The Fact Checker: 2 Pinocchios

Four new Americans for Prosperity ads take on Obamacare

Four new Americans for Prosperity ads take on Obamacare

Americans for Prosperity, the limited-government group that has spent $35 million attacking Democrats over the Affordable Care Act, released four ads on Tuesday—in New Hampshire, Louisiana, Colorado and Michigan.

Here’s a roundup of fact checks of these ads.

New Hampshire

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Spinning Obamacare success: The president highlights a less relevant number

Spinning Obamacare success: The president highlights a less relevant number

“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.

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Do 72 percent of for-profit programs have graduates making less than high school dropouts?

Do 72 percent of for-profit programs have graduates making less than high school dropouts?

“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.”

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President Obama’s persistent ’77-cent’ claim on the wage gap gets a new Pinocchio rating

President Obama’s persistent ’77-cent’ claim on the wage gap gets a new Pinocchio rating

“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

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‘Billions’ spent on attacking Obamacare?

‘Billions’ spent on attacking Obamacare?

“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?

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Do 60 percent of women use ‘birth control’ for something other than family planning?

Do 60 percent of women use ‘birth control’ for something other than family planning?

“When 99 percent of women used birth control in their lifetime and 60 percent use it for something other than family planning, it’s outrageous and I think the Supreme Court will suggest that their case is ridiculous.”

-- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Democratic National Committee chair, on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” March 25, 2014

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The GOP claim that Obama scrapped a missile defense system as ‘a gift’ to Putin

The GOP claim that Obama scrapped a missile defense system as ‘a gift’ to Putin

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

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New anti-Obamacare ad makes misleading claims (video)

New anti-Obamacare ad makes misleading claims (video)

“People don’t like political ads. I don’t like them either. But health care isn’t about politics. It’s about people. And millions of people have lost their health insurance, millions of people can’t see their own doctors, and millions are paying more and getting less.”

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GOP lawmaker was for ‘Wall Street bailout’ before he was against it

GOP lawmaker was for ‘Wall Street bailout’ before he was against it

Simpson “voted to repeal the Wall Street bailout and repay taxpayers”

--voiceover of new ad for Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho)

This is an intramural Republican fight, but it’s an interesting one. Facing a tea party challenger who has financial backing from the conservative Club for Growth, Rep. Simpson has fought back against the attacks with what he calls “the truth.” A Web site sponsored by his campaign, called, amplifies the message of the ad:

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Hagel’s claim that it was ‘Congress’s decision on sequestration’

Hagel’s claim that it was ‘Congress’s decision on sequestration’

“By the way, it isn’t me cutting the budget. It’s the Congress’s decision on sequestration. So it isn’t secretary of defense or the president doing this, and I think we should clear that up a little bit here, too. Where are we making decisions and how do we make them, that’s a responsibility I have. But also the physical constraints that are being placed on the Pentagon to make very tough choices here are very significant.”

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The missing context in yet another AFP ad featuring yet another Obamacare victim

The missing context in yet another AFP ad featuring yet another Obamacare victim

“I was diagnosed with lupus when I was 27. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder. It’s dramatically affected my life. I voted for Barack Obama for president. I thought that Obamacare was going to be a good thing. Instead of helping me, Obamacare has made my life almost impossible. Barack Obama told us we could keep our health insurance if we liked it. And we can’t. I got a letter in the mail saying that my health insurance was over, that it was gone. It was canceled because of Obamacare. My premiums went from $52 a month to $373 a month. I’m having to work a second job to pay for Obamacare. For somebody with lupus, that’s not an easy thing. If I can’t afford to continue to pay for Obamacare, I don’t get my medicine; I don’t get to see my doctors. I am very disappointed in Barack Obama as a president. He made promises he didn’t keep. And that’s disheartening.”

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Harry Reid’s claim that the ‘vast majority’ of AFP’s Obamacare ads are ‘lies’

Harry Reid’s claim that the ‘vast majority’ of AFP’s Obamacare ads are ‘lies’

“Despite all that good news, there’s plenty of horror stories being told. All are untrue, but they’re being told all over America.”

