“Thirty-five percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.”
-- President Obama, news conference, April 17, 2014
The Fact Checker was on break last week, but did manage to pass a TV set that aired images of the president’s announcement on April 17 that 8 million people had signed up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. We were struck by a headline in the TV ticker that amplified the president’s message that 35 percent of the enrollees were younger than 35.
Our monthly round-up of the most popular columns is a bit late this month, as The Fact Checker has been churning out so many fact checks and Truth Teller videos that we never found a moment to post it. For the first time in months, columns about Obamacare did not dominate the list. There was also a tie for fifth place.
“Of the for-profit gainful employment programs that our department could analyze, and which could be affected by our actions today, the majority -- the significant majority, 72 percent -- produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.”
An extensive accounting of more than 50,000 commercials by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, has determined that the single most-aired campaign ad of the past 10 years was a 30-second spot for Sen. Barack Obama attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on his health-care plan.
“Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns in 2014, that’s an embarrassment. It is wrong.”
--President Obama, remarks on equal pay for equal work, April 8, 2014
This column has been updated
“We didn’t have billions of dollars of commercials like some critics did.”
-- President Obama, remarks in the Rose Garden, April 1, 2014
A reader asked us about this comment during the president’s victory lap on the Affordable Care Act. Were there really “billions” of dollars worth of commercials opposing the law?
“The Affordable Care Act. To date over 10 million newly insured Americans benefiting from the law are now in effect, now have the benefit of that. And there’s millions of more who have changed their insurance because of this legislation.”
-- Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on the Senate floor, March 31, 2014
The United States should “reconsider putting in our missile defense system back into the Czech Republic and Poland, as we once planned. As you recall, we pulled that out as a gift to Russia.”
-- Former governor Mitt Romney, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” March 23, 2014
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
--President Obama, during the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 2012
With Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region, some analysts have begun asking if the United States and Russia are once again entering a Cold War. To some extent, it’s a misplaced analogy because the two countries at the moment are not dueling around the globe, battling over a particular economic philosophy. But certainly Russia and the United States—after the Obama administration’s much-heralded “reset” five years ago—are entering a chilly period.
Fact checks about the Affordable Care Act continue to dominate our monthly roundup of the most widely read fact checks, but two columns about former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also made it into the top five. That suggests there is still intense interest in the once and possibly future president.
Obama’s claim that 7 million got ‘access to health care for the first time’ because of his Medicaid expansion
“We’ve got close to 7 million Americans who have access to health care for the first time because of Medicaid expansion.”
-- President Obama, remarks during dinner with the Democratic Governors Association, Feb. 20, 2014
The Fact Checker has written several times about the fuzziness of the Medicaid numbers issued by the Obama administration. But it is like playing whack-a-mole. Every time we rap someone for getting it wrong, the same problem pops up someplace else.
“Five years ago, our national debt was $10 trillion. Today it is over $17 trillion. It has grown some 60 percent in just five years. It took 43 Presidents over 200 years to build $10 trillion in debt; one President in five years to grow it over 60 percent.”
“Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb.”
-- President Obama, State of the Union address, Jan. 28, 2014
This line jumped out at The Fact Checker during last week’s State of the Union address. An old journalistic rule is to never label something “unprecedented.” On what basis does the president label these inspections as “unprecedented” — which “verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb?”
A State of the Union address is often difficult to fact-check, no matter who is president. The speech is a product of many hands and is carefully vetted, so major errors of fact are relatively rare. But State of the Union addresses often are very political speeches, an argument for the president’s policies, so context is sometimes missing.
For the first time, we are presenting a list of our 10 most popular fact checks during the past year. (There’s a tie for 10th place, so it’s really 11.)
Readers will notice that many of the most widely read columns are about President Obama, especially if he earned a poor ruling. Judging from our daily traffic reports, it appears that that right-leaning Web sites and blogs are quicker to circulate such articles than the left-leaning blogosphere.
“We all know the arguments that have been used against a higher minimum wage. Some say it actually hurts low-wage workers -- businesses will be less likely to hire them. But there’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs.”
--President Obama, remarks on economic mobility, Dec. 4, 2013
“We believe we’re a better country than a country where we allow, every day, 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage; or where every year, tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn’t have health care; or where out-of-pocket costs drove millions of citizens into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth.”
Fact checks about the Affordable Care Act continue to dominate our monthly roundup of the most widely read fact checks. In fact, second place goes to a column first published in October — our Four-Pinocchio rating of President Obama’s pledge that people could keep their health plans if they liked them. That column continues to be avidly read through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
“I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years.”
--President Obama, news conference, Nov. 14, 2013
“Thanks to #Obamacare, more than 500,000 Americans have already signed up for health coverage.”
— tweet from The White House, Nov. 13, 2013
“The [insurance premium] rates have come in about 16 percent lower than what the Congressional Budget Office projected those rates to be.”
--Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, testimony before Congress, Nov. 6, 2013
Estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office are considered the gold standard in Washington. The budget impact of every bill voted on by Congress is calculated by CBO analysts — and their findings often make a difference in whether legislation passes or not.
“The provision in the law was the manifestation of the assurance that if you have a plan you want to keep, you can keep it. Insurance companies that chose to strip away benefits from existing plans in the interim, that canceled existing plans in the interim, they took away that grandfathering opportunity. And that’s a reality.”
We’re introducing a new feature: a round-up of the five most popular posts every month. We wrote a lot in October about the new health-care law, so there should be little surprise that columns on “Obamacare” generated a lot of interest. But, during the government shutdown, a sleeper emerged as well: a column from January of this year that annotated President Obama’s speech, as a senator, for why he was voting against increasing the debt limit. Readers rediscovered that post through Google, and then it was reposted on Facebook and Twitter, earning fresh readers.
“That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”
“One study shows that through new options created by the Affordable Care Act, nearly six in 10 uninsured Americans will find that they can get coverage for less than $100 a month. Through the marketplaces you can get health insurance for what may be the equivalent of your cell phone bill. Or your cable bill.”
“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt.”
— President Obama, remarks to the Business Roundtable, Sept. 18, 2013
“I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”
-- President Obama, news conference in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
-- Obama, remarks to reporters, August 20, 2012
“My hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline — which might take a year or two — and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.”
— President Obama, interview with The New York Times, July 24, 2013
This column has been updated, with the rating reaffirmed.
We are always interested when the president directs reporters to look at the facts.
Readers may recall that in 2011 The Fact Checker had looked deeply at the question of the number of jobs that might result from building the Keystone XL pipeline. We labeled it “a bipartisan fumble,” knocking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for uttering greatly inflated job estimates that in one case even topped 100,000.
But now here’s the president, tossing out a rather low figure (“maybe 2,000” during the construction phase) and then chuckling that it would only be “50 to 100 jobs” after that.
When we had looked at this before, we concluded that all such estimates are subject to guesswork, but a mainstream estimate appeared to come from the State Department — 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs in a year. TransCanada, which would build the pipeline, had its own, somewhat similar estimate for the two-year project — 13,000 jobs, or 6,500 per year.
The numbers get fuzzier after that, because thousands of “spin-off” jobs (suppliers, and suppliers of suppliers) get added into the mix. Believe it or not, such claims can get far afield, adding in dancers, dentists, clergy, bartenders and the like who supposedly receive jobs because of a big construction project. But at the same time, there clearly is also a second-order effect of some sort.
So how does the president end up with such a low figure?
The White House would not explain the president’s math, except to point to an anodyne statement made by spokesman Josh Earnest at Monday’s daily news briefing, after he was asked about the president’s jobs estimate, which was published in the Sunday edition:
“If you look at the economic data, the suggestion that the [Affordable Care Act] is reducing full-time employment is belied by the facts….The data reflects that there is not support for the proposition that businesses are not hiring full-time employees because of the Affordable Care Act.”
--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, news briefing, July 16, 2013
Some readers questioned this assertion, having read articles such as one that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week, titled “Restaurant Shift: Sorry, Just Part-time.” In fact, Carney’s statement was in direct response to a question about the article.
Forgive us for being press critics, but the story actually did not live up to the headline. It was largely anecdotal in nature, with numerous caveats and at times speculation. We encountered the same issue when we examined the case of the City of Long Beach amid reports that it was shifting 1,600 workers to part-time because of the health care law. The initial reports were overstated.
That’s part of the problem at this point. Critics may seize on a month’s data here or an anecdote there, but the full impact of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, on employment will not be felt until after it is fully implemented. (The employer mandate supposedly pushing companies to hire part-time workers, in fact, has been delayed until 2015.)
“Because of this new rule, because of the fact that it improves the value of the coverage that you purchase, last year alone, Americans saved $3.4 billion in lower premiums. That's $3.4 billion on top of these rebates.”
— President Obama, remarks on the Affordable Care Act, July 18, 2013
With the House of Representatives yet again voting to scale back President Obama’s signature health-care law, the president made a case for the law in an East Room ceremony.
The rebates the president refers to stem from the “80/20 rule” or “Medical Loss Ratio rule” in the law, in which insurance companies must rebate a portion of the premiums if they spent less than 80 percent of the premium on medical care and efforts to improve care. In 2012, insurance companies shipped about $500 million in rebates, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
That’s real money, worth about $100 per family, though it should be noted that much of it actually ends up in the hands of the companies offering insurance--not actual familes.
But what’s the $3.4 billion the president mentioned? That seemed a bit fishy, so we decided to explore further.
Under the rule, insurance companies cannot keep more than 20 percent of the premiums for overhead and profits. (The rule is even stricter for the larger group market — 15 percent.) So there obviously would be an incentive for insurance companies to get their overhead down so they would not have to mail rebates to consumers.
“The way we make decisions about assistance to Egypt is based on: Are they in fact following rule of law and democratic procedures? And we don’t make those decisions just by counting the number of heads in a protest march, but we do make decisions based on whether or not a government is listening to the opposition, maintaining a free press, maintaining freedom of assembly, not using violence or intimidation, conducting fair and free elections.”
— President Obama, remarks at a news conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013
We became interested in these remarks after reading an article in The Daily Beast that argued that the president’s statements offered a “revisionist history” of how the administration has handled human rights in Egypt.
During the Arab Spring in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earned Two Pinocchios for claiming that the administration had promoted civil society in Egypt when in fact funds had been cut for civil society groups not registered with the Egyptian government, as part of an effort to curry favor with the regime then headed by Hosni Mubarak.
A generous interpretation of Obama’s statement would be that this was intended as a shot across the bow — a signal to both now-ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the military that the United States would be watching closely and apply the standards outlined by Obama accordingly. As we said, that would be a generous, forward-leaning understanding. What if we look in the rearview mirror? How would Obama’s remarks hold up to scrutiny?
Using the State Department’s handy foreign assistance dashboard, we see that U.S. assistance to Egypt amounts to about $1.5 billion a year. Almost all of that — $1.3 billion — is aid to the Egyptian military — which many would say just organized a coup against an elected, if deeply flawed, leader. Very little U.S. aid actually goes to democracy promotion.
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.
“Illegal crossings are near their lowest level in decades.”
— President Obama, remarks on immigration reform, June 11, 2013
— Obama, State of the Union address, Feb. 12, 2013
We are always interested in even slight shifts in presidential rhetoric. What happened in the space of four months, so that the president’s claim that illegal crossings were at a four-decade low was suddenly softened to the lowest level in “decades”?
Let’s take a look.
When the president speaks of “illegal crossings,” he is speaking of “illegal alien apprehensions.” This is an imperfect metric, because officials can somehow manage to tout as a success both a high number (“look how many we caught”) and a low number (“look how much it has dropped.”) It’s also unclear if the same person is caught more than once.
“Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple of days in the press are secret in the sense that they're classified, but they're not secret in the sense that, when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.”
— President Obama, remarks to the media, June 7, 2013
Something unusual happened shortly after President Obama made the statement above about the National Security Agency’s domestic phone surveillance program, in the wake of leaks to The Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post: A fellow Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, rushed out and said the president was wrong.
“It’s not something that’s briefed outside the Intelligence Committee,” Merkley told MSNBC. “I had to get special permission to find out about the program.”
Meanwhile, another Democrat, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, also appeared to dispute the president’s statement. He said he knew “almost nothing” about the program and had double checked his e-mails to see if he had received notice of a briefing. Even then, he suggested, he would be at a disadvantage because lawmakers can only hear the briefing without the benefit of staff expertise.
“The reality is you can't bring your staff in there, so we are moving around Capitol Hill at lightning speed, nearly every member of Congress is,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If you can’t get staff support, that means you’ve got to go into that room, you’ve got to sit there and pore through documents over the course of hours.”
Ellison spokesman Jeremy Slevin clarified that Ellison was referring to the PRISM program — which Obama had said was briefed just to the Intelligence Committees. Ellison is not a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Regarding phone records, he has attended classified briefings on the Patriot Act, but the content of those briefings, including whether or not they covered the Executive Branch’s interpretation of Section 215, is classified,” Slevin said.
What’s going on here?
The Guardian newspaper last week published a court order showing that a unit of Verizon had been ordered to turn over phone metadata to the NSA over a three-month period. This appears to have been a renewal of a program that has existed for at least seven years and presumably includes other telephone companies.
“The good news is, today, our businesses have created nearly 7 million new jobs over the past 38 months. Five hundred thousand of those jobs are in manufacturing.”
— President Obama, remarks on college affordability, May 31, 2013
During a speech calling on Congress to halt a hike in the student loan rate, President Obama referenced the creation of 500,000 manufacturing jobs since February 2010 as part of the opening sentence in a paragraph touting good news about the economy (“The housing market is coming back. The stock market has rebounded.”).
But there was something about that phrase that sounded familiar.
Here’s the president speaking to the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6 (nine months ago):
“After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years.”
And here’s the president at the State of the Union address on Feb. 12 (four months ago):
“After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.”
It’s pretty rare to hear the same talking point regarding a job statistic, month after month. What’s going on here?
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the low point in U.S. manufacturing was reached on February 2010, when there were just 11.46 million manufacturing jobs in the country. That was about 1.1 million fewer than when Obama took office — and nearly 2.3 million fewer than when the Great Recession officially began in December 2007.
“Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote. As a result, my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor. Let me repeat that: My nominees have taken three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.”
— President Obama, remarks on nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, June 4, 2013
This is the second of two columns looking at the rhetoric concerning the debate over the D.C. Circuit.
President Obama was so fond of this statistic that he repeated it during his ceremony announcing his three nominees to what is generally regarded as the second-most-important court in the United States. On Thursday, we analyzed Republican claims that the D.C. Circuit is underworked and does not need its full slate of judges.
Now let’s examine the president’s claim.
We became curious about this statistic when we noticed an unusual correction to the White House transcript after spokesman Jay Carney repeated this talking point at a news briefing. Carney originally said, “The duration from nomination to confirmation is three times greater in his presidency than it was in his predecessor’s.” In the correction, the word nomination was replaced by “Committee approval.”
“The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.”
— President Obama, remarks at a news conference, May 13, 2013
Once again, it appears that we must parse a few presidential words. We went through this question at length during the 2012 election, but perhaps a refresher course is in order.
Notably, during a debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, President Obama said that he immediately told the American people that the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya “was an act of terror.” But now he says he called it “an act of terrorism.”
Some readers may object to this continuing focus on words, but presidential aides spend a lot of time on words. Words have consequences. Is there a difference between “act of terror” and “act of terrorism”?
Immediately after the attack, the president three times used the phrase “act of terror” in public statements:
“For the average American out there, for the 85 and 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, this thing’s already happened. And their only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”
— President Obama, remarks at a news conference, April 30, 2013
During the president’s news conference on the 100th day of his second term, he rebutted suggestions that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” in the coming year might face problems. He made the argument that most Americans — “the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance” — will not notice anything but better health care, such as coverage for children under the age of 26 and no restrictions because of preexisting conditions.
He added that the impact will be felt instead by “that small group of people — 10 to 15 percent of Americans; now, it’s still 30 million Americans, but relatively a narrow group — who don’t have health insurance right now or are on the individual market and are paying exorbitant amounts for coverage that isn’t that great.”
There’s a lot of numbers there. We have found in the past that the president has sometimes overhyped the potential benefits of the law — though much about the law’s impact remains uncertain and open to conjecture. Let’s take a deeper look.
The president is correct that a vast majority of Americans already have health insurance, and many get it through their employers. The Census Bureau (Table 8) says that as of 2011, 64 percent of Americans have a private health plan, with 55 percent getting it through their employer. Another 32 percent get health care through a government plan such as Medicare and Medicaid, while about 10 percent buy their own plans. (The numbers add up to more than 100 percent because people can be covered by more than one type of insurance in a year.)
“In fact, even the NRA used to support expanded background checks. The current leader of the NRA used to support these background checks.”
— President Obama, remarks on Senate vote on gun bill, April 17, 2013
Some readers were curious to learn more about the National Rifle Association’s purported support for background checks. As it happens, there is a bit of fact checker dispute about this history.
PolitiFact in March rated as “true” this statement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “In fact, if you go back to 1999, [NRA chief executive] Wayne LaPierre testified on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done.”
But last week FactCheck.org dinged Vice President Biden for making a claim similar to the president. FactCheck.org, which issues no ratings, said Biden described the NRA’s policies through “rose-colored glasses,” because the organization only supported language denounced as a sham by then-President Bill Clinton.
When fact checkers disagree, it’s often because the statements being vetted are slightly different. Bloomberg, for instance, carefully did not use the word “support” and he did not refer to the “good old days” of working with the NRA, as Biden did. (PolitiFact, however, on Thursday reiterated its “true’ ruling for Obama’s statement above.)
The Fact Checker has learned from decades of covering politics and diplomacy that looking at the words sometimes is not enough; actions are also important. Is this a case where “support” for a particular action may have only been tactical, designed to block or kill proposals that pose a danger to an organization?
As former House speaker Newt Gingrich memorably explained during the GOP presidential debates in 2011, the individual mandate that formed the core of President Obama’s health care law was originally designed to block health reform efforts by Hillary Clinton: “In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less-dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do….It’s now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional. But, it started as a conservative effort to stop HillaryCare in the 1990s.”
In other words, it was tactical maneuver — subject to change later.
The history of the NRA’s “support” for expanded background checks is worth recounting, in part because it has striking resemblances to the current gun-control battle.
As with this year, the gun-control battle of 1999 was sparked by a horrific school shooting: the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre in which two students killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide. President Clinton, similar to President Obama, pushed for immediate action on gun-control legislation.
“Every dollar we spent to map the human genome has returned $140 to our economy -- $1 of investment, $140 in return.”
--President Obama, Remarks by the President on the BRAIN Initiative and American Innovation, April 2, 2013
“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.”
--Obama, 2013 State of the Union address, Feb. 12, 2013
In announcing a new government initiative to map the brain Tuesday, President Obama repeated a statistic he had used in the State of the Union address—one that we had been meaning to examine more closely.
Certainly, the president’s broader point is correct—federal government investment in research is often an important factor in innovations and scientific achievements that have enhanced Americans’ lives. But 140 times return on investment? That sounded a bit too good to be true.
Let’s dig deeper into the data.
The president’s factoid—which he has asserted without citing a source—comes from a 2011 study by the Battelle Memorial Institute titled “Economic Impact of the Human Genome Project: How a $3.8 billion investment drove $796 billion in economic impact, created 310,000 jobs and launched a genomic revolution.”
“Why wouldn’t we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?”
— President Obama, remarks on gun safety, March 28, 2013
— tweet from @BarackObama, March 28
We were away last week and have been catching up on the recent rhetoric. A number of readers asked us about this comment last week by President Obama, and his Twitter account (managed by his campaign spin-off Organizing for Action), given that we had looked closely at this statistic back in January, in two columns, and found it wanting. It ultimately earned a rating of Two Pinocchios. PolitiFact in January also concluded there were serious problems with this particular statistic, giving it a rating of “half true.” And the Associated Press, in a March fact check, labeled this factoid “old and surely very tired.”
Normally we would expect some adjustment of the language in response to a fact-checker consensus. Alas, it appears to be time for a refresher course — and a new rating.
There are two key problems with the president’s use of this statistic: The numbers are about two decades old, yet he acts as if they are fresh, and he refers to “purchases” or “sales” when in fact the original report concerned “gun acquisitions” and “transactions.” Those are much broader categories of data.
Note: From time to time, The Fact Checker writes an analytical look at political or diplomatic language, rather than a traditional “fact check,” based on his experience in covering Washington and diplomacy. This is one of those columns.
President Obama gave a major speech in Israel on Thursday, intending to reframe his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As we have noted before, the president’s efforts in the region have suffered setbacks, sometimes self-inflicted. At the moment, prospects for sustained peace negotiations are dismal.
In 2008, President George W. Bush also gave a major speech in Israel — when his administration was engaged in serious but ultimately unsuccessful negotiations. In many ways, the two speeches are very similar — almost as if Obama’s speechwriters had studied Bush’s speech — but there are also some important differences.
Obama, meanwhile, tweaked some of his language on the conflict, tilting toward Israel in potentially significant ways.
Mention of Harry Truman’s almost instant recognition of Israel
“Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.”
“Are Republicans in Congress really willing to let these cuts fall on our kids’ schools and mental health care just to protect tax loopholes for corporate jet owners?”
