The Fact Checker: Congress

Candidates flinging Pinocchios at each other

Candidates flinging Pinocchios at each other

The Fact Checker is used to politicians citing negative fact checks about their opponents in campaign debates or even political advertisements. But this is a new one: Both sides in the hard-fought GOP primary battle between Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho and Bryan Smith are citing Pinocchio ratings in television ads about the very same subject. The Simpson ad even shows Smith’s nose growing to Pinocchio length.

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The bogus claim that Obamacare has boosted the number of uninsured

The bogus claim that Obamacare has boosted the number of uninsured

“It’s hard to get accurate numbers on anything. But the numbers we see today is that -- as I understand them -- we believe there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president’s health-care plan went into effect. And I thought the goal was to bring more people into insurance.”

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Senate Majority PAC’s nonsensical attack ad in Louisiana

Senate Majority PAC’s nonsensical attack ad in Louisiana

“We’ve been battered by hurricanes, lost everything to floods. And for thousands of Louisianans, flood insurance and hurricane relief are our only protection. But the out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers funded the fight to let flood insurance premiums soar, helping the insurance companies and cut off hurricane relief for Louisiana families. Now they’re spending millions to buy a Senate seat for Bill Cassidy so he can fight for them. If the Kochs and Cassidy win, Louisiana loses.”

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McConnell’s stale, inflated claim about health-plan cancellations

McConnell’s stale, inflated claim about health-plan cancellations

“Only approximately 64,000 Kentuckians enrolling in Obamacare have enrolled in a private plan in Kentucky’s own Obamacare exchange, far fewer than the 280,000 who received cancellation notices of plans they had and liked.”

-- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an opinion article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, March 29

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Obamacare enrollment numbers: what we know and what we don’t know

Obamacare enrollment numbers: what we know and what we don’t know

“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

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A Democratic attack ad tries to connect the dots, and earns 4 Pinocchios

A Democratic attack ad tries to connect the dots, and earns 4 Pinocchios

“Before Congress, Cotton got paid handsomely working for insurance companies”

--voice over for new Senate Majority PAC ad attacking Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D)

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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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Big claims, few details in anti-Obamacare ad alleging soaring costs

Big claims, few details in anti-Obamacare ad alleging soaring costs

“This new plan is not affordable at all. My husband is working a lot more hours just to pay for these new increases .Obamacare is a vote that’s destroying the middle class.”

--Michigan resident Shannon Wendt, in a new Americans for Prosperity ad attacking Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.)

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Club for Growth’s attack on a GOP lawmaker

Club for Growth’s attack on a GOP lawmaker

Last week, we handed Two Pinocchios to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) for his claim that he voted to “repeal and repay” the Troubled Assets Relief Program (a.k.a., “the Wall Street bailout”) because he had actually voted for TARP in the first place — a fact not disclosed in his campaign literature or his ads. Simpson made the ad in response to the Club for Growth, which has highlighted Simpson’s original vote for TARP — and his frequent defense of that vote until he faced a serious challenge this year. The Club for Growth is backing Simpson’s primary challenger, Bryan Smith.

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Ted Cruz’s ‘biggest lie in politics:’ Is it actually the truth?

Ted Cruz’s ‘biggest lie in politics:’ Is it actually the truth?

“Let me tell you now about the single biggest lie in politics: It is that Republicans are the party of the rich. What complete nonsense. Do you know that under President Obama, the top 1 percent, those millionaires and billionaires that the president loves to demagogue, the top 1 percent are currently earning the highest percentage of our national income since 1928? Listen, when the government expands its control of the economy, the rich do fine. Five years ago if you had a private jet you’re still flying the private jet. Who are the losers? Who are the people who are getting hammered by the Obama economy? It’s the most vulnerable among us.”

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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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Boehner’s claim that Obamacare has resulted in a ‘net loss’ of people with health insurance

Boehner’s claim that Obamacare has resulted in a ‘net loss’ of people with health insurance

Reporter: “Mr. Speaker, you said a minute ago there are fewer people today with health insurance than when the law was passed. I want to make sure I understand. You’re saying that Obamacare has resulted in a net loss of insurance?”

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio): “I believe that to be the case. When you look at the 6 million Americans who have lost their policies and some -- they claim 4.2 million people who have signed up -- I don’t know how many have actually paid for it -- that would indicate to me a net loss of people with health insurance. And I actually do believe that to be the case.”

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The Democrats’ claim that the GOP ‘underperformed’ on its way to victory

The Democrats’ claim that the GOP ‘underperformed’ on its way to victory

“The GOP underperformed tonight in the #FL13 -- a district they’ve held for decades”

--Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in a tweet March 11, 2014

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A story too good to check: Paul Ryan and the tale of the brown paper bag

A story too good to check: Paul Ryan and the tale of the brown paper bag

“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”

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Lindsey Graham’s claim that defense spending topped 5 percent of the economy ‘in times of peace’

Lindsey Graham’s claim that defense spending topped 5 percent of the economy ‘in times of peace’

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “Mr. Hale, what percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] are we spending on our national defense in this budget?”

Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert F. Hale: “In ’15 it’ll be about 3.2 percent for DOD.”

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Republican operative targets Democrat for expressing interest in a deficit plan touted by Republicans

Republican operative targets Democrat for expressing interest in a deficit plan touted by Republicans

“Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love. Sending Alex Sink to Washington guarantees that seniors right here in Pinellas County are in jeopardy of losing the Social Security and Medicare benefits that they have earned and deserve.”

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Rep. Darrell Issa disputes his Four-Pinocchio ratings

Rep. Darrell Issa disputes his Four-Pinocchio ratings

CHRIS WALLACE: That brings up my final question for you, because you have come under fire both in the IRS and Benghazi and other investigations of your committee for political witch hunts. They point specifically to a speech you gave to GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire in February about the Benghazi terror attack. Here’s a clip.

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Issa’s ‘suspicions’ that Hillary Clinton told Panetta to ‘stand down’ on Benghazi

Issa’s ‘suspicions’ that Hillary Clinton told Panetta to ‘stand down’ on Benghazi

“We need to have an answer of when the secretary of defense had assets that he could have begun spinning up. Why there was not one order given to turn on one Department of Defense asset? I have my suspicions, which is Secretary Clinton told Leon [Panetta] to stand down, and we all heard about the stand-down order for two military personnel. That order is undeniable. They were told not to get on -- get off the airplane and kind of stand by -- and they’re going to characterize it wasn’t stand down. But when we’re done with Benghazi, the real question is, was there a stand-down order to Leon Panetta or did he just not do his job? Was there a stand-down order from the president who said he told them to use their resources and they didn’t use them? Those questions have to be answered.”

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A bipartisan fail in talking about the national debt under presidents

“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.”

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Paul’s claim that ‘at least half a dozen’ women called Clinton a ‘sexual predator’

Paul’s claim that ‘at least half a dozen’ women called Clinton a ‘sexual predator’

“Yeah, I mean, [former president Bill Clinton is] a predator, a sexual predator, basically. Repetitive -- you know there’s dozens or at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward.”

-- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in an interview with “The Steve Malzberg Show” on NewsMax TV, Feb. 5, 2014

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A discredited 4-Pinocchio survey gets cited again on national television

A discredited 4-Pinocchio survey gets cited again on national television

“Many employers are not hiring people because of Obamacare, 70 percent in some of the surveys of small businesses are saying that Obamacare is already harming their ability to hire people.”

-- Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feb. 9, 2014

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Durbin’s claim that 10 million now have health insurance because of Obamacare

Durbin’s claim that 10 million now have health insurance because of Obamacare

“Bob, let’s look at the bottom line. The bottom line is this: 10 million Americans have health insurance today who would not have had it without the Affordable Care Act. Ten million.”

-- Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 9, 2014

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Sen. Scott’s claim that the medical device tax will cost small businesses $29 billion

Sen. Scott’s claim that the medical device tax will cost small businesses $29 billion

“Another aspect of Obamacare that we should address very quickly is the medical device tax. Here’s another $29 billion leaving the pockets of small business owners which makes it more difficult to create jobs.

“As a small business owner myself, here’s what you cannot keep asking us to do: pay higher taxes as we did January of last year, $630 billion of higher taxes; more regulations, Obamacare takes another $800 billion out of the pockets of small business owners through higher taxes and more revenues; and hire more people.”

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Are there 91 million Americans ‘on the sidelines’ looking for work?

Are there 91 million Americans ‘on the sidelines’ looking for work?

“The more than 91 million Americans who are out of the workforce and stuck on the sidelines deserve action on the part of the president and the Senate.”
--Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), opinion article in The Tennessean, Jan. 28, 2014

A confused reader wrote The Fact Checker about this sentence, wondering how it was possible that 91 million Americans could be unemployed.

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Do nine out of 10 new businesses fail, as Rand Paul claims?

Do nine out of 10 new businesses fail, as Rand Paul claims?

“What he [President Obama] misunderstands is that nine out of 10 businesses fail, so nine out of 10 times, he’s going to give it to the wrong people. He gave $500 million to one of the richest men in the country to build solar panels, and we lost that money.”

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Mitch McConnell’s claims about helping workers harmed at a nuclear fuel plant

Mitch McConnell’s claims about helping workers harmed at a nuclear fuel plant

“Mitch stepped in and helped create cancer screening programs and provide compensation for sick workers. He knocked down walls for us.”

--former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant worker Robert Pierce, in an ad for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

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The phony ratio comparing insurance cancellations to health plans on

The phony ratio comparing insurance cancellations to health plans on

“More than 10 times as many people have had their insurance canceled, as compared to those who have been able to obtain private insurance.”

-- Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), interview on Fox News, Jan. 21, 2014

This was certainly an eye-popping statistic that the senator offered the other day — 10 times as many people have had their insurance canceled as those who have been able to get insurance. Could it possibly still be true?

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Is Snowden working for the Russians?

Is Snowden working for the Russians?

“There’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow.”

--Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jan. 20, 2014, using an acronym for the Federal Security Service that succeeded the K.G.B.

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Pelosi vs. Barrasso: a tale of two Obamacare talking points

Pelosi vs. Barrasso: a tale of two Obamacare talking points

“Even in the health-care field, where Nancy Pelosi said pass the health-care law, it would be 4 million jobs, 400,000 immediately. They actually lost jobs in the health-care field in December, according to the jobs numbers lost in doctors’ offices and hospitals, as well as home health care.”
--Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), interview on CNN, Jan. 13, 2014

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Rubio’s claim that Medicaid expansion funds will ‘go away’

Rubio’s claim that Medicaid expansion funds will ‘go away’

“Under Obamacare, when you turn Medicaid over to the states, what you’re saying to them is the money will be available up front for the expansion for a few years, then the money will go away but you get stuck with the unfunded liability.”

-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Jan. 12, 2014

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The McCain-Graham claim that Iraq’s ‘main political blocs were supportive’ of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq

The McCain-Graham claim that Iraq’s ‘main political blocs were supportive’ of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq

“Let it be clear that the Administration’s narrative that Iraq’s political leadership objected to U.S. forces remaining in Iraq after 2011 is patently false. We know firsthand that Iraq’s main political blocs were supportive and that the Administration rejected sound military advice and squandered the opportunity to conclude a security agreement with Iraq that could have met U.S. military requirements and helped to consolidate our gains after a decade of war.”

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How did Rand Paul’s son end up on Medicaid?

“I actually tried to get my son signed up through the Kentucky exchange, you know, that the Democrats have said is so good. And I have here my son’s Medicaid card. We didn’t try to get him Medicaid, I’m trying to pay for his insurance. But they automatically enrolled him in Medicaid.”

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How much is Obama to blame for the worst labor participation rate in 40 years?

How much is Obama to blame for the worst labor participation rate in 40 years?

“This Obama economy is holding people back. The workforce participation rate is the lowest that it’s been in 40 years.”

--Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), news conference, Jan. 8. 2014

“What we need the president to do is to say the Obama economy is not working. The labor force participation rate is the worst it has been in 40 years.”

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Harry Reid’s claim that under Obamacare 9 million people ‘have health care that didn’t have it before’

Harry Reid’s claim that under Obamacare 9 million people ‘have health care that didn’t have it before’

“Right now, as we speak, there are 9 million Americans who have health care that didn’t have it before.”

-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Jan. 5, 2014

There have been lots of numbers tossed around about enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, but Reid’s figure certainly jumped out at us, given that the administration is backing away from its initial target of 7 million enrollees on the exchanges.

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The GOP claim that more Americans have lost insurance than gained it under Obamacare

“It’s official: #Obamacare debuts with more canceled plans than enrollments”

-- tweet by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Jan. 2, 2014

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Schumer’s claims about Democratic and GOP efforts to ‘fix’ Obamacare

Schumer’s claims about Democratic and GOP efforts to ‘fix’ Obamacare

“I think what most Americans want us to do is not repeal Obamacare, which is what our Republican colleagues are focused on, but fix it. The president is working to fix it; we are working in the Senate to fix it; we urge our Republican colleagues to join us in fixing it.”

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The most popular fact checks of 2013

The most popular fact checks of 2013

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.

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Claims that the budget deal limits Senate minority rights and could lead to tax hikes

Claims that the budget deal limits Senate minority rights and could lead to tax hikes

“They like to call it a revenue, not a tax increase, but one thing I did talk about is that it changes the rules and allows [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid to push through a tax increase with only 51 votes. I just discovered this an hour ago. It’s hidden deep in the bill.”

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Is there $200 billion in duplicative federal spending?

Is there $200 billion in duplicative federal spending?

“I’m real disappointed in the [budget] deal. The GAO says we’ve got $200 billion in wasteful, duplicate spending every year. And what we do is we raise fees, raise money, steal money, raise the cost of pensions for federal workers.”

--Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Dec. 11, 2013

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Harry Reid’s explanation for why not all of his staff is going on ‘Obamacare’

Harry Reid’s explanation for why not all of his staff is going on ‘Obamacare’

“All I did was follow the law. The law says that if you have committee staff, leadership staff, they stay where they are. If you have other staff, which is most everyone, they go to the exchanges. I followed the Affordable Care Act. It is the law.”

-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), radio interview, Dec. 5, 2013

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McConnell’s claim of Obamacare’s ‘extraordinary disruption’ for Americans with health insurance

McConnell’s claim of Obamacare’s ‘extraordinary disruption’ for Americans with health insurance

“Obamacare does not even address the issue of costs. In fact, it exacerbates the problem and causes 85 percent of Americans who had health insurance and who liked it extraordinary disruption. So, it’s been a catastrophe for health care and for the economy at large.”

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The bogus claim that Obama is ‘closing’ the Vatican embassy

The bogus claim that Obama is ‘closing’ the Vatican embassy

“Why would our President close our Embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare”

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The most popular fact checks of November (It’s still almost all about Obamacare)

The most popular fact checks of November (It’s still almost all about Obamacare)

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.

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Harry Reid’s tweet on Obama’s ‘filibustered’ nominees

Harry Reid’s tweet on Obama’s ‘filibustered’ nominees

“In the history of the United States, 168 presidential nominees have been filibustered: 82 blocked under President Obama; 86 blocked under all other presidents”

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Ted Cruz’s fuzzy math about the ‘trade-off at the heart of Obamacare’

Ted Cruz’s fuzzy math about the ‘trade-off at the heart of Obamacare’

“You know, there’s a strange trade-off at the heart of Obamacare. There were roughly 45 million people who were uninsured. Obamacare is endeavoring to insure about a third of them, somewhere between 15 and 20 million people. Even fully implemented, there’ll be about 30 million people that don’t get health insurance. Now, look, there are a lot of people that would like to see more of the uninsured be able to get health insurance. But the trade-off behind Obamacare is to extend to that 15 or 20 million people, they are jeopardizing the health insurance of some 200 million Americans who get health insurance in the private health insurance market.”

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Spinning how many Guantanamo detainees have ‘returned to the fight’

Spinning how many Guantanamo detainees have ‘returned to the fight’

“The recidivism rate is nearly 29 percent and has been climbing steadily since detainees began being released from Guantanamo. This includes nearly 10 percent of detainees who have returned to the fight after being transferred by the current administration following the administration’s extensive review of each detainee.”

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False claims about a health-care memo persist even after testimony

“Someone knew this system wasn’t ready. And yet for political reasons, as the chairman said, they went ahead and launched it and put millions of Americans’ personal information at risk.”

-- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), interviewed by Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Nov. 13, 2013

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Read the fine print: GOP spin on premium hikes

Read the fine print: GOP spin on premium hikes

“He [President Obama] said 2,500 bucks on average per family lower cost. The Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan group, says, no, it’s about 2,100 bucks more per family for individual coverage. In Ohio, we are told it’s a 41 percent increase next year. That’s more than 100 bucks a month for a family in Ohio.”

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Hyping the number of deaths from terrorism

Hyping the number of deaths from terrorism

“We’ve got al-Qaeda spreading around the world in a way that is frightening. Think about it. Last year alone, some 15,000 terrorist-related deaths.”

— Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Nov. 3, 2013

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The most popular fact checks of October (hint: it’s almost all about ‘Obamacare’)

The most popular fact checks of October (hint: it’s almost all about ‘Obamacare’)

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.

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Has Mitch McConnell ‘blocked the Senate’ over 400 times?

Has Mitch McConnell ‘blocked the Senate’ over 400 times?

“He’s blocked the Senate over 400 times.”

— Voice over in new Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) ad, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

This visually striking ad by the Democratic challenger in the Kentucky Senate race — essentially calling Sen. Mitch McConnell a political arsonist — included a fact that appeared fishy when we first watched it.

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Does the United States have $128 trillion in unfunded liabilities?

Does the United States have $128 trillion in unfunded liabilities?

“We have $128 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities and the total net worth of our country is $94 trillion and we have another $17 trillion worth of debt.”

-- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Oct. 20, 2013

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Ted Cruz’s claims on Obamacare focus on losers, not winners

Ted Cruz’s claims on Obamacare focus on losers, not winners

“The U.S. Senate is not concerned about all of the people who are out of a job, all the people with part-time work, all the people whose health insurance premiums are skyrocketing, all the people who are losing their health insurance. And that’s happening because of Obamacare.”

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Did Obama exempt 1,200 groups, including Congress, from Obamacare?

Did Obama exempt 1,200 groups, including Congress, from Obamacare?

“The president has exempted over 1,200 groups, including members of Congress, from the health care law.”

-- Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), in an interview on CNN, Oct. 15, 2013

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Rand Paul’s claim that there is ‘no reason for us to default’

Rand Paul’s claim that there is ‘no reason for us to default’

“I think it’s irresponsible of the president and his men to even talk about default. There’s no reason for us to default. We bring in $250 billion in taxes every month. Our interest payment is $20 billion. Tell me why we would ever default.”

-- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Oct. 6, 2013

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The AP Yemen leak case: When speculation about White House spinning turns out wrong

“I think there was a little premature chest- thumping in this whole thing, and I`ve ordered a preliminary review. And I will tell you, this has been a damaging leak. We shouldn`t underestimate what really happened here. When you jeopardize our foreign service liaison partners, any of them that may or may not have been involved, or you jeopardize the conclusion of wrapping up all of the people involved, that`s dangerous to our national security.... This is not anything that should be used for a headline. Our national security should be exempt from any November at any time in any year.”

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Pelosi’s claim that in ’4 years, 3 months,’ Obama cut the deficit in half

Pelosi’s claim that in ’4 years, 3 months,’ Obama cut the deficit in half

“Remember this, President Obama, when he became president, he said I’m going to cut the deficit in half in four years. He did it in four years and three months.”

-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sept. 22, 2013

A reader asked us about this comment by Rep. Pelosi, who made this claim to argue that enough spending has been cut from the federal budget. We were especially interested in her precision about the time — “four years and three months.”