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), remarks on the floor of the Senate, Feb. 26, 2014

“I can’t say that every one of the Koch brothers’ ads are a lie, but I’ll say this: Mr. President, the vast, vast majority of them are.”

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An attack ad against Obamacare, featuring a man on Medicare

An attack ad against Obamacare, featuring a man on Medicare

“This Affordable Care Act, I am going to have bureaucrats telling me what kind of services I am going to qualify for. To be honest with you, I’m scared to death.”

--elderly man at a Town Hall meeting held by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), which appears in an ad by pro-Republican group Americans for Prosperity

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A hard-hitting anti-Obamacare ad makes a claim that doesn’t add up

A hard-hitting anti-Obamacare ad makes a claim that doesn’t add up

“I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It’s heartbreaking for me. Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health.”

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Is suspending the debt limit a ‘blank check’ for Obama?

Is suspending the debt limit a ‘blank check’ for Obama?

“I think it showed that all the Democrats in the Congress were completely willing to give the president a blank check to borrow whatever he wanted. Most of the Republicans weren’t.”

--Former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), president of the Heritage Foundation, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 16, 2014

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A GOP ‘assault’ on women’s health?

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“In order to pay for it, [House Republicans] are going to make an assault on women’s health, make another assault on women’s health, continue our assault on women’s health and pay for this with prevention initiatives that are in effect right now for childhood immunization; for screening for breast cancer, for cervical cancer; and for initiatives to reduce birth defects – a large part of what the Center for Disease Control does in terms of prevention.”

--House Minority Leader Nancy Perlosi (D-Calif.), April 26, 2012

“I’ll guarantee you that they’ve not spent a dime out of this fund dealing with anything to do with women’s health.”

--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), April 30, 2012

This is why Americans hate politics. How can two serious, major-league politicians have such a vehement disagreement over even basic facts?

At dispute is how to provide funding that would prevent a jump in the interest rates for subsidized loans made by the federal government to undergraduate college students. The House of Representatives voted last week to keep the rate from doubling, but funded it by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund that is part of President Obama’s health care law. (The House measure has little chance in the Senate controlled by Democrats.)

There is a bit of budget gamesmanship going on here, as well as a relentless messaging campaign by the Democrats. Just look at some of these quotes:

--“The only way they can find to pay for it is to attack women’s health and children’s health” (Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts).

--“Under the cover of being for student loans, they now are attacking women’s health in the most cynical fashion.” (Rep. George Miller of California.)

--“The way to pay for this assistance for students is not to shut down health for the women of this country.” (Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey).

--“House Republicans have demonstrated their complete disregard and contempt for women’s health.” (Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois)

We are not going to get into an argument about whether the preventive health fund is a good or bad thing — Democrats say it provides steady funding for preventive health, Republicans say it is a “slush fund” to get around regular appropriations — but we do think it would be useful to examine how much money in this fund goes to women’s health programs.

The Facts

First of all, it makes a difference whether you look at the current fiscal year (2012) or proposals for the next fiscal year (2013). In the current fiscal year, there is very little money specifically allocated to women’s health programs.

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Does a majority of millionaires really support the Buffett Rule?

(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

“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.”

 How does the president know this?


The Facts

 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.” 

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Hyping stats about the ‘Buffett Rule’

“Last year, there were 7,000 millionaires who didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes. Instead, ordinary Americans footed the bill — and that’s not fair.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), April 16, 2012

Before the Senate failed to advance to a vote on the so-called Buffett Rule, Reid made the case for the bill, saying it concerned “the basic fairness of our country’s tax system.” The proposal — named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who said he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary — would impose a surcharge on people with gross adjusted income over $1 million, eventually reaching 30 percent.

As we have noted, the problem is more symbolic than real. Most very wealthy people pay a good chuck of their income in taxes. Reid in his statement pointed to “7,000 millionaires” who paid no federal income taxes, which is not very much out of the nearly 250,000 taxpayers who file income taxes with adjusted gross income of $1 million or more.

Still, even that “7,000” figure seemed fishy to us.

The Facts

The White House, in its briefing paper on the Buffett Rule, includes this statement: “Of these millionaires, over 22,000 families paid less than 15 percent of income in Federal income and employee payroll taxes — and 1,470 managed to pay no federal income taxes on their million-plus-dollar incomes, according to the IRS.”

