official account by CIA Director Leon Panetta (which also could have spin) and the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Let’s parse what the two men have said about this issue. They act as if they are saying the same thing, and thus accuse each other of falsehoods. But they really are speaking past each other.
“The reason that I came here tonight to announce that I am a candidate for president of the United States is because I think if you apply the right principles to achieve the right results, that we can win the future together.”
--Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), May 11, 2011
Newton Leroy “Newt” Gingrich is back!
The former House speaker threw his hat in the presidential ring Wednesday with an appearance on Fox’s “Sean Hannity Show.” It promises to be an interesting trip.
The Fact Checker covered Gingrich during his speakership, which lasted a tumultuous four years in the late 1990s, and by turns found him to be fascinating and frustrating. Gingrich speaks with such conviction and certainty, but every assertion he made needed to be checked and rechecked. Sometimes you couldn’t quite be sure if he was just making it up on the spot.
Take his appearance on Hannity’s show, for instance. In speaking about how the “elite media” never give conservative politicians a break, Gingrich related the following anecdote about Ronald Reagan’s acting career: “Ronald Reagan didn't get up every morning and say, gee, I wish they like me. Ronald Reagan had been a movie actor. Only had one movie, ‘King's Row,’ get a good review from the New York Times. Only one. But he had a pretty good career because it turned out that middle class, Middle America liked his movies.”
That’s a great story, based on such a specific fact. But, as you will see below, it turns out to be completely untrue. The New York Times panned “King’s Row”—but liked other Ronald Reagan movies.
There were so many such gems in Gingrich’s appearance that we will pick out the choice comments that cry out for fact-checking. We reached out to two of his spokesmen with questions and requests for documentation, but did not get a response. (A failure to respond to fact-checking queries is a sign of a presidential campaign still getting its act together.)
“The truth is we will never balance the budget and rid our children of debt unless we cut spending and have real economic growth. And we will never have real economic growth if we raise taxes on those in America who create jobs.”
--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), May 9, 2011
Speaker Boehner’s speech Monday before the Economic Club of New York earned lots of headlines for his demand that President Obama had to agree to “trillions” of dollars in spending cuts before Republicans would agree to raise the federal debt ceiling.
We’ll admit we are bit late in looking at his speech. Others have poked holes at some of his assertions, notably our colleague Ruth Marcus and the folks at Bloomberg News. PolitiFact.com identified a Pinocchio-worthy claim that Boehner made on television this week about the George W. Bush tax cuts.
Rather than replow this ground, we decided to take a different tack and look at the philosophical underpinnings of his approach to deficit reduction. The headline is in bold letters throughout the speech — NO NEW TAXES! — but what is this based on?
The quote above best exemplifies Boehner’s philosophy: Taxes are off the table, and cuts in government spending will lead to “real” economic growth. His statement would seem to ignore the experience of the Clinton years, when taxes were raised and yet economic growth (and spending restraint) led to a balanced budget and even some drawdown of the debt.
“Under Secretary Napolitano’s leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. They wanted more agents on the border. Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.”
--President Obama, May 10, 2011
President Obama traveled to El Paso, Tex., Tuesday to give a speech on immigration, even though virtually no one in Washington thinks there is any desire in Congress to tackle the issue. For that reason, as colleague Chris Cillizza noted on “The Fix,” the speech should be understood as “a political document rather than a policy one.”
In that context, it’s important for the president to demonstrate he is working hard to improve border security. We were struck by the section above, in part because it sought to claim credit for a doubling of agents but also acknowledged a debt to former president George W. Bush. (We will not delve in the historical question of whether “more boots on the ground” is accurate, since our colleagues at Politifact.com did a fine job of exploring that question last year.)
The Border Patrol, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for patrolling the borders with Canada and Mexico, as well as coastal waters around Florida, but the majority of its agents — 85 percent — are focused on the southern border with Mexico. At the time of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there were slightly more than 9,000 Border Patrol agents.
“After Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program — but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts — tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country.”
— President Obama, April 13, 2011
Obama, in a speech on budget policy last month, offered this summary of how he thought the nation lost its way fiscally during the presidency of George W. Bush. Last week, we took a look at new data about the period of 2001-2011, and concluded that the biggest contributor to the disappearance of vast estimated surpluses was additional spending ($4.3 trillion), followed by incorrect revenue estimates ($3.3 trillion) by the Congressional Budget Office.
Tax cuts are estimated to have totaled $2.8 trillion, which we guess would count as “trillions,” as the president put it. Strictly speaking, the two big tax cuts during the Bush years are estimated to total about $1.5 trillion, But many continued into the early years of the Obama presidency, and in December he cut a deal with Republicans to extend them even more, which brings us to $2.8 trillion.
(In case you are wondering, the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was $1.26 trillion through 2011 and the Medicare prescription drug program totaled $272 billion.)