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The claim that Geithner was briefed about IRS targeting five months before the 2012 election

The claim that Geithner was briefed about IRS targeting five months before the 2012 election

“Right there, we think also the Treasury Secretary himself was in the meeting. We think this idea that you didn’t know until May of this year--you knew in June of 2012. And so don’t give us this phony scandal stuff. Don’t give us this idea, oh, shazam, we didn’t find out until Lois Lerner gave her speech and the inspector general released his audit.”

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Durbin corrects his history of Social Security

The Fact Checker always appreciates an acknowledgement of error. Tuesday morning, apparently without being aware of The Fact Checker’s Three-Pinocchio ruling on his account of GOP opposition to Social Security, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) went to the floor of the Senate and repeated the tale.

But after he learned of his error, the senator returned to the floor and explained that he had made a mistake. “I could have done more research before coming to the floor,” Durbin acknowledged.

Kudos to Durbin for correcting the record.

Below is a video of his statement.

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Inhofe’s inconsistent quoting of Gen. Dempsey on military capabilities

Inhofe’s inconsistent quoting of Gen. Dempsey on military capabilities

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“This could be war in the Middle East. It’s serious. And now, you’ve got to realize what this president has done to our military. And our military is so degraded now. It’s not just me who says this. I want to read one quote by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General [Martin] Dempsey. He said, ‘Our military force is so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force.’ That’s exactly what they are talking about doing — is using force.”

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Has Mitch McConnell done ‘nothing’ in the fight against Obamacare?

Has Mitch McConnell done ‘nothing’ in the fight against Obamacare?

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“He does nothing to actually fight. He has never stood on the floor of the Senate to try to actually rally against this [Obamacare].”

--Matt Bevin, challenger to Sen. Mitt McConnell (R-Ky.), in an interview with CQ-Roll Call (1:50 mark)

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The GOP attack on a dubious Obama health-care pledge

The GOP attack on a dubious Obama health-care pledge

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“President Obama promised that his health-care plan would reduce annual insurance premiums by $2,500 a family by the end of his first term. That has not happened. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the average family premium for people getting insurance at work is nearly $3,000 higher than it was when the president took office.”

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Ted Cruz’s claims about ‘Obamacare’ in new TV ad

“There’s bipartisan agreement that Obamacare isn’t working.”

— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a new television ad sponsored by the Senate Conservatives Fund

As part of his campaign to halt all government funding for the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, Cruz makes three assertions about “bipartisan” concerns about the new health-care law. Let’s look at each of these claims in detail.

“Democratic Senator Max Baucus, the lead author of Obamacare, says it’s a huge train wreck.”

Ever since the Montana senator, a key writer of the bill, uttered the phrase “huge train wreck” during an April 17 budget hearing, his words have become a major GOP talking point. But Baucus’s comment has been taken out of context — and he has since said that his concerns have been addressed.

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Ted Cruz’s claim that the 1995-96 government shutdown was good for the GOP

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“The sort of cocktail chatter wisdom in Washington that, ‘Oh, the [1995-96] shutdown was a political disaster for Republicans,’ is not borne out by the data.”

— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), remarks at Heritage Foundation bloggers briefing, July 30, 2013

Sen. Ted Cruz is pushing for a “last stand” on defunding the new health-care law, a.k.a. Obamacare, by picking a fight that would probably result in a government shutdown. His comment above has earned him some scorn from other Republicans, who do not remember the 1995-96 showdown so fondly.

At the Heritage event, Cruz actually spent about five minutes discussing why the conventional wisdom is wrong. (Go to the 29-minute mark.)

Watch live streaming video from heritagefoundation at

Here are his two key points:

1. A “government shutdown” is a misnomer, as it is simply the temporary suspension of nonessential government services, which, Cruz said, “happens every single week on the weekends.”

2. The consequences were mainly good. He attributed both the emergence of balanced budgets and the passage of welfare reform to “standing up for principle.” While House Republicans lost seats, they kept their majority. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans gained two seats, even as Bill Clinton won reelection.

This is certainly an interesting take on history. As it happens, The Fact Checker had a front row seat to this battle, covering it day after day, and there are a few facts that Cruz is glossing over. We have written previously on this, but perhaps it’s time for a refresher course.

The Facts

The government shutdown took place in two phases. The first lasted five days in November 1995, until the White House agreed to congressional demands to balance the budget within seven years. But talks on implementing that agreement failed, and the second shutdown lasted 21 days, from Dec. 15, 1995, to Jan. 6., 1996.

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Paul Ryan’s claim that $15 trillion has been spent on the war on poverty

(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

“We have spent $15 trillion from the federal government fighting poverty, and look at where we are, the highest poverty rates in a generation, 15 percent of Americans in poverty.”

— Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, interview on Fox News’ “On the Record,” July 31, 2013

We were intrigued by Rep. Ryan’s statement, which was similar to a point he made at a committee hearing Wednesday on the “war on poverty.”  

There are two numbers here — $15 trillion and 15 percent — designed to show that the United States is losing the war on poverty. But do these figures hold up to scrutiny?


The Facts

The poverty rate is determined by the U.S. Census, and generally such government figures are fairly authoritative. The poverty rate is now about 15 percent, and the last time it was this high was in 1993. Ryan spokesman Conor Sweeney said that was the year that Ryan was referencing when he said “in a generation.” (Okay, a generation is generally defined as 30 years, but 20 may be fine for government work.)

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Harry Reid’s claim that the sequester has ‘already cut 1.6 million jobs’

((J. Scott Applewhite/AP))

“We have learned that the sequestration already has cut 1.6 million jobs. So we need job creation. We need to help the middle class by creating jobs.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), floor speech, July 31, 2013

Reid’s comment jumped out at us — 1.6 million jobs have already been lost because of the sequester? That seemed rather large.

The sequester, of course, is the automatic across-the-board spending cuts that were imposed March 1 when Republicans and Democrats could not reach agreement on a budget plan. The actual impact of the cuts has been in dispute, and we wrote a number of columns about fishy statistics that appeared to exaggerate the possible impact on the federal government.  A follow-up review in June by The Washington Post found that claims of a breakdown in government services were, in fact, overblown.

Still, the furloughs of federal employees, the cutbacks to contractors and reductions in government services clearly have some sort of ripple effect across the economy. (Indeed, even the Edward Snowden leak case appears to have sprung from the sequester.) 

Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, did not respond to queries, so we had to do a bit of searching to figure out Reid’s logic.


The Facts

The most obvious source for Reid’s figure is a Congressional Budget Office estimate that was released July 25, spawning a few news stories. CBO director Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote that if the sequester were canceled, it would boost employment between 300,000 and 1.6 million in the 2014 fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30, 2014).

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4 Pinocchios for Rep. Steve King’s claim on valedictorians and smugglers

(Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES)

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there who weigh a hundred and thirty pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

--Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), interview with NewsMax, July 18, 2013

“You know, you only get one valedictorian per class per year. And they aren’t all dreamers. And a lot of other American kids out here that are competing for that valedictorian status. But every night there are dozens and scores of people that are smuggling drugs across our border. … This isn’t something that just was made up out of thin air. This is something I get from the people enforcing the law down on the border.”

--King, interview on CNN, July 24

“I got a call from them [border control agents] yesterday, and I said, ‘Did I need to come back down and refresh myself?’ They said, ‘No, you’re spot on with what you’re saying but maybe you got the weight ten pounds up.’”

--King, interview on Fox News, July 27

Despite being lambasted by top Republican officials for his initial “cantaloupe” remarks in a Newsmax interview, Rep. Steve King has stood his ground. He insists that for every child of an illegal immigrant who is a valedictorian, there are another hundred who are drug smugglers—a claim that he says was not “made up out of thin air.” In fact, he added, it “was probably understated.”

King’s claim is aimed at undercutting support for providing a pathway to citizenship for so-called “DREAMers,” people who came to the United States illegally as children. Under the proposed DREAM Act, people between the ages of 12 and 35 who came to the United States aged 15 and younger and meet a list of qualifications, as such obtaining a high school degree and having “good moral character,” can eventually become citizens.

He also asserted over the weekend that many of his Republican colleagues privately tell him that his facts are correct.

Here at The Fact Checker, we place the burden on politicians to provide evidence for incendiary claims. But King’s office has not responded to our queries—or to requests from our colleagues at PolitiFact and, who have also tried to vet this claim.

But King has offered clues about why he believes in this claim, so let’s explore what we know. Does the math (one valedictorian to every 100 drug smugglers) even begin to add up?

The Facts

King’s reference to valedictorians is likely a knock at the Democrats who highlighted one such case-- Benita Veliz of San Antonio—at last year’s Democratic National Convention. Veliz was the first undocumented immigrant who spoke at a national political convention.

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Slugfest in Kentucky: McConnell versus Bevin (Part 2)

“Matt Bevin says he’s a conservative businessman. But when his Connecticut businesses needed help, Bevin took $200,000 in taxpayer bailouts — even though Bevin failed to pay taxes.”

— voiceover in a new ad, “Bailout Bevin,” by the Mitch McConnell campaign

(Part 2 of 2)

 It looks like it’s going to be a nasty race for the Republican nomination between Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and his Tea Party-backed rival, businessman Matt Bevin.  The day Bevin announced he would mount a primary challenge, he launched a tough ad about McConnell’s “failed leadership,” and the McConnell campaign responded with an ad labeling the novice politician as “Bailout Bevin.”

Both campaign appear to have very diligent researchers. Let’s examine the facts behind McConnell’s attack on Bevin.

Bevin is a business executive who, in his first ad, attacked McConnell for voting for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which rescued distressed banks, auto companies and other firms during the Great Recession. (McConnell famously called the bailout “one of the finest moments in the history of the Senate.”) But Republicans have soured on the program, and so “bailout’ is an albatross for McConnell in the primary.

In a bit of jujitsu, McConnell is attacking Bevin’s perceived strength — his business expertise — with the same “bailout’ pejorative. Do the facts justify this label?


The Facts

Bevin made his fortune in asset management, i.e., managing stock and bond purchases for institutional investors. But this is a story about a small bell manufacturer, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. in East Hampton, Conn., with a 179-year history, including making the bells for the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Slugfest in Kentucky: Bevin versus McConnell (Part 1)

“McConnell has voted for: higher taxes, bailouts, debt ceiling increases, congressional pay raises and liberal judges.”

— voiceover in new TV ad, “Meet Matt Bevin”

(Part 1 of 2)

It looks like it’s going to be nasty race for the Republican nomination between Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and his Tea Party-backed rival, businessman Matt Bevin. The day Bevin announced he would mount a primary challenge, he launched a tough ad about McConnell’s “failed leadership,” and the McConnell campaign responded with an ad labeling the novice politician as “Bailout Bevin.”

Both campaigns appear to have very diligent researchers. Let’s examine the facts behind each ad, starting with Bevin’s ad.

The key message of Bevin’s ad is that, after nearly 28 years in the Senate, McConnell is not delivering for conservative voters. It ticks off five things that McConnell voted for: Higher taxes, bailouts, debt ceiling increases, congressional pay raises and “liberal judges.”

The oldest trick in the attack-ad playbook is to dredge up long-ago votes, especially procedural ones, and mischaracterize them or portray them out of context. Let’s look at these claims in reverse order.

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Are college students being overcharged on loans to pay for ‘Obamacare’?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) speaks to reporters on July 9 as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) listens. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES)

“The Democrats, when they passed the health care law, took $50 billion from over-charging students and used it to reduce the debt, pay for Pell grants, and to pay for the health-care bill. And they’re still doing that.”

--Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), remarks to reporters, July 9, 2013

Note: The Pinocchio rating on this column has been changed since the column was first posted

We delved last week into the arcane accounting rules concerning federal student loans –in which tens of billions of dollars in “profits” can be turned into deficits depending on the method you use. Now let’s look at another claim regarding these loans—that students are being overcharged to pay for the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Facts

When the health-care law was passed in 2010, Democrats slipped in massive changes to student-loan programs, essentially cutting banks out of the business. In the official score of the health-care bill by the Congressional Budget Office, ending federal guarantees for federal loans and replacing them with direct loans made by the Education Department would yield $58 billion between 2010 and 2019.

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Harry Reid’s claim that House GOP efforts to repeal ‘Obamacare’ all ended in failure

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Obamacare, whatever comes up, Republicans throw that in. You realized they’ve voted to repeal it 40 times? What’s happened 40 times, of course, it’s failed.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), interview on “Meet the Press,” July 14, 2013

We don’t mean to pick on Reid, who also was subject of a fact check on Monday, but a reader complained that this oft-told factoid by Democrats is inaccurate on two counts: one, not every vote concerned the whole law and two, some of those votes turned out to be successful.

So we decided to investigate.


The Facts

Congressional Republicans have never reconciled themselves to passage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which became law in 2010 without a single Republican vote when the Democrats had big majorities in the House and Senate. But a review of the votes commonly lumped together as “repeal” shows that only a handful in this list of “40” (actually 37) involved repeal of the entire law.

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Harry Reid’s claim that Congress ranks lower than North Korea


“Is there anyone out there in the world, real world, that believes that what`s going on in the Congress of the United States is good? Our approval rating is lower than North Korea`s.”

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” July 14, 2013


This line by Harry Reid is a good one, earning him headlines as he made the case for rules reform in the Senate, but it almost seemed too good to be true. Is Congress really held in lower esteem than the xenophobic communist government in Pyongyang?


The Facts

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson pointed us to two different Gallup polls. One, from June, found that “confidence” in Congress was at 10 percent. The second, from March, found that the “favorability” for North Korea was at 12 percent.

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Nancy Pelosi’s claim that Obamacare’s employer mandate ‘was not delayed’

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“The point is, is that the mandate was not delayed. Certain reporting by businesses that could be perceived as onerous, that reporting requirement was delayed, and partially to review how it would work and how it could be better. It was not a delay of the mandate for the businesses, and there shouldn’t be a delay of the mandate for individuals.”

— House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), news conference, July 11, 2013

After all of the headlines in the past week, we were surprised to see Pelosi’s assertion that the “mandate was not delayed.” Indeed, just minutes before Pelosi made these comments, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), held his own news conference to complain that other elements of the law have not also been delayed.

“The president has delayed Obamacare’s employer mandate, but hasn’t delayed the mandate on individuals or families,” Boehner said. “I think it's unfair and indefensible. If you’re a software company making billions of dollars in profits, you’re exempt from Obamacare next year. But if you’re a 28-year-old struggling to pay off your student loans, you’re not.”

That’s such a dramatically different take that one can see why most Americans hate politics. So what’s going on here? 


The Facts

The Obama administration announced the change last week in an unusual way — with a blog post on the Treasury Department Web site with a title designed to not give away the news: “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner.” 

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Elizabeth Warren’s claim that the U.S. earns $51 billion in profits on student loans

(Patrick Whittemore/AP)

“While students are paying more, the federal government is boosting its own profits — $51 billion from our student loan programs in 2013 alone.”

— Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), floor speech, July 8, 2013


Who knew? The federal government knows how to make a profit! Or, as Warren twice said in arguing for a cut in interest rates on student loans: “obscene profits.” Warren’s eye-popping figure suggests that the federal government is in the realm of Apple Inc. (net income of $42 billion in 2012) and Exxon Mobil Corp. ($45 billion in 2012). 

But there’s a reason why accountants will one day inherit the earth. The numbers look dramatically different — tens of billions of dollars different — depending on which arcane method of accounting you use.


The Facts

Lacey Rose, Warren’s press secretary, was quick to turn up a source for this figure: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. She pointed us to a CBO spreadsheet showing that outlays in the student loan program will be a negative $51 billion (in other words, a gain for the government). This figure includes $15 billion from a re-estimate of the cost of the student loans disbursed in previous years.

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Rand Paul’s claim that ‘American neocons’ want to keep Egypt aid flowing

(Gary Cameron/Reuters)

“In Egypt, democratic authoritarianism is replaced with military junta. American neocons say send them more of your money.”

— Tweet by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), July 8, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul has staked out a vaguely isolationist position in the Republican Party, skeptical of foreign aid and military intervention. Earlier this week, he reflected that stance with a pair of tweets.

We were struck by his use of the phrase of “American neocons,” meaning neoconservatives. This is a strain of foreign policy thinking generally associated with Republicans (or sometimes, in the distant past, Democrats such as the late senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson). But it is frequently misunderstood and misapplied.

Does Sen. Paul have it right? (His spokeswoman, Moira Bagley, did not respond to repeated queries asking for specific examples of “American neocons” calling for more aid.)

The Facts

First of all, a precise definition of “neoconservatism” is rather difficult to come by, and people often associated with the term tend to dislike it. (Some argue that it is actually negative code for “Jewish,” though not all supposed neoconservatives are Jewish.) But broadly, neoconservatives are perceived to want to influence the internal politics of countries toward a more democratic path, in contrast to the so-called “realists” who prefer to deal with states, which may be headed by authoritarians, as they are.

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Explainer: Sorting through charges and countercharges in the IRS probe

Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington on June 19. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

“For years, the president bashed the Tea Party groups. He was very public against these groups. And on his behalf — perhaps not on his request — on his behalf, the IRS executed a delaying tactic against the very groups that he talked about.”

— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, during a CNN interview, June 25, 2013

“The audit served as the basis and impetus for a wide range of Congressional investigations and this new information [about ‘progressive’ groups appearing on IRS lists] shows that the foundation of those investigations is flawed in a fundamental way.”

— Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of House Ways and Means Committee, statement, June 25

Confused about where the investigation in the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups is heading? Join the club.

On the one hand, you have Republican suggestions that the IRS, in the midst of an election year, decided to thwart political groups that were opposed to the president’s agenda. On the other hand, you now have claims from Democrats that left-leaning groups were targeted as well.

It’s a bit risky to do a fact check in the middle of an investigation, given how new information or facts could alter our understanding of what happened at the IRS. So today we are offering a guide to the current state of play.

The Facts

The scandal erupted after the Treasury Department inspector general in May released a report that said that the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” — specifically terms such as “Tea Party” or “patriots” in the names of the organization — in selecting applicants for tax-exempt status, generally applying under Section 501 (c)(3) or Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.

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4 Pinocchios for the latest ‘Mediscare’ ad

“Tom Cotton, just elected and already seeking the national limelight. Behind the glitz, Tom Cotton forgot about us. Supporting a plan that the Wall Street Journal said essentially ends Medicare, costing some seniors 6,000 [dollars] more a year, while voting Congress taxpayer-funded health care for life. Congressman Cotton: out for himself, not us.”

— voiceover of a new ad, “Glitz,” by Patriot Majority USA and Senate Majority PAC

It’s been a while since we delved into the Medicare wars. But when we saw this new attack ad against Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), from Patriot Majority USA and Senate Majority PAC, it brought back lots of bad memories. 

Seriously, The Fact Checker, PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org have all called these claims into question when they were used by the Obama campaign and other Democrats in 2012.

As our colleague Rachel Weiner noted, the ad appeared to be a “preemptive strike” against a rising star who might challenge vulnerable Sen. Mark Pryor (D). But can’t get these guys come up with some new talking points?

Time for a refresher course!


The Facts

The ad, like similar attacks last year, tries to give itself credibility by citing The Wall Street Journal, which has a conservative-leaning editorial page. But it is quoting from a 2011 news article about a House Republican plan for Medicare — and badly truncates the quote. This is the complete sentence: 

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John Boehner and Obama’s ‘war on coal’

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“The president's announcement yesterday of essentially a national energy tax and the continuation of the war on coal will only make matters worse, putting thousands and thousands of Americans out of work; increasing the cost of electricity, especially in a state like mine, Ohio, where about 95 percent of our electricity comes from burning coal.”