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Romney’s claim about ‘multiplying’ regulators under Obama

(Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

“Today, our freedom is never safe – because unelected, unaccountable regulators are always on the prowl. And under President Obama, they are multiplying. The number of federal employees has grown by almost 150,000 under this president.”

— Mitt Romney, in a speech to the National Rifle Association, April 13, 2012

This number jumped out at us as we read the presumptive Republican nominee’s speech to the NRA. It seems to fit into the Republican narrative of out-of-control growth in government under Obama.

But context is important. Romney’s phrasing suggests that many of these new employees are “unelected, unaccountable regulators.” Is this the case?

The Facts

The Labor Department and the Office of Personnel Management maintain records on the number of federal employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the federal workforce (minus the Postal Service) was 2.062 million in January 2009, when Obama became president. As of March 2012, the number of federal employees stood at 2.208 million.

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President Obama: Quoting Reagan out of context

(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

 “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.

The Facts

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.

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Obama’s selective memory of Supreme Court history

(Carolyn Kaster, AP)

“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.

The Facts

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.

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Romney and ‘outsourcing’: Biden’s out-of-context fact

(Kevin E. Schmidt/AP)

“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?

The Facts

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.

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Mitt Romney and Russia: ‘Geopolitical foe’ at the U.N.?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks in Seoul about Romney’s comments (YEKATERINA SHTUKINA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors, of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran, and nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough, but when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when [Syrian President] Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go to the United Nations and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors? It is always Russia, typically with China alongside, and so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that’s on the Security Council, that has the heft of the Security Council, and is of course a massive security power — Russia is the geopolitical foe.”

— Mitt Romney, March 26, 2012

The former Massachusetts governor made these remarks during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in response to Obama’s open-mike flub with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. (Obama was overheard asking for “space” concerning a dispute over missile defense, saying he would have more “flexibility” for a deal if he wins re-election.)

We will leave to pundits to decide whether Romney’s reference to Russia as a “geopolitical foe” is a Cold War throwback. (Medvedev thinks so, saying the comments “smelled of Hollywood.”) But we were curious if Romney is correct to claim that Russia is “always” defending “bad actors” at the United Nations.

The Facts

Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with China, France, Britain and the United States. Ten other countries rotate, with two-year terms, but only the permanent members have the power to block a Security Council resolution with a single “no” vote.

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Obama’s Solyndra shuffle


“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 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 Facts

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.

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Obama and Iran: Mitt Romney’s critique

“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.


The Facts

 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.”

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Obama, Israel and AIPAC: two dueling videos

“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.

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Rick Santorum’s defense of debt ceiling votes

(Jae C. Hong, AP)

“The debt-to-GDP ratio — which is now over 100 percent — when I came to the Senate, it was 68 percent of GDP. When I left the Senate, it was 64 percent of GDP. So government as a size of the economy went down when I was in the United States Senate.”

“What happened in the earmark process ... was that members of Congress would ask formally, publicly request these things, put them on paper, and have them allocated, and have them voted on in committee, have them voted on on the floor of the Senate.”

“The Weekly Standard just did a review ... and they said that I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the Congress in the 12 years that I was there. My ratings with the National Taxpayers Union were As or Bs; they were very high from the Citizens Against Government Waste. I got a hero award.”

“I was out there as a Republican senator, a conservative voting record, over a 90 percent conservative voting record from the American Conservative Union. By the way, Ron, you ranked 145th, in the bottom half of Republicans this year, in a conservative voting record from that same organization.”
— GOP candidate Rick Santorum during the CNN debate, Feb. 23, 2012

These were Rick Santorum’s responses after Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul attacked his record on spending, something those two Santorum rivals have done all week.

The former Pennsylvania lawmaker noted that debt as a percentage of gross national product actually dropped during his time in the Senate, suggesting his spending policies were perfectly well in line with conservative principles. He defended his earmarks by saying the process was open to the public, hinting that he had nothing to hide. And he threw out a list of positive ratings from conservative watchdog groups as proof that he promoted fiscal restraint.