Last week, we somewhat rashly speculated that the actual size of the Bush tax cuts might be lower because they were based on revenue estimates that ultimately fell far short of what was predicted in 2001. The true “cost” to the Treasury may never be known. Economists generally agree there are feedback effects from lower tax rates and the like, but little consensus has been reached on what that might be.
Still, we thought it might be worth looking at ways to run the numbers so there can be a proper comparison between spending increases — which has been duly catalogued — and the tax cuts.
President Bush instituted two big tax cuts, one in 2001 and another in 2003. The first was implemented amid rosy predictions of a 10-year, $5.6 trillion surplus; the second was enacted after the economy appeared to stumble after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Kathleen Sebelius’s outrageous claim that cancer patients would ‘die sooner’ under the GOP Medicare plan
“I think there's no question if you take a snapshot, people will run out of money, very quickly [under the GOP Medicare plan if you have cancer]. And if you run out of the government voucher and then you run out of your own money, you're really left to scrape together charity care, go without care, die sooner. There aren't really a lot of options.”
— Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, May 5, 2011
Secretary Sebelius made this eye-popping statement Thursday while testifying on Capitol Hill, after Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J) asked her a question about the Medicare plan advanced by House Republicans: “What might that cost shift and lack of guaranteed benefit mean for an oncology patient, a person with cancer? Give me an example, what it might do there.”
Her answer was strong stuff, suggesting that the GOP plan could cause people to “die sooner” if they had cancer and ran out of money. We have been critical of some of the ways Republicans have described the plan, but is this even remotely possible?
The House Budget Committee proposal, which was developed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would transform Medicare from a government-run health care program into a competitive market for people under the age of 55. (It would not change for people 55 and older.)
Retirees would get from the government what Ryan calls “premium support” — a set payment adjusted to inflation — and then use that money to pick from a range of plans offered by insurance companies through what is termed a Medicare exchange. (Democrats derisively term this payment “a voucher,” but the government would handle the funds.)
“Now, next week I will have legislation out on the floor that ensures that we do have a strategy to deploy the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. When President Bush 1 used it during the first Persian Gulf War, the price of oil went down 33 percent. When Bill Clinton used it in September and October of 2000, the price went down 18 percent. When George Bush 2 used it after Katrina, it went down 9 percent. It is a message to speculators.”
— Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
High gasoline prices spur politicians to demand action, often against oil companies, oil traders or oil profits. On Capitol Hill Thursday, as House Republicans pushed forward with a bill to require offshore oil and gas lease sales, Markey joined with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to demand an end to tax breaks for oil companies. As part of that news conference, he made his remarks about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
By the end of the day, oil prices had plunged nearly nine percent, with crude oil falling below $100 a barrel. Had Big Oil been spooked by the tough talk by a largely powerless minority in Congress? Perhaps, though news reports did not mention the news conference, citing instead a strengthening dollar and a weak U.S. employment report. Oil prices had already begun to fall this week, before Pelosi and Markey stood before the cameras.
Thursday’s fall in oil prices demonstrates how difficult it is to pinpoint the cause of commodity price movements. Yet Markey was very definitive about the impact of the petroleum reserve. How valid is his case?
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created in 1975 after the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo and huge prices hikes that resulted. It currently holds 726.6 million barrels, in five salt domes in Texas and Louisiana. If ordered by the president, the Energy Department could draw down 4.4 million barrels a day, starting nearly two weeks after the decision is made.
"We all know that raising taxes would stall the rebound we all claim to want. Let's just admit we don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem."
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), May 4, 2011
McConnell’s comment Wednesday, made on the floor of the Senate, is a common refrain by Republicans. It is an expression of a deeply felt philosophical position.
But we deal in facts, not philosophy. We think we have found a way to demonstrate that the nation has had both a spending problem and a revenue problem, at least since the halcyon days of 2001, when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that over 10 years the government would run a $5.6 trillion surplus.
We’re not saying that the Bush-era tax cuts were the primary reason for the disappearance of the surplus; the data clearly shows that new spending exceeded the estimated revenue loss of the tax cuts. One of the biggest problems, in fact, was that the revenue estimates made by the CBO turned out to be wildly overstated — so much so that a case can be made that Bush’s tax cuts actually reduced revenue less than is conventionally assumed.
Let’s go to the video tape.
In January 2001, the CBO — the nonpartisan scorekeeper for legislation — announced that under current policy , the government would run a $5.6 trillion surplus from 2001 to 2011. The key caveat is “current policy.” The CBO is supposed to assume all sorts of things in law, such as certain tax provisions will remain in place even though Congress always waives them. The CBO also assumed that discretionary spending would continue to decline as a percentage of the overall economy, having no clue that the Sept. 11 attacks that year would put new demands on government spending.
"Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, Al-Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."
--President Obama, May 1, 2011
A reader questioned this assertion by President Obama when he made the dramatic announcement Sunday night that U.S. forces in Pakistan had killed Osama bin Laden. “The Fact Checker should let the American people know that the president has his facts wrong,” he said.