— House Speaker John a. Boehner (R-Ohio), news conference, June 26, 2013

The Fact Checker grew up in Ohio, and so the House speaker’s claim that 95 percent of electricity came from coal seemed rather high. We remembered, for instance, that there briefly had been a nuclear power plant up above Cincinnati, off Route I-75, in the town of Piqua — which is part of Boehner’s district.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), at the same news conference, denouncing President Obama’s new climate-change policy, mentioned that West Virginia received 96 percent of its electricity from coal. That made sense — and is correct. But Ohio?


The Facts

We looked at several sources. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has a handy Web page titled “Where does Ohio’s electricity come from?” That analysis shows that coal generates 77.87 percent of Ohio’s electricity, with nuclear power (11 percent) and natural gas (9.12 percent) making up much of the rest. The Energy Information Administration also says that coal fueled 78 percent of Ohio’s net electricity generation.

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Has ‘no one read’ the immigration bill?

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“The vote today is not a vote on just the Corker-Hoeven amendment. The vote today at 5:30 pm is a vote on Majority Leader Reid’s procedural motion to shut down debate on a 1,200-page substitute bill no one has read.”

statement by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), June 24, 2013

“I’ve seen reports of a ‘1,200 page bill’ no one has read or had time to read. To be clear, the tough border and interior enforcement provisions that Sen. [John] Hoeven [of North Dakota] and I offered on Friday make up 119 pages added to the 1,100 pages that have been public since May.”

statement by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), June 24

One of the oldest gambits in legislative discourse is to claim that there is not enough time to read a particular piece of legislation. Such charges were made again this week in the course of debating the comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, in what amounted to an interparty feud among Republicans. Not only Sessions, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas.), in a lengthy floor statement, asked: “My point is very simple: what is the rush? Why are we proceeding gangbusters?”

Moreover, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a group of opponents to the bill have complained about how few amendments have been considered this year rather than the failed effort in 2007 to pass a new immigration law.

Let’s explore these complaints.

The Facts

The Corker-Hoeven amendment is primarily known for its effort to bolster border security, including adding 20,000 new border patrol agents, but it is also an omnibus amendment that, if voted individually, would be at least 12 different amendments. For instance, it contains amendments pushed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that would prohibit unauthorized workers from counting past wages toward Social Security benefits and also prevents the government from providing welfare to immigrants until they become citizens.

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Are the French earning billions off of Lindsey Graham’s nuclear plant?

“Worse, [Sen. Lindsey] Graham’s pork-barrel project is run by a French company — sending tax-dollars overseas.”

voiceover in television ad placed by Friends of the Earth, released June 19, 2013

This ad by an environmental group, attacking a pet project of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), caught our attention with its claim that the ultimate beneficiary of taxpayer funds spent on a South Carolina nuclear project is “a French company.” The ad even ends with a snorting pig (representing a pork-barrel project) dressed up in a beret, French striped shirt and French-looking mustache.

Last year, conservative groups attacked the Obama administration for supposedly sending American jobs overseas with U.S. taxpayer money. In those ads — which we found worthy of Pinocchios — the bad guys were China, Mexico and even Finland. As we noted:

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.


So now a liberal group is throwing similar charges at a conservative senator. Do they have any more grounds to stand on?  We take no position on whether the project is a boondoggle or a waste of taxpayer funds; there are certainly valid questions that could be raised about it.


The Facts

The ad concerns the construction of a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility, known as the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. The project — now costing at least $7 billion — is certainly troubled and its costs are soaring.  The Center for Public Integrity published a lengthy and fascinating look Monday at the nuclear nonproliferation diplomacy with Russia that led to the construction of this plant, which is designed to recycle plutonium from weapons into fuel for commercial reactors. The article, part of a four-part series on the project, argues that the United States got the short end of the deal.  

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Two fact checks we passed on, and why

(Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)

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.

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The claim that the White House was ‘aware’ of the IRS behavior

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“Here`s one of the problems that we`ve had, Bob, is you have the Benghazi scandal. You have the criminalization of the reporter at Fox News, and the AP dragnet, and you have IRS that clearly showed some criminal behavior that at least we know was back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And that pattern of deception when this broke made it almost impossible for those of us who know this program, worked on this program, to make sure there were no laws broken on this program, it made it very, very difficult to explain the difference to the American people.”

— Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 16, 2013

Rogers, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been a defender of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. But in trying to separate that issue from other recent controversies, he made a sweeping claim about the Internal Revenue Service scandal, in which agents targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status: “You have IRS that clearly showed some criminal behavior that at least we know was back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The Justice Department has launched a criminal probe, but at first glance, it sounds like Rogers is asserting criminal behavior took place at the White House. Kelsey Knight, a Rogers spokesman, said his language got a bit tangled there, and he simply saying the IRS was a criminal matter and that the White House was aware of the abuses there.

Indeed, later in the interview, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer questions whether Rogers is asserting criminal behavior took place at the White House: “Are you connecting that to the White House? Have you found a connection there yet?”

Rogers answers: “No. What I`m saying is the White House themselves have admitted that people in the White House knew about this behavior, and I think that investigation is still ongoing.” He added: “It`s clearly gotten to the front steps.”

Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Facts

The White House initially had some trouble coming up with a timeline for its understanding of the scope of the problem at the IRS. Initially, the White House said that officials did not know the results of an Inspector General inquiry until shortly before it was released. But then the White House said that a member of White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler’s staff learned of the report the week of April 16, and then Ruemmler told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other top officials about the IRS findings, though not President Obama.

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Interpreting remarks on abortion

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“They are saying that there's no abortion, and they want to make it a federal law that there be no abortion in our country.”

— Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), June 13, 2013

The Fact Checker always ventures into questions about abortion rhetoric with trepidation. Given the intensity of emotions, virtually no one is ever happy with our rulings, no matter how much we try to just stick with the facts. So we try to stick with statements that appear pretty clear cut.

A reader, for instance, drew our attention to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comment at a news conference as something that appeared to be clearly in error. From the context of the remarks, Pelosi appeared to be referring to a GOP-crafted bill on abortion.

The bill in question, HR 1797, would prohibit “the abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater,” which is similar to saying after the 22nd week of pregnancy. (There originally was an exception only to save the life of a mother, but GOP leaders late last week quietly added exceptions for rape and incest.)

The bill was approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee on a 20 to 12 vote. The Supreme Court has set a threshold of 24 weeks for legal abortions, but advocates claim that fetuses can begin to feel pain earlier than that. That assertion is disputed, but in any case the bill would not result in a sweeping ban on all abortions. (Update: Readers have pointed out the Supreme Court test is not the number of weeks but “viability” of the fetus.)

Indeed, the National Journal also spotted Pelosi’s false claim, initially reporting that “Pelosi then wrongly or mistakenly characterized the Republican bill as one that would ban abortion completely, which it does not.”  But when we checked with Drew Hammill, her spokesman, he said that her comment was being misinterpreted.

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The claim that the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy is ‘very low’

“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”

— Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), June 12, 2013

This column has been significantly updated.

Rep. Franks made this comment during a House Judiciary Committee debate over a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, in which he opposed a Democratic amendment to make exceptions for rape and incest.

After a firestorm erupted, Franks later sought to clarify his somewhat ungrammatical comments, claiming he was referring to women seeking abortions in the sixth month. “Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare,” he said. “This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations. Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the 6th month.”

We’re not sure his clarification really tracks with the comment he originally made after this statement: “But when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation.” After all, how many women know they are pregnant after being raped?

Readers can listen to the audio recording above and judge for themselves.

In any case, Franks raises an interesting issue: What is the incidence of pregnancy after a rape? And is it much lower than rate of pregnancy after consensual sex?


The Facts

Because of the violence and stigma associated with rape — as well as different definitions — there are a wide range of statistics concerning rape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, estimates that nearly 1.3 million American women were victims of rape or attempted rape in 2010. (About half were actual rapes.)  But RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, says about 64,000 women were raped between 2004-2005, citing Justice Department data.

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Obama’s claim that ‘every member of Congress’ was briefed on telephone surveillance

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters - Reuters)

“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 Facts

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.

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Is the D.C. Circuit last in ‘almost every category’?

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“No matter how you slice it, the D.C. Circuit ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.”

— Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), news release, June 3, 2013


Note: This is the first of two columns looking at the rhetoric concerning the debate over the D.C. Circuit. On Friday, we will look at the White House claim that its judicial nominees face unusual delays.

President Obama’s move this week to simultaneously nominate three judges for three vacancies on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has once again placed a focus on this court.

The D.C. Circuit is generally regarded as the second most important judicial body in the United States, after the Supreme Court. It is currently split between four Republican and four Democratic appointees, though six senior (semi-retired) judges also hear cases; all but one of the senior judges are Republican appointees.

The D.C. Circuit has a unique role in the judicial system because it oversees many cases concerning independent federal regulatory agencies, often without even an earlier stop at a lower-level federal court. The court also is considered a stepping stone for the Supreme Court, where four of the nine justices are alumni of the D.C. Circuit.

Republicans have argued that the court does not need its authorized level of 11 judges, making Obama’s nominations unnecessary. Grassley has some credibility on this issue because, during the George W. Bush administration, he led a successful effort to reduce the size of the D.C. Circuit from 12 to 11 active judges.

But we clearly have a case of dueling rhetoric here. White House spokesman Jay Carney has told reporters that “the caseload is higher now than it was in 2005 when some of the same Republican senators were arguing for the necessity of confirming President Bush’s nominees to that court.”

Grassley, in direct response to such statements, has claimed that “there were nearly 200 fewer appeals filed in the D.C. Circuit in 2012 than in 2005.” His staff also provided an impressive list of 20 different ways to measure workload, involving filed cases, pending cases and terminated cases, that they say shows the D.C. Circuit at or near the bottom of the appeals courts.

What do the data show? Are there different ways to slice them?


The Facts

Let’s start with the basic data on the number of appeals filed in the D.C. Circuit, using the voluminous charts on the Web site of the Administrative Office of the United States Court. (We will mainly use data for fiscal years ending in September.) In 2005, 1,379 appeals commenced, compared to 1,193 appeals in 2012. That’s a decline of about 200 appeals filed, as Grassley noted.

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Budgetary sleight of hand on sequester spending limits

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg)

“House appropriators have moved us forward by agreeing to adhere to the limit of $966 billion for non-entitlement spending in 2014. This is the maximum amount the law would allow without having to make any across-the-board cuts – in other words, no sequester. We should not put in the law for the next nine years to break spending limits that we already accepted. We could, on the other hand, agree on a budget that respects those limits – but hits them in a more rational way than sequestration.”

— Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), in an opinion article titled “Seeking a smarter approach to the budget,” May 30, 2013

Often, the most difficult and complex subjects — such as the federal budget — are the most likely to be factually manipulated by politicians. You need to carefully parse the words to understand how a seemingly innocuous sentence can leave the wrong impression.

Let’s take a look at what Blunt is saying here. We will try not to get too far down in the budget weeds.


The Facts

The 2011 Budget Control Act was a deal reached between the White House and congressional Republicans to avert a default on the national debt. It set up a process of automatic across-the-board cuts in security and nonsecurity spending known as sequestration — designed to be so onerous that both sides would reach a deal to prevent the cuts from taking place. But that did not happen, so the cuts went into effect this year.

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Ted Cruz’s iffy statistic on weapons prosecutions


“The Obama Justice Department has decreased the prosecution of violent gun crimes by 30 percent.”

--Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), in an interview with Capital New York , published May 30, 2013

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) offered this statistic as one of the reasons why he pushed an alternative to the Manchin-Toomey legislation to tighten background checks. (Both failed to get enough votes to emerge from the Senate.) As he put it, “the Obama administration has not made it a priority to prosecute felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns.”

We had previously examined one of Cruz’s other reasons, which we found worthy of a Pinocchio because he placed a partisan frame on the data. But we hadn’t seen this statistic before. How does this hold up?

The Facts

Cruz drew this statistic from a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which documented how prosecutions of weapons violations have shifted up and down, sometimes in dramatic fashion, since 1986. The report showed that prosecutions had fallen from a high of 11,015 in 2004 to 7,774 in 2012, for a decline of 29 percent.

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Mitch McConnell’s campaign ad tying Obama to Nixon over the IRS scandal

“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal”

— Former President Richard Nixon, as quoted in a new Sen. Mitch McConnell ad titled “Demand Answers”

This slick and hard-hitting video ad by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign seeks to highlight McConnell’s warnings in 2012 about possible shady doings by the Internal Revenue Service and tie President Obama personally to the scandal. The ad closes with the words: “Intimidation. Retaliation. Secretive...We demand answers.”

We have no issue with the first part of the 2 ½ minute video, which shows excerpts from a pair of speeches the Senate minority leader gave to the American Enterprise Institute and the Conservative Political Action Conference. This section depicts McConnell as prescient, warning about the problems some tea party groups were apparently having with the IRS, as the ad quickly follows with news clips about the revelations this year.

But, starting at about 1:50, with clips of the IRS’s Lois Lerner refusing to testify before Congress, the end of the ad raises serious questions because of its manipulative editing and juxtaposition of words and images.

Let’s take a closer look.


The Facts

Lerner, of course, is the career official who was in charge of the IRS division responsible for targeting conservative groups. After images of her appear, the words “Zero Accountability” appear on the screen. Then, there are quick cuts of testimony by former IRS commissioners Douglas Shulman (a George W. Bush appointee) and Stephen Miller (a career employee), saying variations of “don’t know” or “I did not know.”

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Michele Bachmann: A Fact Checker’s dream


The announcement that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is not seeking reelection will leave the Capitol a much less interesting place to fact check. As one of our colleagues put it, “The entire fact checking industry may have to hold a national day of mourning.”

Bachmann is not just fast and loose with the facts; she is consistently and unapologetically so. No other lawmaker earned as high a percentage of Four-Pinocchio ratings as Bachmann — and she earned an average of more than Three Pinocchios as a presidential candidate. Thus she provided a window into the no-holds-barred politics that has come to characterize modern-day Washington.

Just this year, she has earned four Four-Pinocchio ratings. Below are links to those columns — as well as a round-up of her worst campaign-related comments. Click on the headline to read the full column.

‘Barack Obama has a $1.4 billion-a-year presidency of perks and excess’

Bachmann claimed that President Obama spent $1.4 billion on perks in the White House. But most of this money was for Secret Service protection and helicopters — and Obama’s spending appeared to be lower than that for George W. Bush.

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The NRCC’s claim that the IRS will be ‘in charge of your health care’


“Congressman Barrow’s Plan: Put the IRS in Charge of Your Healthcare. Fed Up?”

— banner on “mobile billboards” launched this week by the National Republican Congressional Committee

The NRCC this week sought to explicitly tie the Internal Revenue Service scandal to the president’s health-care law, targeting four possibly vulnerable Democratic lawmakers with mobile billboards in their congressional districts.

The lawmakers are John Barrow of Georgia, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber of Arizona and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. Barrow and Peterson would seem to be odd targets because both voted against the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”

But the NRCC justifies the attack because both men have voted against repealing the law. (The lawmakers say they would like to fix a bad law, rather than toss it out completely.)

But what about the key claim — that the IRS would be “in charge” of a person’s health care? Does that make sense? Let’s take a closer look.

The Facts

Until the scandal erupted over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups applying for a tax-exempt status, few people had paid much attention to IRS’s role in the health care law, including the NRCC. But it has an important role in implementing the law, particularly in collecting the taxes and penalties that help fund the expansion of health care to millions of Americans.

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Is Washington a ‘city that produces almost nothing of actual economic value'?

(Rick Bowmer/AP)

“There is a reason that six of the 10 wealthiest counties in the United States are suburbs of Washington, D.C.--a city that produces almost nothing of actual economic value.”

--Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), remarks on the Senate floor, May 23, 2013

Sen. Mike Lee made this comment as he tangled with a fellow Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, about whether to appoint members of a conference committee to negotiate a nonbinding budget blueprint with the House. Lee blocked the move because he feared it might lead to a deal on lifting the debt ceiling.

“In case no one’s noticed, the way Washington works stinks,” Lee argued, warning of a “back-room deal.”

As a long-time denizen of the Washington area, the Fact Checker was struck by the assertion that Washington “produces almost nothing of actual economic value.” What does that mean? What does the data show?

The Facts

First of all, Lee is correct that six of the 10 wealthiest counties are suburbs of Washington, D.C. As Forbes magazine put it, “The nation’s capital is a great place to be these days. The economy may still be struggling to break out in much of the country, but not in Washington, where local federal spending has doubled over the past decade, boosting federal agency employment and contract spending. Lawyers and lobbyists have rolled in from anywhere and everywhere.”

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Bachmann’s absurd claim of a vast IRS health database of ‘sensitive, intimate’ information

(Molly Riley/AP)

“So now we find out these people are making decisions based on our politics and beliefs, and they’re going to be in charge of our health care. There’s a huge national database that’s being created right now. Your health care, my health care, all the Fox viewers health care, their personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest secrets will be in that database, and the IRS is in charge of that database? So the IRS will have the ability potentially deny health care, to deny access, to delay health care.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on Fox News, May 15, 2013

 “When people realize that their most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS that’s been willing to use people’s tax information against political opponents of this administration, then people have pause and they pull back in horror.”

— Bachmann, on ABC News/Yahoo, May 20


With the Internal Revenue Service in the news, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has taken the opportunity to marry that scandal with her ongoing battle against the president’s health-care law, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”

The picture she has sketched is pretty frightening — that the “most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS” via a vast database. Indeed, even though our colleagues at PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org have beaten us to the punch on this language, the issues she has raised have generated enough buzz on the blogosphere that we believe we should weigh in as well.  

What is Bachmann talking about?


The Facts

Since the health-care mandate is effectively a tax — most Americans will either need to have health insurance or pay a penalty — the IRS was given an important role in administering various tax credits and penalties that are part of the law. This is part of a long-term trend to provide social benefits via the tax code. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson noted in her 2010 annual report that “the increasing use of the IRS to administer benefit programs is placing significant strains on the IRS’s limited resources and requiring the IRS to perform tasks that go well beyond its current mission statement.”

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GOP lawmaker questions how Harry Reid ‘obtained’ false claims about Mitt Romney’s taxes

J. Russell George, U.S. Treasury inspector general for tax administration, from left, Douglas Shulman, former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s exempt organizations office, and Neal S. Wolin, deputy secretary of the Treasury, are sworn in during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday. (Pete Marovich/BLOOMBERG - BLOOMBERG)

REP. PAUL GOSAR: “Are you aware that in July 2012 Senator Harry Reid claimed Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for the last 10 years and claimed to have the information supporting that? Are you aware of that? I’m sure you are.”

FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER DOUG SHULMAN: “I have a recollection of reading that in the paper.”

GOSAR: “Do you know how Mr. Reid obtained that information? Did you look into this?”

SHULMAN: “I have no idea how he...”

GOSAR: “Doesn’t that alarm you that — all of a sudden, this pertinent information comes up, you’re the head of this agency, and you’re not asking questions? Shame on you. Absolutely shame on you.”

— Exchange at House Oversight Committee hearing, May 22, 2013


 Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) brought up the question of Mitt Romney’s taxes after inquiring about two other cases involving alleged Internal Revenue Service leaks — one supposedly involving White House aide Austan Goolsbee and another involving not-for-profit journalism organization ProPublica. Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman responded that Inspector General inquiries were launched in the first two instances, but he seemed puzzled by the Romney reference.

Small wonder. Reid’s assertion was not very credible to begin with — he earned Four Pinocchios for making an unsupported claim. Let’s quickly review the history.