— President Obama, weekly radio address, Feb. 23, 2013
“Perhaps the most egregious part, as I was saying, is that you can take a particular tax loophole, the tax break that you get if you buy a corporate jet — $3 billion — that taxpayers are having to cover in costs that corporate jet owners would otherwise pay to the federal government. You can eliminate that tax loophole, and save yourself the $3 billion, so you wouldn’t have to go after the 600,000 women and children who will lose their critical nutrition assistance program. Or you can use that money to make sure that 125,000 families under the Ryan budget who are slated to lose their housing, won’t lose it.”
— Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), news conference, March 18, 2013
The corporate jet “loophole” has wonderful symbolic value, as illustrated by the chart above prepared by the Center for American Progress. And, as the quotes above illustrate, Democrats love to cite it as an example of heartless choices made by Republicans. The @BarackObama twitter account even tweeted out an image of the CAP chart.
We obviously take no position on whether the specific tax treatment of corporate jets is good or bad. But how fair a comparison is this?
As best we can determine, in 2004 then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (now mayor of Chicago) first drew attention to this provision in the tax code when he testified at a hearing designed to highlight ways to improve the tax system. Now, nearly 10 years later, it remains a potent symbol.
“One [Republican] senator told us that he learned, for the first time, the actual cuts that the president has put on the table. Leadership hadn’t shared that list with them before.”
— reported in “First Read, NBC News,” March 7, 2013
Some readers have asked why we did not offer a fact check of House Speaker John Boehner’s statement on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “even today, there’s no plan from Senate Democrats or the White House to replace the sequester.” Our colleagues at PolitiFact gave that statement a “Pants on Fire” rating, and readers were looking for some Pinocchios as well.
About 90 percent of the time, PolitiFact, FactCheck.Org and The Fact Checker reach virtually the same conclusions, but sometimes our findings diverge. That generally happens because we don’t necessarily fact check precisely the same statements or view statements in the same way.
In isolation, Boehner’s statement seems pretty far-fetched. But we chose to pass on a fact check because the host, David Gregory, immediately challenged Boehner’s comment as “not true” and described what the president has proposed. Gregory and Boehner then got into a definitional argument over what constitutes a plan, which in Boehner’s mind seemed to be a bill that had passed the Senate so negotiations could begin with the House.
Indeed, immediately after Boehner’s appearance, White House aide Gene Sperling appeared on the program to describe the president’s proposals. “This is a summary,” he said. “It’s on the White House Web site.”
We try not to fact check opinions, and that seemed to be the core of the debate between Boehner and Sperling about what constitutes a “plan.” (Moreover, we also thought we had found something more interesting to fact check at the time— a new ad campaign targeting Democrats by the National Republican Campaign Committee.)
Still, the comment (highlighted above)--reportedly made by an unnamed Republican senator as he emerged fromdinner with the president--demonstrates how uninformed lawmakers can be about the other side’s positions.
That’s because, in Washington, there are real plans and faux plans. Here, then, is a guide to when a “plan” is serious, based on The Fact Checker’s three decades of watching and reporting on Washington sausage-making.
First of all, in today’s Washington, each party largely exists in its own echo chamber. Republicans talk to Republicans, Democrats talk to Democrats. They watch or listen to their own favorite television or radio shows, and read their own opinion columnists. They also listen to their leaders. So if Boehner says on national television that the president has no plan, then it’s likely he is also telling that to his troops. And then that sentiment is echoed on the House floor, and through conservative media outlets.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.): “Let me get it straight. Under the president’s cut of $58 million to the [Section] 317 program, you think you could get around that to avoid cutting vaccines to children, but under a sequester, that the president blames on Republicans, you don't know if you can do that?”
CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden: “We're going to do everything we can to limit any damage that occurs because of the across-the-board cut, but it reduces our flexibility significantly.”
Harris: “Is it your testimony that under the president's proposed cut of $58 million in his budget to the 317 program you could have avoided cuts to vaccines to children in Maryland?”
Frieden: “We believe that we could have maintained vaccination levels, yes.”
— exchange during congressional testimony, March 5, 2013
A colleague alerted us to this interesting exchange on Capitol Hill. Is this another case of sequester spin?
On the face of it, it looks suspicious. In the White House’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal, the administration had sought a $58 million cut in funding for the Section 317 Immunization Program, which mainly gives grants to states and localities for child and some adult vaccinations, primarily those who do not have enough insurance to be fully vaccinated. (The program gets its name from the Vaccine Assistance Act, or Section 317 of the Public Health Service Act, which was enacted in 1962.)
Yet, in raising the alarm about the sequester, the administration has highlighted the decline in vaccinations that it claims would result from sequestration. The White House Web site displays an interactive map, which when you click on Maryland, it declares: “2,050 fewer children will get vaccines for diseases like measles and whooping cough.” It’s even worse for Virginia: 3,530 children would supposedly be affected.
What’s going on here?
Childhood vaccinations are in a period of tremendous flux. The number of recommended vaccines has grown dramatically over the last two decades — 12 additional vaccines have been added for children or adults been since 2000 — so the cost to vaccinate from birth through age 18 has jumped as well, from $70 for the full complement in 1990 to $1,620 for a female in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, President Obama’s health care law mandated that as of September 2010, health plans should begin to cover recommended vaccinations.
“You know, those Capitol janitors will not get as much overtime. I’m sure they think less pay, that they’re taking home, does hurt.”
— Gene Sperling, director of the White House economic council, on ABC News’ “This Week,” March 3, 2013
“On the issue of the janitors, if you work for an hourly wage and you earn overtime, and you depend on that overtime to make ends meet, it is simply a fact that a reduction in overtime is a reduction in your pay.”
— White House spokesman Jay Carney, news briefing, March 4
At a news conference last Friday, President Obama claimed that, “starting tomorrow,” the “folks cleaning the floors at the Capitol” had “just got a pay cut” because of the automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester.
The president very quickly earned Four Pinocchios for that statement, especially after senior officials at the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), the federal agency that employ janitors on the House side, and the office of the Sergeant at Arms (SAA), which employs janitors on the Senate side, issued statements saying the president’s comments were not true.
Still, the White House has kept up its spin offensive, claiming that a cut in “overtime” was a de facto pay cut and thus the president was right — or at least not wrong.
So, we wondered: How much overtime do Capitol Hill janitors actually make?
First of all, we should note that the White House’s story kept evolving as we reported last week’s column. It’s almost as if the president’s aides had to scramble to come up with reasons why the president could be correct, without actually knowing the facts.
“Starting tomorrow everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol. Now that Congress has left, somebody’s going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real.”
— President Obama, news conference, March 1, 2013
This column has been updated with a new Pinocchio rating
This was a pretty evocative image the president offered at his news conference Friday on the sequester — janitors sweeping the empty halls of the Capitol, laboring at less pay.
When we first heard his remarks, we thought he was perhaps overstating matters. Even at federal agencies that have planned furloughs, none are expected to begin on Saturday; such actions are weeks away at many federal agencies. But that’s perhaps a minor rhetorical overreach.
But then our colleague Ed O’Keefe obtained the sequester plan released by the Architect of the Capitol, which employs Capitol Hill janitors on the House side. (The Sergeant at Arms employs the janitorial staff on the Senate side.) UPDATE: Obama’s remarks also prompted a warning from AOC officials that his comments were “not true.”
We have embedded an image of the first AOC document below. Stephen T. Ayers, the architect of the Capitol, listed a number of steps being taken to reduce expenses, including limiting new hiring and postponing repairs. This line jumped out at us: “We do not anticipate furloughs for AOC employees as a result of Sequestration.”
“Federally assisted programs like Meals on Wheels would be able to serve 4 million fewer meals to seniors.”
— White House fact sheet on the impact of sequestration
“If you address the tax expenditure issue, we’ll limit the amount of deductions people can take, you will have a fairer tax system, and you will not have to then take food out of the mouths of seniors on Meals on Wheels and all of the other community-oriented initiatives that we as Americans take pride in.”
— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Feb. 28, 2013
Google “meals on wheels” and “sequester,” and you’ll see that this has been one of the White House’s most successful pitches to reporters about the dangers of the automatic spending cuts that take effect Friday.
“Spending cuts could derail Meals on Wheels”
“Sequestration Cuts Will Stall Meals On Wheels”
“Meals on Wheels Would be Hit by Sequester”
“Meals on Wheels affected if budget cuts deal fails”
“Federal budget cuts could impact local Meals on Wheels program”
It’s obviously an irresistible story line for journalists. But let’s look deeper at the administration’s estimate and what it means. There’s less than meets the eye when you scratch the surface.
Federal dollars are an important part of free meals for seniors, but it is just part of the overall funding picture. The Meals on Wheels Association of America says that for 2010, the most recent year available, $1.4 billion was spent on such meals. About 37 percent came from Older Americans Act funds — the primary vehicle for such aid from the federal government — and the rest came from other public and private sources.
“Over $600 million of these cuts will need to come from the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that controls and manages our nation’s skies. As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year, and in some cases it could be as many as two days.”
— Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, White House briefing, Feb. 22, 2013
“In the Department of Transportation’s budget, and members of Congress will point out hundreds of millions of dollars on consulting contracts, on travel. Let’s not cut the air traffic controllers first, let’s go cut the waste.”
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feb. 24
In the war of words over the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, the administration has portrayed a grim picture of long lines at airports and closed airport towers if the required reductions at the Federal Aviation Administration are allowed to proceed.
“The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians would require a reduction in air traffic to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff, resulting in slower air traffic in major cities, as well as delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season,” says an administration statement.
Not so fast, Republicans have countered. The FAA’s budget has soared, but air traffic has declined since the Great Recession. Why is more money needed for less?
The House Transportation Committee staff ran the numbers and came up with another way to achieve $600 million in cuts. They noted that the FAA did not use $200 million of its quarterly obligations in the first quarter and that it appeared to have budgeted $500 million for consultants, and $200 million for supplies and travel. (See page 977 of the Budget appendix.) So, by their math, the quarterly savings, a reduction in non-personnel costs and a hiring freeze would easily fund the sequester reductions.
Who’s right? Certainly the FAA statistics have the ring of “Washington monument” cuts — so dramatic that they seemed not quite credible. Let’s investigate.
We spoke to experts in the airline industry, and there is serious skepticism about the administration’s math. “There’s a lot of dramatics going on,” said Spencer Dickerson of the American Association of Airport Executives.
“Are you willing to have teachers laid off, or kids not have access to Head Start, or deeper cuts in student loan programs just because you want to protect a special tax interest loophole that the vast majority of Americans don’t benefit from? That’s the choice. That’s the question.”
— President Obama, remarks on sequestration, Feb. 19, 2013
“What sequestration is, it’s a terrible way to cut spending. I don’t disagree with that. But to not cut 2.5 percent out of the total budget over a year when it’s twice the size it was 10 years ago?”
— Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Fox News Sunday, Feb. 24
Can you trust what any politician says about the impact of the sequester? Let’s just say all facts and figures should be viewed with skepticism.
The sequester is a remarkably blunt instrument, slashing many programs with equal vigor. Another issue is that the federal fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1, has just seven months left, so these reductions must be squeezed into a shorter time frame. That heightens the pain to federal agencies, especially because some of the biggest parts of the budget (such as Social Security) have been walled off from any cuts.
There is also a ramp-up effect. On March 1, when the sequester goes into effect, the cuts are not immediate; they will build up over time, so the effects may be difficult to discern at first.
These cuts also would come after the federal budget has grown dramatically in recent years. In some ways, the reductions would undo budget increases that President Obama engineered as part of the stimulus law. But even so, this round of reductions would still leave many programs at spending levels near or above what they were when Obama took office. Whether that is a good or bad thing is in the eye of the beholder.
Let’s take a look at a common claim made by Republicans and then one program — Head Start — highlighted by the Obama administration. We will continue to dig into other claims later this week.
“We’re only cutting 2.5 percent of the budget.”
Virtually all of the $85 billion in reductions are being made in the discretionary budget — which is only about 31 percent of federal spending. So this figure, cited by many Republicans, is based on the wrong-sized pie.
“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children — like Georgia or Oklahoma — studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
— President Obama, State of the Union address, Feb. 12, 2013
“In states like Georgia that have made it a priority to educate our youngest children, states like Oklahoma, students don’t just show up in kindergarten and first grade more prepared to learn, they're also more likely to grow up reading and doing math at grade level, graduating from high school, holding a job, even forming more stable families.”
— President Obama, remarks on early childhood education, Decatur, Ga., Feb. 14. 2013
There’s a subtle difference in these two statements: the reference to “studies” is missing from the president’s speech in Georgia. In other words, the second statement is more of an opinion, rather than a stated fact.
Coincidentally or not, the president’s rhetoric was tweaked after The Fact Checker asked the White House for documentation on those studies — in particular, an explanation of what research showed that the children in states receiving preschool education were more likely to hold a job or form stable families.
Let’s look at what’s going on here.
President Obama on Thursday unveiled a proposal to greatly expand pre-K and other early childhood education programs. As a White House statement put it, Obama believes that “high-quality early education provides the foundation for all children’s success in school and helps to reduce achievement gaps.”
“Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health-care costs.”
— President Obama, State of the Union address, Feb. 12, 2013
“Obamacare, it was supposed to help middle-class Americans afford health insurance. But now, some people are losing the health insurance they were happy with. And because Obamacare created expensive requirements for companies with more than 50 employees, now many of these companies aren’t hiring. Not only that, they’re being forced to lay people off and switch from full-time employees to part-time workers.”
— Sen. Mario Rubio (R-Fla.), GOP State of the Union response, Feb. 12, 2013
Obama’s health-care law was in many ways the dog that did not bark during the State of the Union. Obama felt no need to defend it, and Republicans no longer declared that they would repeal it. Rubio simply referenced “Obamacare” as a government program that could hurt the middle class — while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in the tea party response, made no mention of the health-care law.
In other words, the law is more or less here to stay. The race is now on to define the law’s legacy and impact.
Let’s take a look at whether either man has the facts to back up their diametrically opposed statements.
We’ve written before about the effort by some Democrats to jump the gun on the impact of the health-care law — much of which has not been implemented. In the State of the Union address, Obama is more boldly making a connection between the law and a recent slowdown in health-care costs that former president Bill Clinton had also suggested in his speech at the Democratic National Convention last year.
A version of this column appeared in the print edition of The Washington Post.
A State of the Union address is often difficult to fact-check, no matter who is president. The speech is a product of many hands and is carefully vetted, so major errors of fact are relatively rare. But State of the Union addresses often are very political speeches, an argument for the president’s policies, so context is sometimes missing.
Here is a guide through some of President Obama’s more fact-challenged claims, in the order in which he made them. As is our practice with live events, we do not award Pinocchio rankings, which are reserved for complete columns.
“After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs.”
The president is cherry-picking a number that puts the improvement in the economy in the best possible light. The low point in jobs was reached in February 2010, and there has indeed been a gain of about 6 million jobs since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the data also show that since the start of his presidency, about 1.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy is about 3.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.
Every president announces a slew of initiatives in his State of the Union address. Here, in order of delivery, is a summary of the key proposals, pledges or priorities announced by President Obama a year ago — and what happened to them.
Given election-year politics and conflicts with congressional Republicans, Obama’s success rate on legislative proposals in 2012 is relatively poor — at least until the year-end “fiscal cliff” negotiations.
Obama: “We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. So let’s change it.”
No progress has been made on reforming the tax code. Obama has repeatedly proposed changing tax breaks to reward companies that stay in the United States and punish those that leave, but there has been little enthusiasm in Congress, even when Democrats controlled the House.
Question: “Looking at all this, do you regret that this White House suggested this in the first place?”
White House spokesman Jay Carney: “The notion much propounded by the spin doctors on the Republican side that the sequester is somehow something that the White House and the president alone wanted and desired is a fanciful confection. The fact of the matter is, as I think you all recall in the wake of the passage of the Budget Control Act, it was the Republicans, including the Republican leader of the House, who celebrated it as getting 98 percent of what they wanted.”
Question: “But does he regret it anyway? I mean, regardless of whose idea it was, does he now, looking at all of the consequences that are --”
Carney: “What he regrets is that we ever had a circumstance like this country was forced to contend with in the summer of 2011 that there was a certain amount of enthusiasm even within the Republican Party, especially within the House, for the prospect of the United States defaulting on its obligations for the first time in its history.”
— exchange at the White House press briefing, Feb. 8, 2013
Who is responsible for the notorious automatic spending cuts contained in the sequester — the White House or congressional Republicans?
It’s a little like asking what came first — the chicken or the egg?
Carney’s remarks above indicate how the answer differs depending on when you start counting.
In a bit of elegant spin, Carney first denies that the sequester is something “the White House and the president alone wanted and desired.” That actually wasn’t the question. Rather, the reporter wondered whether the president regretted proposing the sequester.
Then, Carney skips back, and pins the blame on the Republicans for using the debt ceiling, including the threat of default, as a tool to force the White House to make spending cuts.
In other words, the sequester never would have been proposed if not for the threat of default. (You could play this backwards game of leapfrog for a while. Republicans might argue that the debt ceiling fight would not have been happened if Obama had been more diligent about reducing the deficit. And then Obama might reach back and blame the Bush tax cuts for keeping revenue so low. And so on.)
We’ve taken two deep dives on this issue in the past, so here is a summary of our conclusions, along with links to the original articles.
Who first suggested the sequester?
During one of the presidential debates, Obama declared that he did not propose the sequester, but that Congress did. Drawing largely on the reporting of our colleague Bob Woodward, we concluded that claim was worth Four Pinocchios.
“I’ve offered sensible reforms to Medicare and other entitlements, and my health-care proposals achieve the same amount of savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that have been proposed by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission.”
— President Obama, remarks to reporters, Feb. 5, 2013
People in Washington can debate forever who is responsible for the sequester. We previously documented how reporting by Bob Woodward shows this originally was a White House idea, but then lawmakers in both parties embraced it. But when the president met with reporters Tuesday to discuss the looming sequester, it was this line about entitlement savings that jumped out at us.
Regular readers may recall that we took a rather long look at this question in November, back when Democrats tried to suggest that Obama’s health-care proposals yielded more savings than Bowles-Simpson. This sentence appears carefully crafted to avoid such problems. So let’s take a look — is this Fact Checker bait?
Bowles-Simpson, or more accurately the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is considered by many in Washington to be the model for a bipartisan approach for deficit reduction — even though the commission actually failed to endorse the final report. Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), were the co-chairmen of the 18-member commission. But you need to be wary when politicians make favorite comparisons between their policies and Bowles-Simpson proposals.
“The bipartisan deals we made in 2011 have cut discretionary spending by almost $1.5 trillion for fiscal years 2013 to 2022”
—memo to her colleagues from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Jan. 24, 2013
“Over the past two years, I’ve signed into law about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts.”
—President Obama, remarks at news conference, Jan. 14, 2013
As Washington begins another round of torturous budget talks, much of the discussion will be on how much deficit reduction has already been achieved—and how much is needed in the years going forward.
In order to even begin that discussion, all sides need to agree on the “baseline,” or the starting point. Amazingly, just adding or subtracting a few months from the baseline will result in a difference of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Democrats like to start the clock in August 2010, but Republicans argue that is a high point for discretionary spending, thus inflating the actual savings.
In a report last week, the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB) used the August 2010 yardstick, since that’s when the “deficit reduction conversation” began. But it pointedly noted that this “is by no means the only way to measure past savings” and “there is no simple answer to the question of how much deficit reduction has been enacted so far.” As the report put it:
It is worth noting that the discretionary savings in this number are in fact calculated from the high point of discretionary spending. Measuring either from a year later or from a year earlier would result in a smaller savings number because base discretionary spending (excluding the effects of the stimulus) actually increased between 2009 and 2010 due to larger-than-projected appropriations.
Some readers may regard this discussion as a bunch of Washington funny numbers, but stakes are high. The more lawmakers believe they have already cut spending, the less compelled they will be to cut more in the future. Politically, the level of spending cuts achieved is also important when calculating the balance of cuts and revenue increases needed for further deficit reduction. (As always, we take no position on whether more or fewer cuts are needed.)
The CRFB, in its report, argued that $2.35 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years has been enacted so far, including tax increases, but that another $2.2 trillion was needed to reduce ratio of debt-to-gross-domestic-product to 70 percent by the end of decade. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes the case instead that $1.4 trillion is needed to achieve a 73-percent ratio. The difference in those numbers could have real world consequences for government programs.
The Congressional Budget Office this week will release a new economic and budgetary forecast, which will result in a new set of spending and debt projections that could upend all of these calculations, particularly if it forecasts higher economic growth.
To further educate readers, we will take a look at the arguments for and against using the August 2010 baseline—and then what happens when we use a different yardstick. We have consulted with various budget experts around town, on both sides of the issue, and thus summarize the argument below.
Why the August 2010 baseline?
■The deficit reduction commission headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson relied on the August 2010 baseline, with adjustments, in crafting their report and thus this is a logical starting point for measuring progress since the release of their report in December 2010.
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy using the skeet range at Camp David.
This column has been updated with a new ruling
The New Republic: “Have you ever fired a gun?”
President Obama: “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.”
New Republic: ”The whole family?”
Obama: “Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.”
— from an interview published Jan. 27, 2013
A number of readers have raised questions about the president’s statement that he goes skeet shooting “all the time” while at Camp David. In these suspicious times, they would like to see some evidence.