The reader wrote that “bin Laden took inspiration from and was guided by his interpretation of the Koran. He considered himself a devout Muslim, and he was considered a Muslim leader by many Muslims.”
The reader added that “it is a non sequitur for Mr. Obama to deny that Bin Laden was a Muslim leader because he was a mass murderer and Al Qaeda killed many Muslims. There is nothing in the a priori that says that a mass murderer and killer of many Muslims cannot be a Muslim leader.”
This is an interesting question, worthy of debate.
Obama said that bin Laden was not a Muslim leader after he emphasized that “our war is not against Islam.” In many ways, it was a rhetorical statement, allowing the president to disconnect bin Laden’s terrorist actions from his religious beliefs.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about what we are proposing and what we are not proposing. We’re saying: Save Medicare by reforming it for people who are 54 and below by working like a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have.”
— Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, April 26, 2011.
During the congressional recess, Rep. Ryan and other Republican lawmakers have been selling their proposal to restructure Medicare with what appears to be a poll-tested phrase: It will be similar to a system “just like” what members of Congress have. The phrase pops up in all sorts of news releases and interviews with members of Congress, as well as no less than five times in the budget plan crafted by Rep. Ryan.
“This budget will save Medicare for future generations, protecting those in and near retirement from any changes while forging for younger workers a Medicare program modeled on the system of affordable, quality health coverage options now enjoyed by members of Congress,” the plan says.
The implication is that if it’s good enough for us, it is good enough for you. During the 2008 election campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama used a variation of this line to tout the need for universal health coverage, saying during the third presidential debate: “If you don’t have health insurance, then we’re going to provide you the option of buying into the same kind of federal pool that both Senator [John] McCain and I enjoy as federal employees.”
Ryan’s phrase is alluring — many Americans apparently believe that members of Congress get great benefits — but is it accurate?
Republicans say they would preserve the current Medicare system for people who are currently age 55 and older; the changes would only affect people who are younger. The current system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.
"I have a birth certificate. People have birth certificates. He doesn't have a birth certificate. He may have one but there is something on that birth certificate — maybe religion, maybe it says he's a Muslim, I don't know. Maybe he doesn't want that. Or, he may not have one."
— Donald Trump, March 30, 2011
"I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they're finding. He spent $2 million in legal fees trying on to get away from this issue, and if it weren't an issue, why wouldn't he just solve it? I wish he would because if he doesn't, it's one of the greatest scams in the history of politics and in the history, period. You are not allowed to be a president if you're not born in this country. Right now, I have real doubts."
— Trump, April 7, 2011
“Maybe I’m going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate. I may tie my tax returns. I’d love to give my tax returns. I may tie my tax returns into Obama’s birth certificate.”
— Trump, April 19, 2011
“I've been told very recently, Anderson, that the birth certificate is missing. I've been told that it's not there or it doesn't exist. And if that's the case, it's a big problem."
— Trump, April 25, 2011
“The word is, according to what I’ve read, that he was a terrible student when he went to Occidental. He then gets to Columbia; he then gets to Harvard. … How do you get into Harvard if you're not a good student? Now, maybe that’s right, or maybe it’s wrong. But I don’t know why he doesn’t release his records.”
— Trump, April 27, 2011, after Obama releases a more detailed version of his birth certificate, nearly three years after he first released his birth certificate.
The Fact Checker on Wednesday had a detailed, midday look at Donald Trump’s statements in New Hampshire. So this morning we simply present a list of his statements in the past month on the question of President Obama’s birth. In retrospect, much of this is simply wild speculation on Trump’s part, with almost no basis in fact.
“What we have seen is that sanctions can put pressure on governments and regimes to change their behavior.”
--White House spokesman Jay Carney, April 25, 2011
The Obama administration is strongly suggesting it will impose “targeted sanctions” on Syria in response to the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. But Syria is already subject to a wide range of U.S. sanctions, and trade between the countries amounts to less than $1 billion a year.
The administration apparently is hoping that a U.S. push will persuade Europeans allies—which have deeper ties to Damascus—to impose their own, more painful sanctions. The possible announcement of fresh sanctions also appears to be intended to signal resolve against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who the administration once had wooed as a possible partner in a comprehensive Middle East peace deal.
Carney’s assertion raises a question: Do sanctions actually convince countries to change their behavior?
The United States has repeatedly sanctioned Syria. There are specific laws such as the 2000 Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act and 2003 Syria Accountability Act, both of which have been implemented with a series of executive orders, including several to target Assad’s inner circle.
But the Congressional Research Service lists a number of other sanctions that also apply to Syria, including (among others): the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976; the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977; the Export Administration Act of 1979 (which puts Syria on the terrorism list); Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1989; the Anti-Terrorism and Arms Export Control Amendments Act of 1989 and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
“My argument with him [President Obama] is when he says ‘88 percent of the budget we’re not going to touch, reform or fix and we’re still going to solve our problems’ is an absolute falsehood. The fact is you can’t have Medicare out of the equation, you can’t have Medicaid out of the equation. And we can’t borrow the money, the $2.6 trillion that we’ve stolen from Social Security, in the international financial market without making Social Security sustainable.”
— Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), April 24, 2011
These are tough words on NBC’s “Meet The Press” from the junior senator from Oklahoma — who is personally close to the president despite disagreeing with him on virtually every public policy issue.
First, Coburn claims that Obama, in his budget speech on April 12, took 88 percent of the budget off of the table from any kind of reform. Second, he asserts that “we’ve stolen” $2.6 trillion of Social Security funds and that the money can’t be borrowed from the financial markets without major changes.
Coburn is a member of the so-called “Gang of Six” — three Senate Democrats and three Republicans looking for a budget compromise — but this is strong language. What’s he talking about?
Let’s deal with Social Security first. The figure that Coburn mentioned — $2.6 trillion — refers to the money that has been placed in the Social Security trust fund. This is a difficult and complex subject that politicians frequently exploit, so please be patient.
The Fact Checker is on Spring Break. The column will return on Tuesday, April 26, but please e-mail suggestions for quotes to check or put them in the comment section. Politicians never stop talking, but we might miss some gems if we are not constantly plugged to the computer.
“Despite the president’s claim that tax hikes will only hit those families defined as ‘fortunate,’ the reality is that the tax hike would hit half of all small business income. We need those small businesses paying more employees, not paying more in taxes.”
— Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, April 13, 2011
"The last thing we should be doing is raising taxes on job-creators, entrepreneurs and small business owners across America.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), April 13, 2011
President Obama’s announcement that he wanted to end Bush-era tax cuts for families making more than $250,000 a year earned a predictable Bronx cheer from Republicans. But while Obama frames this as making the rich (such as himself) paying a little more, his opponents have argued that this is an attack on small businesses. That’s a different image, one of struggling mom-and-pop stores unable to hire another employee because of crushing new taxes.
These contrasting images are a perennial in the tax debate, but be wary of numbers when politicians are talking about taxes. Let’s examine how close these statements are to reality.
There are advantages for companies to file corporate income taxes, but there is one big disadvantage — major shareholders are subject to being taxed twice, first on the corporation’s earnings and then on personal income taxes after dividends are distributed to the owners.
So smaller companies, as well as partnerships, sole proprietorships and some limited liability companies, organize themselves differently. The companies themselves do not pay taxes; instead, the earnings or losses are passed through to the shareholders, who then are taxed at the individual tax rate.
“We don’t have a problem with our budget because Americans don’t pay enough taxes. We have problems with our budget because we spend too much money.”
— Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, April 13, 2011
“Most people understand that Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. We can’t raise taxes.”
— House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), April 13, 2011
“They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6,000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”
— President Obama, April 13, 2011
The battle is now joined. After being AWOL from the long-term budget debate when he unveiled his 2012 budget, the president decided to match Ryan’s budget proposal introduced last week with his own vision of how to tackle the nation’s rising debt load.
The president spoke Wednesday in broad strokes, with few specifics, but the major philosophical difference with Republicans is this: higher taxes are on the table and major structural changes to key health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are not. By contrast, Ryan would not accept higher taxes and in fact would lower them — and has proposed ideas that would fundamentally reshape Medicare and Medicaid.
Indeed, the details of how Obama gets to his claimed $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years are less important than this coming philosophical battle. In his 2012 budget, he had already claimed $1 trillion in deficit reduction that we found dubious. This new plan essentially adds another $1 trillion in claimed spending cuts to that figure, with about 40 percent coming from cuts to defense that were not in the initial budget. He then gets $1 trillion in interest savings and $1 trillion from tax increases.
What do the data show about whether the nation has a revenue or a spending problem—and will it make a difference in the coming budget debate?
Simply going by the numbers, the United States has a revenue problem. It also has a spending problem.
“This agreement between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. “
— President Obama, April 8, 2011
“This week, Congress is moving toward approval of an agreement on the largest spending cut in history to help begin to create a better environment for private-sector job growth.”
— House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), USA Today op-ed, April 11, 2011
“Biggest Cuts in U.S. History”
—Washington Post front-page headline, April 9, 2011
After a tense few weeks over haggling over the fiscal 2011 budget, the White House and congressional lawmakers cinched a deal that will result in $38.5 billion in cuts. As the quotes above indicate, they then quickly claimed credit for another historic achievement. Even the news media got into the act, echoing the claims.
The Fact Checker, however, is wary of raw numbers. Thanks to inflation, dollars (and budgets) get bigger every year. For instance, retail gasoline cost about 25 cents in 1918 and is estimated to average about $3.70 this year. That sounds like a huge jump, until you realize that the inflation-adjusted price of gasoline in 1918 is $3.61. That’s the proper comparison.
So, how “historic” is this achievement?