The Facts

Reid took aim at Romney after the Republican nominee took the unusual step of refusing to release more than two years of his tax returns. Reid, on the floor of the Senate, charged that “the word’s out that he [Romney] hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.” (At other times, he asserted the period was 12 years.) Reid originally said he learned this from a person who had invested with Bain Capital, Romney’s former firm, but then he said that “a number of people” had told him this claim.

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Has anyone been ‘fired’ because of the Benghazi attacks?


“Why does Benghazi go on? No one was ever fired? So, people made tragic errors. No one’s accepting responsibility and no one was fired.”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), on CNN’s “State of the Union,” May 19, 2013

Paul’s comment this week jumped out at us because we remember the headlines back in December:

“4 Are Out at State Dept. After Scathing Report on Benghazi Attack” The New York Times

“Four State Department officials disciplined following Benghazi probe findings” The Washington Post

“Four State Department officials were removed from their posts,” The Times said, while The Post said they “were disciplined.” Eric J. Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, “resigned,” both reports said.

We will leave aside the question of responsibility — we recall then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking responsibility but perhaps that is in the eye of the beholder — and focus on whether anyone has been “fired.”

Depending on the dictionary, you get a variety of definitions: To discharge from a position; to dismiss from employment; having lost your job. Moira Bagley, spokesman for Paul, says that, for the senator, “fired” means “actual job termination,” meaning no longer working at the State Department.

The Facts

The dismissals were announced after the completion of the Accountability Review Board report, which fixed the blame for the poor security that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador, at the Assistant Secretary level and below. Besides Boswell, two other officials in Diplomatic Security lost their positions, as well as a deputy assistant secretary in the Near East bureau.

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Holder’s incorrect claim on the ‘Fast and Furious’ criminal citation decision

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): “In the AP [Associated Press] case you have appointed Ronald Machen, and I’m sure he is a fine U.S. attorney, but can he be considered to be independent when in fact when this Congress held you in contempt he was the individual who refused, on your orders, to prosecute the case? If he will obey your orders in not living up to a contempt of Congress, can we believe that he is in fact independent?”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.: “I did not order Mr. Machen not to do anything with regard to — I won’t characterize it — the contempt finding from this Congress. He made the determination about what he was going to do on his own.”

exchange on Capitol Hill, May 15, 2013

The fierce exchanges between Rep. Darrell Issa and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday garnered a lot of attention, but there was also an interesting substantive point that was discussed: Did Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, make his own decision regarding whether to prosecute Holder for criminal contempt of Congress?

Holder said Machen “made the determination.” What does the evidence show?


The Facts

Last June, President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold documents related to the botched “Fast and Furious” gun operation, and the House of Representatives acted by citing Holder for criminal contempt of Congress. The Justice Department quickly responded by saying Holder would not be prosecuted, citing similar decisions by Justice Departments in Democratic and Republican administrations.

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Barbara Boxer’s claim that GOP budgets hampered Benghazi security

(Brendan Hoffman/GETTY IMAGES)

“I believe if we want to know what happened in Benghazi, it starts with the fact that there was not enough security. There was not enough security because the budget was cut.”

— Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), speech on the Senate floor, May 14, 2013


Sen. Boxer, in a speech that echoed an opinion article she published in The Huffington Post, this week tried to turn attention back to reductions in State Department funding that Democrats sought to highlight at the first congressional hearings into the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

As Boxer put it:

It takes funding to protect an embassy. It takes funding to protect a consulate. It takes funding to protect an outpost. Yes, it takes funding. Who cut the funds from embassy security? The Republicans in the House, that is who — hundreds of millions of dollars. If it were not for the Democrats, it would have been cut more, because when it came here, we stood our ground. We had to accommodate their cuts. That is how the process works. So I think the Benghazi ‘scandal’ starts with the Republicans looking in the mirror. Mirror mirror, who is the fairest of them all? They ought to ask: Mirror, mirror, who cut the funding for diplomatic security across this world for America? The answer: Republicans.


In the Huffington Post article, Boxer provided an actual figure: “The truth is — between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the Republican-led House of Representatives sought to cut more than $450 million from President Obama’s budget request for embassy security funding.”

We had not looked closely at these claims back in the fall, but now that Boxer has revived them — and there have been two major reports and extensive testimony on the attack — it seems worthwhile to provide an assessment. There are two specific questions: Was security in Benghazi affected by the State Department budget and did Republicans cut funding in a way that affected security?


The Facts

Politicians often play games with budget numbers, and so one must be careful at accepting numbers at face value. Note how Boxer asserted that House Republicans “sought to cut more than $450 million from President Obama’s budget request.” That means she is talking about the president’s proposed budget — which in any administration is often a pie-in-the-sky document.

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How many pages of regulations for ‘Obamacare’?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell points to a stack of papers representing what he claimed to be the regulations associated with President Obama's health-care law as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 15. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“Obamacare is fully implemented January 1st, even though the regulations haven’t been written yet. And Brian, we’ve got 33,000 pages of regulations that they’ve already written. If we stacked it up here, it would be seven feet tall.”

— Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), speaking on “Fox and Friends,” May 13, 2013

“Implementation has also become a bureaucratic nightmare, with some 159 new government agencies, boards and programs busily enforcing the roughly 20,000 pages of rules and regulations already associated with this law.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), on the third anniversary of the law’s passage, March 22, 2013

This column has been updated

Rep. Richard Hudson this week offered such an astonishing figure — 33,000 pages of “Obamacare” regulations! — that we immediately wanted to know more.

But it turns out that Hudson got a little bit ahead of himself. An aide said that he misspoke and meant to say 13,000 pages. “Whether it is 13,000, 22,000 or 33,000, it is too many,” the aide added.

But then it turns out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has actually tweeted a photograph of this stack of paper. By his math, the Obama administration has issued 20,000 pages of regulations “associated” with the new law.

How does this stuff get figured out?

The Facts

The process the McConnell folks used is fairly simple. They went to the Web site for the Federal Register and searched for “Affordable Care Act,” the official name for the health-care law. That turned up 897 documents.

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The claim that Senate Democrats have produced a ‘balanced budget’

(Carlos Osorio/AP)

“I first want to thank the chair of our committee, the budget committee, for doing such a terrific job in bringing us all together. My colleagues on the committee, as we all know, we worked very, very hard together in order to be able to put together a balanced budget that reflects the values of the American people, that’s fair, that’s balanced in values and approach as well as in numbers, and we did that.”

— Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), remarks on the Senate floor, May 8, 2013

A reader asked: Is the Democratic-crafted budget plan “a balanced budget,” at least in the conventional sense? Most people would interpret that phrase as meaning a plan that in theory leads to an equal level of revenues and expenditures by a given date. In other words, the federal government no longer ran deficits.

After all, House Republicans claim to have a budget that leads to balance in 10 years. Do Democrats? (Note: We take no position on whether a balanced budget is good for the economy or not. Economists differ on that issue, with some arguing that deficit spending, if properly invested, can be better for economic growth.)

The Facts

It’s important to remember that these 10-year budget blueprints are more political, aspirational documents than serious financial plans. No one really knows what the economy will look like a decade from now, and so actual tax revenues and government spending in the future are heavily dependent on factors beyond politicians’ control.

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Coburn’s claim that violence in national parks has declined ‘85 percent’ because of guns


“Remember, in 2010, everybody said you can’t dare let guns go into the national parks. And of course the rapes, murders, robberies and assaults are down about 85 percent since we did that.”

— Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” May 9, 2013

A reader tweeted us a question about this statement, asking us to fact check it. We are happy to oblige.

Coburn made his comment a day after he failed to convince the Senate to allow people to carry guns on lands managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. During that debate, he simply asserted that since the prohibition on guns in national parks was lifted by the Obama administration in early 2010, “the amount of crime in our national parks has declined.”

But on television, he attached an eye-popping figure — 85 percent — to the decline in violent crime. Could this possibly be true?


The Facts

In 2009, Coburn pushed through the change in national parks by attaching an amendment to an unrelated bill on credit cards, after a federal judge had blocked a change in the rules engineered by the Bush administration. But the Obama administration did not fight hard against the measure, earning the ire of gun control groups, and it went into effect on Feb, 22, 2010. 

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Cherry-picking one survey to discredit a survey of scientists on climate change

File photo of smoke from a bush fire on the outskirts of Labertouche, 56 miles east of Melbourne, Australia, on Feb. 7, 2009, after a "once in a century" heat wave sparked dozens of blazes across the country. Scientists are struggling to explain a slowdown in climate change that has exposed gaps in their understanding and defies a rise in global greenhouse gas emissions. (MICK TSIKAS/REUTERS - REUTERS)

“There is also uncertainty regarding to what degree man is to blame for global warming. However, the claim that 98 percent of scientists agree that humans are the singular driver of climate change has been repeatedly discounted. This oft-cited statistic is based on an online survey with a sample size of only 77 people, and the survey didn’t even ask to what degree humans contribute to climate change.”

— Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment, in an opinion article, April 13, 2013

Stewart is a freshman lawmaker who ended up with a plum position: heading a House panel on the environment. In an opinion article for the Salt Lake Tribune, he struck a cautious stance on climate change, arguing that the science is “anything but settled.”

He, for instance, cited an interesting Economist article that the climate may be heating up less quickly in response to greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought. (He did not mention that the article also said “that does not mean the problem is going away.”)

For the purposes of this fact check, we will look at his claim about the 98 percent statistic, which he says “has been repeatedly discounted” and is based just on a survey of 77 people. What’s he talking about?

The Facts

Stewart is referring to a survey done for the American Geophysical Union in 2009 by researchers for the University of Illinois in Chicago. Peter Doran, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, along with former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, in 2008 sent a simple survey with nine questions to more than 10,000 experts listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute’s directory of geoscience departments.

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Is Long Beach really limiting the hours of 1,600 workers because of ‘Obamacare’?


“Even the city of Long Beach, California came out and said that for their part-time workers -- there’s 1,600 of them -- they’re going to get all of them lower than 30 hours per week so that then the city doesn’t have to provide expensive health insurance.”

--Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” May 3, 2013

“And now the city of Long Beach, California did the same thing with their 1,600 part-time employees. They’re saying we’re going to keep all of you under 30 hours because we can’t afford the expensive mandates of President Obama’s health care law.”

--Barrasso, on Fox News, May 3

“The city of Long Beach, California, told their 1600 part-time workers that they were going to cut them back to 27 hours on average, so that they are not over that 30-hour level.”

--Barrasso, on Fox Business News, May 3

Just one day after the Los Angeles Times published an article titled “Part-timers to lose pay amid health act’s new math,” one of its factoids became a frequently-mentioned talking point for Republicans. Indeed, the Republican National Committee “War Room” e-mailed the article to subscribers on its listserve the morning it was published.

Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, then mentioned the Long Beach saga on just about every news show he visited Friday, in an effort to make the case that President Obama’s health care law is hurting the economy.

Certainly employers are trying to figure out how they are impacted by the new law, but in general politicians should be careful about drawing policy implications from anecdotes. Already, in fact, some employers, such as Darden Restaurants Inc., have pulled back from cutting hours because of a public backlash that affected sales. No one can really judge what employers do or do not do until there is some hard data after the law has been implemented.

But we were curious about what’s going on in Long Beach because the Times article was a bit contradictory.

The Facts

Barrasso’s talking point is drawn pretty clearly from a line high up in the article: “Consider the city of Long Beach. It is limiting most of its 1,600 part-time employees to fewer than 27 hours a week, on average.” But lower down in the article, there is this sentence: “The city estimates about 200 part-time workers will be among the most affected by a reduction in hours, representing about 13% of its overall part-time staff.”

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Is the FBI unable to ‘talk about jihad’?

Undated file photos shows Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The FBI says the two brothers are the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. (AP Photo/The Lowell Sun & Robin Young, File)

“We see with the new FBI terminology and the new intelligence terminology, they can’t talk about the enemy. They can’t talk about jihad. They can’t talk about Muslim. They can’t talk about Islam.”

— Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), speech on the House floor, April 26, 2013

Has the FBI been hamstrung in its investigation of the Boston Marathon bombers because of a “purge” of training materials deemed by the Obama administration to be offensive to various ethnic and religious groups?

That’s a claim that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) keeps raising on the House floor and in media interviews — a point echoed by Sean Hannity on Fox News. (Hannity cites Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) as his source.)

Gohmert is a controversial figure who also recently made the unsubstantiated charge that the Obama administration is staffed with “many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence.” That’s a bizarre assertion, mostly ignored. But his comments on FBI practices have gained wide circulation, so let’s explore the basis of that claim.


The Facts

The Obama administration’s review, led by a five-member panel of experts on Islam, was originally spurred by reporting by, which posted a number of documents indicating stereotypes and broad generalizations in training of FBI recruits. The American Civil Liberties Union also posted many documents that it obtained through Freedom of Information requests.  

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Bachmann’s claim that she voted against the ‘sequester’ bill because of cuts to the poor


(Glen Stubbe/AP)

“There were numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future. And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line: ‘Thou protestest too much.’ Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on the House floor, April 26, 2013

During the House of Representative debate over the bill that ended the furloughs of air traffic controllers, Rep. Michele Bachmann responded to comments by Democrats decrying the impact of the sequester on poorer Americans, notably reductions in programs such as Head Start, Meals on Wheels and nutrition programs for children.

“That breaks everyone’s hearts,” Bachmann said, before blaming the sequester on President Obama and fellow Democrats. She added that she had voted against the Budget Control Act because she knew such “calamities” would happen.

The Fact Checker has concluded that the White House first conceived of the sequester, while also casting doubt on some sequester predictions made by the White House. But we were curious about Bachmann’s suggestion that she voted against the 2011 Budget Control Act because she was worried about the impact on poorer segments of the population.

We will leave aside the accuracy of her Shakespearean quotation.  


The Facts

The Budget Control Act was the result of a bipartisan agreement to head off a looming default on the national debt. It called for $900 billion in discretionary program cuts over 10 years, plus an additional $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts (“sequestration”) if Congress and the White House could not reach further agreement. It passed on a vote of 269 to 161, largely with the support of Republicans. Democrats split over the bill, 95 to 95, while Republicans backed it by a margin of 174 to 66.

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McConnell’s claim that there are ‘nearly 10,000’ tax codes nationwide

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“From what I’m told, there are nearly 10,000 state, local and municipal tax codes nationwide. And while complying with so many codes might not be a big deal for large online retailers, it’s a huge burden on the little guys.”

— Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, speaking against a bill that would require online merchants to collect sales taxes, April 23, 2013

During last week’s debate over a bill that supporters call the Marketplace Fairness Act — which appears headed for Senate passage in May with bipartisan support — a colleague spotted this “nearly 10,000” figure and wondered about its accuracy. It certainly seems like a large number.


The Facts

 The proposed law would require online sellers with annual revenues of about $1 million to collect the relevant sales taxes that would have been due if the buyers had purchased the items in their home states. Currently, no sales tax is expected to be collected if the seller does not have a physical presence in the state, such as a warehouse. Instead, buyers are supposed to pay such sales taxes when they file their income taxes, but compliance is poor, so states claim they are losing billions of dollars in unpaid state taxes.

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Issa’s absurd claim that Clinton’s ‘signature’ means she personally approved it

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

“The secretary of state was just wrong. She said she did not participate in this, and yet only a few months before the attack, she outright denied security in her signature in a cable, April 2012.”

— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on “Fox and Friends,” April 24, 2013

House Republicans issued a scathing report this week on the Obama administration’s handling of the terror attack last year on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The report — endorsed by five committee chairmen — has some interesting information in it, particularly in raising questions about how the infamous talking points on the incident were crafted.

One of the headline items in the report was the claim that an April 19, 2012, State Department cable acknowledged a request from the embassy in Libya for additional security assets but ordered that a planned drawdown would proceed as scheduled. “The cable response to Tripoli bears Secretary Clinton’s signature,” the report said, referring to the message as “the April cable from Clinton.”

Clinton told Congress that the security issues in Libya “did not come to my attention or above the assistant secretary level.” The State Department’s Accountability Review Board report on the incident backs her up, saying that failure to provide proper security was the result of decisions made at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department.

But Fox host Brian Kilmeade all but accused Clinton of perjury when he interviewed Issa, saying the report “sharply contradicts her sworn testimony.… [It] is in direct contradiction of what she told everybody, told the country.”

In response, Issa asserted that “she outright denied security in her signature in a cable.”

The Fact Checker spent nine years covering the State Department, and so these claims about a “signature” seemed rather odd. Let’s explore what this really means.


The Facts

Cable is a bit of an old-fashioned word, but then the State Department — the nation’s first Cabinet department — is a tradition-bound organization. These days, State Department cables in effect are group e-mails, which are stored in a database and made available to people with the proper security clearances.

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Rand Paul’s misguided question on how the Tsarnaev brothers arrived in the United States


“Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism?”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 22, 2013


In journalism, there’s an old rule: The only dumb question is the one not asked.

Still, Paul’s question in a letter urging delay of comprehensive immigration reform appears to ask the wrong question, based on the information that is now known about the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and their arrival in the United States.


The Facts

One undisputed fact about the Tsarnaev brothers is that they were both minors when they arrived in the United States. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was 8 or 9, while his older brother Tamerlan was 15 or 16.

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History lesson: Who’s responsible for ‘chained CPI’?

(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

“We should not be providing the Republican Party in this Congress a trophy, a trophy they’ve always wanted, to begin to dismantle fundamental programs that the American people want, have supported and continue to support.”

— Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), speaking at a rally held by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, April 11, 2013

“I think it’s important to note that the chained CPI was originally a Boehner-McConnell demand in negotiations back in December. But it was a bad idea then, and it’s a really bad idea now.”

— Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), at the same event, April 11

President Obama’s budget included one budget reduction item that, as shown by the quotes above, has riled some Democrats: “chained CPI.”

That’s a cumbersome name for a different version of the consumer price index. Under this measure, the Bureau of Labor Statistics attempts to account for the fact that when prices rise, people may substitute an equivalent but lower-priced item, such as getting turkey meat rather than chicken. In other words, rising prices would not necessarily affect a person’s cost of living. Under the president’s proposal, tax rates and Social Security benefits would be adjusted according to this slower-growing formula.

The implications for government policy are profound, because while the shift appears to be modest — 0.3 percentage points per year — over time the shift could result in large budget savings (lower than projected Social Security benefits) and more revenues (higher than projected income taxes).

The Fact Checker takes no position on whether this is good or bad policy, but we were struck by the suggestion in the quotes above (made at a rally to protest the idea) that this was a solely Republican concept. Where did this idea come from?

The Facts

The Consumer Price Index, over time, measures changes in the cost of purchasing a fixed market basket of goods and services, assuming average consumption patterns. But times change, as do buying patterns. The BLS has often made technical changes to the price index in an effort to make it as accurate as possible.

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Claims about the cost and time it takes to file taxes

(Daniel Acker/BLOOMBERG)

“It takes the average American taxpayer 13 hours to comply with the tax code, gathering receipts, reading the rules and filling out the forms the IRS requires. . . . The tax code forces Americans to spend over $168 billion to comply and 6 billion hours.”

— Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), hearing of the House Ways & Means Committee, April 11, 2013

Federal taxes are due on Monday, so it seems appropriate to check some of the rhetoric concerning the burden of complying with the nation’s complex tax code. Politicians love to complain about the size and scope of the tax code — though much of the complexity stems from laws passed by Congress.

Camp is chairman of the tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives, and his remarks at a hearing on the president’s budget caught our attention. The Fact Checker has always done his own taxes, but sophisticated tax software in recent years has certainly eased the burden of endless calculations.

How accurate are Camp’s figures and where do they come from?

The Facts

Camp’s first statement — about compliance taking 13 hours — was carefully phrased, adding in not only filling out the forms but also gathering receipts and reading the rules. He does not cite a source, but it turns out this estimate comes from the Internal Revenue Service itself.