But the White House has been oddly silent about the matter.
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said he did know how often the president has gone skeet shooting and that he has not seen a photograph. “When he goes to Camp David, he goes to spend time with his family and friends and relax, not to produce photographs,” Carney told reporters.
Of course, this did not stop the White House from releasing these photographs in 2011. (Obama is shown at Sasha Obama’s birthday party at Camp David; the second was taken the same weekend of Vice President Biden, but that is not at Camp David):
Then, on Wednesday, Carney tersely said he had no response to a challenge from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) for a skeet shooting contest with the president.
We e-mailed a White House official on Tuesday and then Carney twice on Wednesday asking for the name of an Obama guest at Camp David who could confirm the president’s account. (The White House does not publicly release the names of guests.) We received no response all three times.
So let’s review what we do know.
In skeet shooting, participants use shotguns to hit clay disks that are automatically flung into air, in an effort to simulate bird hunting. An interesting blog about Camp David, in a post from 2010, reports that many presidents have enjoyed skeet shooting at the rustic retreat. (Check out the photo of John F. Kennedy skeet shooting with future Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.) The blog also displays overhead images over the years showing that the skeet range is located near the helicopter pad.
“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.”
— President Obama, remarks on gun violence, Jan. 16, 2013
“Studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement.”
— “Now Is the Time: The president’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence,” released Jan. 16
Earlier this week, we gave this claim a “verdict pending.” We said we faced a bit of a conundrum because the 40 percent statistic was based on a single, relatively small survey of 251 people from nearly two decades ago — but that foes of gun control had made it difficult for further research to be conducted.
We also gave kudos to Vice President Biden for acknowledging that the statistic might not be accurate. So we said we would be watching carefully for how the statistic would be used by gun-control advocates in the future.
We also noted that the microdata used in the original survey could be accessed by researchers. A pair of readers, including John R. Lott Jr. (a noted skeptic of gun restrictions) downloaded the data and presented us with an Excel analysis to argue that the words used by the President and the White House—“gun purchases” and “gun sales” — were inaccurate. That’s because the original report on the survey, from which the statistic is derived, referred to “gun acquisitions” and “transactions” — much broader categories of data.
“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun.”
— President Obama, remarks on gun violence, Jan. 16, 2013
Gun-control advocates frequently cite the claim that the Brady Law has kept 1.5 million of the “wrong people” from getting a firearm, but the number has come under attack from gun-industry supporters as a bogus figure.
We’ve spent several days trying to unravel this question, because it is complicated and the data are sometimes murky. There are certainly gaps in the information — and a surprising lack of prosecutorial follow-up, which has further muddied the picture.
Let’s examine what is happening here.
The Brady law — named after Ronald Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, who was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt on the president — requires federally licensed firearms sellers to check whether a purchaser is prohibited from owning a gun because of a criminal history. Generally, this is done through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) through either the FBI or state agencies.
“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.”
--President Obama, remarks on gun violence, Jan. 16, 2013
“Studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement.”
--“Now Is the Time: The president’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence,” released Jan. 16
“That’s why we need, and I’ve recommended to the president, universal background checks. Studies show that up to 40 percent of the people -- and there’s no -- let me be honest with you again, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because of the lack of the ability of federal agencies to be able to even keep records, we can’t say with absolute certainty what I’m about to say is correct. But the consensus is about 40 percent of the people who buy guns today do so outside the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check] system, outside the background check system.”
--Vice President Biden, remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Jan. 17
Regular readers of this column know that we are often suspicious when politicians inject the phrase “up to” before citing a statistic. That’s because it often suggests the politician is picking the upper value in a range of possibilities.
A reader expressed deep skepticism of this 40-percent figure when Obama used it. We were further struck by Biden’s admission he could not say with “absolute certainty” that it was correct. So let’s investigate.
The White House says the figure comes from a 1997 Institute of Justice report, written by Philip Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago. This study is based on data collected from a survey in 1994, just the Brady law requirements for background checks was coming into effect. (In fact, the questions concerned purchases in 1993 and 1994, while Brady law went into effect in early 1994.) In other words, this is a really old figure.
“It is pure baloney to say we have to pay the bills for things Congress has already approved. We are drawing the line on future spending, not the debt or obligations to Social Security, Medicare and the military, which can all be met without an immediate rise in the debt ceiling.”
— Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, in a statement, Jan. 14
Kremer issued that statement after President Obama, in a news conference on Monday, argued that if Congress did not raise the debt limit, the United States would not be able to pay for services rendered in the past: “If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits will be delayed,” Obama said. “We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners.”
This is an interesting question, which we explored before the last debt limit showdown in 2011. Then, we examined whether Social Security benefits could still be paid even if the debt ceiling was breached; the answer was a bit inconclusive. But after that last crisis, the Treasury Department’s inspector general provided Congress with a detailed look at the options the administration had considered for such a crisis.
Moreover, Kremer has upped the ante by saying the government could pay not only Social Security benefits but also Medicare and the military — three of the biggest parts of the budget — as well as interest payments on the debt. Let’s examine whether her claim is credible.
This year’s debt ceiling showdown is exacerbated by the fact that February is just about the worst month in terms of government finances because relatively little money is collected while lots of bills must be paid, including income-tax refunds. Both the Treasury Department and the Congressional Research Service say that there is tremendous legal uncertainty about whether some payments could be honored while others ignored if the nation goes about the borrowing limit.
“I think if you look at the history, getting votes for the debt ceiling is always difficult, and budgets in this town are always difficult.”
— President Obama, news conference, Jan. 14, 2013
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. ... I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”
— Then-Sen. Barack Obama, floor speech in the Senate, March 16, 2006
As the saying goes, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” This is certainly true of the votes to boost the national debt limit, where almost by tradition, the party not holding the presidency refused to support an increase in the debt limit. (One big exception, as we have noted, is in 1953 during the Eisenhower presidency.)
The president has acknowledged that his previous vote against the debt limit was “a political vote.” On Monday, at a news conference, he urged lawmakers to boost the debt limit without conditions: “We’re going to have to make sure that people are looking at this in a responsible way, rather than just through the lens of politics.” (In other words, don’t do what I did back when I was a lawmaker.)
In making his case, Obama noted: “The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.” He added that he was willing to have a “conversation” about reducing the deficit, but the debt limit was not the right vehicle.
With that in mind, we were curious to look back at Obama’s 2006 speech and examine the case he made at the time for not supporting a boost in the debt limit. Below is the entire speech. At key points, we will offer commentary or further explanation.
Obama’s 2006 speech on the debt limit
“Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem. The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.”
Here, Obama is sounding a bit Tea Partyish.
“In the Senate, I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind, even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”
— President Obama, nominating former senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, Jan. 7, 2013
Washington always loves a confirmation fight.
President Obama’s nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel is especially interesting because most of the initial opposition is from Hagel’s fellow Republicans — even though his positions on social issues such as abortion rights (a vote against allowing servicewomen to use overseas military hospitals for abortions) and gay rights are fairly conservative.
Meanwhile, Democrats have long collected evidence of what they consider Hagel’s anti-Israel positions — which is now being used as ammunition by Hagel’s foes.
Hagel says his positions on Israel has been “completely distorted,” though he acknowledges that “I have also questioned some very cavalier attitudes taken about very complicated issues in the Middle East.” Certainly, Hagel has expressed sentiments that many U.S. politicians tend to avoid, including a consistent concern for the plight of Palestinians.
Our colleague Richard Cohen argues that such uniformity in American views hampers effective policy-making: “He could be the necessary corrective to the Netanyahu government’s expectation that anything Israel wants from Washington it’s entitled to get. Nothing Hagel has said about Israel is not said in the Israeli press on a daily basis.”
Obama, during the 2008 campaign, also criticized what he called an “unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel.” But pro-Israel advocates, such as our colleague Jennifer Rubin, have found Hagel’s comments deeply troubling.
We take no position on the matter, as the meaning and importance of his statements are rather subjective. But readers can judge for themselves.
Here is a guide to some of the most controversial statements made by Hagel, along with the context in which he made them.
“The Israeli government essentially continues to play games... Desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away. And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”
— Aug. 27, 1998, after a visit to the Middle East
“We stopped that middle class tax hike. But we didn’t stop there. …Last year we started reducing the deficit through $1 trillion in spending cuts. And the agreement we reached this week will reduce the deficit even more by asking the wealthiest two percent of Americans to pay higher taxes for the first time in two decades.”
— President Obama, Jan. 2, 2013, in a video for supporters
“American Taxpayer Relief Act Reduces Deficits by $737 Billion”
— headline on a White House blog post
We’re back from vacation and, like many Americans, have been trying to figure out the details of the “fiscal-cliff” deal — one of those classic middle-of-the-night congressional compromises that please virtually no one.
The White House, by its own accounting, ended up with $737 billion in deficit reduction, a far cry from the $2 trillion or so that it originally sought. But that hasn’t stopped President Obama from touting the deal as a victory in a campaign-style video for supporters.
But a politician who highlights good news often leaves out the bad news. Let’s see what’s missing from Obama’s presentation.
As we have noted before, The Fact Checker covered the passage of the Bush tax cuts in 2001, which were originally promoted as a way to deal with the looming problem of having too little national debt. (Oops.) The most striking thing is that the deal permanently locks in place virtually all of those tax cuts — something that Democratic leaders had once said would be an economic travesty.
“The President has put a balanced, reasonable proposal on the table that achieves significant deficit reduction and reflects real compromise by meeting the Republicans halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending from where each side started.”
— White House Press secretary Jay Carney, statement, Dec. 18, 2012
There are some tentative signs that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner might reach a deal that would blunt the impact of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” But, as always in these Washington negotiations, a lot depends on whether the two sides actually agree on the bottom-line numbers.
Thus we were struck by White House spokesman Jay Carney’s assertion that President Obama had met the GOP “halfway” on revenue and “more than halfway on spending.” How does the White House figure that — and does the GOP agree? Here’s what the two sides say, based on interviews with officials in both camps.
We are going to get into a numerator-denominator problem fairly quickly because the two sides simply don’t start from the same place. And these are just the numbers — there may be real policy differences behind these figures.
“American manufacturing is growing at the fastest pace since the 1990s.”
— President Obama, remarks at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant, Dec. 10. 2012
The presidential campaign may be over, but President Obama has kept up a pace of campaign-style speeches to build support for his push to raise taxes on the wealthy.
On Monday, he reached back to the campaign to cite one of his favorite statistics. Sounds great, but it is missing some context. Let’s explain.
In January, the White House issued a report touting the private-sector jobs record since the depths reached in early 2010. The report noted: “Over the past two years, the economy has added 334,000 manufacturing jobs — the strongest two-year period of manufacturing job growth since the late 1990s.”
“The proposal calls for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue, twice the amount you supported during the campaign.”
— Dec. 3, 2012 letter signed by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House leaders to President Obama
During the negotiations over the “fiscal cliff,” President Obama has proposed $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over 10 years. House Republicans have countered with $800 billion in new revenue, which in a letter to Obama they said was his proposal in the just-concluded presidential campaign.
From the White House perspective, all Obama did was dust off his tax plans contained in the 2013 budget, submitted earlier this year. That plan contained about $1.9 trillion in tax increases, with about $300 billion in tax cuts, for a net tax increase of nearly $1.6 trillion. The net figure is actually the administration’s goal in these talks.
Republicans argue they hit the target set by Obama during the campaign, while the administration says Republicans are only halfway there. Both sides have good evidence for their case, and we’ve spent several days reviewing campaign speeches, ads and the presidential debates in an effort to come to a conclusion on this matter.
Obama’s 2013 budget plan, with its $1.6 trillion in tax increases, was dead on arrival. The core of the tax provisions was restoring the pre-Bush margin tax rates on the top 2 percent of tax filers, but that would raise just $442 billion over 10 years. But the proposal also would have eliminated other Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, totaling $165 billion, and revamped estate and gift taxes to add $143 billion. It also boosted capital gains and dividend taxes on the wealthy — that added another $243 billion.
“We've laid out a detailed plan of spending cuts. $600 billion in spending in mandatory programs over 10 years. They phase in gradually, they build over time. They are good policy. They make a lot of sense.”
— Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dec. 2, 2012
“We've laid out a very comprehensive detailed framework of how we do it and in what stages with $600 billion of spending cuts spread over 10 years in entitlement programs.”
— Geithner, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dec. 2
The debate over the “fiscal cliff’ is largely about numbers — and clearly, $600 billion was the Treasury secretary’s talking point of the day on the Sunday talk shows.
Eager to rebut Republican claims that the administration was not serious about reining in entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Geithner insisted the administration did have “a detailed plan of spending cuts,” totaling $600 billion, in what he described as “mandatory programs” or “entitlement programs.”
But his language is a bit slippery. Let’s explore what’s going on.
President Obama’s opening bid in the battle of wills with Republicans is essentially his fiscal year 2013 budget, so it’s fairly easy to get the details by looking at Table S-9 of the White House budget. Every policy change is detailed there across 20 pages of numbers, though a few items have already been enacted.
Negative ads often work. But clearly some negative ads work better than others.
Going over the exit poll data, it is striking to see that the messages sent by the Obama campaign were effective, while the messages of the Romney campaign largely fell on deaf ears.
Let’s take a look at three examples.
The Bain attacks
The Obama campaign — with an early assist by former House speaker Newt Gingrich — sought to define former governor Mitt Romney as a corporate raider with little regard for the concerns of middle-class Americans. Regular readers of this column will recall that we were frequently highly critical of these ads (for those who still care, here is a collection of columns), because the ads often stretched the facts and took complex business deals out of context.
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.
“Mitt Romney’s plan… …rolls back regulations on the banks that crashed our economy.”
“Catastrophic cuts to education”
“Millionaires will get one of the largest tax cuts ever…while middle class families pay more.”
— voiceover from a new Barack Obama ad, “Remember”
Just as Mitt Romney recently released an ad with a “greatest hits” of misleading claims, so too has the Obama campaign. Let’s spin this record again too! As we shall see, one song is more or less on-key, but others are off-kilter.
“Mitt Romney’s plan… …rolls back regulations on the banks that crashed our economy.”
This statement, by itself, is relatively correct. Romney has said he would repeal the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, saying the regulations are “overwhelming,” but he has been vague about what he would replace it with.
“Mr. ‘Severely Conservative’ wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year.... We’ve got to name this condition he’s going through. I think it’s called ‘Romnesia.’”
— President Obama, Oct. 19, 2012
In his stump speeches, President Obama has added a light-hearted attack on Mitt Romney that argues that the GOP presidential candidate suffers from “Romnesia” — an ailment that Obama mischievously adds is a preexisting condition that would be covered under the new health-care law.
Early in the election campaign, Democrats tried to make the argument that Romney is a flip-flopper, and we took an extensive look at their claims. (We found three correct statements out of ten items.) But then Democrats dropped the idea--until now.
Obama is fairly specific in his examples, so here is a quick round-up and analysis of Obama’s claims of “Romnesia” made during in appearance in Fairfax, Va., earlier in October.
“If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you’d sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have Romnesia.”
Obama is referring to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the first bill he signed as president. The law updated the statute of limitations for wage discrimination claims, making it easier to pursue such claims.
“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:
“The sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.”
— President Obama, in the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 2012
As the saying goes, success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan. And if there ever is an orphan in Washington these days, it is that odd duck known as “sequestration.”
We’ve earlier written that there are bipartisan fingerprints over the looming defense cuts that Mitt Romney has sought to pin on President Obama. Now, in the final presidential debate, Obama sought to toss the hot potato of sequestration — the process that is forcing those defense cuts and reductions in domestic spending — into Congress’s lap.
Fortunately, there is a detailed and contemporaneous look at the debt ceiling deal that led to the current budget crunch: Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics.” The book clearly had the full cooperation of top White House and congressional officials. With the help of our colleague, we took a tour through the relevant sections in order to determine the accuracy of the president’s statement.
The battle over raising the debt ceiling consumed Washington in the summer of 2011, with Republicans refusing to agree to raise it unless spending was cut by an equivalent amount. Obama pressed but failed to get an agreement on raising revenue as part of the package. Woodward’s book details the efforts to come up with an enforcement mechanism that would make sure the cuts took place — and virtually every mention shows this was a White House gambit.
“President Obama ended the Iraq War…Mitt Romney would have left thirty thousand troops there … and called bringing them home ‘tragic.’ Obama’s brought thirty thousand soldiers back from Afghanistan. And has a responsible plan to end the war. Romney calls it Obama’s ‘biggest mistake.’”
— Voiceover from a new Obama campaign television ad
On the eve of the final presidential debate — which focused on foreign policy — the Obama campaign released a new television ad that uses Mitt Romney’s words to indict how he would have handled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the president echoed some of those claims during the debate:
“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. And that certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”
“I’m sorry, there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.”
But both campaigns have often taken their opponent’s words out of context. Is that the case here as well?
Ending the war in Iraq was a central Obama campaign promise in the 2008 election. But Romney is correct that the Obama administration tried to negotiate a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that would have allowed the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq after an earlier agreement reached by the Bush administration lapsed at the end of 2011.
(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 23 print edition of The Washington Post.)
Foreign policy is generally a difficult area to fact check — differences can be more of opinions than numbers — but that did not stop President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney from making questionable claims.
“Just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now…. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day.”
“There was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.”
Romney has the better part of this argument. Here’s what he said in his Oct. 8 VMI speech: “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence. The president tried — and failed — to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.”
Romney did not technically say that troops should still be in Iraq. And Romney is correct — Obama did try to extend a status of forces agreement that had been originally signed by the Bush administration, but could not get a deal with the government of Iraq that would have given immunity for U.S. forces from prosecution under Iraqi law. So now Obama stresses the fact that he has removed all troops from Iraq, while knocking Romney for supporting what he originally had hoped to achieve.
During Monday night’s presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney on foreign policy, we will again be posting live fact checks on The Washington Post’s Election 2012 Blog. We will have a full report on this Web page that will post in the wee hours of Tuesday.
Remember, if you hear something fishy, send a tweet to #FactCheckThis.
In the meantime, here are links to our fact checks of the first and second presidential debate and the vice presidential debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, as well as links to some of the key issues likely to come up in this debate. We are fairly certain some previously debunked claims will be repeated.
We looked at a baker’s dozens of suspect claims.
Lots of fishy facts were tossed around by Biden and the Republican vice presidential nominee, and we examined 18.
Some further digging into claims from the first two debates.
“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
“So, if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, it’ll bankrupt them.”
-- Excerpts of Barack Obama interview featured in an American Energy Alliance ad
This ad uses cropped comments from a January 2008 interview between then-Sen. Barack Obama and the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board.
The president’s critics have cited these same comments as proof that the current administration is bent on destroying the fossil-fuel industry and the jobs that go along with it. The American Energy Alliance, a fossil-fuel advocacy group that produced the ad, said on its Web site that “President Obama is waging a war on affordable energy.”
Generally speaking, taped comments are factually accurate, barring any editing to manipulate language or splice together unrelated remarks. But we’re always suspicious when an ad strings together snippets of a discussion. After all, cutting at just the right place can leave a thought incomplete, giving viewers the wrong impression.
Let’s examine Obama’s 2008 interview and his coal-industry policies to determine whether this video provides adequate context. Is the president preventing energy prices from dropping? Has he failed to protect jobs in the coal industry?
The comments in this ad appear in reverse chronological order. The remarks about coal-fired plants came first, as the candidate was responding to a question about how he squares his previous support for the coal industry -- including a bill he introduced in 2007 to promote coal-to-liquid fuels -- with his call to fight global climate change.
“Trying to mislead us? That’s wrong. But banning all abortions? Only if you vote for him.”
— Narration from Barack Obama campaign ad, referring to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney engaged in an ad war last week with President Obama, with both sides trying to define the GOP challenger’s stance on abortion. The exchange was no surprise considering that recent polls show Romney closing the gap among women. A USA Today/Gallup poll last week had the Republican virtually tied with his opponent among female likely voters.
Romney’s ad features a woman concluding that, contrary to what the Obama campaign has said, the GOP candidate doesn’t oppose contraceptives or abortion in cases of rape and incest. The president’s team shot back with an ad that shows Romney saying during a 2007 Republican primary debate that he would be “delighted” to sign a bill banning all abortions.
Romney’s abortion positions involved some well-documented twists and turns over the years, but we wondered how accurately the Obama ad depicts his current stance. Let’s take a look at the GOP candidate’s record and examine the full context of his 2007 debate comments.
Former Fact Checker columnist Michael Dobbs created a detailed list back in 2007 that details Mitt Romney’s flip-flops on the abortion issue. There is no doubt that the Republican’s stance has evolved.
“Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military’s not asking for them.”
— President Obama, in the second presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012
The assertion that Mitt Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion over 10 years, even though the military does not want it, has been a key claim by President Obama in presidential debates and Vice President Biden in the vice presidential debate.
It is such a large sum that it is probably difficult for most readers to grasp. But, as we often warn about big budget numbers, it is also a figure subject to so many variables that it should be treated with skepticism. It is certainly not a number that the Romney campaign accepts, though for some reason Romney has not tried hard to rebut it in the debates. (GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan disputed the number in his debate with Biden.)
There are two parts to this statement we will examine — the $2 trillion number and the claim that the military has not asked for this budget. We obviously take no position on the proper size of the U.S. military or the right defense policy. We just want to explain the numbers. Warning: It’s complicated.