By any measure, $38.5 billion is a big number, especially when the cuts are squeezed into the rest of the year. But the budget is pretty big too — some $3.8 trillion. So let’s see how these figures stack up against the days when the budget numbers were smaller. Hang on, there are lots of figures.
“I just say very simply, why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? Why has he spent over $2 million in legal fees to keep this quiet and to keep this silent?”
— Donald Trump, April 10, 2011
“More power to him [Trump]. He’s not just throwing stones from the sidelines, he’s digging in, he’s paying for researchers to find out why President Obama would have spent $2 million to not show his birth certificate.”
— Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, April 9, 2011
The controversy over the circumstances of President Obama’s birth has erupted once again, courtesy of Donald Trump’s sudden desire to test the presidential waters. He has appeared on numerous television shows and written a letter to the editor of the New York Times, spouting all sorts of Four-Pinocchio innuendo that had long ago been debunked by my colleagues at PolitiFact and FactCheck.org. Their fine work does not need to be repeated, and below we provide links to their articles to address many of the issues Trump has raised.
The charge that Obama has spent $2 million to keep this issue quiet is a relatively new one. (Trump has also said Obama spent “millions of dollars trying to get away from this.”) Sarah Palin also echoed the claim over the weekend when she congratulated Trump for hiring investigators to look into this issue.
(Note to the former governor: The Fact Checker dealt with The Donald in a previous life as a financial reporter for New York Newsday. We wouldn’t bet he has actually hired anyone unless he presented us with the canceled check.)
Let’s examine this latest claim about Obama and his circumstances of his birth.
Barack Hussein Obama II was born on Aug. 4, 1961, at 7:24 p.m. in Honolulu. His parents were Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Hussein Obama. The birth was reported by the state’s two main newspapers about a week or so later, based on information received from the State Department of Health, as thus: “Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama, 6085 Kalanianaole Highway, son, Aug. 4.”
The Fact Checker is off for a couple of days, taking Fact Checker Jr. to visit the college he will attend in the fall. (We would welcome any facts and tips about MIT.) The column will return on Tuesday, April 12, unless someone says something really, really stupid.
“In one of the bills before us, 6 million seniors are deprived of meals — homebound seniors are deprived of meals. People ask us to find our common ground, the middle ground. Is middle ground 3 million seniors not receiving meals? I don't think so. We've got to take this conversation from a debate about numbers and dollar figures and finding middle ground there to the higher ground of national values. I don't think the American people want any one of those 6 million people to lose their meals or the children who are being thrown off of Head Start and the rest of it.”
— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), April 4, 2011
The day before House Republicans unveiled their long-term budget plan, one-time House Speaker Pelosi held an event with the Hunger Fast Coalition to draw attention to the budget cuts envisioned in the fiscal 2011 budget bill that passed the House earlier this year. The White House and the Senate have been engaged in tense discussions with House leaders over a compromise deal in an effort to avoid a government shutdown later this week.
Pelosi’s impassioned plea signifies her discomfort at even the thought of compromise. But several readers wondered about the figures she used. Are 6 million poor seniors really at risk of losing their meals — or even 3 million under the compromise plan being negotiated by President Obama?
The meal programs, which cost about $818 million a year, are managed by the Administration on Aging (AOA), an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services. The House bill would cut $65 million from the approximately $2.4 billion budget of the agency — a figure derived from GOP estimates of the savings in the agency from repealing the health care law — as well as eliminate $6 million in earmarks.
“Well, you know, it's never that easy to remove people from power -- even, you know, in Serbia and in Iraq we found that bombing alone didn't do it. Actually, ground troops had to go in and do it. There are many here in Washington now advocating ground troops. I think it's a slippery slope and it could it engage us in a third war.”
--Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), March 30, 2011
The Obama administration’s intervention in Libya has generated many questions in Congress about the scale of the effort, the goals and the extent of congressional consultation. While administration officials have argued that the operation will be “time-limited and scope-limited,” including the creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from being overrun by government forces, the revelation that CIA operatives are in Libya gathering intelligence on rebel forces has raised new questions.
Adding to some of the confusion over U.S. goals in the operation, President Obama has said that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi “must go” while saying that Gaddafi’s departure is not the goal of the military strikes.
The junior senator from Kentucky, in the quote above, drew on the lessons of history to argue that air power by itself will not dislodge Gaddafi. We are not going to dispute his larger point—that a combination of ground forces and air strikes is more effective than air power alone. But how accurate is his history lesson?
On Serbia, Rand needs to hit the history books.
“It was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. I remember because I was in the middle of a presidential campaign. Working folks certainly remember because it hit a lot of people pretty hard. And because we were at the height of political season, you had all kinds of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians — they were waving their three-point plans for $2 a gallon gas. You remember that — ‘drill, baby, drill’ — and we were going through all that. And none of it was really going to do anything to solve the problem. There was a lot of hue and cry, a lot of fulminating and hand-wringing, but nothing actually happened. Imagine that in Washington.”