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Ted Cruz’s claim on gun background check prosecutions

(Michael Reynolds/EPA)

“We should be focusing on violent criminals and that has not been the Obama Justice Department's priority. In 2010, there were over 15,000 felons and fugitives who tried to illegally purchase firearms. Of those 15,000, the Obama Justice Department prosecuted just 44. Let me repeat those numbers because those numbers are staggering, 15,000, they only prosecuted 44.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), on the Sean Hannity Show, April 10, 2013


We’ve written before about the disconnect between the number of people denied guns via a background check and the number of people prosecuted. Essentially, bringing a criminal case for lying on a government form is a relatively low priority for prosecutors. But we have also shown that the federal numbers do not tell the complete picture, because there is strong evidence that state officials use background checks to pick up and charge fugitives and other at-large criminals.

Cruz, in a talking point he also repeated on the Lou Dobbs show, placed the blame for this problem on the Obama administration. He got one set of numbers wrong — in 2010 the number of felons and fugitive denied a firearm was actually 48,000, not 15,000 — but the number of prosecutions he cited (44) was on the nose. That’s out of nearly 73,000 total denials, for a variety of reasons, by the FBI.  

Still, we were intrigued by his partisan framing of the problem. So we dug into the numbers again to see if there was much difference between Obama and the administration of George W. Bush in prosecuting such cases.


The Facts

Ever since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established, government reports — such as by the General Accounting Office in 2003 and the Justice Department Inspector General in 2004 — have documented how few people are prosecuted. In 2002 and 2003, for instance, the IG found that only 154 people (much less than one percent) out of 120,000 denials were prosecuted — about an average of 78 prosecutions a year.

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Rand Paul’s rewriting of his own remarks on the Civil Rights Act

"It's a mischaracterization of my position. I've never been against the Civil Rights Act, ever, and I continue to be for the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act. There was a long, one interview that had a long, extended conversation about the ramifications beyond race, and I have been concerned about the ramifications of certain portions of the Civil Rights Act beyond race, as they are now being applied to smoking, menus, listing calories and things on menus, and guns. And so I do question some of the ramifications and the extensions but I never questioned the Civil Rights Act and never came out in opposition to the Civil Rights Act or ever introduced anything to alter the Civil Rights Act."

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), during a speech at Howard University, April 10, 2013

There’s an old rule in politics: If it’s too complicated to explain, you are probably in trouble.

 Paul, a potential GOP candidate for the 2016 presidential election, gave an interesting speech on Wednesday to historically black Howard University, but his remarks were overshadowed by his attempt to explain the controversy over his 2010 comments on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 “I have never wavered in my support for civil rights and the Civil Rights Act,” he said in his speech. “The dispute, if there is one, has always been about how much of the remedy should come under federal or state or private purview.”

 But then Paul expanded on his remarks in the question-and-answer period, saying in response to a tough question that he had been concerned really only about the “ramifications and extensions” of the Civil Rights Act. We sought an explanation from Paul’s staff but did not get a response. So let’s go to the video tape!


The Facts

The Civil Rights Act was pushed by President Lyndon Johnson but likely would not have become law without the shrewd legislative gamesmanship of then-Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. Dirksen figured out a way to bring along wavering Republicans, in order to break a lengthy filibuster led by Southern Democrats, by carefully tweaking a House bill to reduce federal intervention in local matters — but not enough to force a rewriting of the whole bill in the House.

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Hillary Clinton and the Aug. 16 cable on Benghazi security

(Cliff Owen/AP)

“Where was Hillary Clinton in all of this? I mean the fact that she was unaware that her own ambassador was saying that the consulate couldn’t withstand a coordinated attack, that was never answered to a satisfactory answer.”

— Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), on “Fox and Friends,” April 9, 2013

The controversy continues over the deaths last year of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in an attack on a U.S. facility (a “special mission,” not technically a consulate) in Benghazi, Libya. Certainly there are outstanding questions, and Ayotte is among the lawmakers pushing for the establishment of a special investigative committee.

We take no position on that idea, but we were curious about her statement concerning former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who by all accounts would be considered the top Democrat in the 2016 presidential race if she decided to run.

What is Ayotte talking about? Essentially, it’s a question of bureaucratic response — and inertia.

The Facts

There are two key elements here — what the ambassador supposedly said and what Clinton actually knew. In the case of Stevens, this is not something he really said but what is contained in a never-released classified cable. At this time, it is unclear if he actually wrote the cable.

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Portman’s slippery language on Obama and a national gun registry

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“There is also discussion of a new, national gun registry connected with universal background checks. The Obama Administration’s Justice Department has said that the effectiveness of universal background checks ‘depends on…requiring gun registration,’ something I strongly oppose.”

--Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), “Our Right to Bear Arms ,” The Daily Caller, April 5, 2013

A reader asked us about this paragraph in an opinion article written by Portman, given that the Obama administration has insisted it has no interest in creating a national gun registry. We also have previously noted that federal law prohibits creating such a registry -- a law Portman surely knows about because he signed a letter in support of the provision when it was under discussion in 2011.

So what’s going on here?

The Facts

This is an interesting example of how someone can create a certain impression by carefully arranging two independently correct sentences. The first sentence refers to a “discussion” of a national gun registry, which is different than any legislation being introduced. But then the next sentence refers to a statement by the Obama Justice Department, which certainly suggests Obama is interested in the idea.

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Fact checking the gun debate: a roundup

Chris Dogolo, owner of Chris' Indoor Shooting Range, inspects a Colt Single Action Army revolver in Guilford, Conn. (MICHELLE MCLOUGHLIN/REUTERS)

Since the Newtown shooting four months ago, the Fact Checker has devoted 14 columns to examining various statistics about guns and gun violence, as well as claims made in pro-gun and anti-gun advertisements.

Yet some of these disputed facts keep turning up in the political discourse, and in news reports, even if many of the claims made by both sides simply do not hold up to scrutiny.

Most recently, President Obama last week repeated the claim that 40 percent of gun sales lack a background check, even though the Fact Checker, PolitiFact and the Associated Press had pointed out the figure was unreliable. (The president did not, however, repeat the statistic in his most recent speech on gun violence this week.)

Here, as a reader service, is a summary of our ratings on gun statistics, with links to the original columns in the headlines. We will continue to examine gun claims made on both sides, and welcome suggestions from readers.

‘Concealed-weapon laws always result in less crime’

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Lindsey Graham’s claim that no fugitives have been prosecuted after gun background checks


“There are 9,000 people in 2010 that failed a background check who are felons on the run, and none of them were prosecuted.”

— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union,” March 31, 2013

Earlier this year, we detailed for readers some of the interesting statistics concerning the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is done through either the FBI or state agencies.

In 2010, the FBI referred about 76,000 denials of firearms to an arm of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), but after a review 90 percent were not deemed worthy of further investigation while another 4 percent turned out to be incorrect denials. But then even of the relatively small percentage of cases referred to ATF field offices, another quarter turned out to be a case of mistaken denial and most of the rest had no prosecutorial merit.

In the end, 62 cases were referred for prosecution, but most were declined by prosecutors or dismissed by the court. Out of the original 76,000 denials, there emerge just 13 guilty pleas.

Opponents of new gun control laws, such as Graham, have seized on those statistics to argue that “the current system we have that's clearly broken” and that it would be better to fix it before expanding background checks.

To some extent, that’s a matter of opinion. But it is worth exploring why so few denials end up being prosecuted — and to examine Graham’s factual claim that “none” of the “felons on the run” were prosecuted. (The FBI figures actually show nearly 14,000 fugitives were denied gun permits in 2010, not 9,000 as Graham said, but that’s a minor matter.)


The Facts

The key purpose of the background checks in the Brady law is to prevent certain individuals — particularly those with criminal records — from easily buying guns. But from its inception, few people have been prosecuted for lying on the application form. A 2000 General Accounting Office report and a 2004 Justice Department Inspector General report disclosed a lack of clear guidelines for prosecution but also indicated that these are simply hard cases to make.

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Corporate jets versus nutrition for women and children

(Screengrab from

“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?

The Facts

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.

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Are people getting $3 in Medicare benefits for every $1 in taxes?

(Alex Wong — Getty Images)

“We need to accomplish the big jobs now of making sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for people today, but for the next generation. You know, people have paid into these programs, and for every $1, people have paid in, they're getting about $3 out in benefits in terms of Medicare.”
— Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), speaking on CNN, March 14, 2013

Back when the Fact Checker covered politics, “person in the street” interviews generally yielded a similar answer when people were asked about the government — and whether they got much in benefits for the taxes they pay. The common response: It’s a raw deal for me.

So we were struck by Barrasso’s comment. Are folks really getting $3 in benefits for every $1 in taxes they have paid? And is this really the right way to look at this statistic?

The Facts

 Barrasso spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that Barrasso obtained this statistic from a report published by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, written by C. Eugene Steuerle and Caleb Quakenbush. The report tracked Social Security and Medicare taxes and benefits over a lifetime, for a variety of scenarios, and is embedded below. (For interested readers, Urban also has posted a Q-and-A on how the calculations were made.)

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Bachmann’s claim that 70 percent of food stamps go to ‘bureaucrats’

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Here's the truth that the president won't tell you. Of every dollar that you hold in your hands, 70 cents of that dollar that's supposed to go to the poor doesn't. It actually goes to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. 70 cents on the dollar. That's how the president's caring works in practice. So $3 in food stamps for the needy, $7 in salaries and pensions for the bureaucrats who are supposed to be taking care of the poor. So with all due respect, I ask you, how does this show that our president cares about the poor?”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 16, 2013


Some readers might question why we are checking a statement by Bachmann for a second day in a row. We concede that it might seem a bit much, but her assertions often reflect comments that have bounced around, unchecked, in the blogosphere.

So we were especially curious about the “truth” that 70 percent of the Food Stamp program went to “bureaucrats.” It took us a while to track down the original source of this claim, but it turns out that he believes he has been frequently misquoted. So, with all due respect to Rep. Bachmann, it seems worthwhile to set the record straight.

Remember that child’s game of telephone, in which the whispered information gets increasingly distorted? That’s what happened here.


The Facts

There are two key parts to Bachmann’s statement. First, that 70 percent of the money that is supposed to go to the poor actually goes “to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.” Second, that this translates into just $3 (out of every $10) in food stamps going to the needy.

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Bachmann’s claim that Barack Obama has a ‘$1.4 billion-a-year presidency’ of ‘perks and excess’

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“A new book is out talking about the perks and the excess of the $1.4-billion-a-year presidency that we’re paying for. And this is a lifestyle that is one of excess. Now we find out that there are five chefs on Air Force One. There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in order to be readily available in case the first family wants a really, really late show. And I don’t mean to be petty here, but can’t they just push the play button? We are also the ones who are paying for someone to walk the president’s dog, paying for someone to walk the president’s dog? Now, why are we doing that when we can’t even get a disabled veteran into the White House for a White House tour? That isn’t caring!”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 16, 2013

During last year’s GOP presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and doublechecked before it is reported.

In this case, Bachmann appears to be citing the self-published book “Presidential Perks Gone Royal,” by Republican lobbyist Robert Keith Gray, though one wonders whether she actually read the book — which is only 131 pages — or just read a summary that appeared in the Daily Caller, since many of her points are highlighted in the Daily Caller article.

The Fact Checker read the book so that you don’t have to. It provides no specific sourcing for any of its claims, though in the back it provides a list of articles and books that presumably the author consulted. He claims that the book is not intended as an attack on President Obama, but only on the imperial trappings of the presidency, though the subtitle of the book is: “Your taxes are being used for Obama’s re-election.”

Bachmann, however, framed it as an attack on Obama, and we will examine her claims in that context. How does Obama compare with other presidents?

The Facts

Bachmann’s headline figure is that Obama’s presidency costs $1.4 billion a year. Gray never quite explains how he developed that figure, though another self-published book, “The 1.4 Billion Dollar Man: Costs of the Obama White House,” by self-help writer John F. Groom, attempts to provide a breakdown. But what is quickly apparent is that this number covers every possible expense, including many having to do with the security that is necessary to protect the president. The figures also include the cost of the White House policy-making staffs. Are those really all “perks and excess”?

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Mitch McConnell’s claim that the Democrats plan a $1.5 trillion tax hike

(Susan Walsh/AP - AP)

“Their budget will do more to harm the economy than to help it, and it will let Medicare and Social Security drift closer to bankruptcy. And then there’s the Democrats’ $1.5 trillion tax hike. Trillion with a T. Let me just repeat that: Any senator who votes for that budget is voting for a $1.5 trillion tax hike, the largest in the history of our country.”

— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speech on the Senate floor, March 14, 2013


Shortly after McConnell (R-Ky.) made these comments, Democrats cried foul. The budget plan, they said, has $975 billion in higher taxes, not $1.5 trillion. They point to the summary tables of the budget resolution unveiled by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the Budget Committee. Sure enough, there’s a line showing $975 billion in new revenue.

 But nothing’s ever easy with the budget process in Washington. In fact, it’s a morass, with many things open to interpretation, as we discovered as we went back and forth between the Democrats and Republicans — and then consulted with various budget experts.

 Let’s take a tour through the numbers.


The Facts

 There are two key parts to this discussion — the actual text of the legislation and what in effect is a glossy marketing document (“Restoring the Promise of American Opportunity”). The legislation does not have many numbers, whereas the marketing document does. 

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Van Hollen’s claim that Democrats are seeking less in taxes than Simpson-Bowles

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“This revenue, even if you take it together with the revenue from January, it’s still less revenue than the revenue that was embedded in the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan.”

— Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member on the House Budget Committee, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” March 13, 2013


The 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan remains the lodestone in Washington for serious efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax and spending priorities, with members of both parties often comparing their efforts to the goals set by the commission headed by former senator Alan Simpson and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles.

A few months ago, Van Hollen earned Two Pinocchios for asserting that the president’s budget contained “more health-care savings than the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.” That turned out to be incorrect, at least when looking at the first 10 years after enactment.

Now, van Hollen is arguing that the budget plan unveiled by Senate Democrats has fewer tax cuts contained — or, as he put it, “embedded” — than in Simpson-Bowles. Let’s take a closer look at this claim.


The Facts

First of all, this is a question of numbers, not specific policies. Senate Democrats call for $975 billion in new taxes with vague language — “by eliminating loopholes and cutting wasteful spending in the tax code that benefits those who need it least.” (Who could argue with that?) The Simpson-Bowles Commission, by contrast, called for an extensive overhaul of the tax code, including cutting tax rates while eliminating loopholes.

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Paul Ryan’s claim that he balanced the budget ‘without raising taxes’

(Gary Cameron/Reuters)

“House Republicans have a plan to change course. On Tuesday, we're introducing a budget that balances in 10 years — without raising taxes.”

— Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, in a Wall Street Journal opinion column, March 11, 2012


Not long ago, the federal government used to have just five-year budgets. That was reasonable and realistic, because it gets pretty hard to predict the course of the economy more than a few years into the future — and tax revenues and government spending are heavily dependent on whether the economy is booming or not.

 But that all changed in the mid-1990s, when House Republicans vowed to balance the budget in seven years. Then-President Bill Clinton countered with a 10-year balanced budget plan — and the country has been stuck with the concept ever since. (Just to show how ludicrous a 10-year plan is, the Clinton budget ended up balancing much sooner than predicted because of unexpected capital gains revenue.)

 So now the current crop of House Republicans has unveiled a budget plan that they claim balances in 10 years. Let’s leave aside the plan’s various gimmicks for a moment and examine how this is possible, when just two years ago the House Republican plan predicted huge deficits — nearly $400 billion — at the end of the 10 years.

 Was this really done without raising taxes?


The Facts

 Comparing the 2014 budget plan with the 2012 and 2013 GOP plans is instructive. There are much heavier cuts in government spending in the 2014 plan, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, but there are also big gains in revenue.  

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Does ‘Obamacare’ have $1 trillion in tax hikes, aimed at the middle class?

(Ted S. Warren/AP)

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-Wisc.):  “The fact of the matter is, we already have a $1 trillion in middle-income tax increases hitting us in Obamacare. They're hidden, but it's middle-class...”
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-Fla.): “No, first of all, that is completely untrue. There are not $1 trillion in taxes in Obamacare.”

— exchange on ABC’s “This Week,” March 10, 2013

The argument over President Obama’s health-care law, aka Obamacare, never seems to end, as witnessed by the fact that House Republicans on Tuesday will unveil a budget that yet again seeks to eliminate it.

 This exchange on one of the Sunday shows caught our attention, as the battling lawmakers appear to be completely at odds. Are there $1 trillion in taxes in the law, which Wasserman Schultz denies? And are these “middle-income” tax increases, as Johnson asserts?


The Facts

When the health care law became law in 2010, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation provided estimates of the revenues in the law. But those estimates did not give a full picture because some big taxes did not begin until 2013 — and some are delayed even further. That means the tax number is bound to grow each year we move into a different budget window.

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A guide: serious plans vs. talking-point ‘plans’

President Obama arrives at the Jefferson Hotel for a dinner with Republican senators on March 6. (Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

“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.

The Facts

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.

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Sequester spin: The White House’s vaccine statistics

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?


The Facts

 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.

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Boxer rewrites budget history yet again

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“In the last 50 years only one party balanced the budget, and that party is the Democratic party. Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress, the only party that ever balanced the budget. So spare me the lectures from my friends on the other side of the aisle about how they are the ones that know how to do it. No, they don’t.”

— Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Senate floor, March 4, 2013

“I think we ought to go back to the people and the party that was the only party and the only people to balance the budget in 40 years. I hate to break it to my Republican friends, but that is the Democratic Party. We are the ones who did it. We did it when Bill Clinton came into office. We did it after hard work. We did it after painful cuts. We did it with smart investments.”

—Boxer, Senate floor, June 29, 2011

The Fact Checker frowns on recidivism.

Nearly two years ago, we awarded Boxer Three Pinocchios for her statement in 2011. Yet, almost word for word, she repeated it again this week.

Both parties in Washington appear to have their own historical narratives, which is one reason why compromises are so difficult. If people can’t even agree on what happened in the past, why should we expect them to agree in the present?

The complete history of how a balanced budget emerged in the late 1990s is still relevant. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is set to unveil a budget plan that he claims will balance the budget in 10 years. Matt Miller, a former Bill Clinton aide who writes an opinion column for The Washington Post, argues that the introduction of Ryan’s budget, which he thinks will be riddled with gimmicks, nonetheless will be a political “game-changer” and a moment of peril for Democrats.

In Boxer’s telling, the budget surplus that emerged in 1998 and continued for four years sprang forth from a critical moment — the passage of Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction bill. For those who don’t remember, it was a cliffhanger vote in both houses of Congress, with not a single Republican lawmaker supporting it.

But this narrative makes the Republicans — who controlled the House and essentially the Senate when the budget was in surplus in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 — completely irrelevant to the eventual outcome. But that is a willful misunderstanding of what happened. (A Boxer spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.)

The Fact Checker had a front-row seat during the budget wars of the 1990s, covering Congress and the Clinton White House. So, here, again, is an explanation of how the federal budget was really balanced.

The Facts

President Clinton’s 1993 deficit plan certainly was a political and economic gamble. Clinton believed that if he crafted a credible deficit-reduction package, Wall Street traders would bid up the prices of Treasury bonds, leading to a decline in interest rates.

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Sequester spin: GOP versus Democratic House committee ads

NRCC paid Web ads: Democrats targeted for allowing Obama's sequester to continue (Screengrab from

The online banner ads being run by the National Republican Campaign Committee — targeting 20 Democrats — are examples of how the political parties are turning the sequester into another political blame game.