The $2 trillion figure stems from a statement in Romney’s National Security White Paper:
Video: Watch the exchange between President Obama and Mitt Romney on Libya at Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
The White House took issue with our instant fact check of the exchange on Libya between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. This is probably the pivotal moment of the second presidential debate.
“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”
“I think interesting the president just said something, which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.... I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
The moderator, Candy Crowley then jumped in. The first part of her comment has been often replayed, but less focus has been on the second part.
“He did call it an act of terror,” Crowley told Romney. “It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”
This is how we assessed the exchange:
What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? We covered this previously in our extensive timeline of administration statements on Libya.
“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” Obama said.
But the president did not say “terrorism”— and Romney got tripped up when he repeated the “act of terror” phrasing.
Otherwise, Romney’s broader point is accurate — that it took the administration days to concede that the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad. (The reporting is contradictory on whether there was indeed a demonstration outside the mission.) By our count, it took eight days for an administration official to concede that the deaths in Libya was the result of a “terrorist attack.”
More to Romney’s point, Obama continued to resist saying the “T” word, instead repeatedly bringing up the video, even in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25. On Sept. 26 — 15 days after the attack — the White House spokesman felt compelled to assert “it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the president’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.”
But White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor wrote us to dispute this assessment. He noted that Obama made three statements that referenced “act of terror” in the days following the attack. He further stated that the statement by counterterrorism director Matt Olsen was based on specific criteria regarding the term “international terrorism” and that “there was considerable confusion on the ground” about what actually happened in Benghazi before the attack.
The debate over Libya has become so politically charged and confusing that it’s time for a refresher course to sort this out.
Just as it is sometimes possible for Supreme Court justices to pick and choose among legal precedents in deciding a case, here too one can construct different narratives about the administration’s words. Here’s the case the administration is trying to make now.
(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 17 print edition of The Washington Post.)
We heard some oldies but goodies in Tuesday night’s feisty debate between President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney. Here are some factual highlights — or lowlights:
“When Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said we’re going to bet on American workers.”
“He said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt. And that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did.”
“What Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs.”
This interesting exchange is drawn from a headline — “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” — on an opinion article written by Romney for the New York Times. But he did not say that in the article. (He repeated the line, however, on television.)
Although “bankrupt” often conjures up images of liquidation, Romney is correct in that he called for a “managed bankruptcy.” This is a process in which the company uses the bankruptcy code to discharge its debts, but emerges from the process a leaner, less leveraged company.
Ultimately, along with getting nearly $80 billion in loans and other assistance from the Bush and Obama administrations, GM and Chrysler did go through a managed bankruptcy.
But many independent analysts have concluded that taking the approach recommended by Romney would not have worked in 2008, simply because the credit markets were so frozen that a bankruptcy was not a viable option at the time.
Here’s how the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, in a unanimous finding, framed the issue in a January 2011 report: “The circumstances in the global credit markets in November and December 2008 were unlike any the financial markets had seen in decades. U.S. domestic credit markets were frozen in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, and international sources of funding were extremely limited.”
Obama’s claim of 1 million jobs being saved is based on a Bush administration estimate when it extended loans to the automakers. The Bush administration’s Council of Economic Advisers said that “the direct costs of American automakers failing and laying off their workers in the near term would result in a more than 1 percent reduction in real GDP [gross domestic product] growth and about 1.1 million workers losing their jobs, including workers for automotive suppliers and dealers.”
During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, we will be posting live fact checks on The Washington Post’s Election 2012 Blog. Then, we will have a full report on this Web page that will post in the wee hours of Tuesday. (WATCH: Live debate video)
Remember, if you hear something fishy, send a tweet to #FactCheckThis.
In the meantime, here are links to our fact checks of the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, as well as links to some of the key issues likely to come up in this debate. We are fairly certain some previously debunked claims will once again be repeated.
We looked at a baker’s dozens of suspect claims.
Lots of fishy facts were tossed around by Biden and Ryan, and we examined 18.
Some further digging into claims from the two debates.
“It’s one of the hardest decisions a family can make: Realizing a nursing home is the only choice. For many middle class families, Medicaid is the only way to afford the care. But as governor, Mitt Romney raised nursing home fees eight times. Mitt Romney’s budget cuts Medicaid by one-third and burdens families with the cost of nursing home care.”
-- Narration from President Obama campaign ad
The Obama campaign last week released this ad suggesting GOP challenger Mitt Romney would slash Medicaid funding and leave families with greater costs for nursing-home care. It also claims that the Republican candidate raised fees on nursing homes while serving as governor of Massachusetts, as though this is evidence of his attitude toward the elderly in need.
Let’s examine Romney’s Medicaid proposals and find out what he did to those nursing-home fees to determine whether this ad is misleading viewers.
To start, let’s quickly distinguish between Medicare and Medicaid. Both are federal entitlement programs, but Medicare provides healthcare benefits to seniors while Medicaid does the same for the poor, the disabled, and in some cases the elderly — it provides benefits including highly expensive nursing-home care for about six million seniors.
Rep. Paul Ryan: “7.4 million seniors are projected to lose their current Medicare Advantage coverage they have. That’s a $3,200 benefit cut.”
Vice President Biden: “That didn’t happen.”
Ryan: “What we’re saying. . .”
Biden: “More people signed up.”
Ryan: “These are from your own actuaries.”
Biden: “More people signed up for Medicare Advantage after the change.”
— exchange during the vice presidential debate, Oct. 11, 2012
We had done a quick roundup of many claims in the vice presidential debate but wanted to dig deeper into this interesting exchange. Afterward, we also have a look at a pair of outstanding items from the first presidential debate.
Many viewers were probably puzzled by this back-and-forth over Medicare between Vice President Biden and the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). The strange thing is that both are right — but Ryan has a distinct edge in the argument.
Medicare Advantage is the private alternative to the traditional insurance program for seniors, with 13.1 million beneficiaries, or about 27 percent of the Medicare population. We’ve previously explored some of the debate concerning the $145 billion reduction in projected spending for Medicare Advantage contained in the health-care law, which is intended to reduce costs in a program in which the government pays more per senior than in traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
VIDEO: Highlights from Thurday night's debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan in Danville, Kentucky.
(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 12 print edition of The Washington Post.)
There were lots of feisty words and fishy facts in Thursday’s debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. Here are some quick highlights.
“We weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security.”
— Biden, speaking of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya
Biden’s bold statement was directly contradicted by State Department officials just this week, in testimony before a congressional panel and in unclassified cables released by a congressional committee.
“All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources,” said Eric Nordstrom, the top regional security officer in Libya earlier this year. A Utah National Guardsman who led a security team, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, said: “We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met.”
Maybe Biden was too busy in debate prep to watch?
UPDATE: In a bit of post-debate clean-up of Biden’s remarks, the White House on Friday said Biden was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the administration.
During tonight’s vice presidential debate, we will be posting live fact checks on The Washington Post’s Election 2012 Blog. Then, we will have a full report on this Web page that will post in the wee hours of Friday.
Remember, if you hear something fishy, send a tweet to #FactCheckThis.
In the meantime, here are links to some of our previous fact checks about Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, as well as links to some of the key issues likely to come up in this debate.
“Romney vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature that would have stopped the state from outsourcing contracts overseas.”
Biden loves this claim, which he said could be fact checked. We did, and it does not add up. Romney had a plan to curb the outsourcing of jobs out of state, but the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill that both the liberal Boston Globe and conservative Boston Herald said was so poorly conceived that they urged a veto. The Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature did not override his veto, even though it overturned 117 others, suggesting there was little real support for the measure.
Pity the poor voter in a swing state in the final weeks of this campaign. Whenever you turn on the television, there is yet another campaign ad from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — and most of the time they are bashing the other guy.
We have reviewed and rated many of these ads over the past months, but as the ad spending reaches a crescendo, we thought it would be useful to once again examine some of the most frequently aired ads. With the help of Kantar Media, we identified the 10 ads from each campaign with the greatest spending on them. We then selected five from each side, with a bias toward picking ads that were released recently. (There is one additional Romney ad that we note — but do not rate.) Where appropriate, we also include links to our original column on the ad.
Looking at these ads, we are struck by the consistent themes, with Obama portraying Romney as a heartless corporate raider and Romney portraying Obama as a hapless president.
Obama campaign ads
This sly, almost wicked ad features Mitt Romney signing “America the beautiful” while images flash of his alleged connections overseas — his Bain Capital firms shipping jobs to Mexico and China, outsourcing jobs to India as governor, and his use of a Swiss bank account and tax havens overseas. We did not rate this specific ad, but have investigated most of these claims and they are exaggerated or lack evidence.
“During the debates, Mitt Romney told America how he plans to pay for those tax cuts he wants to give America’s wealthiest tax payers... by killing Big Bird! We’ve got to stop this guy. Please donate what you can.”
As part of a fundraising appeal, the Obama campaign has claimed that Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich. “Save Big Bird! Vote Democratic,” the Obama Web site declares.
This appeal comes as the Obama campaign also launched a satirical ad highlighting Romney’s mention of the Sesame Street character during the first presidential debate. “Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street,” the ad intones.
The fundraising appeal has a goal of $1 million, though as of early Wednesday, not a cent had been raised. Still, let’s examine what Romney actually said to see if it is worthy of all of this attention.
Below we have a clip of the debate exchange, which came after Romney detailed how he would try to cut spending to reduce the deficit. He first mentioned eliminating the president’s health care law, which he called Obamacare. Then he listed another item.
“President Obama continues to distort Mitt Romney’s economic plan. The latest? Not telling the truth about Mitt Romney’s tax plan.”
— new Mitt Romney campaign ad
“So lowering the rates, as Mitt Romney has said he would do, to 20 percent — $2.7 trillion over 10 years; eliminating the AMT [alternative minimum tax] — $700 billion; repealing high-income payroll tax — $300 billion; ending estate tax — $150 billion; lowering the corporate rate from 35 to 25 [percent] — $1.1 trillion. That adds up to $4.8 trillion. If you factor in interest for additional borrowing, you get to $5 trillion.”
— Jennifer Psaki, Obama campaign traveling press secretary, Oct. 7, 2012
$5 trillion! It’s such a big figure.
President Obama says Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion over 10 years; Mitt Romney adamantly denies it. He has a new ad slamming Obama for this claim — while repeating a charge that Obama has a secret plan to raise taxes that we already deemed worthy of Three Pinocchios.
So the question arises: Is the Obama claim accurate?
Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman, laid out the math to reporters on Sunday. There’s just one problem: Romney also has said he will make his plan “revenue neutral” by eliminating tax loopholes and deductions, much as Ronald Reagan did when he passed a tax reform in 1986.
Mitt Romney says he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. So here’s a quick question: Can I borrow $18,000 to help pay for my birth control? Thanks!”
-- E-card featured on President Obama’s campaign web site
This e-card falls in line with the Democratic claims of a supposed GOP “war on women.” Interestingly, it also plays into the Republican notion that Democrats want people to be dependent on government from cradle to grave, an issue that came up with the “Life of Julia” infographic that earned Three Pinocchios for President Obama’s campaign.
In this case, we have a presumably young woman asking her mom to lend a substantial sum of money for birth control. The idea is that she won’t be able to afford contraceptives without the national healthcare reform law.
We noticed the Obama campaign also tweeted a graphic quoting GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan saying, “It will be gone. I can guarantee you that,” supposedly in reference to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraceptive coverage without co-payments.
Let’s take a deeper look at these issues to determine what’s going on with the $18,000 figure and what Ryan was talking about when he said, “It will be gone.”
Before diving into the issue of costs and quotes, let’s review some background information on the so-called contraceptive mandate.
“Who will raise taxes on the middle class? According to an independent, non-partisan study, Barack Obama and the liberals will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000. The same organization says the plan from Mitt Romney and common-sense conservatives is not a tax hike on the middle class.”
— voiceover from a new Mitt Romney campaign ad
“Why won’t Romney level with us about his tax plan, which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? Because according to experts, he’d have to raise taxes on the middle class — or increase the deficit to pay for it.”
— voiceover from new Obama campaign ad
Politicians love nothing more than to point to an “independent” study that backs up their political position. Thus, in the first presidential debate, President Obama could claim that GOP rival Mitt Romney has a plan to cut taxes by $5 trillion, with tax breaks for the wealthy and tax hikes for the middle-class. And Romney could adamantly deny that, citing six studies of his own.
There is usually less to such studies than the claims they are said to support. Let’s explore how such studies are used in new advertisements the campaigns released just hours after the debate ended.
First, the Romney ad. The “independent, nonpartisan” organization cited by the Romney campaign is the American Enterprise Institute, which bills itself as “committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” A who’s who of Republican heavyweights — such as Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Marc Thiessen, Danielle Pletka, John Yoo, and John Bolton — is affiliated with it, but in order to maintain its tax status as a 501(c)3 organization it cannot proclaim any political affiliation.
(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 4 print edition of The Washington Post.)
There they go again.
Both President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney tossed out a blizzard of statistics and facts, often of dubious origin. Here are some highlights from the first presidential debate of 2012, with thanks to the readers who tweeted suggestions to #FactCheckThis
“Governor Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts — that’s another trillion dollars”
— President Obama
“I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut”
— Governor Romney
How can both facts be true? The $5 trillion figure comes from the fact that Romney has proposed to cut tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that would reduce tax revenue by nearly $500 billion in 2015, or about $5 trillion over 10 years
“Their plan on Social Security, the one they have now, would raise taxes on your Social Security. Right now the majority of seniors, over 50 percent, pay zero income tax on their Social Security benefit. You have another group that pays no more than half — income tax on half of that. And you have another group that pays income tax on 15 percent. Well, if Governor Romney's plan goes into effect, it can mean that everyone — every one of you, would be paying more on — taxes on your Social Security. The average senior would have to pay $460 a year more in tax for their Social Security. Ladies and gentlemen, that's why these — while these guys are out there having — hemorrhaging tax cuts for the super-wealthy.”
— Vice President Biden, speech at Boca Raton, Fla., Sept. 28, 2012
“The Romney/Ryan plan could raise taxes on seniors by approximately $500 a year — all to support tax cuts for multi-millionaires. Send an eCard to say that's just not right.”
— Obama Web site
Cue the scary music. Having repeatedly — misleadingly — beaten up the GOP presidential ticket for its plan to overhaul Medicare, Vice President Biden traveled to Florida last week to allege that Mitt Romney plans to raise taxes on Social Security benefits.
The Romney campaign insists that this is false and that Romney has no plan to raise anyone’s taxes. We will note that the Obama Web site simply says Romney “could” do this, but the more enthusiastic vice president repeatedly says it “would” happen. So how does Biden figure this?
The root of this assertion is Romney’s still-vague plan to cut tax rates by 20 percent and make up any lost revenue by removing tax preferences and loopholes. The problem is that the most comprehensive study, by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, found that the math is impossible — there are just not enough tax preferences for the wealthy to make the plan revenue neutral without also raising taxes on the middle class. (The study was based on what few details have been released on the Romney plan.)
“Now Governor Romney believes that with even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, and fewer regulations on Wall Street, all of us will prosper. In other words, he’d double down on the same trickle-down policies that led to the crisis in the first place.”
— President Obama, in a new two-minute television ad released Sept. 27, 2012
“This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment. This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That is what got us into trouble in the first place.”
— Former president Bill Clinton, in an Obama campaign ad running since August
When two different people give virtually the same message in two different ads, it’s a good bet that the language has been carefully poll-tested. Both President Obama and former president Bill Clinton assert that Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes for the wealthy and cut financial regulations — which they suggest is a recipe for another economic crisis.
The name “George W. Bush” is never mentioned but is certainly implied. This leads to the question: Did the Bush tax cuts cause the economic crisis?
We’ve been interested in the Clinton comments for some time and never quite got a satisfactory response from the Obama campaign. But Clinton used the vague word “trouble,” which could be broadly defined as also meaning higher deficits. (Clinton’s staff did not respond to queries about what he meant.) Certainly the Bush tax cuts did play some role in higher deficits, though, as we have noted, increased spending played a bigger role.
But Obama is not vague at all. He highlights the tax cuts and then says the “same trickle-down policies” — Democratic code for tax cuts for the wealthy — led to the “crisis.” The campaign’s back-up material labels that as “economic crisis,” thus leaving no ambiguity about his reference.
We should stipulate at the outset that Romney adamantly rejects the idea that he has proposed more tax cuts for the wealthy. His plan would cut tax rates, but also eliminate tax deductions, which he says would make the plan revenue neutral. But no one has proven that his numbers add up, and the respected nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded that the available details on the Romney plan suggest taxes would decrease for the wealthy but rise for the middle class.
“Mitt Romney plans to turn himself into a one-man truth squad during the first presidential debate next week, casting President Barack Obama as someone who can’t be trusted to stick to the facts or keep his promises.”
— Politico, Sept. 27, 2012
“At the First Debate, Facts Will Matter”
— Memo by Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod, Sept. 28
There has been a campaign to arrange for independent fact-checkers to be present at the presidential debates. We’re not sure what that would accomplish. Would we be like Olympic judges, holding up signs after each exchange with a numerical score for truthiness?
But we do applaud the idea of keeping the conversation grounded in facts, with either the moderator or the candidates themselves challenging misstatements, half-truths and exaggerations that have appeared in campaign ads and speeches throughout this election season. All too often, neither man has been directly challenged about his misleading statements. So here are some questions we would like to see.
From video to terrorist attack: a definitive timeline of administration statements on the Libya attack
“We are still doing an investigation.”
— President Obama, Sept. 25, 2012
In any kind of confused overseas event, initial reports are often wrong. But the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including the ambassador, is a case study of how an administration can carefully keep the focus as long as possible on one storyline — and then turn on a dime when it is no longer tenable.
For political reasons, it certainly was in the White House’s interests to not portray the attack as a terrorist incident, especially one that took place on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead the administration kept the focus on what was ultimately a red herring — anger in the Arab world over anti-Muslim video posted on You Tube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt — which apparently was prompted by the video — with the deadly assault in Benghazi.
Officials were also able to dismiss pointed questions by referring to an ongoing investigation.
Ultimately, when the head of the National Counterterrorism Center was asked pointblank on Capitol Hill whether it was a an act of terror — and he agreed — the administration talking points began to shift. (Tough news reporting — as well as statements by Libya’s president — also played a role.) Yet President Obama himself resisted using the “t” word, even as late as Tuesday, while keeping the focus on the video in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
On Wednesday, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged also that Obama himself believes the attack was terrorism — and so more than two weeks after the attack the Rubicon finally was crossed.
As a reader service, we have compiled a comprehensive timeline of administration statements, showing the evolution in talking points, with key phrases highlighted in bold. Many readers sent suggestions for this timeline, for which we are deeply grateful.
“Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren’t paid for, as a consequence of tax cuts that weren’t paid for, a prescription drug plan that was not paid for, and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now we took some emergency actions, but that accounts for about 10 percent of this increase in the deficit, and we have actually seen the federal government grow at a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower, in fact, substantially lower than the federal government grew under either Ronald Reagan or George Bush.”
“Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So I haven’t raised taxes.”
— President Obama, interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” recorded on Sept. 12, 2012, and aired on Sept. 23
There are a lot of numbers and assertions in these statements by the president. We will primarily focus on the first statement, since it raises interesting questions of presidential responsibility.
But we do want to note the tax statement, since we seem to have a rare moment when Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney appear to agree. Here’s what Romney said on Tuesday: “I admit this, he has one thing he did not do in his first four years, he’s said he’s going to do in his next four years, which is to raise taxes.”
Generally, Republicans have argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that Obama’s health-insurance mandate is a tax. The health-care law also included a number of taxes aimed mostly at the wealthy. But broadly speaking, Obama has reduced taxes for most Americans, so much so that the Congressional Budget Office says that effective tax rates are at their lowest point in three decades.
In any case, let’s examine more closely Obama’s two key assertions during 60 Minutes — that only 10 percent of the current deficit comes from his policies and that the federal government has grown under his watch at a “a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower.” Are those claims correct?
In support of the first statement, the Obama campaign pointed us to a chart made by the Treasury Department.
“When we talked about immigration reform in the first year, that’s before the economy was on the verge of collapse ...”
“And so we had to take a whole series of emergency actions to make sure that we put people back to work — cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses so that they could stay open or pay the bills; making sure that states got assistance so they didn’t have to lay off teachers and firefighters and police officers; saving an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse. And so that took up a huge amount of time in the first year.”
“And what I confess I did not expect — and so I’m happy to take responsibility for being naive here — is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform — my opponent in 2008, who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings — suddenly would walk away. That’s what I did not anticipate.”
— President Obama during a town hall interview hosted by Univision and Facebook, Sept. 20, 2012
Polls show President Obama maintaining a clear and consistent advantage over challenger Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters, but an interview last week on the Spanish-language television network Univision suggested that the current administration has left something to be desired with the demographic.
Univision anchor Jorge Ramos held Obama accountable for a promise the former Illinois senator made during his 2008 bid for office, when he said, “I can guarantee that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support.”
“I want to emphasize ‘the first year,’ ” Ramos said. “At the beginning of your governing, you had control of both chambers of Congress, and yet you did not introduce immigration reform. And before I continue, I want for you to acknowledge that you did not keep your promise.”