We checked the facts to determine whether Santorum defended his credentials with legitimate claims. We provided a fairly comprehensive review of the former senator’s fiscal record in a previous column. For this one, we’ll stick to just his remarks during the debate.

The Facts

Santorum is on to something with his comment about debt-to-GDP ratio: It’s a logical way to put debt in context. That’s because inflation and economic growth cause the debt number to rise almost automatically over time. Thus, the most accurate way to gauge the impact of debt is to measure it as a percentage of economic output.

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Ron Paul’s misleading ad: Rick Santorum is ‘fake’ fiscal conservative

Santorum voted to send billions of our tax dollars to dictators in North Korea and Egypt, and he even hooked Planned Parenthood up with a few million bucks. Rick Santorum, a fiscal conservative? Faaake.” — New ad from Ron Paul campaign, released Feb. 21

Santorum has arguably claimed the mantle of GOP front-runner by virtue of winning the most primaries and polling at or near the front of the pack in Michigan and Arizona, where the next contests take place. So his rivals are taking aim at his record, mainly by attacking his fiscal policies.

Ron Paul has gone perhaps furthest in this regard with his latest ad, which suggests the former senator supports ruthless dictators and abortion services. The video only mentions spending, but it’s actually a two- or maybe three-for-one for all intents and purposes, since it questions the candidate’s social and foreign policy values.

We looked at Santorum’s record to find out whether Paul’s video misleads voters. (Note: Paul was asked to defend this ad in the CNN Debate on Wednesday night and he gleefully repeated the claim that Santorum is a “fake.”)

The Facts

The Paul campaign provided a list of five bills dedicating money to Egypt and North Korea — in one case, just Egypt. Each measure passed at least one chamber of Congress with a yes vote from Santorum.

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The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul


“98 percent of Catholic women, I am told by all of you, use birth control to determine the size and timing of their families.”

--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Feb. 16, 2012

Ever since the battle erupted between Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over providing free contraception coverage as part of health plans for workers, a striking figure has appeared in the news — that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives.

 “Birth-control is widely used even by Catholics: 98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.”

The Washington Post, Feb. 12


“In fact, 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lifetimes.”

National Public Radio, Feb. 10


“Studies have shown that 98 percent of Catholic women have used artificial contraception at some time in their lives.”

The New York Times, Feb. 10

 Small wonder that Pelosi cited the media — “I am told by all of you” — when she made her comment on Thursday. But what does this figure really mean and where does it come from?


The Facts

 The 98-percent figure first appeared in an April 2011 study written by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke of the Guttmacher Institute, which is a non-profit organization that promotes reproductive health and had started as an arm of Planned Parenthood. The study is titled “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.”

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The Obama campaign’s misleading graphic: Super PACs threaten fair election

(Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images)

“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 Facts

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.

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Obama’s gifts to charity: Just 1 percent?

(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

“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.

The Facts

Every year, the president releases his tax returns, so there is little mystery about the extent of his contributions to charity.

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Romney and Plan B: The Santorum and Gingrich claims


“This is not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom. In December 2005, Governor Mitt Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. He said then that he believed ‘in his heart of hearts’ that receiving these contraceptives — free of charge — trumped employees’ religious consciences. Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart is strategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, in an opinion article for Politico, Feb. 7, 2012

“There has been a lot of talk about the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic church. The fact is Governor Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor. So you have a similar pattern.”

— Newt Gingrich, speaking in Cincinnati, Feb. 7, 2012

With GOP front-runner Mitt Romney attacking President Obama over the administration’s new rule requiring many Catholic institutions to offer birth control and other contraception services as part of employees’ health care coverage, his Republican rivals have begun attacking Romney for allegedly doing the very same thing when he was governor of Massachusetts.

We seem forever doomed to delve deep into ancient Bay State political tussles. It is well known that Romney’s views on abortion issues evolved as he edged closer to a presidential run in 2008. But is it correct that he “insisted” (Gingrich’s word) or “required” (Santorum’s word) that Catholic hospitals provide access to emergency contraception?

