The Fact Checker: Debate Fact Check

Rick Santorum’s defense of debt ceiling votes

(Jae C. Hong, AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Facts

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

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Arizona

It’s hard to believe we’ve fact checked all of the GOP debates — and this may be the last one. But once again we heard a blizzard of dubious statements, including many oldies but goodies. Here is an examination of ten claims, in the order in which they were said.

As usual, we do not award Pinocchios for debate roundups but reserve the option to revisit some of these claims in more detail in the coming days.

“Obviously the first thing we need to do is repeal “Obamacare.” That’s one entitlement that we can get rid of. And that’s a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years.”

— Rick Santorum

Santorum is only counting one side of the ledger — and overcounting it at that. Because the health care law raises some taxes and cuts Medicare spending, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that it slightly reduced the deficit in the first 10 years, though much of the law was not fully implemented in the first four years. All bets are off in the next 10 years, however.

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Jacksonville

(Paul Sancya/AP)

We can hardly believe that there won’t be another GOP presidential debate for about a month—assuming there are enough candidates left. Here’s our round-up of bloopers and dubious statements at the CNN debate in Jacksonville, Fla., in the the order in which they were made.

As always, we may delve deeper into other statements in the coming days — and please remember that we do not award Pinocchios for instant fact checks, only full columns.

“What I said was: We want everybody to learn English because we don’t want — I didn’t use the word ‘Spanish.’”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich complained about a radio ad aired by the Romney campaign that claimed that Gingrich had said that Spanish was “the language of the ghetto.” (Romney at first suggested he was not familiar with the ad, but it ends with his voice saying he approved of it.)

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Fact checking the NBC Florida debate

(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

There were fewer fireworks Monday night as we continued our long march through GOP Endless Debate World, but still many dubious facts and statistics popped up at the debate hosted by NBC News with the National Journal and the Tampa Bay Times. We will examine some key ones in the order in which they were made, reserving the right to examine others in more detail in the coming days.

As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchio ratings during instant debate fact checks, only in full length columns.

“When I was speaker [of the House], we had four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime, Brian, that we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets.”

— Newt Gingrich

We have repeatedly called Gingrich out on this, and yet he keeps saying it. There are three key problems with his claim.

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston


Two debates in a week…and another two next week. This could get tiring. Here’s quick round-up of some of the more dubious or interesting claims at the CNN Debate in Charleston, examined in the order in which they were made. As always, we may come back to do a fuller look at other, more elusive claims in the coming days.

Glenn Kessler will live chat with readers today at 1 p.m. ET about fact checking this debate. Submit your questions and opinions now.

A reminder: we do not award Pinocchios in these sorts of debate round-ups, only in full-length columns.

“The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study — not to complete — to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months.”

— Newt Gingrich

We are not sure whether the U.S. involvement in World War II has any relevance to a study about whether to deepen the Charleston Port from 45 to 50 feet. Kudos to Gingrich for knowing local issues, but according to local news reports the Corps said that such a study would normally take five to eight years but “Corps officials say they are streamlining the review and approval process as much as possible to save time.”

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Fact Checking the Fox News-WSJ debate in South Carolina

And then there were five ... which made for a feisty evening of misstatements. We focused on 11, and may come back for more later in the week. Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.

“As [House] speaker, I came back, working with President Bill Clinton. We passed a very Reagan-like program: less regulation, lower taxes. Unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent. We created 11 million jobs.”

— Newt Gingrich

Former president Clinton would be shocked at this description, since he always credited the 22 million jobs created during his presidency to the deficit-reduction package he narrowly passed early in his tenure without a single GOP vote.

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Fact checking the Fox News debate in Iowa

(Eric Gay/AP)

It’s the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses. Let’s take a tour of the factually dubious statements made by the candidates, in the order in which they said them. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios during debate round-ups, though we will mention if a candidate has repeated something that we have previously rated.

“I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt — pretty conservative. The first entitlement reform of your lifetime — in fact, the only major entitlement reform to now is welfare.”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich loves to make this claim, but it is simply not correct and is lacking context.

Listening to Gingrich, you would be forgiven for forgetting there was a president (Bill Clinton) in office at the time the nation started running a budget surplus.

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Fact checking the ABC-Yahoo Republican presidential debate in Iowa

It may have been bad politics for Mitt Romney to offer a $10,000 bet to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but it’s a good thing Perry didn’t take it. He would have lost a fair chunk of change. Here’s our round-up of misses and bloopers committed by the GOP candidates in Saturday’s ABC-Yahoo debate, held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in the order in which they made them.

“Well, I think that there’s a clear record, I worked with Ronald Reagan in the early ‘80s and his recovery program translated into today’s population of about 25 million new jobs in a seven-year period. As Speaker of the House, I worked with President Clinton and he followed with a very similar plan. And we ended up with about 11 million new jobs in a four-year period.”

--Newt Gingrich

The former House Speaker conveniently ignores the fact that Bill Clinton pushed through a major tax increase on the wealthy in 1993 which, combined with the boom in technology stocks, brought forth a gusher of tax revenue that helped eliminate the budget deficit. Gingrich at the time predicted economic disaster when Clinton won approval of his tax increase with not a single Republican vote.

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