— President Obama, March 30, 2011
With gasoline prices soaring to $4 a gallon, President Obama delivered Wednesday a major address on energy policy — as well as an ad-libbed dig at Sarah Palin. Let’s take a tour through some of his numbers and assertions.
(At the end, we will also examine an interesting, Pinocchio-worthy fact in a preemptive floor speech on energy by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.)
“And today I want to announce a new goal — one that is reasonable, one that is achievable, and one that is necessary. When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third. That is something that we can achieve. We can cut our oil dependence — we can cut our oil dependence by a third.”
Under this goal, the United States would only be importing 7.25 million barrels a day by 2025. If you look at the current statistics, net imports dropped to 9.4 million in 2010, but that is largely because of the recession. As Obama acknowledged elsewhere in his speech, “now that the economy is recovering, demand is back up.”
“The fact is, close to five years after 9/11 and fifteen years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States still lacks a coherent national security policy. Instead of guiding principles, we have what appear to be a series of ad hoc decisions, with dubious results. Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur? …Are we committed to use force wherever there’s a despotic regime that’s terrorizing its people—and if so, how long do we stay to ensure democracy takes root? …Perhaps someone inside the White House has clear answers to these questions. But our allies—and for that matter our enemies—certainly don’t know what the answers are. More important, neither do the American people. Without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands, America will lack the legitimacy—and ultimately the power—it needs to make the world safer than it is today.”
--Barack Obama. “The Audacity of Hope” (2006), page 302.
“We don’t get very hung up on this question of precedent. We don’t make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent.”—Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, March 28, 2011
We present the quotes above as another example of how things can look very different from inside the White House than from the outside. In his book, then-Senator Obama asks a number of pointed questions about how and why a president decides to send U.S. troops into an armed conflict. It’s not clear that President Obama provided the answers in his speech to the nation on the Libyan conflict Monday night. It was certainly hard to discern something akin to an “Obama doctrine.”
In terms of fact-checking the president’s speech, we did not find any major errors. But some elements of the speech require some further context.
“ For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant, Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world, including Americans who were killed by Libyan agents.”
This is all true, but Obama neglected to say that in recent years, Gaddafi had been rehabilitated. In a deal with the Bush administration, he gave up his nascent weapons of mass destruction and paid $2.7 billion to settle claims relating to the Libyan-directed bombing of Pan Am 103.
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation
— Sen. Barack Obama, interview with the Boston Globe published Dec. 20. 2007
“The Constitution is clear: Except in response to an attack or the imminent threat of attack, only Congress may authorize war and the use of force.”
— Sen. Joe Biden, interview with the Boston Globe published Dec. 20, 2007
“I do not believe that the President can take military action — including any kind of strategic bombing — against Iran without congressional authorization.”
— Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, interview with the Boston Globe published Dec. 20, 2007
The United States does not have a parliamentary system, but an old parliamentary adage — where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit, whether on the opposition benches or the government (Treasury) benches — certainly seems appropriate these days.
As the quotes from the 2008 presidential campaign above show, three key decision-makers in the attacks against Libyan air defenses appeared to believe then that congressional authorization is needed before military action can commence. That, of course, was when they were all U.S. senators — not members of the executive branch.
Meanwhile, former House speaker Newt Gingrich appeared to twist himself in knots as he first called for a no-fly zone when Obama was ambivalent and then attacked Obama for the intervention after it was launched. Other potential GOP presidential candidates have also viewed skeptically the military intervention, which one senses might not have been the case if a Republican were president.
Is the president’s action in Libya consistent with his 2007 statement?The Facts
Boston Globe reporter Charles Savage (now with the New York Times) asked each presidential candidate a simple question:
“In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)”
"I have been able to raise more money than any member of the House of Representatives in the history of the United States Congress."
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), March 24, 2011
Bachmann, who is seriously toying with the idea of running for president, has touted her fundraising prowess as a reason for Republicans to support her in a head-to-head contest with President Obama in the 2012 race. “I have been able to demonstrate broad national support,” she told Fox News.
But given Bachmann’s propensity to make sweeping statements — check out this Fact Checker column, this one and this one — we wondered about her claim. Could a three-term member of Congress really have raised more money than any member of the House in the history of the Republic?The Facts
There is no question that Bachmann is an impressive fundraiser. In the 2009-2010 election cycle, she brought in $13.5 million, according to data on the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics. Virtually all of her contributions came from individuals, with more than 50 percent from people contributing $200 or less.
“Obamacare Price Tag Spikes by 54%”
— Headline on a news release by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued March 21, 2011
“Unhappy Anniversary: ObamaCare's cost jumps 8.6%”
— Headline on Wall Street Journal editorial, March 23, 2011
The venerable Congressional Budget Office issued an updated budget projection last week, and critics of the new health care law pounced.