The Facts

At issue is the emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill, or Plan B, which is essentially a heavy dose of birth control pills that a woman takes after unprotected sex. It is generally effective only for the few days after intercourse but some anti-abortion advocates believe that it could thin the lining of a uterus and thus in theory could destroy a fertilized egg. (UPDATE: The New York Times reported in June, 2012 that a review of studies found no evidence that the pill affected fertilized eggs.)

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President Obama’s claim that some wanted to let the auto industry die


“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?

The Facts

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.”

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Rick Santorum’s debate attacks against Mitt Romney

(Octavian Cantilli, Reuters)

“If you look at cap-and-trade, Gov. Romney was very proud to say that he was the first state in the country as governor to sign a cap on CO-2 emissions, the first state in the country to put a cap believing in global warming — and criticized Republicans for not believing in it.”

— Rick Santorum, during NBC News debate in Tampa, Jan. 23, 2012

“When he was governor of Massachusetts, he put forth ‘RomneyCare,’ which was not a bottom-up, free-market system. It was a government-run healthcare system that was the basis of ‘Obamacare.’ And it has been an abject failure, and he has stood by it. He's stood by the fact that it's $8 billion more expensive than under the current law. He's stood by the fact that Massachusetts has the highest health insurance premiums of any state in the country; it is 27 percent more expensive than the average state in the country. Doctors — if you're in the Massachusetts health care system, over 50 percent of the doctors now are not seeing new patients -- primary care doctors are not seeing new patients. Those who do get to see a patient are waiting 44 days, on average, for the care.

  A lot of those people were, as you know, on Medicare and Medicaid, so they're already on government insurance, and you just expanded it, in fact. Over half the people who came on the rolls since you put ‘RomneyCare’ into effect are fully subsidized by the state of Massachusetts, and a lot of those are on the Medicaid program.”

 -- Santorum, during CNN debate in Charleston, S.C., Jan. 19, 2012  


These quotes represent some of the most pointed attacks Rick Santorum has made against Mitt Romney during the past two debates, as he tries to portray the two GOP frontrunners as moderates — he dished out similar cap-and-trade criticism toward Newt Gingrich during the Tampa debate. (We have previously examined Gingrich’s flip-flop on this issue.)

The first set of remarks draw a distinction between Santorum and Romney on environmental issues. The second is a detailed litany suggesting the former Bay State governor doesn’t stand a chance of distinguishing himself from President Obama when it comes to health care during the general election.

We researched Romney’s stance on cap-and-trade and examined the effects of the Massachusetts health-care law to find out how close Santorum’s remarks came to the truth. We already wrote about the Massachusetts health-care overhaul in our biographical series about Romney, but we’re always willing to dive a little deeper on that subject.

The Facts

A Wall Street Journal article from October 2011 noted that Romney strongly supported cap-and-trade while serving as governor of Massachusetts. It reports that he stood outside an old coal-fired plant in 2003, promising activists, “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people.”

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Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan (Fact Checker biography)

(Charlie Riedel/AP)
“America must decide who to trust: Al Gore’s Texas cheerleader, or the one who stood with Reagan.”

— An ad from the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign Committee

We pulled this comment from an ad that accuses Rick Perry of trying to “undo the Reagan Revolution” when he backed Al Gore for president in 1988. Photos show Ron Paul looking chummy with the Gipper as a deep-voiced narrator describes the Texas congressman as a bold Reagan supporter. The gist: Paul has impeccable Reaganite credentials; Perry does not.

We examined Paul’s relationship with Reagan during the late 1980s to find out whether he was really so supportive of the Republican icon. Our colleagues at covered this topic before, but we figure it’s worth another look as we continue our series on biographical claims of the 2012 Republican candidates.


Paul has little room to criticize politicians for changing their party affiliations. He campaigned for president as a Libertarian in 1988, after running for office seven times as a Republican and serving as a GOP member of the U.S. House for more than six years at that point.

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Nancy Pelosi’s misfire on job and tax-cut claims


“The payroll tax cut that the president proposed would put $1,500 in the pockets of 160 million Americans. The unemployment insurance extension is not only good for individuals, it has macroeconomic impacts. As the Macroeconomic Advisers have stated, it would make a difference of 600,000 jobs to our economy.”

— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Dec. 15, 2011

With the days ticking toward the end of the year, Democrats and Republicans have been battling over the best way to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed.

In a news conference Thursday, appearing to look at notes, Pelosi laid out her case for swift action. How well did she make it?

The Facts

Pelosi cited two key figures — how much money the tax cut would bring to working Americans and how many jobs would be created from extending unemployment insurance. She managed to mangle both.

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Keystone pipeline jobs claims: a bipartisan fumble


“The Keystone energy project would create tens of thousands of American jobs.”

— House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Dec. 10, 2011

 “At a time when many are without work, it is time that we come together in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation which will create tens of thousands of new jobs.”

— Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Dec. 12, 2011

 “The privately financed Keystone XL pipeline project is projected to create tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in construction and manufacturing.”

— Mark H. Ayers, president of the building and construction trade department, AFL-CIO, Nov. 3, 2011

"My administration will stand behind the Keystone pipeline, creating more than 100,000 American jobs while reducing our dependence on overseas imports."

— Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R), Nov. 1, 2011  

There is bipartisan consensus: The Keystone XL pipeline means jobs, jobs, jobs.

 The Obama administration last month announced that it was taking more time to consider how to balance environmental concerns and economic issues in deciding whether to approve the pipeline, which would carry heavy crude oil from Canada’s Alberta province to the Gulf Coast. (Skeptics would suggest the White House wanted to avoid angering two key allies during an election year.)

Ever since, advocates of the pipeline have pressed the case that thousands of shovel-ready jobs are being delayed by the administration’s inaction, with House Republicans including a shortened timeline for a permit in legislation extending the payroll tax cut.

 We’ve repeatedly warned that many “job creation” statistics are often guesstimates of estimates, and should be viewed skeptically. By some accounts, the number of jobs that would be created could be as many as 150,000. But the State Department in August put the number of construction jobs at just 5,000 to 6,000.

 What’s going on here?


The Facts

 TransCanada Corp., which is pushing to build the pipeline, claims that  Keystone XL “was poised to put 20,000 Americans to work to construct the pipeline.” The company also cites another figure — 118,000 spin-off jobs Keystone XL would create through increased business for local restaurants, hotels and suppliers — that comes from a study commissioned by the company. The study even suggested that under “normal” oil price assumptions, the number of permanent jobs would top 250,000.

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Restore our Future PAC recycles questionable claims in Romney ad

“Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs. He rescued an Olympics hit by scandal; took over a state facing huge deficits, and he turned it around without raising taxes, vetoing hundreds of bills.”
— Comments in recent ad by pro-Romney PAC Restore our Future

The claims in this ad cover just about about everything we fact-checked for the Mitt Romney biographical series, minus the comment about vetoes. The commercial has been running frequently in Iowa, so we’ll rehash some of the issues we found with its assertions, all of which echo previous remarks by the former Massachusetts governor.  


Romney co-founded and led the investment firm Bain Capital, which made an incredibly pretty penny as a pioneer in the field of leveraged buyouts, according to a prospectus obtained by the L.A. Times.  

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Revisiting Romney’s ‘deceitful, dishonest’ ad about Obama

“Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’”

— Then-Sen. Barack Obama, Oct. 16, 2008

We resisted writing about Mitt Romney’s first television ad when it was released just before Thanksgiving, on the grounds that the issue — whether the ad misquoted President Obama — had been thoroughly and quickly discussed. We sometimes also see little need to fact check items that have been already debunked by one political faction or the other.

 But readers have repeatedly asked us to weigh in, and the ad was once again in the news this week after a report in The New York Times by our former colleague Thomas Edsall quoted an anonymous “top operative” in the Romney campaign as defending the ad because “ads are propaganda by definition…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing…. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”

 Excuse us for appearing cynical, but Romney’s supposed adviser is simply stating a truth practiced by both political parties. We’ve seen plenty of Four-Pinocchio ads in our time, and this Romney ad does not make the cut.


The Facts

The ad opens with a headline: “On October 16, 2008, Barack Obama Visited New Hampshire.” Then grainy scenes flash by of Obama speaking as more headlines flash by, such as: “He Promised He Would Fix the Economy…. He Failed”

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Romney’s claim that Gingrich has spent ‘40 years’ living in D.C.