The president acknowledged only that he was naive to think Republicans would negotiate with him on immigration, and he excused his lack of progress on the issue by saying he spent most of his first-year dealing with an economic crisis.
Let’s take a look at Obama’s inaugural year in the White House and his record on immigration to determine whether his statements tell the whole story. Did his promise fail to materialize because of Republicans and the economy, or does the president deserve some blame here?
Obama said repeatedly during his 2008 campaign that “presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time.” That’s the standard he set for himself: No excuses; presidents just have to juggle.
“When I first came into office, the head of the Senate Republicans said, ‘my number one priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president.’ Now, after the election, either he will have succeeded in that goal or he will have failed at that goal.”
— President Obama, interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” recorded on Sept. 12, 2012, and aired on Sept. 23
“It was no surprise, because the senator from Kentucky, who just spoke, announced at the beginning, four years ago, exactly what his strategy would be. He said, his number-one goal was to make sure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.”
— Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), on the Senate floor, Sept. 21, 2012
“Ed Rendell, who has criticized the president (objecting, for example, to the Obama campaign's attack on private equity), also argues that Obama has been constrained by an unprecedented obduracy in his Republican opposition. ‘I can't ever recall a newly elected president being faced with the leader of the other party's caucus saying “Our No. 1 priority is to make this president a one-term president,”’ says Rendell, citing the remark made by Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, that exemplified the fierce partisanship that has attended Obama's tenure. ‘That McConnell would say that in the first nine months of Barack Obama's tenure is absolutely stunning, disgraceful, disgusting — you name the term.’”
— Peter J. Boyer, writing in Newsweek, Sept. 10, 2012
Clearly, a theme has emerged among Democrats: Republicans were so determined to thwart President Obama’s agenda that the Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, even announced from day one that he was determined to make Obama a one-term president.
The timing of McConnell’s statement obviously makes a difference. In the Democratic narrative, the top GOP senator signaled early on he had no intention of cooperating with the new president.
Is that really the case?
McConnell made his remarks in an interview that appeared in the National Journal on Oct. 23, 2010 — nearly two years after Obama was elected president. The interview took place on the eve the of the midterm elections. The interview is relatively short, so we will print it in its entirety, with key portions highlighted.
“A president who skips half of his intelligence briefings but finds time to play more than 100 rounds of golf…Mr. President, it is time to show up for work.”
This is a hard-hitting ad by the right-leaning group American Crossroads, suggesting President Obama is shirking his duties by concentrating on campaigning, golf and celebrity appearances. We’re going to concentrate on the first allegation — that Obama has skipped half of his intelligence briefings — since that raises interesting questions about presidential style and management.
(There is no dispute that Obama plays much more golf than, say, George W. Bush — who stopped playing seven months into the Iraq war. But we also have noted that Bush took significantly more vacation days than Obama has taken.)
The notion that Obama has skipped his intelligence briefings was promoted by a right-leaning research group called the Government Accountability Institute, which published a report detailing that the president’s daily calendar shows Obama receiving an in-person briefing on the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) 43.8 percent of his time in office. (The percentage dropped from a high of 48.8 percent in 2010 to 38.2 percent through May of 2012.)
“I think it’s important for us to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration. When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it. We assigned a inspector general to do a thorough report that was just issued, confirming that in fact Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action and the people who did initiate this were held accountable.”
— President Obama during Univision interview, Sept. 20, 2012
President Obama on Thursday fielded some tough questions from Hispanic journalists and voters during a forum hosted by the Spanish-language television network Univision. Host Jorge Ramos asked Obama whether U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should be fired over Fast and Furious, a so-called “gun-walking”operation that allowed firearms to be transferred to suspected arms traffickers — and two guns purchased by a suspect in the Fast and Furious operation were found at a crime scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
Obama said the previous administration initiated Fast and Furious and that Holder shut the program down after he found out about it. Let’s check the first part of that statement for veracity.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the president’s Fast and Furious comments referred “to the flawed tactic of gun-walking, which despite Republicans efforts to politicize this issue, began under the previous administration.”
“Medicare is going broke. It’s not politics. It’s math.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a new Romney campaign ad titled “Least We Can Do.”
“What they didn’t tell you is what they’re [the Romney campaign] proposing would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.”
— Vice President Biden, at the Democratic convention, Sept. 6, 2012
Medicare “is going broke.”
— President Obama, Aug. 15, 2009
We have bipartisan agreement! Medicare is going broke, busted, bankrupt…or is it?
We have touched on this before but decided to take another stab after the new ad featuring Sen. Rubio was released by the Romney campaign. It’s actually a fairly effective ad, with the calm message that the GOP Medicare plan — so often inaccurately attacked by Democrats — is designed to “save” it for current retirees and be different for younger Americans, in what Rubio pitches as a bit of a gift from one generation to another.
But his line that Medicare is going “broke” — using simple “math” — repeats a bit of political hokum that both parties persist in repeating. For instance, here’s Obama in 2009:
“Broke,” the word Rubio and Obama used, is an informal way of saying “bankrupt.” Or, as the dictionary says, “penniless.”
First of all, there are four parts to Medicare: Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), Part C (Medicare Advantage — private plans for parts A and B), and Part D (prescription drug plans).
“As we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named — policy research for the working poor, broadly defined — I think that what we're gonna have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic, I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign, against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policy making. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools. What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking how, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live, and my suggestion I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there have to be technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.”
— State Sen. Barack Obama, at a conference at Loyola University, Oct. 1998 [missing section in bold]
Just as we have not been very impressed about many of the Obama campaign’s claims about Mitt Romney’s business career many years ago, we were not initially that impressed with the Romney campaign’s effort to dredge up a 14-year-old quote to demonstrate that President Obama wants to “redistribute wealth.” The clip was so old — he was just a state senator — and the context was rather unclear. Also, it appeared as if the YouTube version was clipped in mid-thought.
But now NBC News has obtained the rest of Obama’s comments, and it is clear his remarks were taken completely out of context. Obama is not talking about redistributing wealth at all — instead, he speaks about competition, the market place and innovation in an effort to improve government services in Chicago.
“I understand my opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he’s going to roll up his sleeves and he’s going to take the fight to China. Now, here’s the thing. His experience has been owning companies that were called ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China. He made money investing in companies that uprooted from here and went to China. Pioneers. Now, Ohio, you can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is send them our jobs.”
— President Obama, at a rally in Cincinnati, Sept. 17, 2012
“I guess he’s also not going to apologize for the investments he still holds in China or the American jobs he outsourced to China as the president, CEO, chairman and sole shareholder of Bain Capital.”
— Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, in a video released over the weekend
President Obama traveled to the battleground state of Ohio on Monday, where he responded to a tough (and misleading) ad by Mitt Romney on his record on China with barbed comments on Romney’s record as an investor. (For good measure, the White House also filed a trade complaint against Beijing.) The president’s remarks were foreshadowed by a video released by the Obama campaign over the weekend, in which Cutter asserts that the GOP presidential nominee outsourced jobs to China.
This is a pretty serious charge. What’s the evidence for this?
Obama’s reference to Romney owning companies that were “pioneers” comes directly from a front-page article in The Washington Post. This was the opening sentence:
Mitt Romney’s financial company, Bain Capital, invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India.
“Based on the best information we have to date ... it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.... We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
— Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“The way these perpetrators acted and moved, and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.”
— Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, on the same program.
This column has been updated.
This is a strange one.
Just minutes after Libya’s de facto head of state says that the deadly attack on an American Consulate was “preplanned, predetermined,” the top administration spokeswoman on the same show disagrees with him, saying there is no “information at present” that suggests the attack was planned.
Yet in the same breath, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says that “extremist elements” joined in what she calls a demonstration that began “spontaneously” in response to another demonstration in Cairo. That certainly suggests that someone may have been planning to take advantage of any opportunity.
The investigation is in its earliest stages, but let’s explore what we know and why the administration would be eager to play down any suggestion that this tragedy was planned.
The attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans took place on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. That may simply be a coincidence, but if so, it would be a pretty big one.
“When some Republican governors asked if they could have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration listened because we all know it’s hard for even people with good work histories to get jobs today. So moving folks from welfare to work is a real challenge. And the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less.”
— Former President Bill Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 5, 2012
Readers may recall that in August we gave Four Pinocchios to Mitt Romney for a television advertisement accusing President Obama of gutting Bill Clinton’s welfare overhaul — and also Three Pinocchios for the Obama administration’s counterspin that Romney himself had sought a similar waiver when he was governor of Massachusetts.
What’s the fuss about? Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the 1996 legislation, established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. But in July the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum saying that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” As part of that, the HHS secretary would consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.
HHS’s action set off a firestorm of criticism by Republicans, which was echoed in Romney’s ad.
In his high-profile speech at the Democratic convention, Clinton himself came to Obama’s defense, claiming that the change in rules actually would require “more work, not less.” Last week, we said we wanted to spend some time digging into this statement before making a ruling. After talking to many people on all sides of the welfare debate, we can certainly say it is a very complex issue — which makes it ripe for fact-checking.
There are three basic rules in Washington: 1) Nothing happens by accident, 2) Personnel determines policy, and 3) No argument is ever settled. That dynamic is central to understanding the controversy surrounding the HHS memo. In this case, conservatives suspected that the administration was trying to achieve through regulatory fiat what liberals had not been able to accomplish through legislation in the past 16 years.
“When he was in the Illinois state Senate, Barack Obama voted to deny basic Constitutional protections for babies born alive from an abortion — not once, but four times. I know it’s by the grace of God that I’m alive today, if only to ask America this question: Is this the kind of leadership that will lead us forward — that would discard the weakest among us?”
— Failed-abortion survivor Melissa Ohden in a new ad from Susan B. Anthony List
“[Obama] supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb — even beyond the womb.”
— Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee during a speech at Republican National Convention, Aug. 29, 2012
These claims mirror attacks from abortion opponents during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. They relate to a series of no votes the former state lawmaker cast in the Illinois legislature between 2001 and 2003 against state bills that would have defined the term “born alive infant” and ensured legal protections to such newborns.
Supporters said the born-alive legislation was necessary to protect children who survive failed abortions, and they argued that Obama’s opposition showed an unwillingness to protect the lives of babies. Obama said unequivocally that he would have supported a born-alive act that didn’t undermine abortion rights.
Antiabortion activists have picked up where they left off in 2008, attacking Obama on the same issue. Let’s take a look at their claims to determine whether the president really voted to deny newborns basic constitutional protections and whether he truly believes human life is disposable — even beyond the womb. We’ll also examine Melissa Ohden’s claims about what happened after she survived an abortion.
Fair warning: Our analysis turned up several claims that are closely related to those in the quotes above. We’ll cover all of them in this column, applying our Pinocchio ratings as appropriate.
The antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List released a video with testimony from failed-abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, who criticized the president’s Illinois Senate votes and said: “I was aborted and my body discarded like I didn’t exist. But a nurse heard me crying and cared enough to save my life.”
In their defense of the administration’s policies Thursday night, President Obama and Vice President Biden sometimes took license with the facts or left out important information. Here are some highlights.
“Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion. Last summer, I worked with Republicans in Congress to cut $1 trillion in spending.”
President Obama repeated a claim made by former President Bill Clinton the night before, but even less accurately. Clinton referred to a “plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade.” Obama leaves off the time line, and makes it sound like the current $1 trillion deficit would be eliminated, resulting in a surplus.
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.
“We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”
— Former president Bill Clinton, quoting Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse
Whew. In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered the Clinton White House and always marveled at Bill Clinton’s speechifying, his apparent command of policy and his sometimes slippery use of the facts. We are going to offer an initial take on some of his claims — and those of other Democrats — and then may come back to others in the coming days. Everyone needs to get some sleep.
“He [Obama] has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade. For every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1. And he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission. … It passes the arithmetic test.”
— Former president Bill Clinton
“President Obama’s plan uses the bipartisan commission’s balanced approach. It reduces the deficit by more than $4 trillion.”
— Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
“The other thing we’ve done is to say, what are the critical needs of small business? A lot of time, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that you, as a sole proprietor, that you can get health insurance for you and your family. So when you hear about the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — and I don’t mind the name because I really do care. That’s why we passed it. You should know that once we have fully implemented, you’re going to be able to buy insurance through a pool so that you can get the same good rates as a group that if you’re an employee at a big company you can get right now — which means your premiums will go down.”
— President Obama, campaign speech in Cincinnati, July 16, 2012
President Obama has embraced the phrase “Obamacare,” once originally intended as an epithet by the heath-care law’s opponents, but we were a bit surprised the other day when he declared that health insurance premiums were going to go down.
We have previously dinged Republicans for claiming that premiums have already gone up because of the law. And we have noted the president made what we called a “foolish, dubious” campaign promise with a huge asterisk — that premiums would be $2,500 lower than they would have been without the law.
But, here, the president is claiming that premiums actually will go down for people in the individual and small group markets. The health-care law is obviously a work in progress but are there data that back up this sweeping claim?
Since the law has not taken full effect yet, we have to rely on studies that estimate the potential impact. A 2011 White House report, using Congressional Budget Office data, argues some small businesses (ie, sole proprietors with employees) will have access to a new marketplace where they can compare benefits and services and find a plan that works for them. The theory is that these new exchanges will help drive down costs for businesses.
“By opposing an extension to the wind production tax credit, Mitt Romney has come out against growth of the wind industry to support 100,000 jobs by 2016 and 500,000 jobs by 2030. Meanwhile, he supports $4 billion in oil and gas subsidies for companies that have rarely been more profitable.”
-- E-mail to the media from Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher, July 31, 2012
Mitt Romney’s campaign last week expressed opposition to the federal tax break for wind energy, drawing a stark contrast with President Obama and alienating the Republican candidate from certain members of his party, namely Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the original tax credit in 1992 and is pushing for an extension this year.
Romney campaign spokesman Shawn McCoy told the Des Moines Register that Romney would let the tax break expire in order to “create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.” He added that “wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive, and wherever private sector competitors with far more experience than the president believe the investment will produce results.”
This newly stated position — if it sticks — could affect Romney’s chances in Iowa, where lots of wind-energy jobs have sprouted up in recent years, in part because of tax relief and targeted investments by the government.
Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher quickly seized on Romney’s position, saying the GOP candidate has come out against growth in the wind industry to support hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2030.
We’ll look at a response from the Romney campaign in a separate column, but first let’s examine this assertion from Team Obama. Would the wind credit really support hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2030?
First of all, we should clarify that the wind-energy tax break refers to the Production Tax Credit, which dates back two decades to the final year of the George H.W. Bush administration. Each president since then has signed an extension of the policy, including George W. Bush, who made the credit available for additional forms of renewable energy when he approved the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and you wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
— Mitt Romney campaign ad released Aug. 7, 2012
“This is a common sense reform to give governors — including some of Romney’s supporters — flexibility to live up to the goals of the welfare reform law. Romney should know: He used to support these kinds of waivers. In 2005, he joined other Republican governors in a letter to Senator Frist, urging the Senate to move quickly on ‘increased waiver authority’ for the welfare program.”
— Obama campaign defense on its Web site
When Bill Clinton signed the bill overhauling welfare 16 years ago, the 42nd president declared: “After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue. The two parties cannot attack each other over it. Politicians cannot attack poor people over it. There are no encrusted habits, systems, and failures that can be laid at the foot of someone else.”
Oops, guess he was wrong about that.
In an effort to reopen the welfare war, Mitt Romney this week began airing a tough ad that accuses President Obama of wanting to do away with the work requirements embedded in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. In effect, Romney is trying to suggest that Obama is such a left-winger that he would undo a central achievement of a Democratic icon.
People forget that Clinton’s signing of the bill — a few months before the 1996 presidential election — was highly controversial. Clinton, in his signing speech, spent almost as much time talking about the things he disliked in the GOP-crafted bill as he did about the parts he liked. Key members of his administration resigned in protest. And a young state senator in Illinois named Barack Obama also expressed his opposition.
This is a complex issue, and highly technical, which makes it ripe for spin and counterspin. Neither side necessarily conducts itself with glory here.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the 1996 legislation, established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services, without much fanfare, issued a memorandum saying that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” As part of that, the HHS secretary would consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.
“When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my healthcare, and my family lost their healthcare. And a short time after that my wife became ill….She passed away in 22 days. I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
— Former steelworker Joe Soptic, in a new ad by Priorities USA
(NOTE: Since we had previously examined at length the circumstances of this Bain investment, we originally had restated the main points of an earlier column. Frankly, we were a bit distracted trying to untangle the welfare charges and countercharges on Tuesday. But new information has come to light and we have updated the column with a Pinocchio rating.)
Joe Soptic, a former steelworker, makes yet another appearance in a pro-Obama ad, this time for the Super PAC Priorities USA Action.
We have examined this case before, and for the benefit of readers we repeat our main points from an earlier column that awarded the Obama campaign One Pinocchio for the use of this case study against presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Most controversially, Soptic this time appears to blame Romney for the death of his wife after he lost his health insurance when the steel plant closed.
Romney was no longer actively managing Bain Capital 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. But a case can be made that he was involved in the initial investment and the overall direction of the company before he took on the job of running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action said it would be “overstating” the point of the ad to say Soptic connected Romney to his wife’s death. “This is another in a series of ads that demonstrates how long it took for communities and individuals to recover from the closing of these businesses,” he said. “Families and individuals had to find new jobs, new sources of health insurance and a way to make up for the pensions they lost. Mitt Romney has had an enduring impact on the lives of thousands of men and women and for many of them, that impact has been devastating.”
Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that have been thrown at Romney, 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.
“Over the past four years president Obama has traveled all over the world. He traveled all over the Middle East. But he hasn’t found time to visit our ally and friend, Israel. …As the dangers to Israel mount, where’s Obama? Anywhere but Israel.”
— Voiceover in television ad by the Emergency Committee for Israel
“As President, Barack Obama has never visited Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital.”
--voiceover in new Mitt Romney television campaign ad titled “Cherished Relationship”
As Woody Allen once put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.”
A pro-Israel group last week began running ads knocking President Obama for failing to visit Israel. The ad is filled with the sounds of Chinese gongs and Arabian sounds, and postcard-like images showing Obama in his world travels, often arm-in-arm with Arab leaders.
Then, on Sunday, the Romney campaign echoed this charge with its own ad also calling attention to Obama not visiting Israel as president.
Obama visited Israel in 2008, as a presidential candidate, but thus far has not visited the Jewish state during his presidential term. So we wondered how Obama’s record compares to other presidents — and whether that matters.
The State Department historian’s office maintains a list of presidential foreign travels, so we can quickly see which presidents have visited Israel — and when. Here’s the list since Israel’s founding:
“Chances are you pay a higher tax rate than him [Mitt Romney]….Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010 but paid only 14 percent in taxes…probably less than you. Now he has a plan that would give millionaires another tax break. And raises taxes on middle class families by up to two thousand dollars a year.”
— Voiceover of new Obama campaign ad, “Stretch”
The Obama campaign rushed to take advantage of a new Tax Policy Center study about Mitt Romney’s tax plan, combining it with information about Romney’s 2010 tax return. We have looked at these issues before but as these ads go, the language is fairly careful and restrained. Let’s take a deeper look.
Romney certainly made a lot of money in 2010 — $21.7 million, according to his tax return — and yet his tax rate was about 13.9 percent. As we have noted before, he achieves this rate because much of his income is treated as capital gains and dividends, which are taxed at a preferential rate of 15 percent, and because he donates about 14 percent of his income to charity. (Reuters wrote an interesting article showing that Romney’s donations of appreciated stock to the Mormon church further shielded him from possible capital gains taxes.)
“Mitt Romney’s plan? A new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires …increase military spending…adding trillions to the deficit. Or President Obama’s plan? A balanced approach …Four trillion in deficit reduction.”
— Voiceover in a new Obama campaign ad
In just 30 seconds, this new Obama campaign ad covers a lot of ground, evoking images of the George W. Bush administration (“two wars …tax cuts for millionaires”), tying presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney to those policies and then ending with positive words for President Obama’s plans. (There’s even an amazing shot of a super-millionaire’s home.)
At least the ad is about policy differences, rather than the usual campaign fare of outsourcing, Bain and verbal gaffes. Let’s take a deeper look.
The Obama campaign has to perform some leaps of logic because, frankly, the Romney campaign has not explained how his budget and tax numbers add up. Romney has proposed to cut tax rates, but keep revenue neutral with unspecified offsets, while also boosting defense spending while reducing the deficit through largely unspecified cuts. Pinning down the actual figures is a bit like nailing Jello to a wall.
“Barack Obama on the Economy”
— headline in a Romney campaign ad, followed by President Obama speaking:
“We tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”
Another day, another out-of-context quote?
Readers should be very wary of television ads showing a snippet of the opposing candidate speaking. There is often too much context missing.
Both campaigns have crossed the foul line in this regard (remember Mitt Romney supposedly saying he liked to fire people?) but this is the second week in a row we have had to examine how the Romney campaign is using one of the president’s quotes. Let’s take a look.
There is a dead giveaway here that something is missing: Why would Obama be bragging that his plan “worked” when the unemployment rate is still above 8 percent? That doesn’t sound like smart politics.
“I was a big Obama supporter. I had a fundraiser in my home, gave money to his campaign. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for. When he gave the speech about the ‘67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him. When he had the prime minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, to the White House…he was disrespectful to him to the point that I’d never seen.”