 NRCC communications director Andrea Bozek suggested the ads were in response to robo-calls launched by the NRCC’s opposite number, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which she said contained “lots of Pinocchios.” These calls target 23 Republicans:


Hello. This is Jennifer calling from the DCCC. On March 1st, America’s middle class is going to pay a terrible price because Congressman _____ backed a sequester plan that will eliminate more than 2 million jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into a recession. 

But Congressman ________ refuses. He won’t compromise on a solution for the middle class because he is protecting tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected.  These cuts will be devastating and could set us back for a generation.
Unfortunately, Congressman _______ is siding with the worst kind of Tea Party dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, instead of solving problems and protecting the middle class.
Press 1 right now if you’d like me to connect you directly with Congressman ________ to demand that he gets behind a plan to end the sequester and put the middle class ahead of millionaires and corporate special interests.


Note how each side wants to tag the other with the origin of the sequester, with the NRCC calling it “Obama’s sequester” and the DCCC saying the Republican lawmakers “backed a sequester plan that will eliminate 2 millions jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into recession.”

 At this point, it’s really a fairly useless discussion. We have previously ruled that the sequester was suggested first by the White House, but the final deal has bipartisan fingerprints, as lawmakers in both parties supported it.

 Let’s take a look at other elements of each side’s attacks.


The Facts

First, the DCCC robo-call claims that 2 million jobs are at risk. The DCCC cites a study by George Mason University, but that study is a bit out of date (it studied the effect of the higher, pre-fiscal cliff sequester plan), and it covers a two-year period, making it much larger than the official Congressional Budget Office estimate of 750,000 jobs potentially lost. Interestingly, the official release by House Democrats on their alternative bill also cited the CBO’s 750,000 figure.

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Sequester politics: the FAA claims of furloughs and closed towers


“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.

The Facts

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.

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Spin and counterspin in the sequester debate


“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.

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Bloomberg PAC anti-gun ads targeting Democrat in Illinois

“In the race to replace Jessie Jackson, watch out for Debbie Halvorson. When she was in Congress before, Halvorson got an A from the NRA. The NRA: against comprehensive background checks, against banning deadly assault weapons, against banning high-capacity ammunition clips. Halvorson even co-sponsored a bill that would allow some criminals to carry loaded, hidden guns across state lines. Debbie Halvorson: when it comes to preventing gun violence, she gets an F.”

— voiceover of a television ad by the Independence USA PAC

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has weighed in dramatically in the House special election to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., with his political action committee, Independence USA, spending more than $2 million on the race. Many of his ads target former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who had taken pro-gun stands as a Democrat from a largely rural district but is now trying to make a comeback in a more urban area of the state.

 These ads are hard-hitting and negative, with similar themes. The messages has been further reinforced through attack mailings. Let’s check their accuracy. (All are variations on the theme expressed in the text above.)

The Facts

As is typical with negative ads, there is a big difference between the literal text of the ad and the images and messages that it sends. For instance, the ad notes that as a member of Congress, Halvorson received an A rating from the NRA. Then the ad describes some of the NRA’s positions on proposed gun laws, while displaying a photograph of Halvorson.

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A misleading chart on ‘welfare’ spending


“Converted to cash, we spend enough on federal welfare to mail every household living beneath the poverty line a check for $60,000 each year. Can anyone honestly say this huge sum of money is being wisely and effectively spent, that no improvements are needed?”

— Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Budget Committee hearing, Feb. 13, 2013

The chart above, as well as Sen. Sessions’s statement, is derived from his calculation that what he describes as some 80 “welfare programs” make up the single-largest item in the federal budget — larger than Social Security, Medicare or Defense Department spending. On Wednesday, we examined how Sessions counted these programs, using a 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service.  

As we noted, Sessions is trying to shake up traditional notions of what constitutes welfare. Now, let’s look at how he puts these data to use in a chart — and whether it illuminates or obscures the issue.


The Facts

The chart concludes that welfare spending “equates” to $168 in cash per day for each household in poverty, which it says exceeds the median income by 20 percent. Alternatively, as Sessions put it at the hearing, this amounts to $60,000 per year, compared to a median income of $50,000 in 2011.

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Does the federal government spend more on ‘welfare’ than anything else?

(Susan Walsh/AP)

“There are roughly 80 welfare programs overall that together comprise the single largest item in the federal budget — larger than Medicare, Social Security, or defense.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), opening statement at Budget Committee hearing, Feb. 12, 2013

At The Fact Checker, we try to deal with facts, not opinions or philosophical disputes. But a recent assertion by Sen. Sessions, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, about the size of “welfare programs” underwritten by the federal government has raised some interesting issues.

Given the complexity of this debate, today we will first explore how he comes to this conclusion. Tomorrow, we will look more closely at data — in particular, a chart — that he has used to illustrate his point.

The Facts

Session comes up with his list of 80 welfare programs from an October 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, titled “Spending for Federal Benefits and Services for People with Low Income.” The report concluded that $746 billion was spent on such programs in fiscal year 2010, with about half in the health area, primarily Medicaid.

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Rand Paul’s misleading budget cuts

(James Crisp/AP)

“Where would we cut spending? Let’s start with ending all foreign aid to countries that are burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America.’ In addition, the president could begin by stopping selling or giving F-16s and Abrams tanks to Islamic radicals in Egypt.”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in the tea party response to the State of the Union speech, Feb. 12, 2013

We once gave Four Pinocchios to the American people for failing to understand the basics of the federal budget. A range of surveys showed huge misimpressions about the federal budget, with a majority incorrectly believing that the federal government spends more on defense and foreign aid than it does on Medicare and Social Security.

But where do such strange notions come from? Politicians, of course. Let’s see how big a chunk of the budget Sen. Rand Paul would save with his proposal.

The Facts

Paul’s comment came just before he said that the looming automatic spending cuts known as the sequester would not reduce the budget deficit fast enough. He quoted “many pundits” as saying that “we need $4 trillion in cuts” over the next decade.

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Obama and Rubio: Dueling visions of ‘Obamacare’

((Charles Dharapak/Reuters ))

“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.

The Facts

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.

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Obama’s 2012 State of the Union proposals: what flopped and what succeeded

(Evan Vucci/AP)

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.

The Proposals

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.

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Who is responsible for the looming ‘sequester’ spending cuts?

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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.

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Rand Paul’s misquote of John McCain’s ‘100 years’ in Iraq

(John Huff — AP)

“When candidate John McCain argued in 2007 that we should remain in Iraq for 100 years, I blanched and wondered what the unintended consequences of prolonged occupation would be. But McCain’s call for a hundred year occupation does capture some truth:  that the West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with Radical Islam.”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), speech at the Heritage Foundation, Feb. 6, 2013

What did John McCain say about Iraq — and when did he say it?

Our predecessor as The Fact Checker had to contend with incorrect Democratic claims that McCain wanted to fight a 100-year war in Iraq. But now McCain’s Republican colleague in the Senate has also misquoted him.

 Let’s relive this bit of ancient history — which took place in 2008, not 2007, as Paul stated.

The Facts

 During a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., McCain, then vying for the Republican presidential nomination, got in a long exchange with a questioner who wanted to know how long the United States would remain in Iraq. We have the full exchange below, followed by a partial transcript.

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The NRA’s fuzzy, decades-old claim of ‘20,000’ gun laws

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“Senator, there needs to be a change in the culture of prosecution at the entire federal level. It's a national disgrace. The fact is, we could dramatically cut crime in this country with guns and save lives all over this country if we would start enforcing the 9,000 federal laws we have on the books.”

National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jan. 30, 2013

Many readers have asked us about this claim of 9,000 federal gun laws, which was later repeated by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday when LaPierre appeared on that program. When we checked with NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam for the sourcing, he said that LaPierre had misspoken.

“If anything, he understated the number of laws,” Arulanandam said, noting that the NRA generally refers to “20,000 laws.” 

Indeed. A Nexis search found nearly 500 references in media reports, often by NRA officials or their allies, but also by the NRA’s foes. It is repeated in letters to the editors in newspapers big and small. The figure has stretched back almost five decades. Here’s a sampling:

 “We have 20,000 gun laws on the books now, but the Attorney General's office has consistently refused to prosecute and consequently imprison convicted felons.They too often go through a revolving door.”

— Charlton Heston, assuming the presidency of the NRA, Sept. 23, 1998

 “Criminals violate every one of these 20,000 gun laws on the books.”

— LaPierre, appearing on CBS This Morning, Oct. 1, 1993

 “More than 20,000 gun laws are already on the books, and they vary widely. In that sense, a new proliferation of local laws amounts to a powerful argument for national legislation and makes clear its political feasibility.”

— New York Times editorial, July 1, 1982

 “Washington, D.C., has probably the strictest gun laws in the United States, and there are some 20,000 gun laws now in the United States. And yet March 30th a year ago, a young man that disabled me — he was in Washington, D.C., in broad daylight, out on the public street, standing, made his way among the press corps as I came out of the building, and all those laws did not keep him from having a gun and not only shooting me but shooting three other people.”

— President Ronald Reagan, question-and-answer session with students at St. Peter's Catholic Elementary School, April 15, 1982

 “Consider the fact that we now have on the lawbooks of this nation over 20,000 laws governing the sale, distribution and use of firearms.”

— Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), hearings before the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, 1965


Yep, you read that last one right — 1965.  That’s three years before passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the sweeping measure that became law after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.


The Facts

The Dingell quote is the earliest reference found by Brookings Institution researchers Jon S. Vernick and Lisa M. Hepburn when they first tried to untangle this factoid in 2002. (They have a fuller account, including the complete Dingell quote, in the 2003 book “Evaluating Gun Policy,” edited by Jens Ludwig and Philip J. Cook.)  The figure was then repeated in a 1969 study, “Firearms and Violence in American Life,” which cited Dingell but noted he did not provide a source when he testified. Dingell’s staff did not respond to a query on Monday about how Dingell came up with the figure.  

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How budget baselines affect claims of deficit savings


“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?

Arguments for

■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.

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The ironies of Hagel’s ‘no’ vote on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“We were already in two wars at the time and ... so I voted against it. That's why I voted against it. You might also remember almost Secretary of State Kerry voted against it. Then-Senator Obama, he gave speeches against it; he didn’t vote that day. Vice President Biden voted against it, Dick Lugar voted against it. There were some other Republicans.”

— Defense Secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel, testifying about his vote against the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment of 2007, Jan. 31, 2013

Former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) had many rocky moments during his confirmation hearing Thursday as he tried to explain some of his previous positions and statements. But we found the debate over Kyl-Lieberman Amendment — which included a section about designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization — to be especially rich in irony.

 Congressional votes, in contentious elections and confirmation hearings, often get ripped out of context. Here are some of the ironies:

■ Then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote for the amendment tripped her up in the Democratic primaries and possibly cost her the crucial Iowa caucus.

■Then-Sen. Barack Obama managed to be against this amendment, which came up for a vote, while being a co-sponsor of another bill that, with virtually the same language, also would have designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. But that other bill never came to the floor.

■ The Bush administration had already decided to designate a branch of the IRGC, the Quds Force, as supporting terrorism under a different process, Executive Order 13224, and the announcement was made shortly after the Senate vote.

■ In the end, the IRGC was never designated as a foreign terrorist organization, either under George W. Bush or Obama.

 Let’s take a look at what really happened.


The Facts

 The Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which passed the Senate on Sept. 26, 2007, by a vote of 76 to 22, included this “sense of the Senate” language on the IRGC, which is a powerful branch of Iran’s military and a key player in the country’s economy:

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A McConnell aide’s over-the-top claim about a ‘national gun registration scheme’

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

“There are almost too many schemes to list. But President Obama’s worst center around:… a thinly-veiled national gun registration scheme hidden under the guise of ‘background checks’ to ensure federal government minders gain every bureaucratic tool they need for full-scale confiscation…. It is almost hard to believe the sheer breadth and brazenness of this attempt to gut our Constitution.”

— from an e-mail to supporters by Jesse Benton, campaign manager for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.)

There are a number of assertions about President Obama’s gun agenda in this e-mail that might be debatable, but this one about a “thinly-veiled national gun registration scheme” caught our eye. As our colleagues at have noted, this is also a frequent assertion by the National Rifle Association.

But there is something especially unusual about a campaign aide to McConnell making this claim. Let’s explore.

The Facts

Obama’s 15-page plan starts with a proposal for universal background checks, specifically ways to close potential loopholes. As we have revealed, at least one claim in this section — that “nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers”— is incorrect.

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Selective editing distorts an attack on a pro-gun lawmaker

“Shame on you, Congressman John Barrow . . . Tell Congressman John Barrow to Reject NRA Blood Money”

— video ad by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

There is something about the gun debate that inspires heated rhetoric on both sides.

Last week we looked at a National Rifle Association ad that made misleading claims about security at Sidwell Friends School, which President Obama’s children attend. Now let’s look at a tough anti-NRA ad sponsored by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an umbrella organization of 48 religious and other organizations.

The target of this ad is Rep. John Barrow of Georgia — the last white Democratic member of Congress from the Deep South. The CSGV video intercuts scenes from a campaign ad that Barrow ran in 2012 with television footage of the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It certainly packs an emotional punch — but is it fair and accurate?

The Facts

Barrow’s original ad was part of an ad campaign that The Washington Post’s The Fix lauded as “novel” and “one of a kind.” The Fix noted that the ad was cleverly designed to appeal both to white conservative voters and liberal African-American voters. Here’s the ad, and then the full text.

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Annotating Obama’s 2006 speech against boosting the debt limit

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“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.


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History lesson: Why did Congress create a national debt limit?

(Jay Mallin/Bloomberg)

This column has been updated

Now that the Treasury Department has nixed the odd idea of issuing a platinum coin to get around the federal debt limit, Congress once again will be forced to decide whether to raise the debt limit.

When this issue last loomed in 2011, we looked deeply at the question of whether the United States had ever defaulted before. (Answer: It is not entirely unprecedented. There are three instances when the United States could be seen to have defaulted on its obligations — in 1790, in 1933 and in 1971.)

The debt limit covers both publicly-held debt and debts the United States owes to itself (bonds to Social Security and Medicare for future obligations) so no matter what happens, the debt limit will have to be raised, one way or the other.

But for readers who have been wondering, here’s a history lesson on why the United States has a debt limit in the first place. Essentially, Congress was trying to make life easier for itself.

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Nancy Pelosi's claim that the GOP would raid Medicare for tax cuts

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“We already have an Affordable Care Act. We found savings of over $700 billion by slowing the increase and the rate of reimbursement to certain providers. We used that $700 billion to increase benefits to seniors and the Republicans took the same money and used it for a tax cut at the high end and said that we were cutting benefits, which we weren’t.”

— House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Jan. 6, 2013

We are reluctant to re-litigate the rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaign, but this comment by Rep. Nancy Pelosi about the House GOP budget jumped out at us.

We had frequently written during the campaign about the misleading claim by Mitt Romney that President Obama had gutted more than $700 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare. And yet here was Pelosi claiming Republicans had used the “same money” to fund a tax cut, compared to Democrats, who she said had used the $700 billion to “increase benefits to seniors.”

To alter a common expression, what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. Is Pelosi playing the same kind of rhetorical games?

The Facts

First of all, the $700 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years (2013-2022) between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes that the Obama health-care law makes to reduce spending. Thus it is not really money in bank — and the Medicare actuary has raised concerns about whether the cuts to providers were sustainable. The Obama health-care law also raised Medicare payroll taxes by $318 billion over the new 10-year time frame, but only a third of that money is credited to the trust fund; the rest goes to general revenues.

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Why is the national debt $16 trillion?

The National Debt Clock in New York on Dec. 31, 2012. (JUSTIN LANE/EPA - EPA)

“Our government has built up too much debt. …At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state.”

— House Speaker John A. Boehner, Jan. 3, 2013

With a debt ceiling limit looming in the next two months, Congress and the Obama administration appear set to have another bruising battle over spending priorities.

 Before embarking on that course, lawmakers might want to re-read the Standard & Poor’s report on why it reduced the nation’s debt rating after the 2011 deal that ended the last conflict over the debt ceiling. The report offered two key reasons:


1) “The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan  that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of  what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.”

 2) “More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.”

As part of its analysis, S&P assumed Republicans in Congress would never agree to raise taxes, but that actually happened as part of the “fiscal cliff’ negotiations. But S&P was also worried Congress would not fulfill the second half of promised spending cuts — and those have now been deferred for two months.

In any case, S&P was clearly looking for more signs of cooperation on restraining the debt — not confrontation.

As a refresher course, let’s look anew at the sources of this $16 trillion in debt.

The Facts

 While polls indicate that many Americans continue to believe that foreign aid is a large part of government spending, it actually constitutes less than 1 percent of the budget. And, no, the deficit can’t be eliminated by just cracking down on “waste, fraud and abuse.” We once awarded the American public Four Pinocchios for ignorance about the federal budget.

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President Obama’s paradoxical presentation on the ‘fiscal cliff’ deal

“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.

The Facts

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.

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History lesson: Why the Bush tax cuts were enacted

(Chip Somodevilla — Getty Images)

We’ve noted this history before, but many people have forgotten it. Given that the dispute over whether to extend all of the Bush tax cuts has now led the nation to the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” let’s take a trip back in time to recall why the Bush tax cuts were enacted in the first place. (The Fact Checker covered passage of the Bush tax cuts as an economic policy reporter for The Washington Post.)

Oddly, a key reason the tax cut became reality was because of a fear the United States soon would have zero debt.


With federal revenue soaring in 2000, generating budget surpluses, there was pent-up desire for a tax cut, especially among Republicans.

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The ‘fiscal cliff’ offers: dueling White House and GOP perspectives

Speaker of the House John Boehner (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“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.

The Facts

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.

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Do concealed-weapon laws result in less crime?

A collection of classroom-safe training pistols from a concealed-weapons permit class in Florida. (BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS)

“The facts are every time guns have been allowed, concealed-carry has been allowed, the crime rate has gone down.”

--Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), on “Fox News Sunday,” Dec. 16, 2012

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a number of lawmakers have pushed for new gun-control legislation. But some gun-control foes, such as Rep. Louie Gohmert, have argued that instead more guns, not more controls, are needed.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung: “I wish to God she had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”

Laying aside the question of armed teachers in schools, we were interested in Gohmert’s sweeping statement that laws that have allowed concealed weapons have always resulted in a decline in crime rates. Can such a cause-and-effect link be established?

The Facts

The National Rifle Association says that, by its definition, there are now 41 states that have “right-to-carry” laws. “Since 1991, when violent crime peaked in the U.S., 24 states have adopted ‘shall issue’ laws, replacing laws that prohibited carrying or that issued carry permits on a very restrictive basis; many other federal, state, and local gun control laws have been eliminated or made less restrictive; and the number of privately-owned guns has risen by about 100 million,” the organization says on its Web site.

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The historical myth that Reagan raised $1 in taxes for every $3 in spending cuts

(Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, Michael Evans)

“In 1982, Ronald Reagan sat down with the Democrats and they had a deal — a $3 cut in spending for every dollar they raised in taxes. Guess what? They raised the taxes, and they never cut the spending.”

— oft-repeated story told in Washington during “fiscal cliff” negotiations 

It had become an article of faith by conservatives that President Reagan reluctantly agreed to raise taxes in his first term in office — and that Congress then failed to follow though on promised spending cuts. The frequent recitation of this story during the current fiscal debate made us wonder: What actually happened three decades ago?

It’s not hard to find the source of this story — Reagan’s own memoir, “An American Life.” Here’s what he wrote: “I made a deal with the congressional Democrats in 1982, agreeing to support a limited loophole-closing tax increase to raise more than $98.3 billion over three years in return for their agreement to cut spending by $280 billion during the same period; later the Democrats reneged on their pledge and we never got those cuts.” 