In a news release, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), declared that “according to CBO’s latest estimates, the cost of Obamacare has increased by $500 billion. Meaning, in only one year, the cost has increased from an already staggering $938 billion price tag to $1.445 trillion.” The news release then cheekingly noted what a half-trillion dollars could buy. “1,002,004,008 iPad 2s,” for instance. Or “a Ford F-150 for every resident in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Omaha.”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal had some different math in a March 23 editorial, saying: “Obamacare will be far more expensive than advertised. To wit, CBO says the entitlement's health insurance subsidies will cost $1.13 trillion between 2012 and 2021, not $1.04 trillion, the prior estimate. . . . CBO is conceding that it significantly underestimated the bill's cost.”
Talk about fuzzy math! Did the price of the health care law go up 54 percent, 8.6 percent, or what? Let’s look at the numbers.
The cost of the health-care law has been one of its most contentious issues. President Obama had said it would cost less than $1 trillion over 10 years, and promised it would reduce the deficit in that period. The law, as scored by the CBO, met those benchmarks, but critics have charged the bill was deliberately structured to reach that result. (We have addressed those concerns previously.)
“The Arab League wanted us to do something. The minute we did something, the Arab League began criticizing us doing it. I think that, you know, two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot. I think that the problem we have in Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen — you go around the region. We could get engaged, by this standard, in all sorts of places. Sudan has been killing — the Sudanese government has been killing people in Darfur for years and years, and somehow all the major powers avoided thinking about it. I’m just suggesting to you there’s no standard here.”
--Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), March 23, 2011
Newt Gingrich, who is mulling a run for the presidency, put his finger on a conundrum of leadership during an interview Wednesday on NBC’s “Today Show.” What makes a crisis worthy of military intervention — and when? Can a president really rely on a one-size-fits-all standard, or do the circumstances at the moment matter the most? There is really no easy answer. (We’ll leave aside the question of whether Gingrich flip-flopped with his Libya comments.)
Take the issue of Sudan’s Darfur province, for instance. Sudan borders Libya, and Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, last year became the first head of state to be indicted for genocide. (Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, by contrast, has merely been referred to the International Criminal Court.)
We would differ a little with Gingrich’s comment that “all the major powers avoided thinking about it.” The problem is not that major powers avoided thinking about Darfur; it is that they avoided doing much about it, despite deaths in the hundreds of thousands — dwarfing anything done by Gaddafi and his forces in recent weeks.
Indeed, Darfur is a tragic example of the large gap that can exist between a presidential candidate’s rhetoric and a president’s performance once elected. We will look at this foreign-policy problem as part of an occasional effort to provide context about issues in the news.
Sudan has known little but civil conflict since its independence more than a half-century ago, especially between the largely Arab, Islamic northern part of the country and the largely animist and Christian African south. The government located in Khartoum controlled much of the country’s wealth (especially oil riches) and had imposed sharia law.
The North-South conflict lasted more than two decades, leaving 2 million people dead, primarily from famine and disease, and 4 million homeless, before then-President George W. Bush succeeded in forging a tenuous peace agreement between the two sides in 2004.
“Two and a half million Americans, almost half of those union workers, have been given a waiver that they don’t have to live under this health care law.”
— Sen. John. Barrasso (R-Wyo.), March 21, 2011
The first anniversary of passage of the health-care law has led to a flurry of bogus claims both for and against what detractors called “Obamacare.” We have looked at a number of these claims in our last two articles. But when we heard Sen. John Barrasso on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show Monday, we had to do just one more, since his comments echoed a recurrent GOP theme.
Barrasso’s statement is interesting because the first part is technically correct. But he is using a relatively narrow issue to make a broader point about what he thinks are the failures of the law — and that could mislead people who are not well-versed in the intricacies of the health-care debate.
Moreover, the reference to “union workers” is intended to put a nefarious cast on the process, suggesting that political supporters of Obama are getting a special break from his most prized legislative achievement.
The new law phases out bare-bones health insurance, which can quickly run out of benefits because of low annual coverage limits, known in the trade as “mini-meds.” By 2014, provisions will take effect that require most employers either to offer their workers more complete coverage or to let those workers buy insurance through new insurance marketplaces, called exchanges.
“This is a very special month for us because one year ago we passed the historic Affordable Health Care Act, which has made a difference in the lives of the American people.”
— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
House Democrats held a birthday party last week for passage of the health-care law. Just as we looked at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s floor speech noting the milestone, we will now examine some of the claims made by Democrats.
McConnell framed his speech in negative terms, citing data to back up his language. Both Democrats and Republicans can pick and choose numbers and studies to make their case, but we found that generally McConnell did not exaggerate or use bogus figures. In fact, he correctly described a Congressional Budget Office analysis suggesting a potential reduction in employment of 800,000 jobs (technically, one-half of 1 percent of household employment in 2021) that other Republicans have misrepresented.
By contrast, House Democrats appear to show little hesitation about repeating claims that previously have found to be false or exaggerated. So let’s take a tour through the numbers.