— Disillusioned Obama voter Michael Goldstein, in an ad by the Republican Jewish Coalition
The Republican Jewish Coalition is launching a $6.5 million campaign to convince Jewish voters — among the most loyal segments of the Democratic coalition — that it is okay to vote against President Obama because of his stand on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The campaign is aimed at key Jewish areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where the RNC hopes to swing just enough votes to tip those states in Mitt Romney’s electoral vote column.
RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told us that the ad push will be accompanied by a Web site, www.mybuyersremorse.com, in which people can upload videos expressing their own thoughts on Obama and Israel. Brooks said the remarks by Goldstein were edited down from a 25-minute conversation.
Democrats are planning to fight back with their own operation. The National Jewish Democratic Council has launched a Web site that includes a quiz that invites visitors to guess which president said what about Israel. (Hint: Obama didn’t do any of the negative stuff.)
We obviously can’t fact-check opinions, but this is a fascinating example of how relatively incremental moments in the course of a presidency — and how they are portrayed by the media — can solidify into “facts” that erode support for that president. We spoke to Goldstein, who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., to gain a better understanding of how the two events he mentioned — the 1967 borders and the meeting with Netanyahu — turned him against the president.
Obama entered office determined to finally achieve a historic agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, even appointing a special envoy on his second day in office. As documented in the authoritative report this month by our Washington Post colleague Scott Wilson, Obama’s efforts quickly ran aground, and within six months the administration’s policies were in tatters. The administration never really recovered from its early stumbles.
“Congress faces a choice. On January 1, taxes are scheduled to go up for 114 million middle class families by an average of $1,600 as such tax cuts as the expanded Child Tax Credit, the 10 percent tax bracket, marriage penalty relief, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit all expire. A typical middle class family of four would see its taxes rise by $2,200.”
— White House report on President Obama’s proposal to extend middle-class tax cuts, released July 24, 2012
“We’ve got to do it in a balanced way by making sure that those of us who’ve been blessed by this country are giving back a little bit more and going back to the Clinton tax rates.”
— President Obama, remarks at a campaign event, July 23
— Obama, remarks at a campaign event, July 24
Usually, during discussions about who pays taxes in the United States, conservatives tend to ignore payroll taxes (such as for Social Security and Medicare) and focus on federal income taxes. A good example of that is an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal this week by former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
If you only count income taxes, then you can argue that some 50 percent of Americans pay no taxes. Or, you can argue, as Fleischer does, that the top 20 percent of income earners “make 50 percent of the nation's income but pay nearly 70 percent of all federal taxes.”
But virtually all workers pay payroll taxes. When payroll taxes are included, as well as state and local taxes, the picture changes significantly. The tax burden is suddenly more evenly distributed.
But, interestingly, when talking about taxes these days, the White House is relatively silent about coming increases in payroll taxes — both for the rich and poor. Let’s take a look.
The White House report released this week — ahead of the vote in the Senate Wednesday to extend tax cuts for household income below $250,000 — does mention two years of payroll tax cuts that Obama pushed through in 2011 and 2012, but only when talking about how much money the president has saved American families:
“Ironically, Mitt Romney knows better than anyone that business can’t always do it alone. When Bain & Company was on the verge of bankruptcy Romney himself negotiated a $10 million bailout with the FDIC.”
— Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in Web video issued July 24, 2012
Once again some ancient Massachusetts history has entered the 2012 campaign.
Seeking to rebut Mitt Romney’s claim that President Obama believes business owners don’t build their own companies — for which we gave Romney Three Pinocchios — Cutter has now tried to turn the tables on Romney by arguing that Romney himself could not survive without the help of government assistance.
This issue briefly flared up during the GOP primary season, when former House speaker Newt Gingrich raised it, so let’s see what really happened.
First of all, Bain & Company is not the same thing as Bain Capital, the private equity firm from which Romney made his fortune. Bain Capital is a spin-off from Bain & Company, which is a traditional consulting firm. But in the early 1990s, Bain & Company overextended itself after an ill-advised decision in 1985-1986 by the firm’s eight founding partners to take $200 million out of the firm, for themselves, with borrowed money. (Romney, who had left in 1984, was not a founder.)
“He [Romney] plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Now, understand how that works. If the voucher isn’t worth what it takes to buy health insurance in the private marketplace, you’re out of luck. You’ve got to make up the difference. You’re on your own. So one independent, nonpartisan study found that under a similar plan, seniors would have to pay nearly $6,400 more for Medicare than they do today. Where are you going to get that from? Where are you going to get it from — $6,400?”
— President Obama, remarks in West Palm Beach, Fla., July 19, 2012
On a campaign trip to Florida last week, President Obama — no surprise! — brought up the subject of Medicare.
This is a highly emotional and difficult subject to understand. There’s a reason why we suggested last year that readers would be best advised to mute the sound if any ad concerning Medicare aired — for either party.
Let’s look more deeply at the president’s remarks.
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 co-insurance.
“To say what he said is to say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple Computer or that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft or that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor Company or that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonald’s or that Papa John’s didn’t build Papa John’s Pizza. This is the height of foolishness. It shows how out of touch he is with the character of America. It’s one more reason his policies have failed. It’s one more reason why we have to replace him in November.”
— Mitt Romney, July 18, 2012
There are few original ideas in politics, just old arguments.
We were reminded of this as we considered the ruckus over comments by President Obama that his GOP rival, former governor Mitt Romney, criticized as an attack on free enterprise. Romney immediately began jabbing Obama on the campaign trail and the Romney campaign rushed out an attack ad focused on Obama’s words — though, as we shall see, it sliced and diced the president’s quote to make it seem much worse.
We will stipulate that taking snippets of quotes and twisting them is an age-old political tactic. In May, we gave Two Pinocchios to President Obama for performing out-of-context quote-snipping on Romney’s words. But that doesn’t make it right. Let’s take a look at what Obama actually said, and then how it has been interpreted.
The president, during a campaign speech in Roanoke, tried to make the case that wealthy people need to have higher taxes in order to help serve the public good. Here is what he said, with the words used in the ad in bold type:
“Meet Steve Westly. He raised over $500,000 for Obama's campaign. With Obama in office, Westly Group Investments have received 500 million taxpayer dollars. Westly was even appointed to a top advisory role, influencing how federal taxpayer money was spent…Westly raised money for Obama, then got a half a billion taxpayer dollars. Obama’s friends are doing fine, but the middle class isn’t.”
--voiceover of new Republican National Committee ad, “The Obama Connection.”
We’re shocked, shocked that anyone thinks that big campaign contributors get special access to politicians.
Just as “Big Oil” appeared to have special sway in the Bush administration, now too “clean energy” types appear to have special connections in the Obama administration. Is this a matter of coincidence … or “crony capitalism”? Republicans have tried to make this charge an issue this week, and we have already examined one such example and found it wanting.
Let’s play connect-the-dots in the case of Steve Westly.
The figures in this ad are relatively accurate. (Westly raised more than $500,000 for Obama, in 2008, according to Opensecrets.org.) Westly Group is a big player in clean technology, investing in companies that develop promising technologies. He also has not been shy about advertising his connections in the Obama administration, famously sending an email to top presidential aide Valerie Jarrett, warning that the president might be making a mistake in visiting Solyndra. (For all his apparent influence, his advice was not taken.)
It’s not often that one of my columns gets more than 5,000 comments, many of them angry. I tried responding via Twitter and various e-mail exchanges but eventually gave up because I was overwhelmed. My analysis was also roasted on the web by various people I often admire, and the Huffington Post rewrote my column to highlight exclusive material that they thought I had played down. My best friend from third grade even sent me a message on Facebook saying I “was carrying the Republicans’ water.”
It was that kind of day!
I always value informed critiques. Given the many comments, I will try to make a general response.
First of all, as The Fact Checker, I began looking into Mitt Romney’s departure from Bain Capital in January in response to Obama campaign allegations that he was responsible for the closing of hundreds of stores at KB Toys. The question is not whether Romney left Bain in 1999 or 2002 — everyone knows he took a leave to run the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, then decided to run for governor in 2002 and officially backdated his resignation to 1999 — but whether he had a direct role in Bain deals during this period.
For some readers, this may not be important. He is listed as chief executive in SEC documents, he hired the people at Bain, and so they might believe he bears responsibility for these deals. End of story. But that’s really an opinion, not a fact.
When evaluating an attack ad, I have to look at the actual facts behind that ad. Can you really say Romney was responsible for the closing of 600 stores at KB Toys in 2004, given that the initial Bain investment took place in 2000, when he was at the Olympics, and he had clearly left Bain by 2002? It would have been fuzzier if the investment had started under Romney’s confirmed leadership, but I could find no evidence of his direct involvement in this deal.
The years 1999-2002 are a gray period in Romney’s life. The importance of whether you pick 1999 or 2002 as the end of his tenure at Bain is best illustrated by the Obama video ad above.
I hold campaign attack ads to a high standard, especially since they can be highly misleading. On balance, I would expect a campaign to provide direct evidence that the rival had a role in the activities being denounced. I would have come to the same conclusion if the person’s name on the Securities and Exchange Commission documents was Barack Obama, rather than Mitt Romney. Indeed, this column gave three Pinocchios to Republicans who claimed that Obama had a secret plan to raise gas prices because of long-ago comments by his aides.
Some readers who complained about the column may not be regular readers. When checking the facts, I pay little attention to the political party making the claim. I look at everything on a case-by-case basis. On the day new questions emerged about Romney and his departure from Bain, I wrote a long column that critically evaluated 22 claims by Republicans about Obama’s alleged “outsourcing,” finding many of them thinly sourced or absurd. I have repeatedly roasted Romney for misleading claims about the number of jobs he claims to have created at Bain. At the moment, I have given four Pinocchios more often to Romney than to Obama.
Regarding Romney and Bain, the question for me remains whether one can specifically tie Romney to the questionable deals. So far, I have not seen enough evidence that he was actively managing Bain and its investments during this period.
Thus I am standing with my assessment that Romney essentially left Bain in 1999. Our colleagues at FactCheck.org have done the same. But of course I remain open to new evidence or information, and will adjust Pinocchio ratings accordingly.
But readers can judge for themselves. Here is a roundup of the evidence, pro and con.
"Romney and Bain claim that he was not involved with Bain, but Bain and its portfolio companies in their required filings under the Securities Exchange Act continuously certified to the Securities and Exchange Commission say precisely the opposite — asserting without qualification that he was a controlling person, fully in charge of Bain, under the Federal securities law. Under normal circumstances, the question of the truth of this representation would result in an investigation by the SEC into possible criminal, as well as civil, violations of the law."
— Robert Bauer, Obama campaign counsel, July 13, 2012
There is a journalistic convention that appears to place great weight on “SEC documents.” But these are public filings by companies, which usually means there are not great secrets hidden in them. The Fact Checker, in an earlier life covering Wall Street, spent many hours looking for jewels in SEC filings.
As we wrote yesterday, we are standing with our assessment that Mitt Romney left the helm of Bain Capital in 1999, when he departed to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. The date is important because some questionable investments by Bain took place between 1999 and 2002, when he ran for governor. But a Boston Globe article on Thursday raised new questions about that timeline, citing SEC filings, and the Obama campaign jumped to take advantage of it.
Despite the furor, we did not see much new in the Globe article. We had examined many SEC documents related to Romney and Bain in January, and concluded that much of the language saying Romney was “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president” was boilerplate that did not reveal whether he was actually managing Bain at the time. (For instance, there is no standard definition of a “chief executive,” securities law experts say, and there is no requirement for anyone to have any responsibilities even if they have that title.)
The one thing new we saw in the Globe story was the assertion that “Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain ‘executive’ in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.” But then we realized we had already reviewed those documents in January. The 2001 form describes him as a “former executive” (see page 1 of form A-5) — the campaign says this was retirement pay — but the 2002 form says “executive.” So either you believe he suddenly rejoined the firm, after leaving it, or someone made a typo.
Romney’s sudden departure from Bain had left the partnership in flux, in fact almost breaking up the firm, and a final resolution was not reached until he ended his Olympic sojourn and decided to run for governor. At that point, he signed retirement papers that set his departure date as February 1999, the month he left for the Olympics.
Fortune magazine on Thursday reported that it had obtained the offering documents for Bain Capital funds circulating in 2000 and 2001. None of the documents show that Romney was listed as being among the “key investment professionals” who would manage the money. As Fortune put it, “the contemporaneous Bain documents show that Romney was indeed telling the truth about no longer having operational input at Bain — which, one should note, is different from no longer having legal or financial ties to the firm.”
Let’s also not forget that Massachusetts Democrats tried to keep Romney off the ballot in the 2002 governor’s race on the grounds that he had been living and working in Utah, even paying taxes there, and thus had failed to meet the requirement to have lived seven consecutive years in Massachusetts. The effort failed, but not after Democrats waged an expensive, months’ long battle to prove he worked so much on the Olympics that he was in effect a citizen of Utah. (More on this below.)
Still, the Obama campaign has raised a very serious charge of potential criminal behavior. Does it have much credibility?
One of the SEC documents in question that has received attention in recent days is a Form 13D that was posted by Talking Points Memo. A Form13D is filed when an investor or investment group announces that it has acquired more than five percent of the company.
“Every woman who believes decisions about our bodies and our health care should be our own is troubled Romney supports overturning Roe versus Wade. Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.”
— Voiceover from Obama campaign ad
President Obama’s reelection team launched this video Saturday as part of a new ad campaign in Virginia and seven other battleground states. It depicts Republican challenger Mitt Romney as a candidate who opposes abortion without exception.
This is familiar territory for the presumptive GOP nominee, who has weathered plenty of abortion-related attacks in the past. Former Republican primary opponent Newt Gingrich made the opposite point of this ad, earning two Pinocchios for a video that said Romney “expanded access to abortion pills.” An antiabortion group picked up three Pinocchios for saying the former Massachusetts governor “required hospitals to provide abortions.”
Let’s take a look at Romney’s record to determine whether the Obama campaign stated things more accurately.
Romney hasn’t done himself any favors when it comes to his stance on abortion. He has made twist after turn on this issue during the course of his political career; former Fact Checker columnist Michael Dobbs produced the definitive list of all the flip-flops back in 2007.
“Over his four years in office, Obama promised that he would focus on creating "jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced." However, as he racked up trillions in new debt, billions of dollars did go to create jobs that were outsourced or spent overseas. Whether it is electric cars made in Finland or solar panels in Mexico, taxpayers would be astonished to learn that their hard earned money went abroad for jobs that weren't created in the United States.”
— New Republican National Committee Web site , www.obamanomicsoutsourced.com
“This president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies, solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States. If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it’s the president of the United States, not the guy who’s running to replace him.”
— Mitt Romney, July 10, 2012
We have written at length about the inaccurate and misleading claims of outsourcing made against presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by the Obama campaign — and surely will again. Now the Republican National Committee has tried to turn the tables on President Obama, and the Romney campaign is jumping aboard. As The Washington Post reported this week, Obama also has critics on the left for his record on outsourcing.
Some of these claims on the Web site we have seen before, when we awarded Four Pinocchios to a pair of over-the-top television ads attacking Obama. Now the RNC has expanded the list to include examples from more than 20 countries. Are these claims any more valid? We’ve dug deep into the RNC’s documentary evidence so you don’t have to.
Remember: Outsourcing generally means that a company hires another company to do work for them. This is increasingly a common practice. Some of these “outsourced” jobs may be sent overseas.
First of all, the Obama quote used by the RNC is from a campaign speech he made on Oct. 30, 2008 — before he became president. The full context of Obama’s statement makes clear that he is referencing jobs in the renewable energy business — “jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and a new electricity grid”— and that he is talking about creating jobs over a 10-year period. His point was that the United States is lagging in those areas.
“Mitt Romney the businessman. Take a look at his record. Romney bought companies; drowned them in debt; many went bankrupt; thousands of workers lost jobs, benefits and pensions. But for every company he drove into the ground, Romney averaged a $92 million profit.”
— Voice-over from Priorities USA Action ad attacking GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney
“14,000 workers laid off.”
— Text from Priorities USA Action ad
Most of the anti-Mitt Romney ads in recent weeks have focused on Romney’s record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, accusing the Republican presidential candidate of being everything from an outsourcing pioneer to a corporate raider. For what it’s worth, we debunked those notions in several previous columns.
We’ve also awarded Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supports President Obama, with one Pinocchio for an ad that, in part, accused Romney of making “millions off of companies that went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.” In addition, we’ve examined some of the companies that laid off workers while Romney served as Bain’s chief executive officer.
The Bain exaggerations are on the other side as well. We dinged the GOP challenger with three Pinocchios for laying claim to job growth that occurred after his tenure with the private-equity firm had ended. We also gave three Pinocchios to Bain Capital — and the Romney campaign — for sugarcoating their business record.
This latest video is unique. It blames Romney for the highest and most specific number of job losses we’ve seen anyone attribute to him as a former businessman. Let’s take a look at the Bain companies that filed for bankruptcy and fired workers to determine how much blame the presumptive GOP nominee deserves.
First, a bit of background on Bain Capital. Romney founded the firm, which started out in venture capitalism and helped launch a few massive successes such as Staples and Sports Authority.
“The Washington Post has just revealed that Romney’s companies were pioneers in shipping U.S. jobs overseas.... Does Iowa really want an outsourcer-in-chief in the White House?”
— one in a series of new Obama campaign ads
“Pioneers! Let me tell you, Tampa, we do not need an outsourcing pioneer in the Oval Office. We need a president who will fight for American jobs and American manufacturing. That’s what my plan will do.”
— President Obama, June 22, 2012
“Offshoring is the shipment of American jobs overseas. And in that Washington Post story, which the president is using now to attack American companies by name, there are no examples of jobs being taken from the United States and shipped overseas. What you have are companies that are expanding into new markets.”
— Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 24, 2012
“Just last week, it was reported that Governor Romney’s old firm owned companies that were ‘pioneers’ — this is not my phrase, but how it was described in the report — ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing American jobs to places like China and India. Yesterday, his advisers tried to clear this up by telling us that there was a difference between ‘outsourcing’ and ‘offshoring.’ Seriously. You can’t make that up.”
— Obama, June 25, 2012
The Obama campaign has seized on a recent front-page article in The Washington Post to argue that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is an “outsourcer-in-chief,” while the Romney campaign has pushed back, asking for a retraction of the article. (The Post has refused and stood by the reporting.)
The Fact Checker does not check the facts in the reporting of Washington Post writers or columnists, despite the many pleas of readers to do so. We even avoid checking most pundits. We generally confine ourselves to checking the rhetoric used by politicians and interest groups.
In this case, both campaigns have seized on a news report in The Post, and both are describing it inaccurately for their own political purposes. The Obama campaign has even made the report the centerpiece of its current ad campaign. This puts us in a bit of a strange position.
So we will try to describe what the report is about, without venturing into the realm of media criticism.
The article, by reporter Tom Hamburger, appeared on the Web on the evening on June 21 with a headline that said: “Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that moved jobs overseas.” The headline was different in the print edition: “Bain’s firms sent jobs overseas.”
“The highest court in the land has now spoken.”
— President Obama, June 29, 2012
“What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 29, 2012
Soon after the Supreme Court ruling upholding the health-care law, President Obama and his presumed GOP rival Mitt Romney emerged with talking points so dissimilar you’d wonder if they were speaking about the same law. We will try to disentangle some of the differences.
But, first, a word about the claim, advanced by Rush Limbaugh and others, that because of the ruling that the individual mandate is a tax, “Obamacare” is now the biggest tax increase in history. That’s an absurdity.
The health-care law did include substantial taxes, such as an additional tax on investment income for the wealthy, but those were always disclosed and never hidden. The penalties it included for failing to get health insurance — which the Supreme Court has now labeled a tax — amounted to just about $13 billion a year, or $65 billion in the first 10 years of the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. (See Table 2.)
That compares to a total of $525 billion in new revenues contained in the bill. (The CBO always listed the penalties as a revenue, along with the other taxes and fees contained in the bill.)
As to whether this is the biggest tax increase in history, the best way to measure the impact of taxes over a long period is to consider a tax increase or decrease as a percentage of the overall economy, also known as the gross domestic product.
A 2006 Treasury Department study listed a tax increase passed in 1942 as the clear winner for the title of biggest tax increase — worth more than 5 percent of GDP. (Yikes, now that’s a tax increase. But the United States was fighting a world war at the time.)
The health-care law doesn’t even come close — 0.49 percent of GDP. That’s one-tenth the size of the 1942 tax cut. Essentially, the health-care law’s taxes are about the size of Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase and significantly smaller than Ronald Reagan’s 1982 tax hike. (Our friends at PolitiFact beat us to the punch on this, awarding “Pants on Fire” to Limbaugh, and they have all of the math, plus other statistics.)
Now, let’s review the political statements.
“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.”
“When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts was Number One: Number One in state debt — $18 billion in debt, more debt per person than any other state in the country. At the same time, Massachusetts fell to 47th in job creation — one of the worst economic records in the country. First in debt, 47th in job creation: that’s Romney economics.”
-- Narration from President Obama campaign ad
President Obama’s campaign team has hammered Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts record for the past few weeks in an effort to dispel any notion that the GOP presidential candidate has proven his chops when it comes to job creation and financial stewardship — areas opponents argue that the president is weak.