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

“I don’t think I want to characterize Newt at this point, other than to point out our very distinct difference with regards to background. I think if America feels that we need somebody who’s lived in Washington for the last 40 years to run the country, he’s a good choice.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, on “Fox and Friends,” Dec. 2, 2011

Romney, trying to draw a contrast with the surging Newt Gingrich, not once but twice said that Gingrich had spent 40 years in Washington during a 10-minute appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

Four decades? We were immediately skeptical of this figure.

The Facts

Gingrich, who rose to become speaker of the House of Representatives, was first elected to Congress in 1978. Subtracting that from 2011, you end up with 33.

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How much time is Obama spending on his reelection campaign?

Question:  “How much time is he focused on the campaign on a given day?”

White House spokesman Jay Carney:  “On a given day?  I can’t do it on a given day.  I would say on a given week about 5 percent of his time.”

--White House press briefing, Nov. 29, 2011

President Obama obviously is seeking to be re-elected. But the question raised at one of this week’s news briefings is an interesting one: How much time is he spending on getting re-elected? He has a pretty important day job right now, after all.

 We asked a White House official for an explanation of how Carney derived his estimate, and were told it was based on Carney’s knowledge of the president’s schedule. That did not seem like a particularly rigorous accounting (though Carney did not try to claim it was). So we decided to investigate further.


The Facts

 The precise details of how the president spends his day are a bit fuzzy, but the White House does release a daily schedule which the Washington Post’s POTUS tracker has meticulously cataloged, day in and day out. The tracker lists every event the White House makes public. Excluding events that turn up as “departing,” “leaving” and “no public events scheduled,” we discover that as of Dec. 1, the president has held 1,134 events this year. (We kept our focus on just this year because that was the context of the question asked of Carney.)

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Will the United States really spend $700 billion in the next decade on nuclear weapons programs?

“Some in Washington still want to spend $700 billion on old outdated Cold War Programs”

--Advertisement from the American Security Project which aired during the GOP Debate on Nov. 22, 2011

“The United States is projected to spend an estimated $700 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs during the next ten years.”

--Ploughshares Fund Working Paper, Version 2, Sept. 27, 2011


In these grim economic times, the cost of maintaining and upgrading the United States’ aging nuclear arsenal of 5,000 warheads is certainly a ripe topic for discussion. The U.S. government has never officially disclosed the exact cost, and whether one should include environmental clean-up costs, missile defense and other programs related to nuclear weapons is a legitimate topic of debate.

In recent weeks, a fierce fight has broken out in the nuclear world over an estimate issued by Ploughshares Fund—a foundation focused on nuclear policy—that the United States will spend $700 billion over the next ten years on “nuclear weapons and related programs.” That estimate has stuck and become part of the public discourse, appearing in the recent advertisement and a letter by Rep. Edward Markey(D-Mass.), often without the caveat of “related programs.”

But the administration of President Obama—who won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for calling for a world without nuclear weapons—has flatly rejected the $700 billion figure. James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense, told Congress on Nov. 2 that the figure was close to $214 billion over ten years, with $88 billion being spent at the Energy Department, which maintains nuclear weapons, and more than $125 billion spent on delivery systems at the Defense Department.

 “I've had an opportunity to look at some of the materials that were referenced in the cost estimates just before coming over here and I—without giving this more time than it deserves—suffice it to say there was double counting and some rather curious arithmetic involved,” Miller said.

 There is such a large gap between $700 billion and $200 billion that some readers asked us to look into the matter. To put it in perspective, the gap between these two estimates would fund the State Department and all foreign aid for the next decade. Hang on, there are lots of numbers, but it is an important issue.


The Facts

 First of all, Ploughshares is counting a lot of things that the administration is not including in its estimate. As the spreadsheet below shows, the group included such things as the costs of missile defense (on the theory that it exists only to protect America against nuclear weapons) and environmental clean-up. As we said, there is a legitimate debate about whether or not to include such items—is missile defense needed even if the U.S. gives up all of its nukes?--but those items account for nearly $270 billion of the Ploughshares figure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Facts

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

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