“It's about jobs. Does it create jobs? Health insurance reform creates 4 million jobs, and in the last 12 months the private sector has added 1.5 million new jobs, and of that a quarter of a million were in the health insurance industry.”
Here, Pelosi is repeating a talking point from the health-care debate. The 4 million figure comes from a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning group, which estimated that universal health care would add 250,000 to 400,000 jobs a year. Pelosi took the top end of the range and then multiplied it by 10, a numerical sleight-of-hand that Polifact last year labeled “half true.”
“Next week marks the one-year anniversary since the Democrat health-care bill was signed into law. . . . The fog of controversy may have lifted. But contrary to the confident predictions of some, the contents of the health-care bill are even worse than anyone expected. A year after Democrats passed it on a party-line vote, it looks even worse than it did then. And that's saying something.”
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
McConnell wished the health-care law a not-so-happy birthday a week early — the Senate is on recess next week — in a floor speech Thursday.
The rhetoric is pretty strong, but he also made a number of factual assertions about what Americans have learned about the bill since its passage. Let’s take a tour through some of his comments and explain where they come from.
“We now know that those who promised us that `if you like your plan, you can keep your plan' were dead wrong. The Obama administration has already admitted that at least 7 million seniors will now lose their Medicare Advantage plans. And one of the administration's own top health care analysts recently admitted that this oft-repeated pledge was `not true in all cases.' ”
Both of these statements — the 7 million number and the pledge being “not true in all cases” — comes from testimony by Richard Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare and Medicaid, before the House Budget Committee. But to suggest that this is an Obama administration estimate or even that Foster is an administration analyst is a stretch worthy of perhaps a Pinocchio. (About our rating scale)
“We should be about hiring Americans, not firing Americans. And this Republican budget essentially takes 700,000 Americans off the payroll. Three weeks, that’s 75,000 jobs that are in jeopardy as a result of this Republican three-week budget.”
— Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), March 15, 2011
The House of Representatives, on a bipartisan vote Tuesday, passed another stopgap spending bill that would keep the government running at least until April 8. The bill, known as a continuing resolution, also would cut 2011 budget authority by $6 billion, in what the Republicans call a down payment on their push to trim $61 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget.
The three-week bill is expected to clear the Senate as early as today, but Rep. Becerra, vice chair of the Democratic conference, lashed out at the GOP plan at a news conference Tuesday, saying it would result in 75,000 jobs being lost. (He also voted against the bill.)
Where did that figure come from, and is it true?
The original source of the number is economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, who last month crunched the numbers and concluded that a $61 billion cut in federal spending would mean 672,000 fewer jobs would be created by the end of 2012, as the country emerges from the recession. He rounded up to 700,000 in a blog post and said, in an interview Wednesday, “I was surprised by the attention it got.”
“No less an authority than EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson conceded that regulations would be costlier and less effective than the legislation, which was bad enough. That’s right! Lisa Jackson herself noted that the staggering energy cost increases of Waxman-Markey would be the floor, with EPA regulations costing American families even more at the pump, at the grocery store, and on their home heating bills.”
— Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), March 10, 2011
“Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003. Let me repeat that. Our oil production reached its highest level in seven years. . . . So any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound bite, but it doesn’t match up with reality.”
— President Obama, March 11, March 11, 2011
Gas prices are soaring, and politicians are pointing fingers.
House Republicans are pushing forward with what they call the American Energy Initiative, which includes a bill sponsored by Upton that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Our colleagues at Politifact have already labeled as “false” Upton’s claim that the bill would help roll back gasoline prices. Now we will take a look at his assertion that the EPA administrator actually agrees with the Republican effort.
Meanwhile, the White House has been playing defense. Both in a blog post and in the president’s news conference last week, the Obama administration has suggested that its efforts have led to an increase in domestic oil production.
Let’s take the president’s statement first. President Obama seemed pretty proud of this statistic, repeating it twice. He is clearly pushing back against suggestions that the administration has shut down domestic oil production in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He touted his administration’s approval of leases and drilling permits.
But his statement is an example of a “true” fact that is kind of meaningless.
“What’s the $500 billion in cuts for? Preserving Medicare or funding the health-care law?”
—Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), March 3, 2011
—Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Aha! The double-counting of Medicare funds for the new health care has been admitted by the Obama administration. At least that’s what Republicans claimed as the video clip above when viral on the Internet.
On the face of it, Sebelius’ answer seems rather strange. As one web headline put it, “Sebelius Cracks! Admits the Obamacare Books Were Cooked”
But on another level, Sebelius is telling the truth, though somewhat inartfully. There is really nothing quite as nefarious about the process as some critics suggest, though one could argue that the process is wrong. A lot of this has to do with the strange and complicated way that the U.S. federal budget is calculated, so let’s take a trip through the numbers.
When President Bill Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, then House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was one of the speakers. “On Medicare, we came together and we saved the system for at least a decade,” he declared. How could he make this claim? Through the same double-counting that Republican now decry.