When Reagan made a nationally-televised speech in support of the tax hike — trying to refute charges that it was the biggest tax increase in U.S. history — he also cited a 3-to-1 agreement:

 “Revenues would increase over a three-year period by about $99 billion, and outlays in that same period would be reduced by $280 billion. Now, as you can see, that figures out to about a 3-to-1 ratio — $3 less in spending outlays for each $1 of increased revenue. This compromise adds up to a total over three years of a $380 billion reduction in the budget deficits.”

The Washington Post did not have a Fact Checker column back then, and this speech certainly would have been ripe for fact checking. (We would have been suspicious of his use of the word “outlays.”) Let’s go back in time to show what really happened, using documents, news reports and memoirs of the period.


The Facts

 Despite Reagan’s claim that he made a deal with the Democrats, the Senate at the time was controlled by Republicans. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas — then chairman of the Finance Committee and later the majority leader and Republican nominee for president — was a driving force behind a big tax increase because he was concerned about soaring deficits after Reagan had boosted defense spending and slashed taxes.

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Lindsey Graham’s ‘bankruptcy’ trifecta


“I think we’re going over the cliff. It’s pretty clear to me they made a political calculation. This offer doesn’t remotely deal with entitlement reform in a way to save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from imminent bankruptcy. It raises $1.6 trillion on job creators that will destroy the economy and there are no spending controls.”

— Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 2, 2012

In dismissing the administration’s offer to resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff,” Sen. Graham referred to the “imminent bankruptcy” of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

We have warned before that politicians in both parties are guilty of misusing such phrases as “bankruptcy” or “broke” when talking about Medicare. But Graham hits the trifecta here — Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. We take no position on whether the White House’s proposals are adequate, but what’s he talking about?


The Facts 

Medicare is an old-age health-care program, while Medicaid delivers health care for the poor. Social Security is designed to provide workers with a basic level of income in retirement, as well as disability pay and life insurance while they work.

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Did Obama pull a bait-and-switch on tax increases?


“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.

The Facts

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.

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Allen West’s comparison to one-term congressman Abraham Lincoln

(Harry Hamburg/AP)

“Always remember, Abraham Lincoln only served one term in Congress, too.”

— Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) on NPR talking about his prospects after an election defeat, Nov. 30, 2012

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is an outspoken conservative, one of only two African American Republicans in Congress and a former Army officer who served in both Iraq wars. He lost his bid for re-election this year after just one term in office, ending — at least temporarily — the rise of a one-time tea party star.

In an interview for NPR’s “Tell Me More,” West spoke about his election defeat and his prospects for the future. He ended the discussion by reminding listeners that President Abraham Lincoln served only one term in Congress, hinting that his political career may not be over and that a loss this year does not dim his hopes for the future.

We have no interest in rubbing salt in West’s wounds. But we wondered whether his comments about Lincoln’s political career warranted some clarification.

Let’s examine Lincoln’s biography to determine how much the former president’s single term in Congress serves as a lesson for West.

The Facts

West’s statement suggests Lincoln might have mounted a political comeback after suffering a defeat in a House race — at least that’s what any uninformed listener might assume. But no such thing ever happened.

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Boehner’s misfire on the impact of tax hikes on small-business owners

(J. Scott Applewhite — AP)

“Raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent — half of those taxpayers are small business owners who pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year.”

— House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Nov. 28, 2012

The speaker misspoke — again.

A reader asked us about this statement, and we noticed that it was similar to a claim he made last year. His spokesman at the time explained that Boehner had meant to say “half of small business income,” but he misspoke. We don’t try to play gotcha here, so we gave Boehner a pass.

But in the midst of the “fiscal cliff” debate, he said it again. Once again, his spokesman said it was a mistake. “He meant to say half of small business income would be hit by the president’s plan for higher tax rates,” said spokesman Brendan Buck.

We think it’s time for a refresher course, especially since we previously looked askance at the claim that the tax hike would hit half of all small-business income. Such assertions about small businesses keep coming up time and again in this debate, and it is a complex issue.

The Facts

 Higher taxes on individuals would hit just over 50 percent of business income. But they aren’t necessarily “small” businesses.

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The Democratic claim that Obama’s health-care cuts top Simpson-Bowles

(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

“The president's budget actually contains more health-care savings than the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission does.”

— Rep. Chris van Hollen (D-Md.), on CNN, Nov. 27, 2012

 “He's got more health-care cuts than Simpson-Bowles proposed.”

— Van Hollen, on Fox News, Nov. 27

As lawmakers continue to tussle over solutions to the looming “fiscal cliff,” Democrats have tried to make the case that the Obama administration has been serious about a “balanced” approach that includes not just tax increases on the wealthy but also spending cuts.

 A typical example is Rep. Chris van Hollen, who served on the deficit reduction “super committee” and is the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.  In consecutive interviews on morning television shows this week, he claimed that the Obama 2013 budget actually had more health-care cuts than the Simpson-Bowles Commission,

 Simpson-Bowles, or more accurately the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is of course considered by many in Washington as the model for a bipartisan approach — even though the commission actually failed to endorse the final report. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy.) and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, were the co-chairs of the 18-member commission.

 We take no position on whether implementing Simpson-Bowles would be good or bad, but clearly van Hollen is suggesting that Obama has been even bolder than the Simpson-Bowles approach. Does this claim pass the math test?


The Facts

 When we first queried van Hollen’s staff, they claimed that van Hollen’s statement was accurate because Obama’s fiscal budget for 2013 proposed about $364 billion in health care savings over the next ten years while the Bowles-Simpson Commission proposed $341 billion in health care cuts.

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The GOP’s claim that a tax hike on the wealthy would pay for only a week of spending

“If the president just went and changed the tax rates, that pays for eight days. Where do we go from there? The president also says that he wants a balanced approach… we haven’t heard of where his cuts are.”

— House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during an interview on Fox News, Nov. 19, 2012

“We know that you can’t raise taxes enough to solve the problem. In fact, the big argument during the campaign over whether or not we should raise tax rates on people above $250,000 would have produced enough revenue to fund the government for six days. So we know that may be a good political talking point, but it doesn’t really deal with the problem.”

— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaking to reporters, Nov. 14, 2012

Democrats insist that raising tax rates for wealthy Americans has to be part of any deal to reduce the deficit and avoid the fiscal cliff. Republican leaders oppose that idea but say they’re willing to raise revenue by limiting deductions and closing tax loopholes.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) questioned the effectiveness of raising rates by arguing that a tax increase on families making more than $250,000 per year would pay for only eight days of government spending.

This has become a go-to argument for Republicans, who prefer to reduce the deficit by overhauling the nation’s entitlement programs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters roughly a week after the election that the Democrat-supported, rate-hike proposal would pay for just six days of government spending — even less than what McCarthy claimed.

Let’s take a closer look at the statements from McConnell and McCarthy. Are their numbers accurate?

The Facts

McConnell’s office backed up the senator’s statement with an analysis from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that estimated that raising rates on families with income above $250,000 would net $68 billion more for the federal government in 2013.

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Grover Norquist’s history lesson: George H.W. Bush, ‘no new taxes,’ and the 1992 election

(Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

“George Herbert Walker Bush broke his commitment to the American people. I don't think the Americans for Tax Reform even put out a press release. Somehow the American people figured out that he'd broken his commitment to them and he couldn't get 38 percent of the vote when he ran in a general. He didn't lose in a primary. He lost in a general election.”

Grover Norquist, Nov. 26, 2012, after he was asked on CNN whether his anti-tax organization would target lawmakers who ignore a no-tax-pledge they signed and instead vote for new taxes.


This assertion by creator of the anti-tax pledge caught our attention. Did the 41st president fail to be reelected mainly because he reversed his famous pledge of  “Read my lips: No new taxes”?

 Bush, of course, had famously promised not to raise taxes in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican convention, no matter how much pressure he faced from Congress. But then a soaring budget deficit — and a refusal by the Democratic-led Congress to accept only spending cuts — led him accept a tax hike in late 1990.

 The 1992 race was not just between Bill Clinton and Bush, but also businessman Ross Perot, who took 19 percent of the popular vote (but won no electoral votes.) The three-person race was a key reason why Bush won only 38 percent of the vote — and Clinton 43 percent.

 Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.


The Facts

 The Fact Checker covered the 1992 election and even had the task of analyzing the exit polls on election night. It’s been two decades, but we recalled there were other issues in that election. Indeed, this was the headline on our article: “Economy Killed Bush, Polls Show.”

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Did the Obama administration know its Libya protest talk was inaccurate?

(Rep. Jason Chaffetz( R-Utah). Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“It was clear that the State Department was able to witness this in real time. There is no indication that there was a mob. There is no indication that a video was the genesis of this. Why did the administration, for weeks, mislead the American people?

“They knew because they testified in the hearing we had before the election that they were witnessing this in real time and that all of those indications were that this was a very orchestrated, very sophisticated attack on the compound that went on for hours and hours and hours.”

— Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) during interview on MSNBC, Nov. 14, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried with little success to assail President Obama for his handling of the Sept. 11 attack on a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Republican lawmakers have picked up where Romney left off, insisting that the Obama administration tried early on to mislead the public about how the assault unfolded.

At first, administration officials suggested the offensive grew out of protests over an anti-Islam YouTube video. But the White House and State Department acknowledged on Oct. 9, a day before the House Oversight Committee began hearings on the incident, that no demonstrations had taken place near the diplomatic compound on the day of the attack.

Critics say the Obama administration used the protest idea to downplay a well-orchestrated attack near the height of election season. Some have even suggested that the president actually monitored the assault live — much like he did with the killing of Osama bin Laden — and chose not to intervene.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) insisted during an MSNBC interview that the administration knew all along that no demonstration took place near the compound. He also said comments by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb during her testimony before the House Oversight Committee proved “they were witnessing this in real time.”

Let’s take a look at Lamb’s testimony and review what happened in Benghazi to determine whether the congressman jumped to any conclusions.

The Facts

Signs of trouble in Benghazi arose before militants attacked the diplomatic mission on Sept. 11. A car bomb exploded in front of the compound on June 6, and a rocket-propelled grenade hit the British ambassador’s motorcade on June 11, prompting Britain to withdraw its diplomatic staff from the city and close its post there.

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McCain’s claims about Susan Rice’s comments on the Libya attack

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“Susan Rice should have known better and if she didn’t know better, she is not qualified. She should have known better. I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States secretary of state. She has proven that she either doesn’t understand or she is not willing to accept evidence on its face. There is no doubt five days later what this attack was and for — look, I was on "Face the Nation" that Sunday. Right after her came the president of the Libyan National Assembly who said this was al-Qaeda. Everybody knew that. So she went out and told the American people something that was patently false and defied common sense.”

— Sen. John McCain, on “Fox and Friends,” Nov. 14, 2012

 “When she presented the case absolutely this was a flash mob. Look at the reruns because I happened to have been there that morning.... The casual observer knew there was no demonstration.  There was no demonstration, so you couldn't have known that to start with.”

 — McCain, on “CBS This Morning,” Nov. 14

These are pretty tough words from the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, which were matched by a tough response from President Obama at Wednesday’s news conference. On the CBS program, McCain even suggested a select congressional committee was required to find out whether Rice was “guilty of misleading the American people.”

 As a biographer of Condoleezza Rice, The Fact Checker recalls she was confirmed by a vote of 85 to 13, which were the most negative votes cast for a secretary of state in 180 years. (One of those “no” votes was from John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who is vying with Susan Rice to be the nation’s top diplomat.)

 Ironically, the key issue then was Condi Rice’s public use of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. Now McCain and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) are seizing on Susan Rice’s citing of initial intelligence about the Benghazi attack to disqualify her.

 Here’s what Condi Rice said on a Sunday television show in 2002, “We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” 

No weapons of mass destruction, let alone nuclear weapons, were ever found.

 But in 2005, McCain and Graham fiercely defended Condi Rice from Democratic attacks of “lying,” arguing she had been misled by intelligence. “I can only conclude we're doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness at the outcome of the elections,” McCain complained when Condi Rice’s nomination came to a vote.

 Let’s not forget that Condi Rice was also central to the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, whereas Susan Rice, as U.N. ambassador, appears to be on the periphery on Libya.

 Still, when Susan Rice made her appearance on the Sunday shows back in September, we were critical and awarded her Two Pinocchios, saying that “the publicly available evidence stands in stark contrast to Rice’s talking points.” But the White House sharply disputed that conclusion and said it was too early to hand out any Pinocchios.

 We also produced a lengthy timeline that documented how long the administration avoided saying the attack in Libya was a terrorist act.

 McCain’s comments give us a chance to revisit Susan Rice’s remarks, as there has been additional reporting that has shed some new light on what was known at the time. Is McCain correct in his characterization of Rice’s remarks?


The Facts

 Let’s look at what Rice actually said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sept. 16.  She spoke just after the president of the Libyan National Assembly said there is “no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.”

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Rep. Barney Frank’s claim about a should-be Democratic House majority

(Adam Hunger/Reuters)

“In the House, we gained House seats. Unfortunately, the Republicans were able to gerrymander the House badly because they won the 2010 election. If we had run this House election by the same districts that had existed in 2010, we’d have a Democratic House now. We did very well in the Democratic Senate.”

— Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) comments during MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” Nov. 8, 2012

The 2012 election certainly didn’t end as planned for the GOP, which failed to win the presidency and lost seats in both chambers of Congress. Nonetheless, Republicans found a silver lining in the fact that they maintained control of the House, having won at least 233 seats as of Tuesday — 218 are needed for a majority.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) argued on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” that the election was a clean sweep for Democrats. He said the GOP wouldn’t have retained control of the House if it wasn’t for questionable redistricting by Republicans.

A reader brought Frank’s comments to our attention and asked whether the congressman’s claim alluded to “an incredible testament to the power of gerrymandering” or just amounted to “a huge whopper.”

Let’s examine the election results and the redistricting process to determine whether Frank has a point. Did Republicans rig the congressional map? Would Democrats have control if the election took place in 2010?

The Facts

Democrats earned more combined votes in the House elections this year, which means they won the popular vote for that chamber of Congress. For what it’s worth, this marks only the fourth time in the past century that the party with fewer overall votes came away with the House majority.

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Would a ‘chained’ inflation index result in big benefit cuts for Social Security?

(Toby Talbot/AP)

“What it would mean if the Chained CPI [consumer price index] would go through is that if you are 65 today, by the time you are 76, your benefits would be cut by about $560 a year. … and about $1,000 a year when you turn 85. To my mind, that is just not satisfactory. We're just not going to allow that to happen. Seniors who are trying to live on $1,400 a year cannot in 10 years deal with a $560 cut, and when they're 85, they could not deal with a $1,000 a year cut. That's wrong.”

— Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Nov. 12, 2012

When President Obama tried to reach a “grand bargain” with Republicans on the deficit in 2011, he floated the idea of changing the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits from the traditional consumer price index (CPI-W) to something called a “chained CPI.”

 Essentially, that means an assumption is made that when prices rise, people will turn to a less expensive product, such as buying chicken instead of beef.  Thus, the chained index tries to take into account how people react to inflated prices.

 This arcane issue will likely loom large in the upcoming budget debate over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The chained CPI is appealing to budget wonks because it only slightly tweaks the inflation formula (essentially, a reduction of 0.3 percent). But the impact of that shift builds up over time, potentially saving more than $100 billion in just 10 years.

 But many liberals don’t like the idea of reducing potential benefits. We are often wary when lawmakers begin using the word “cut,” and we were struck by Sen. Sanders’s comments on Monday, especially the idea that the cuts would be so draconian—a $1,000 cut from $1,400 a year. Let’s examine what’s going on here.


The Facts

 First of all, Sanders misspoke. He meant to say $14,000 a year, not $1,400 a year, according to his staff. As we frequently tell readers, we don’t try to play a game of gotcha here. How does the rest of his math work out?

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Would a tax hike on the wealthy kill 700,000 jobs?

(Carolyn Kaster — AP)

“The president wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. But what that does is it net loses 700,000 more American jobs that are really from people who need those jobs.”

— Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), on Fox News, Nov. 8, 2012

“According to Ernst & Young, raising the top rates would destroy nearly 700,000 jobs in our country.”

--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Nov. 9

The presidential election is over. Time to get ready for the fiscal cliff!

 The fiscal cliff, of course, is the looming end-of-the-year expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the automatic spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act. The double whammy would likely sink the economy, though Democrats and Republicans disagree on the best approach for resolving the problem.

For his part, President Obama has long urged retaining the Bush tax cuts for workers making less than $250,000, but letting tax rates (and some other provisions) rise for the wealthiest Americans. Republicans have opposed this, in part because they say it would harm small businesses that organize themselves so earnings or losses are passed though to the shareholders — who then are taxed at the individual tax rate. (We have explored this topic in detail before.)

Rep. Pete Sessions, however, went further and actually claimed that hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs if Obama’s proposed tax increase went into effect. What’s the math behind his claim?

UPDATE: Boehner repeated the claim at a news conference the morning this column appeared.

The Facts

According to an aide, Sessions obtained his figure from a study prepared last year by two economists at Ernst & Young for the Independent Community Bankers of America, the National Federation of Independent Business, the S Corporation Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — all opponents of the president’s agenda.

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Tim Kaine vs. George Allen, Part 2

“Tim Kaine: Four years as governor, billions in proposed tax increases, bitter debates nearly shutting down state government, tax hikes for anyone earning as little as 17 thousand a year. And now: ‘I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.’”

-- Ad from the George Allen campaign

This column follows up on our examination of an ad from Timothy Kaine, who is battling fellow political veteran George Allen in a Virginia Senate race that could help Democrats maintain their majority in that chamber of Congress or give Republicans one of the seats they need to shift the balance.

In this ad, Allen resorts to his go-to message of recent weeks: Timothy Kaine loves taxes. That line of attack started to gain traction after Kaine said during a debate that he would be open to a proposal that would impose a minimum tax level for everyone.

Allen’s campaign seized on that comment to suggest Kaine is itching to raise taxes on middle- and lower-income voters. The Republican candidate even released a statement saying his opponent “announced he wants to raise taxes on everyone.” PolitiFact Virginia rated that claim false, noting that Kaine only said he was open to taxing everyone to some extent, not that he wants to raise taxes on all people.

Allen’s campaign got the debate comments right with this ad by letting Kaine speak for himself. Let’s see whether the rest of the claims are accurate.

The Facts

As we did in our last column, we’ll begin with a bit of background on the political careers of Kaine and Allen.

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Tim Kaine vs. George Allen, Part 1

“As governor, I cut $5 billion in spending, balanced the budget and cut my own pay. George Allen increased spending 45 percent as governor, helped turn a record surplus into a massive deficit as senator, voted four times to raise the debt ceiling and voted four times to raise his own pay.”

-- Ad from the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine

This column has been updated

Timothy Kaine and George Allen are in a tight race to replace Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who will step down in January after just one term in office. The contest has national significance because it could help Democrats hold their majority in the Senate and it gives Republicans a shot at shifting the balance.

Both candidates are veteran Virginia politicians who have attacked each other’s records and claimed multiple accomplishments relating to responsible governance. We decided to examine one ad from each of the two Senate hopefuls, with the idea that the chosen videos combined should provide a fairly comprehensive look at their respective backgrounds.

We’ll start with this ad from Kaine and move to Allen in a follow-up column. We won’t deal with the claim that Kaine balanced Virginia’s budget, because he and the legislature were required to do that by law.

The Facts

Let’s begin with a bit of background on the political careers of Kaine and Allen.