Let’s see how Massachusetts fared while Romney was governor from 2003 until 2007. Did the state really distinguish itself with such unflattering numbers?
It’s ironic that the Obama campaign would criticize Romney for adding state debt when under his presidency the national debt has reached the greatest level as a percentage of the gross domestic product since World War II. (See Office of Management and Budget historical tables, Table 7.1)
KTIV (Sioux City, Iowa): “One of those businesses that I mentioned said very specifically when they said they needed to close up shop and move their jobs back to Wisconsin was that it was a direct result of the health care reform that you initiated, that Congress passed. How do you react to that?”
President Obama: “Yeah, that would be kind of hard to explain, because the only folks that have been impacted in terms of the health care bill are insurance companies who are required to make sure that they’re providing preventive care, or they’re not dropping your coverage when you get sick. And so, this particular company probably wouldn’t have been impacted by that.”
— exchange on June 11, 2012
This is a story of how an uninformed question became fodder for the presidential campaign.
Shortly after this interview aired, the Weekly Standard posted a blog item with this headline: “Obama Surprised to Learn Obamacare Is Hurting Small Businesses.”
Then, the next morning, the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, appeared on Fox News and declared: “He’s had a number of very revealing comments that show just how far out of touch he is with what’s happening in the country. Yesterday he said, among other things, that he didn’t realize that Obamacare is having any impact on small business.”
Romney suggested Obama read a new survey of small businesses from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which purported to show that small businesses were less likely to hire workers because of the health care law. (More on that survey below.)
Now, watching the video clip, it’s hard to see why someone would think Obama appears surprised. Despite Romney’s claim, he certainly doesn’t say he did not realize this problem. But he does seem a bit puzzled by the question, as should anyone: Why would a company consolidate offices in another state because of a national health care law?
We decided to investigate.
The company in question is Nemschoff Inc., which makes chairs and other furnishings for the health care industry, including hospitals. This should have raised a red flag because it is no small business. It is a subsidiary of Herman Miller Inc. (which makes super-nice office furniture), an international company with $1.6 billion in annual revenue. When Herman Miller acquired Nemschoff in 2009, it reported that Nemschoff had annual revenue of more than $90 million.
“We have had 4.3 million private sector jobs created over the last 27 months, but we lost almost half a million public sector jobs, and most of them are teachers….We have lost 250,000 teachers in the last couple of years.”
— Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, on ABC’s “This Week,” June 10, 2012
Defending President Obama against his blooper that the “private sector is doing fine,” Axelrod stressed that government jobs at the state and local level have been hit hard ever since the president’s stimulus funds ran dry. He specifically mentioned huge declines in teaching jobs.
We wondered about the source of those figures. We also recalled that the White House, pushing the president’s jobs bill, had warned in a report last fall that “state and local funding cuts put as many as 280,000 teacher jobs at risk next year.” We were curious, now that the school year is nearly over, what actually happened to all those teacher jobs.
Axelrod’s figures are derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment database. The number of jobs in state and local government has fallen by 450,000 since February 2010 — that’s Axelrod’s “almost half a million.” And then in a category known as “local government education,” the number of jobs has declined by 226,300.
“The private sector is doing fine.”
— President Obama, June 8, 2012
Every politician has his or her talking points — the lines they repeat, over and over, to make their case. These lines are carefully crafted to present their case in the best possible light, or their opponent in the worst possible light.
The problem is when they start believing the spin themselves. That’s what happened to President Obama on Friday, when he said at a news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” Republicans immediately pounced, and the president quickly clarified that things were not all that fine.
But look at what the president said just before that sentence: “The truth of the matter is that, as I said we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last two — 27 months; over 800,000 just this year alone.”
That is one of Obama’s favorite talking points — a figure plucked from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, starting with the lowest point in private sector jobs during his presidency. If you said that same “fact” day after day, you also might think the private sector is doing fine. (Obama’s larger point was relative — private sector hiring is doing better compared to state and local jobs, which keep falling.)
The line is also featured in a new TV ad the Obama campaign began airing last week, which we feature above. As a point of comparison, we also have posted a Romney ad that also uses BLS data to make claims about his record as governor.
We thought it would be an interesting — and amusing — experiment to use one campaign’s rhetoric, but inserting the other guy’s numbers. For instance, we will insert Romney’s job stats from his term of governor into Obama rhetoric, and Obama job stats in Romney rhetoric.
“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.
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.
“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.
“@MittRomney giving another debt speech: will he say why he increased MA’s debt by $2.6B, leaving w/largest per capita debt in nation?”
-- Tweet from Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith
Lis Smith is the rapid-response director for President Obama’s campaign team. She issued this comment while engaged in one of those heated and decidedly modern tweet wars with Mitt Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul last week.
The Obama campaign didn’t explain which debt speech Smith was referring to, but we can safely assume she was tweeting about something similar to the rousing comments the presumptive GOP nominee made during a stop in Des Moines on May 15.
Romney, the former governor of perpetually debt-swamped Massachusetts, said, “A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation, and every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love.” He also accused Obama of feeding the fire with more spending and borrowing, and he promised, “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno. We will stop borrowing unfathomable sums of money we can’t even imagine, from foreign countries we’ll never even visit.”
For the moment, we will leave aside Romney’s claim of a “prairie fire of debt,” since we have previously examined whether Obama is responsible. This time, let’s take a look at Romney’s record in Massachusetts to determine whether Obama’s rapid-response team is on to something. Did the Republican candidate really speak hypocritically about debt?
Romney served as Massachusetts governor from January 2003 to January 2007. Annual fiscal reports from the state show that debt increased from $18.5 billion to $16 billion during that time -- very close to the Obama campaign’s $2.6-billion claim.
So that’s the end of the story, right? Not at all.
“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.
“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.)
“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:
“I wanted to arm you with the facts about the latest attack from Big Oil.”
— Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in a video release
“Koch takes exception to the President engaging in inappropriate personal attacks on private citizens.”
— Koch response video
Two dueling videos, one by the Obama campaign and one by Koch Industries, illustrates how bitter the fight has become between the White House and the billionaire brothers who have bankrolled many conservative causes, often rallying opposition to the president’s policies.
The recent tit-for-tat started with the latest ad by Americans for Prosperity, an organization which the New Yorker magazine, in a lengthy article, said “was micromanaged by the Kochs” and “has been instrumental in disrupting the Obama Presidency.” (Koch issued a long rebuttal to the article but did not dispute this point.)
The AFP ad, indeed, was riddled with falsehoods and misstatements. We gave it Four Pinocchios, PolitiFact labeled its assertions “mostly false,” “false,” and “pants on fire,” and FactCheck.org was also highly critical.
For the Obama campaign, the Koch brothers are a convenient foil, though as we have written before, the campaign goes too far to label them “Big Oil” because their privately held empire is comprised of many businesses, some not related to petroleum. (We also gave Two Pinocchios to Obama’s response ad to AFP, which was mostly aimed at Mitt Romney.)
Still, given how ludicrously wrong much of the AFP ad was, all Stephanie Cutter, the Obama deputy campaign manager, had to do in the campaign’s video was to highlight some of the errors that fact-checking organizations had already pointed out. (She made other assertions that we will examine below.) We will leave it to readers to decide if she went too far in labeling the political activities of the Koch brothers as “BS.”
Now Koch — pronounced “Coke,” not like the name of the former New York mayor — has responded in kind. Let’s take a deeper look at their video.
The ad begins with a reference to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion article criticizing the Obama campaign for highlighting the backgrounds of some of Mitt Romney’s political supporters, suggesting it was some sort of enemies list. The ad then quotes former solicitor general Ted Olsen — identified in the article as an attorney for Koch — as criticizing the practice as “abhorrent.”
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.
“Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus, but that’s not what happened. . . . American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries.”
— New TV advertisement by Americans for Prosperity
“How exactly does President Obama spend your tax dollars?”
— New TV advertisement by the American Future Fund
Two well-funded Republican groups began running hard-hitting ads against President Obama last week, aiming to spend an estimated $8 million in key battleground states. The spots hit similar themes, attacking Obama on green-energy investments, and even cite similar sources.
Watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker, because many of their claims — regarding “billions” of stimulus dollars going overseas — had been debunked two years ago by our colleagues at PolitiFact and Factcheck.org. Yet here the erroneous assertions emerge yet again, without any shame, labeled as “the truth” or “fact.”
The ads also use the old trick of blowing out of proportion small details and then leaping to grand conclusions.
Thus, in the Americans for Prosperity ad, questions about relatively small amounts of more than $800 billion in stimulus money turn into “American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries.”
And the American Future Fund, pegging its ad to the date when taxes are due to ask how Obama spends taxpayer money, focuses on the same green-energy investments and also the $800,000 spent on a lavish Las Vegas conference by the General Services Administration. That’s a scandal — with no known links to Obama — but it’s also a pittance compared with the money spent on national defense, health care and other government services.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific claims.
First of all, we live in a globalized world. American companies make products overseas; foreign companies make products in the United States. Sometimes parts are made in a variety of places overseas and then assembled in the United States. That’s a fact of life, and these ads frequently confuse the difference, so that any hint of foreign involvement is depicted as a bad thing.
“The President unfortunately has taken every single path that has led towards a restriction in job growth, has made it harder for new businesses to start up. As a matter of fact, the number of new business start-ups per year has dropped by 100,000 per year. This is just unacceptable and it’s one of the reasons why it has been so hard for this economy to recover.”
--Mitt Romney, on “Fox & Friends,” April 19, 2012
The uncertain economic environment continues to form the core of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign, as witnessed by his comments made last week. A reader asked whether these statistics on new business start-ups were correct, so we decided to investigate.
The Romney campaign directed us to congressional testimony earlier this year by Brookings scholar Martin Neil Baily, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. In the testimony, titled the “The State of American Small Business,” Baily noted that “the number of start-up establishments has fallen off to a greater extent in this recession than in the 2001 recession.”
“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.”
“And if you look at the damage early on, you know, most of the early job losses were in construction and manufacturing, and disproportionately affected men. But as the crisis intensified, as it did over the course of 2008 — again, before the president came into office — the damage spread and you saw state and local governments, for example, cut back into teachers, fired a lot of teachers, let a lot of teachers go. And a lot of women teach, so you saw the composition of those job losses change over the course of the recovery.”
— Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” April 15, 2012
We criticized Republicans last week for promoting the “true but false” assertion that under Obama, women have lost seven times as many jobs as men. This did not stop the Mitt Romney campaign from trying to promote this idea, which Treasury Secretary Geithner on Sunday labeled “ridiculous and deeply misleading.”
We did not think much of the GOP claim because, even though the numbers added up, it is silly to think any economy begins or ends with a presidency. Over the course of the recession (December 2007 to June 2009), the number of jobs declined by just over 5 million, with women accounting for nearly 1.8 million of that figure.
Still, since the recession ended, 2.2 million jobs have been added under Obama, with women accounting for just 284,000 of that figure. So something’s going on. Geithner’s theory — that women started to lose jobs later in the recession — is an interesting one, so we decided to dig deep in the Bureau of Labor Statistics database for some answers.
Teaching (listed in the BLS database as “local government-education”) represents about 9 percent of the jobs held by women in the United States. The data show that, since Obama became president, a larger proportion of the overall job loss by women — 22.7 percent — has been in teaching positions.
“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).
“I’m not the first President to call for this idea that everybody has got to do their fair share. Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept. He gave a speech where he talked about a letter he had received from a wealthy executive who paid lower tax rates than his secretary, and wanted to come to Washington and tell Congress why that was wrong. So this President gave another speech where he said it was “crazy” -- that's a quote -- that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary. That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan.
“He thought that, in America, the wealthiest should pay their fair share, and he said so. I know that position might disqualify him from the Republican primaries these days but what Ronald Reagan was calling for then is the same thing that we’re calling for now: a return to basic fairness and responsibility; everybody doing their part. And if it will help convince folks in Congress to make the right choice, we could call it the Reagan Rule instead of the Buffett Rule.”
— President Obama, remarks on the Buffett Rule, April 11, 2012
The world has gone topsy-turvy when a Democratic president approvingly cites Ronald Reagan on tax policy — and even suggests naming his legislative proposal after the Republican icon, since, as Obama put it, he “traveled across the country pushing for the same concept.”
Obama is talking about the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which seeks to raise the taxes of the super wealthy so they don’t pay less than middle-class Americans. We have examined this concept earlier and concluded it was more of a “political argument” than an actual problem. (White House documents show just 22,000 wealthy households make more than $1 million and pay less than 15 percent of their income in taxes.) But no matter — a version is coming up for a vote next week in the Senate, though it has little chance of becoming law.
(As our colleague Ezra Klein has noted, the actual proposal is much more complicated than Obama suggests in his speeches. The Obama campaign’s “Buffett Rule calculator” does not get it right either — the full 30-percent rate does not kick in until after a taxpayer has much more than $2 million in adjusted gross income.)
YouTube clips of Reagan complaining about corporate executives paying less than secretaries or bus drivers have circulated on the Internet for a while. But are Reagan and Obama really talking about the same thing when they used similar anecdotes? As always, context is important.
President Obama cited two specific Reagan speeches — one (June 28, 1985) in which Reagan quoted from a letter he had received from a wealthy executive and another (June 6, 1985) in which he said it was “crazy” for some multimillionaires to pay zero in taxes.
“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’ve also put forward a detailed plan that would reform and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid.”
— President Obama, remarks to newspaper editors, April 3, 2012
“I’d be willing to consider the President’s plan, but he doesn’t have one. That’s right: In over three years, he has failed to enact or even propose a serious plan to solve our entitlement crisis.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, remarks to newspaper editors, April 4, 2012
Welcome to the 2012 election campaign, now that it’s clear who the contestants will be. But with speeches like these, will it be possible to have a serious debate?
We recognize that politicians seek to define differences — and Obama and Romney spent most of their time attacking the other side — but we found the disconnect between the two speeches somewhat jarring. Let’s try to explain what these two men are saying.
Entitlements are such programs as Social Security and Medicare, and their costs will soar as the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement. On the surface, Romney’s attack appeared contradictory, because a few moments after attacking the president for not having a plan for solving the entitlement crisis, he faulted Obama’s proposals for reining in spending on Medicare as part of his health care law.
“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.
“Under my administration … we've added enough oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.”
— President Obama, remarks on oil and gas subsidies, March 29, 2012
A number of readers have asked about this claim by the president, wondering if it was correct.
Well, yes, but it’s kind of meaningless — and it’s missing some important context.
Obama clearly made this claim in order to rebut suggestions that the administration is opposed to building pipelines, principally the Keystone XL pipeline. We have explored some of the erroneous claims made about that pipeline project before.
But is the president straining too hard with this claim? Let’s explore.
The circumference of the Earth at the equator is 24,091.55 miles, so we will use that as our guidepost.
“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.
“Over the Obama administration’s first three years, the net benefits of regulations reviewed by OIRA and issued by executive agencies exceeded $91 billion — 25 times the corresponding number in the [George W.] Bush administration and more than eight times the corresponding number in the Clinton administration.”
“In the last 10 fiscal years, the highest costs were imposed in 2007. The last three years of the Bush administration saw higher regulatory costs than the first three years of the Obama administration. If you're looking for the year with the highest regulatory costs on record, you'll have to go all the way back to 1992, under President George H.W. Bush.”
— From an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by White House regulatory chief Cass Sunstein, March 19, 2012
“In terms of just the facts, the Obama administration’s issued fewer final rules in the first three years than the [George W. Bush] administration did in the first three years.
— Sunstein during Politico breakfast, March 20, 2012
The president’s opponents have accused him of stunting the economic recovery with a barrage of harmful new regulations ranging from a supposed “permatorium” on offshore oil drilling to stricter rules aimed at reducing farm dust — neither of which has actually taken effect during Obama’s term.
Cass Sunstein, who heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House budget office, argued against these critics in a Chicago Tribune opinion article titled “Why regulations are good — again.” He wrote that the number of new rules has decreased under President Obama and that estimated net monetary benefits of major rules has reached a staggering level in comparison with the first three years of the previous two administrations.
We don’t take issue with Sunstein defending the president’s regulatory policies. He has every right to do that, especially if he provides valid data to back up his claims — which he did in this case. But his op-ed, along with all the numbers he mentioned, suggest that the current administration has achieved far greater results than those of the past 20 years. He was especially hard on the Bushes in this regard.
We reviewed Sunstein’s claims to find out whether his figures tell the whole story. (Note: all figures are inflation-adjusted 2001 numbers and the years mentioned are fiscal years that end on Sept. 30.)
Obama has issued several executive orders directing federal agencies to avoid redundant, conflicting and excessively burdensome regulations, presumably to avoid any chilling effect that such rules would have on an already mild economic recovery. The past three presidents have issued similar orders.
“The health care law “is going to come with a price tag pretty hefty, of $1.76 trillion. That’s twice as much as originally thought.”
— Voiceover in new National Republican Senate Committee Web ad, March 22, 2012
With the Obama health care law now being argued before the Supreme Court, perhaps it is time for a refresher course on its costs.
A Web ad — titled “Obamacare Fact Check” — released last week by the NRSC is a case in point. Among its many charges of “promises broken” is the suggestion that the health care law already costs twice as much as originally estimated. Is that really the case, given that key provisions of the law have not even taken effect?
First of all, a caveat: all of these budget numbers must be examined with the skepticism. The Congressional Budget Office does as good a job as possible, but its numbers are only estimates — and no one can truly predict the state of the economy and health care years from now, let alone the real impact of the law.
“Obviously, we wish Solyndra hadn’t gone bankrupt. Part of the reason they did was because the Chinese were subsidizing their solar industry and flooding the market in ways that Solyndra couldn’t compete. But understand: This was not our program, per se. Congress — Democrats and Republicans — put together a loan guarantee program because they understood historically that when you get new industries, it’s easy to raise money for startups, but if you want to take them to scale, oftentimes there’s a lot of risk involved, and what the loan guarantee program was designed to do was to help startup companies get to scale.”
— President Obama, interview with American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” March 21, 2012
“We can see the positive impacts right here at Solyndra. Less than a year ago, we were standing on what was an empty lot. But through the Recovery Act, this company received a loan to expand its operations. This new factory is the result of those loans… Before the Recovery Act, we could build just 5 percent of the world’s solar panels. In the next few years, we’re going to double our share to more than 10 percent.”
— Obama, remarks at Solyndra Inc., Fremont, Calif., May 26, 2010
Success has a thousand fathers. Failure is an orphan.
We were reminded of that aphorism when we saw Obama’s comments this week regarding the origin of the government loan program that funded now-bankrupt Solyndra. What was once touted as an administration achievement is now cast as a bipartisan effort that preceded Obama — in effect, the reverse of that aphorism.
Which is it? As it happens, there is a bit of a fact-checker dispute on this matter, with Politifact saying it mostly started under George W. Bush and Factcheck.org arguing that the administration is parsing its words because the loan to Solyndra was funded through Obama’s stimulus bill. So Obama’s statement gives us an opportunity to weigh in on the matter.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed into law by Bush, under section 1703 of Title XVII, included loan guarantee funding to promote innovative clean energy technologies. Solyndra had applied for a loan under 1703, but no loans were made by the time Bush left office.
“America uses 20 percent of the world’s oil, and we’ve got 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. I wasn’t a math major, but if you’re using 20, you’ve only got 2, that means you got to bring in the rest from someplace else.”
— President Obama, remarks on energy, Boulder City, Nev., March 21, 2012
“The fact of the matter is we use 20 percent of the world’s oil. But even if we drilled every square inch of this country, we’d still only have 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”
--Obama, remarks on energy, Maljamar, New Mexico, March 21
“We can’t just rely on drilling. Not when we use more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but still only have 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”
— Obama, weekly radio address, March 17
“There’s a problem with a strategy that only relies on drilling and that is, America uses more than 20 percent of the world’s oil. If we drilled every square inch of this country — so we went to your house and we went to the National Mall and we put up those rigs everywhere — we’d still have only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Let’s say we miss something — maybe it’s 3 percent instead of 2. We’re using 20; we have 2.
“Now, you don’t need to be getting an excellent education at Prince George’s Community College to know that we’ve got a math problem here. I help out Sasha occasionally with her math homework and I know that if you’ve got 2 and you’ve got 20, there’s a gap. There’s a gap, right?”
— Obama, remarks on energy, Prince George’s County, March 15
In response to reader comments and new information, we are revisiting two previous columns and making a rare change in our Pinocchio rating for two unrelated statements made by President Obama and Mitt Romney.
The feedback we get from readers, both positive and negative, is invaluable. We also try to be consistent in our use of the Pinocchio scale, and are always willing to reconsider rulings in the face of new evidence.
“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.
Narrator Tom Hanks: “He knew from experience the cost of waiting [on health care reform].”
President Obama : “When my mom got cancer, she wasn’t a wealthy woman and it pretty much drained all her resources”
Michelle Obama: “She developed ovarian cancer, never really had good, consistent insurance. That’s a tough thing to deal with, watching your mother die of something that could have been prevented. I don’t think he wants to see anyone go through that.”
Hanks: “And he remembered the millions of families like of his who feel the pressure of rising costs and the fear of being denied or dropped from coverage.”