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Everything you need to know about Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage

(Relevant segment begins at about the 1:35 mark of video)

“[Elizabeth Warren] checked the box. She had an opportunity, actually, to make a decision throughout her career. When she applied to Penn and Harvard, she checked the box claiming she was Native American, and, you know, clearly she’s not.”

— Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) during televised debate with Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren, Sept. 20, 2012

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has focused his campaign’s attention back on the self-proclaimed Native American heritage of his Democratic challenger, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, who listed herself as a minority in professional directories commonly used by recruiters.

The controversy had faded in recent months while Brown maintained a steady lead in the polls. But Warren overtook the Republican incumbent in more recent polls after delivering a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention this month.

Brown brought Warren’s lineage back into the spotlight with his remarks during a debate last week and with an ad that uses old news accounts instead of his own words to renew skepticism about his opponent’s ancestral claims — cleverly avoiding direct accusations. Warren responded with an ad of her own, saying: “Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to keep fighting for yours.”

Scott Brown attack ad

Elizabeth Warren response ad

Brown has used this issue to call the Democratic candidate’s character into question. Let’s review what is known about Warren’s heritage to determine what to make of the senator’s assertion that she “checked the box” when she “applied” to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. This is a complex subject, so we will explore it with separate sections on Warren’s lineage, the stories from her family, her job qualifications and her listing in the professional directories.

The Facts

Warren’s Lineage

Warren has claimed Cherokee and Delaware Indian heritage, but the only proof so far seems to be stories she says she heard from family members as a child. Cherokee groups have demanded documentation of the candidate’s Native American ancestry, but she hasn’t delivered.

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Four Pinocchios for Harry Reid’s claim about Mitt Romney’s taxes

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“The word's out that he [Romney] hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Aug. 2, 2012

Reid has generated a lot of controversy with his claim that presumptive GOP nominee did not pay any taxes for 10 years. He originally told the Huffington Post that a person who had invested with Bain Capital had called his office and told him this. Then, he told reporters in Nevada that “I have had a number of people tell me that.”

Reid has refused to identify his source (or sources). Romney and his campaign aides have emphatically denied the charge but Reid has stood firm. “I don't think the burden should be on me,” he said. “The burden should be on him. He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes.”

This whole exchange poses a fact-checking conundrum. Generally, we maintain that the person or the campaign making the charge must back it up. Reid has refused to provide any evidence, except for the (unproven) fact that someone called him up and told him something that may be true — or simply a rumor.

But we can still examine how credible this rumor might be.

The Facts

 Romney has refused to release more than two years of tax returns, citing a precedent that is not very credible; he earned three Pinocchios for that claim. Most presidential candidates in recent years have released more than two years of returns, so Romney may be paying a political price for failing to release more.

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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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Four Pinocchios: small business tax cut will ‘create 100,000 jobs a year’ (Part 2 on claims about the bill)

(Alex Wong, Getty Images)

“According to a study, the small business tax cut act will help create more than 100,000 new jobs a year once fully in place.”

“Mr. Speaker, while we continue to work toward tax reform that broadens the base, brings down the rates for everybody, and gets rid of loopholes, Washington assumes the role of picking winners and losers. We need to take incremental steps to give job creators tax relief right away. This Small Business Tax Cut Act is a step in that right direction.”

— House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), arguing in support of the Small Business Tax Cut Act during a House floor debate, April 19, 2012

In a previous column, we awarded three Pinocchios to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) for saying that the “rich and famous” would receive the lion’s share of the savings from the Small Business Tax Cut Act, which would reduce taxes by 20 percent for firms with fewer than 500 employees. Now it’s time to take a look at a claim from Rep. Cantor, who sponsored the bill.

From the way Cantor described it, this policy would provide a boost to jobs numbers every year. Let’s examine that claim in detail.

(Readers can listen to this mp3 from C-SPAN Radio to hear Cantor’s comments, which begin at about the 3:30 mark.)

The Facts

We’re always suspicious when someone cites “a study” without providing attribution. Cantor’s office backed up the congressman’s claim by pointing to an analysis by Fiscal Associates, the same group that analyzed former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s “999” tax proposal and said it would be revenue-neutral.

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Claims about the small-business tax cut (Part 1)

(Jim Watson: AFP/Getty Images)

“When you hear small business, what comes up in your mind first? The corner drug store, the tech troubleshooting start-up, my daughter’s martial arts instructor. How about Donald Trump — Trump Sales and Leasing — or Paris Hilton Entertainment? What about Larry Flynt Publications? Not that any of these latter companies have volunteered to show me their tax returns, but by all accounts, these are the businesses that will devour the lion’s share of the tax breaks in this legislation. Mr. Speaker, three percent of the businesses in America will get 56 percent of the tax breaks provided. The rich and famous will get most of the money. 125,000 millionaires in America will get 58,000 in tax breaks within their first year of this tax break.”

— Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) arguing against the Small Business Tax Cut Act during a House floor debate, April 19, 2012

The Small Business Tax Cut Act would provide a 20-percent tax deduction for companies with fewer than 500 employees. The House passed the measure by a vote of 235-173, and it’s up to the Democrat-controlled Senate now to decide whether the legislation should go to the president’s desk.

Rep. Becerra argued that the “lion’s share” of the $40 billion in tax savings will go to the rich and famous, and he cited some rather infamous people as examples of who would benefit. We haven’t seen the tax receipts for those individuals or their companies, but it’s safe to assume that at least some of their stripe could fit into the federal government’s small-business category and qualify for the tax cut. (Listen to Becerra’s comments with this mp3 from C-SPAN Radio, starting at about the 6:42 mark.)

Still, we wondered how the congressman came up with the notion that the rich and famous would receive the greatest benefit, as though highly profitable landscaping businesses, restaurant owners, construction companies and the like wouldn’t rack up nearly as much in savings.

Since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sponsored the bill, we will examine his comments in a follow-up column.

The Facts

Becerra’s staff pointed us to a report from Congress’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation to prove that the representative’s numbers were correct. The analysis shows that he is right about 125,000 firms making more than $1 million receiving $58,000 in tax breaks during the first year. But let’s look at his assertion that “three percent of the businesses in America will get 56 percent” of the overall savings. (See page 3 of the study.)

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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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Did Obama delay stimulus spending to aid his reelection?

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“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 Facts

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.

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The claim that won’t die: Did Obama want higher gas prices?

(J. Scott Applewhite — AP)

“President Obama said he would prefer a gradual adjustment to near $4 a gallon gasoline. President Obama said that. And, unfortunately, the president has put policies in place that have gotten us now to $4 a gallon, or almost, in gasoline prices. We’ve seen it. It was $1.83 when he started as president; it’s over $3.70 now. So the president’s got his wish, and people are furious about it.” — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) during hearing of House energy committee, March 8, 2012

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 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.

The Facts

First, we’ll discuss the interview between then-Sen. Obama and CNBC’s John Harwood. Here’s an exchange from that meeting:

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Is the health care law already running a deficit?

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.): “The original estimate for deficit reduction in the first 10 years was $143 billion, correct?”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Yes–”

Johnson: “So now we, we’ve reduced that $143 billion by $86 billion – by not getting revenue from the CLASS Act – and now $111 billion because we’ve increased the mandatory costs of the exchanges, correct?”

Sebelius: “I’m assuming the numbers are correct.  I’m sorry I don’t have them.”

Johnson: “So, when you add those together, that’s $197 billion added to the first 10-year cost estimate of Obamacare, so now we are instead of saving $143 billion, we are adding $54 billion to our deficit, correct?”

Sebelius: “Sir, I –”

Johnson: “We’ll submit that to the record. But, that’s basically true.  So instead of saving $143 billion, by this administration’s own figures and budget, we’re now adding $54 billion to our deficit in the first 10 years.”

— Exchange during congressional hearing, March 7, 2012

A reader asked us to fact-check these claims by Sen. Johnson, a trained accountant who won election in part on clever ads that played up his experience in the real world of budget numbers. (See ad at bottom of the column.)

 Secretary Sebelius certainly appears to be a bit clueless as Johnson tosses a bunch of numbers at her, clearly trying to show that the Obama health care law is now projected to show a deficit. But he gets his own facts and figures mixed up, as we will demonstrate.

 To the senator’s credit, he called us directly to talk through these numbers and conceded that some may not add up.

 “I am not hung up in the math here,” he said, saying that his larger point is that “previous estimates of entitlements have been wildly underestimated.” He cited, as an example, a McKinsey Quarterly study concluding that the Congressional Budget Office vastly underestimated how many employers will stop offering insurance as a result of the health care law, which has the potential to increase the cost of the law.

  “It is the large numbers, not the small numbers” that are important, Johnson said, and it “is my job to press administration officials” for more information. He noted that Sebelius said she assumed the numbers he used were correct. (Note to Secretary Sebelius: Don’t assume the numbers are correct when you aren’t really sure.)


The Facts

 When the health care law was passed, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would reduce the deficit by $143 billion over ten years. That number has been controversial ever since the estimate was released, and we certainly acknowledge it should be accepted with a large caveat. Such ten-year figures are subject to change, and depend greatly on assumptions that may or may not be sound.

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Eric Cantor’s First Amendment arguments against contraception mandate

(Mark Wilson — Getty Images)

“What we have here is a rule by this president and this administration that goes really after our First Amendment rights to the practice of our religion. As a member of minority faith in this country, obviously the ability to practice my religion is very important to me as it is for everyone in this country.”

— House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during an interview on Fox News, Feb. 10, 2012

“It is about the administration and the president saying to the Catholic Church that we know what your faith holds, and you have to abide by that. It would be like saying to the — those of us in the Jewish faith that we know what the laws of kashrut, being kosher, means, and we’re going to tell you what that means. That’s not who we are in this country. That’s what the rule is about, and that’s why it has no place in American politics.”

— Cantor during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” March 4, 2012

Members of both political parties are trying to convince voters that their rights are at stake with the federal contraceptive mandate, which requires employers or their insurance companies to cover birth control costs with no out-of-pocket charges for the insured.

Last week, we addressed some over-the-top rhetoric from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said the GOP has tried to turn back the clock on women’s rights by opposing the new health regulation. Now we’ll examine recent comments by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who claims the mandate represents a government incursion into the free exercise of religion, and that it amounts to meddling in religious doctrine.

We originally thought Cantor’s remarks could be put to the Pinocchio test. After much consulting with experts, however, we determined that the congressman stated opinion rather than asserting fact. As such, we can’t apply our standard rating scale to his remarks. Instead, we’ll use this opportunity to provide readers with more insight into this complex issue.

We realize some readers might say that we should have treated Schumer’s observations the same way, but Cantor’s remarks are different. His logic could be used as the basis for a legal argument against the contraception mandate, whereas Schumer’s comments represented severe exaggerations.

The Facts

Religious institutions are exclusively and fully exempt from the contraception mandate. The Obama administration last month amended the policy so that church-affiliated groups — Catholic hospitals and schools, for instance — won’t have to contribute toward birth control coverage. Instead, their insurers have to foot the bill on their own.

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A whopper ad for John Boehner’s GOP opponent

“President Obama has ordered all Christian institutions to pay for drugs that murder the unborn. This is an assault on life and liberty. Will we knuckle under, violate our consciences, and become accomplices to Obama’s immorality? If we vote for Obama, we empower him to attack the church and murder babies. Let’s defend life and religious liberty, and vote him out.” — Ad from the campaign of David Lewis, a candidate who challenged House Speaker John Boehner in the Ohio Republican primary

We’ve heard a lot of arguments in recent weeks that certain forms of contraception — especially emergency contraception — cause abortion, and that the government shouldn’t force church-affiliated employers to provide them for workers. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich claims the mainstream media doesn’t want to address this issue, even though the Fact Checker column alone has touched on that topic in several recent columns.

Putting aside any questions about adequate media coverage, David Lewis’s ad features some of the strongest imagery and language we’ve seen a candidate use to suggest that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is immoral. The video shows photos of what Lewis claims to be aborted fetuses, while accusing President Obama of forcing religious organizations to pay for drugs that murder the unborn.

We examined how emergency contraception works to determine whether the language and visuals in this ad were accurate. As usual, we’re not going to wade into the debate over exactly when life begins. As you’ll see, that’s not even necessary to determine whether Lewis’s ad deserves Pinocchios.

The Facts

David Lewis is a 26-year-old full-time activist and self-described “devout Christian” from suburban Cincinnati who challenged Ohio’s John Boehner and lost in the Republican primary. Lewis claims the House speaker isn’t living up to his antiabortion words, since he has voted for spending bills that provided funding for Planned Parenthood. The political newcomer lost Tuesday with just 16 percent of the vote.

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Blunt Amendment: Schumer’s over-the-top rhetoric

(Win McNamee - GETTY IMAGES)

This whole debate [over the Blunt Amendment] is an anachronism. Our country progressed beyond the issue of whether or not to allow birth control a long time ago. Yet here we are in 2012, and the Republican Party suddenly wants to turn back the clock and take away contraception from women. Make no mistake: that’s what this debate is about.”
Mr. President, if this amendment passes, it would ban contraception coverage for any woman in America whose boss has a personal objection to it. This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, some 20 million American women could be cut off from health services by this proposal. — Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaking on the Senate floor about the Blunt Amendment, Feb. 29, 2012

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York made these remarks while speaking against the Blunt Amendment, a Senate proposal that would have undermined President Obama’s controversial mandate requiring employers or their insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives, as well as other preventive health services. Lawmakers effectively killed the Blunt measure on Thursday by a vote of 51-48.

Republicans have argued that the contraception-coverage rule violates the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that oppose birth control. Democrats contend that the real issue is women’s health. Both sides are trying to seize control of the debate and convince voters that their rights are in jeopardy.

We realize this is a controversial issue, with emotions running high on both sides, and we take no stand on it. But we were curious if Schumer stretched the truth with his remarks. Did the Senate just save women from a return to the 19th century? Would the measure truly ban contraception coverage when employers object to it?

The Facts

The mandate in question comes from the 2010 health care reform law, which required employers to provide coverage of certain preventive health services without charging the insured. Churches have been exempt from the provision, but some religious leaders still object to it on grounds that church-affiliated institutions — such as Catholic hospitals — will have to pay for health services that violated their principles.

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Will the Keystone XL pipeline lower gasoline prices?

(Gene J. Puskar/AP)
“The [Keystone XL] pipeline will bring secure energy to America, support the creation of thousands of jobs, and help bring down prices at the pump.”

--Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Feb. 16, 2012

We have been looking this week at various claims made by politicians on both sides of the aisle about energy prices. This comment by Rep. Upton was made after the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring swift approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry heavy crude oil from Canada’s Alberta province to the Gulf Coast. (The Obama administration has claimed it needs more time to study the possible environmental impact.)

 We had previously dinged both Democratic and Republican lawmakers for making outlandish claims about the number of jobs that would be created by the pipeline, but we have no dispute with Upton’s “thousands of jobs.” That’s the right way to frame it.

But we are interested in his assertion that Keystone “will…help bring down prices at the pump.” Is this correct?


The Facts

 First of all, even if the Keystone XL pipeline were suddenly approved, it would not be completed until at least 2014, so building it would have no impact on gasoline prices this summer, predicted to be near record highs. We could not find any experts, even those referred to us by Upton’s staff, to say that the prospect of the pipeline being built in the future would somehow impact the price of gasoline today.

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Gassy rhetoric on gasoline prices

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

“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.

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Did Obama run the most negative ads in U.S. history?

(Susan Walsh/AP)

“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 Facts

 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. 

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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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White House budget spin on the House GOP payroll tax bill


“Their proposal ... makes harmful cuts to things like education, that strengthen middle-class security. Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations, by protecting their loopholes and subsidies.”

--White House spokesman Jay Carney, Dec. 9, 2011

 “What I understand is that in the Republican proposal you're talking about, they didn't spell out where the cuts would come. And I get that they were trying to hide the fact that this would be the result. … The result would be cuts in nondefense discretionary programs, education and clean energy, veterans programs. That's the effect of their proposal.”

--Carney, Dec. 12, 2011

There are few areas more confusing than the federal budget. In many ways, it is a funhouse mirror of numbers, allowing politicians to make claims that are designed to mislead and confuse voters.

The above quotes by White House spokesman Jay Carney provide a   case study of this technique.

On Friday, reading from a prepared statement, he accused the House Republicans of making “harmful cuts” to education in order to fund their version of an extension of the payroll tax cut. On Monday, he said that “they didn’t spell out where the cuts would come from.” But, he still insisted the result of their plan would be cuts in “education and clean energy, veterans programs.”

 It sounds pretty dreadful. Is it true?


The Facts

 The House Republican bill to extend the payroll tax for one year has a number of elements that concern the White House, but let’s keep the focus on the spending cuts. The best source for this information is the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the legislation, since the CBO is the nonpartisan scorekeeper.

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Grover Norquist: a misleading accounting of recent history

(Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

“Raising taxes slows the economy. Raising taxes kills jobs. Government spending does not create jobs. The idea that if you take a dollar out of the economy from somebody who earned it, either through debt or through taxes, and give it to somebody who is politically connected, that there are more dollars around? That if you stand on one side of the lake and put a bucket into the lake and walk around to the other side in front of the TV cameras, pour the bucket back into the lake and announce you’re stimulating the lake to great depths. We just wasted $800 billion on stimulus spending that added to debt that killed jobs. There are fewer jobs than before.”

— Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, on “Meet the Press,” Nov. 27, 2011

“In 1982, the Democrats said, ‘Gee, if you let us raise taxes, we’ll cut spending $3 for every $1 of tax increase.’ Taxes were raised. Spending didn’t go down, spending went up. The same thing happened in 1990, although George Bush -- Herbert Walker Bush -- was promised $2 in phony spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Taxes went up, spending actually increased. It wasn’t cut. Twice the Democrats have said let’s raise taxes and cut spending; twice taxes were increased, spending was not reduced at all.”

— Norquist, later in the same program

“They weren’t real reductions in rates. The 2003 rate reductions you had on cap gains and others -- that gave you four years of strong economic growth that lasted until the Democrats won the House and Senate, and you knew those tax cuts were going away.”

— Norquist, in the same program

Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has been in the news lately because Democrats charge (without much evidence) that he is single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the debt supercommittee because Republicans are afraid of violating his no-new-taxes pledge.

We don’t fact check political philosophies, but Norquist’s appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday gives us an opportunity to look at some of the facts that he uses to make his case. As can be seen from the excerpts of the interview above, Norquist is unabashedly partisan — in his view, economic growth literally ends the day Democrats win power in Congress. That already begins to stretch the bounds of economic logic, but what about some of his other assertions?

The Facts

A key part of Norquist’s case is that government spending is always bad and that, despite repeated promises of cuts by Democrats, it always goes up. We take no position on his economic argument about spending, but the notion that spending has always gone up only makes sense if you look only at raw dollar spending — which does not make much sense at all.

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The debt supercommittee: A guide to the rhetoric

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

"Despite our inability to bridge the committee's significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation's fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve.  We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.”

— Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), joint statement, Nov. 21, 2011


To no one’s surprise, the debt “supercommittee” on Monday officially gave up in its efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement. The process was magically designed to almost certainly fail, given the vast divide between the two parties on issues such as taxes and entitlement programs. In theory, Congress is now obligated to go forward with $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, but the cuts do not take effect until January 2013 — meaning Congress gets time to adjust the numbers.

 Given all of the fingerpointing, here is a guide to some of the Pinocchio-laden rhetoric.

 “Simpson-Bowles worked for thousands of hours, bipartisan, Republican, Democrat, people outside of the Senate and elected politics. They came out and said in order to do a deal, you need $4 trillion and you need 2 trillion [dollars] of it as revenue.”

— Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), on Meet The Press, Nov. 20, 2011

Kerry is referring to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which was co-headed by Alan Simpson, a former GOP senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.  

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