--series of statements with images of Obama and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in the Obama campaign film “The Road We’ve Traveled”
“The Road We’ve Traveled” is a very slick and impressively produced campaign film—sheer catnip for Obama fans. There are a number of facts and figures that could be challenged, but for now we are going to focus on this sequence. The series of words and images is an excellent example of how such films can create a misleading impression, while skirting as close as possible to the edge of falsehood.
The sequence, in fact, evokes a famous story that candidate Obama told during the 2008 campaign—that his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, fought with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.
But the story was later called into question by Dunham’s biographer. The fact that Obama’s initial claim is not directly repeated suggests the filmmakers knew there was a problem with the campaign story, but they clearly wanted to keep some version of it in the film.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama frequently suggested his mother had to fight with her health-insurance company for treatment of her cancer because it considered her disease to be a pre-existing condition. In one of the presidential debates with GOP rival John McCain, Obama said:
President Obama used his visit to a Maryland community college to address one of the hottest campaign topics of the day: energy. During his speech, he talked about his plan for achieving energy independence and investing in alternative technologies. He also discussed his proposal to strip away tax benefits from the oil industry to help close the nation’s gaping budget deficit.
Since the president mentioned “cute bumper-sticker lines” that don’t match the facts, we decided to hold him to his own standards. Is the oil industry really making higher profits than ever before while snatching up $4 billion in U.S. tax dollars every year? Have its tax deductions truly been in place for 100 years?
The president has targeted a select few industries for major tax reforms — or, if you prefer, tax hikes — in his proposed 2013 budget. The industries include fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), finance and insurance. His plan would also eliminate certain tax breaks for individuals making more than $250,000 a year, a group that some categorize as the wealthy.
“Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thinking before. If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society. … There always have been folks who are the naysayers and don't believe in the future, and don't believe in trying to do things differently. One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?’ That's why he's not on Mount Rushmore because he’s looking backwards. He’s not looking forwards. He’s explaining why we can't do something, instead of why we can do something.”
— President Obama, remarks on energy, Largo, Maryland, March 15, 2012
In a speech on energy Thursday, the president took aim at the “cynics and naysayers” who dismiss potential new sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Leave aside the canard about most Europeans believing the earth was flat before Columbus — that’s an elementary-school tale with little basis in fact.
What about President Hayes? Was he really so dismissive about the invention of the telephone?
Hayes, the nation’s 19th president, served only one term, 1877-1881, after a very close and disputed election that needed to be settled by an electoral commission. (He went to bed thinking he had lost to Democrat Samuel Tilden.) He was a master politician who banned liquor from the White House for political purposes (and to curb boorish behavior by members of Congress).
“As a country that has 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, but uses 20 percent of the world's oil — I'm going to repeat that — we've got 2 percent of the world oil reserves; we use 20 percent. What that means is, as much as we're doing to increase oil production, we're not going to be able to just drill our way out of the problem of high gas prices. Anybody who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or they aren’t telling you the truth.”
— President Obama, speech in North Carolina, March 7, 2012
“The United States consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but we only have 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves — 20 percent we use; we only produce 2 percent. And no matter what we do, it's not going to get much above 3 percent. So we're still going to have this huge shortfall. That's why if we really want energy security and energy independence, we've got to start looking at how we use less oil, and use other energy sources that we can renew and that we can control, so we are not subject to the whims of what's happening in other countries.”
— Obama, speech on American energy, March 1, 2012
“After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves.”
— Obama, remarks on the BP oil spill, June 15, 2010
This appears to be one of President Obama’s favorite facts — he says it almost every time he speaks about energy issues — but readers are getting confused. We have received repeated queries from readers asking for an explanation of this startling bit of information.
This is actually an interesting area of inquiry. On the surface, the president’s numbers are correct, based on official government data. But this is a good example of what we call “non sequitur facts” — two bits of information that actually bear little relationship to each other.
The president is trying to make the case that the world has finite oil resources, and the United States — the world’s biggest oil consumer — needs to use less oil in the future. But using “oil reserves” as a key metric gives an incomplete picture of U.S. oil resources. (Note: the analysis that follows draws in part on a comprehensive Congressional Research Service report on oil resource definitions. We have embedded a copy at the end for readers seeking more information.)
“Proven reserves,” whether for oil, natural gas or coal, has a very strict definition, in part because reserves are considered actual assets owned by companies. The oil must have been discovered, confirmed and economically recoverable, with at least 90 percent certainty. The level of reserves, in fact, may vary depending on the price of oil, since a higher price may suddenly make some finds economically viable.
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:
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.
“What we will go to in a very short period of time, the next two years, a little less than 50 percent of the people in this country depend on some form of federal payment, some form of government benefit to help provide for them. After Obamacare, it will not be less than 50 percent; it will be 100 percent.”
— Former senator Rick Santorum, speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, March 7, 2012
Rick Santorum has made the growth of entitlement spending a key focus of his campaign for the presidency, and he touched upon the subject again when he addressed supporters after the Super Tuesday primaries.
We were struck by both figures he used in the speech — that 50 percent of Americans “depend on some form of federal payment” and that Obama’s health-care law would bring the figure to an eye-popping 100 percent. In other words, in just two years, every single American would begin to get federal handouts, according to Santorum’s calculation.
As usual, the Santorum campaign did not respond to a request for documentation, so we searched for the best data we could find.
With the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s, entitlement spending has certainly grown. And the Great Recession has also increased the number of people who rely on government benefits, such as unemployment insurance.
“What’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous, and what you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime.”
— President Obama, at a news conference, March 6, 2012
Befitting a one-time community organizer, the president likes to use the phrase “international community” a lot. In his news conference on Tuesday, the president 12 times used the phrases “international community,” “world community,” or “community of nations.”
But some international communities are clearly more robust than others. When asked by a reporter why the United States could stand by as a “massacre” takes place in Syria, the president did a diplomatic dance that made that “international community” seeking to help the Syrian rebels appear more impressive than it is.
During the news conference, Obama used virtually the same phrasing to describe the struggle against the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad: “What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community” versus “What you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime.”
“This is a president who has failed to put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. He’s also failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand, and that it’s unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. … It’s pretty straightforward in my view: If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change.”
— Mitt Romney, campaigning in Georgia, March 4, 2012
It is a pretty declarative statement by the former Massachusetts governor: “If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change.”
We can’t fact-check the future, but we can say this with certainty: If Romney becomes president, he will discover that this diplomatic stuff is much harder than it looks. And he will absolutely hate it when Congress tries to get involved in foreign policy issues.
Both of these statements are true for every president. It was ever thus.
Let’s take a look at some of Romney’s specific charges about Obama’s handling of the Iran portfolio.
If you go back four years, you will see that it was the Obama campaign that made claims of weakness and fecklessness on Iran. President George W. Bush had considered the building of a multinational coalition seeking to negotiate with Iran as one of his foreign-policy legacies, but Obama officials were critical, saying it offered “weak carrots and weak sticks.”
“When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
— President Obama, before the AIPAC policy conference, March 4
President Obama spoke on Sunday before the annual policy conference of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The somewhat defensive speech appeared to be part of an effort to reassure Jewish voters in this election year that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
When Obama spoke to AIPAC in 2008, as a senator on the verge of securing the Democratic presidential nomination, he made a rookie mistake in talking about the status of Jerusalem. A day later, he felt compelled to clarify his comments in response to Palestinian complaints.
It was not an auspicious beginning for Obama’s venture into Arab-Israeli diplomacy — an issue that has caused him much heartache during his presidency. We have explored earlier whether his problems in this arena were deliberate (as some Republicans charge) or mainly the result of diplomatic ineptitude.
From nearly a decade of covering Middle East diplomacy, we think it is difficult to reach definitive conclusions on this question; it is in the eye of the beholder. We tend to lean toward diplomatic ineptitude as the primary explanation, considering that Palestinians are as irritated with Obama as Israelis are.
Indeed, readers who want to see different views of Obama’s handling of the Israeli diplomatic portfolio can watch two new Web videos. One is a lengthy, negative take by a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel and was released over the weekend; the other is a defense of Obama by the Democratic National Committee that was released last week.
The two videos offer a case study in how certain facts can be assembled to make an argument — while other facts are ignored.
“Now these days when he's not spending our money or infringing on our rights, he’s busy running for reelection. He believes that — did you hear this? He believes he ranks among the top four presidents in American history. Can you believe that? I’d find a different spot for him.”
— Mitt Romney, Feb. 28, 2012
A reader asked us about this statement in the former Massachusetts governor’s speech after his victories in the Michigan and Arizona primaries. This comment has its roots in something Obama said that caused a brief stir in the conservative blogosphere just before Christmas, so we figured it was worth exploring.
In Romney’s telling, Obama comes off as an arrogant twit. So, did the president really say this?
In December, Obama sat down for an interview with Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes.” The clip in question was never aired on CBS, but the full interview was later posted on the CBS News Web site. (See below at the 55-minute mark.)
“When I was speaker for four years, the average price was $1.13. When Obama was sworn in, the average price was $1.89. So trying to get to $2.00 to $2.50 is closer to the historic norm. Think of it as a pre-Obama norm.”
— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Feb. 23, 2012
“We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices. The bubble burst in housing because people couldn’t pay their mortgages because of $4-a-gallon gasoline.”
— Former senator Rick Santorum, Feb. 27, 2012
We asked readers for examples of gassy rhetoric on gasoline prices, and we certainly got some. This Gingrich example, made during an appearance in Kennewick, Wash., is priceless.
We will look at that, as well as Santorum’s interesting new theory on why the United States suffered an economic crisis in 2008.
Earlier this week, we noted House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) comment that gasoline prices had doubled during Obama’s term. This is technically correct but misleading because oil prices were artificially low because of the economic crisis.
“President Obama said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob! There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
— Former senator Rick Santorum, Feb. 25, 2012
“You know the statistic that at least I was familiar with from a few years ago, I don't know if it still holds true but I suspect it may even be worse, that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”
— Santorum, on ABC’s “This Week,” Feb. 26, 2012
There are two things going on with these remarks by Santorum — an attack on Obama for demanding college education for everyone and then an assertion that the college experience is akin to some sort of liberal boot camp.
We always thought college was more about being liberated (from parents), but clearly in some conservative circles there has also been an undercurrent of concern about attitudes on college campuses. (Some colleges, such as Hillsdale College in Michigan, in fact market themselves as conservative alternatives.)
Obama’s statement on college education, made in his first speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009, is easy to check. The president, noting the success of the GI Bill after World War II, said the United States should seek to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world:
“Gas prices have more than doubled since the president took office.”
— House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Feb. 16
“We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance — algae. You’ve got a bunch of algae out here, right? . . . Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States.”
— President Obama, in his speech about energy, Feb. 23
If it’s an election year, politicians must be talking about gas prices.
We remember covering the 1996 presidential campaign, when Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), the eventual Republican nominee, called for repealing a gasoline tax designed to reduce the deficit to give car owners a break because of predictions that gas might top $1.31 a gallon over the summer.
That number seems almost quaint now, even if Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) was wrong when he said in a GOP debate last week that gas already exceeded $6 a gallon in Florida.
Readers should immediately discount anything politicians say about gas prices. Let’s take a look at two common rhetorical tricks, involving statements that are more or less true on their face.
Earlier this week, we focused on a statement by Mitt Romney that “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.”
We had examined this issue before, and were prompted to look at it again by a reader who had publicly challenged Romney to prove that Obama ever said this. We gave Romney Three Pinocchios for his claim, largely because this “eight percent” figure stemmed from a chart in a paper written before Obama took office, not Obama’s own words.
However, several readers wrote that we were being overly narrow in our interpretation and thus were too critical of Romney. And one reader supplied his own research to prove his point.
“I think your column usually is very good and generally even-handed,” wrote Jon Hoffman. “However, I think the effort to debunk the claim about the stimulus and unemployment is perhaps a bit too ‘legalistic.’ It may be true that the original projection was in a paper by two people who were not yet Obama administration officials, and if that were all there was to it, your case (and that of Chuck Smith) would be air tight.”
But then he supplied some YouTube clips that show that Obama “certainly alluded to such an effect.” We find his research interesting and we would like to share it with our readers. As always, we welcome thoughtful reader contributions and seek to highlight them whenever possible.
“Before [GM and Chrysler] were allowed to enter and exit bankruptcy, the U.S. government swept in with an $85 billion sweetheart deal disguised as a rescue plan.”
— From a Mitt Romney op-ed in The Detroit News, Feb. 14, 2012
“I'd like to talk about something else that President Obama has been doing. He's been practicing crony capitalism. And if you want to get America going again you've got to stop the spread of crony capitalism. He gives General Motors to the UAW. He takes $500 million and sticks it into Solyndra.”
— Romney during debate in Charleston, S.C., Jan. 21, 2012
Mitt Romney has been driving home this “crony capitalism” message while stumping in the states with upcoming primaries, especially Michigan. He claims the president rewarded political allies with favors, specifically by throwing good money after bad with Solyndra and by protecting UAW interests in the auto bailout and restructuring processes.
President Obama has said he will not walk away from the “promise of clean energy” just because some of the government’s investments flopped, and he touts the resurgence of America’s automakers as proof that his bailout and restructuring plan helped save the auto industry. Let’s take a detailed look to determine whether Romney’s claims have merit.
Romney described “crony capitalism” during a Feb. 6 campaign rally as using taxpayer money “to take care of your friends or to have government bureaucrats decide how the economy ought to work.” So we will measure the Obama administration’s actions against those criteria.
“When you look at the budget, you’ll see $1.9 trillion worth of new tax revenue and $1.5 trillion worth of more spending.”
--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Feb. 15, 2012
“The president’s budget has $1 of revenue for every $2½ of spending cuts.”
--White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Feb. 12, 2012
Are these guys even talking about the same document?
All presidential budgets are political documents—and it is easy to play politics with numbers. That’s why such a gap in the rhetoric is even possible. Each side can make a case for their spin, though much of it is dubious.
Let’s take a look at how they do it.
First of all, notice that Boehner and Lew are only speaking about one side of the ledger--either spending increases or spending cuts. The Republicans then emphasize the tax increases, while the White House deemphasizes them. We also are working with 10-year budget forecasts, even though the budget is rewritten every year, which increases the chance for mischief.
“Republican Super PACs and outside groups pose a brutal threat to a fair election in November. These groups are already spending millions of dollars on negative ads attacking President Obama.”
— From the Obama for America campaign Web site
President Obama’s campaign ran this statement alongside a graphic illustrating the sharp rise in pro-GOP advertising by special-interest groups. It shows a whopping 1,600 percent increase compared with the 2008 election, with the phrase “threat to a fair election” appearing three times on the Web page. (See screen grab below.)
The Post’s campaign-finance reporters have written extensively about the impact of super PACs, a new breed of fundraiser that can gather unlimited amounts of money to support political causes. These organizations came about after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 ruled in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that corporations have the same right to protected speech as individuals.
We’ll refrain from weighing in on the debate over the Citizens United ruling, but it seemed appropriate to review the data from the Obama campaign graphic to determine whether his campaign put the numbers in perspective. Does the astronomical increase in super PAC advertising really spell doom for the next election? Did the campaign leave anything out?
The Obama graphic uses data from a report by the Wesleyan Media Project, a group that analyzes political advertising. The study covers Jan. 1 through Jan. 25 of 2008 and 2012, so the chart doesn’t represent the entirety of both election cycles.
“All respect due, he [President Obama] reported giving one percent of his income away to charity and he wants to lecture me about being responsible as a steward of my resources. Mr. President, the last time I checked, the bare minimum for a believer is a dime out of a dollar that is supposed to go to take care of the widows, the poor, the orphans.”
--Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 10, 2012
Onetime presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee made this statement after claiming that the president had said at the national prayer breakfast that “Jesus would want us to pay higher tax rates.” We will leave it to readers and theologians to decide if Obama actually said that, or if his use of the relevant scripture was correct.
But we were curious if Huckabee was right in asserting that Obama gives so little to charity. Huckabee framed it as a sign of a person’s character, urging the audience to vet every candidate, Republican or Democrat, for how much they give in charitable contributions.
Every year, the president releases his tax returns, so there is little mystery about the extent of his contributions to charity.
“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”
— President Obama, speaking at the Pentagon , Jan. 5, 2012
We’ve been wondering about this quote every since the president said it six weeks ago, when he spoke about the Defense Strategic Review at the Pentagon. We had previously questioned one of the statements in his speech, but we were not able to fully check this one until we could actually see the numbers in the White House budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year released Monday.
We take no position on the right level for the defense budget. But, with numbers in hand, let’s examine the president’s assertions and whether there has been any sleight of hand. Warning: Lots of budget numbers ahead.
Under the debt ceiling deal reached by the president and congressional leaders last summer, the defense budget must be cut by $487 billion over the next 10 years. Additional cuts may be mandated because a deficit-cutting congressional committee could not reach agreement, but since all concerned say they want to avoid that scenario, let’s keep our focus on the initial round of defense spending reductions.
“No president since the modern state of Israel [was formed] has failed to stand by our ally Israel — only President Obama. …The president spurned the president of Egypt when he took his first foreign trip to Cairo… In May he even said that Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders… Obama’s State Department now designates Jerusalem as an international city and in a bizarre move our State Department will not even acknowledge that Jerusalem belongs to Israel.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Feb. 9, 2012
The former GOP presidential aspirant made a slashing attack on President Obama’s foreign policy Thursday in a speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
In particular, she focused on Israel and the Middle East, where as we have written, Obama’s record is a matter of dispute. Unfortunately, some facts got lost along the way.
First of all, she repeated some of the four-Pinocchio statements she made during the presidential campaign, such as wrongly claiming Obama had “gone around apologizing to the world” and asserting that Obama demanded that “Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders.”
"There's a huge demand around this country for engineers. . . . Where you’re seeing a lot of specialized demand is in engineering that’s related to the high-tech industries.”
-- President Obama, during a Google Plus video conference, Jan. 30
Obama’s comments came in response to a question from Fort Worth resident Jennifer Wedel, who asked why the government has extended and continues to issue H-1B visas when people such as her engineer husband, Darin Wedel, can’t find work.
The president said that not all engineering fields have equal demand at the moment but that “what the industry tells me is that they don’t have enough highly skilled engineers” for work in the high-tech domain.
Obama seemed perplexed after Jennifer mentioned that her husband was a semiconductor engineer. He asked her to forward his resume and said he was interested in “finding out exactly what’s happening there.” We decided to look into the matter as well.
“We are the only people on the earth that put our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem. It was FDR who asked us to do that, in honor of the blood that was being shed by our sons and daughters in far-off places.”
— Mitt Romney, Feb. 2, 2012
This is a strange one.
Kudos to Andrew Kaczynski at Buzzfeed for first spotting this claim, though it turns out that the former Massachusetts governor also said this at least once before, during a stump speech in Iowa in December. (Update: a colleague reports this line has been a regular staple of Romney’s stump speech.)
The first part of this statement is simply wrong. As Kaczynski noted, Romney ran the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics and surely should have noticed the many athletes with their hands on their hearts during the playing of their national anthems.
We randomly searched YouTube for the playing of the national anthem for various countries and quickly found several examples, such as Japan and Brazil, that disprove Romney’s claim of American exceptionalism. (Mara Liasson of NPR sent us the Russia clip.)
But what about the rest of Romney’s claim — did President Franklin D. Roosevelt institute this? The history on this salute is interesting, and actually has more to do with the Pledge of Allegiance than the national anthem.
A spokesman for Romney did not respond to a query, but the candidate may be bringing this up to remind voters of a flap that occurred during the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama did not put his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem.
“It’s good to remember that the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die. Because of folks coming together, we are now back in a place where we can compete with any car company in the world.”
--President Obama, at the Washington Auto Show, Jan. 31, 2012
“On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen.”
--Obama, in the State of the Union address, Jan. 24, 2011
The apparently successful rescue of the auto industry is obviously going to play a central part in President Obama’s reelection narrative. Vice President Biden put it this week: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
As our colleague Charles Lane pointed out recently, this effort has sometimes included what he called “an unfortunate, and remarkably ungracious, tendency to distort the record” of George W. Bush on the auto industry rescue. After all, Bush loaned billions of dollars to GM and Chrysler (with strings attached), in opposition to much of his party, so Obama was not confronted with an auto-industry collapse in his first days in office.
The president has also demonstrated a fondness for using rhetorical straw men in his speeches. So we wondered: Did anyone really say the auto industry should simply die?
Many reporters have assumed that the president’s words were aimed at his likely GOP rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who famously (or infamously) penned an opinion article that was titled: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” The basic thrust of the article was that the companies should go through a managed bankruptcy, mainly to shed labor costs, rather than just get a “bailout check.”
“No candidate in American history has ever run more negative ads than Barack Obama.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking on CNN, Jan. 31, 2012.
A reader asked us about Rubio’s statement, saying, “I do not recall Obama being overly negative in his campaign.”
But it appears to be an article of faith for Republicans. Joe Scarborough, a former GOP member of Congress who hosts MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” declared on Wednesday: “Barack Obama won ugly in 2008; he ran more negative ads than anyone else in the history of television.”
But is this really the case?
The nasty campaign of 2008 actually was raised in one of the presidential debates at the time. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama’s Republican rival, complained that Obama had “spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history.” Obama responded that almost all of McCain’s ads were negative.