The Fact Checker: Issues

CBO’s Obamacare estimate: it’s more complicated than you think

CBO’s Obamacare estimate: it’s more complicated than you think

Obamacare Enrollment Is One Of The Biggest Comeback Stories Of The Year

--headline on Business Insider

This column has been updated

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

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

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

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

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The most popular fact checks of February (Obamacare and the Clintons dominate the list)

The most popular fact checks of February (Obamacare and the Clintons dominate the list)

Fact checks about the Affordable Care Act continue to dominate our monthly roundup of the most widely read fact checks, but two columns about former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also made it into the top five. That suggests there is still intense interest in the once and possibly future president.

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

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

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

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

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A 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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No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs

No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs

This column has been updated.

Here we go again. During the 2012 campaign, The Fact Checker had to repeatedly explain that the Congressional Budget Office never said that the Affordable Care Act “killed” 800,000 jobs by 2021. Now, the CBO has released an updated estimate, nearly the triple the size of the earlier one: 2.3 million in 2021.

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

The most popular fact checks of January (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, the only non-Obamacare fact check to make it in our top five list (on the Keystone XL pipeline) just narrowly beat out yet another health-care fact check.

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Obama’s 2013 State of the Union proposals: What flopped and what succeeded

Obama’s 2013 State of the Union proposals: What flopped and what succeeded

This column has been updated

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.

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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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Warning: Ignore claims that 3.9 million people signed up for Medicaid because of Obamacare

Warning: Ignore claims that 3.9 million people signed up for Medicaid because of Obamacare

Look closely at this tweet by the @BarackObama account, maintained by the pro-Obama group Organizing for America. The 6 million figure comes from combining a figure of 2.1 million for people selecting a plan via state and federal exchanges, through December, and 3.9 million for Medicaid, through November. Thus the claim that “6 million Americans have already signed up for coverage thanks to health reform.”

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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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Social Security: A guide to critical questions

Social Security: A guide to critical questions

This is an updated version of The Fact Checker’s guide to Social Security and how it is financed. The details of Social Security are often misunderstood, making it a frequent subject of political hyperbole and misinformation. This primer is intended to answer basic questions about the program.

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The White House’s claim that 7 million enrolled in Obamacare ‘was never our target number’

The White House’s claim that 7 million enrolled in Obamacare ‘was never our target number’

“That was never our target number. That was a target that came from the Congressional Budget Office, and it has become an accepted number. There’s no magic to the 7 million. What there is magic to is that in the month of December a million Americans signed up for insurance.”

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How much has the United States been ‘standing up against’ atrocities in Burma?

How much has the United States been ‘standing up against’ atrocities in Burma?

“The United States, I think, has played a really important role in this period in standing up against atrocities and for democracy and human rights” in Burma.

--Samantha Power, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, Nov. 20, 2013

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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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Holder’s 2009 claim that intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African American women

Holder’s 2009 claim that intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African American women

“Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 15 to 45.”

-- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., speech at domestic violence awareness month event, Oct. 19, 2009

Why is The Fact Checker focusing on a statement made four years ago? This assertion by the attorney general is an interesting case of a game of telephone being played with a factoid, in which the original statistic has become lost from its moorings.

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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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Kerry’s claim that Iran offered Bush a nuclear deal in 2003

Kerry’s claim that Iran offered Bush a nuclear deal in 2003

“In 2003, Iran made an offer to the Bush administration that they would, in fact, do major things with respect to their [nuclear] program; they had 164 centrifuges. Nobody took that [deal] -- nothing has happened.”

-- Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Nov. 24, 2013

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Obama’s claims on death rates and poverty due to a lack of health insurance

Obama’s claims on death rates and poverty due to a lack of health insurance

“We believe we’re a better country than a country where we allow, every day, 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage; or where every year, tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn’t have health care; or where out-of-pocket costs drove millions of citizens into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth.”

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Did the United Nations demand Iran suspend uranium enrichment as part of a final deal?

Did the United Nations demand Iran suspend uranium enrichment as part of a final deal?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-N.J.): Well, look, I think creating a sanctions regime that is an insurance policy and also creates leverage for us is incredibly important. I’m concerned about some elements of the text that people haven’t focused on.

For example, already in that text as it relates to what is defined as a comprehensive solution, there is some suggestion that we are going to define what a mutually agreeable enrichment program is.

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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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Did Iran’s supreme leader issue a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons?

Did Iran’s supreme leader issue a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons?

“Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.”

-- President Obama, statement regarding conversation with President Rouhani, Sept. 27, 2013

“The supreme leader of Iran has said that there is a fatwa to development of a nuclear weapon.”

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History lesson: 10 years of negotiating positions between Iran and world powers

History lesson: 10 years of negotiating positions between Iran and world powers

Any diplomatic negotiation involves compromises. The 10-year effort to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions has progressed in fits and starts, with Western nations seeking to halt Iran’s nuclear activities and Iran seeking to preserve its right to nuclear enrichment. Iran has always denied it has an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons.

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How much did cost? (Part 2)

How much did cost? (Part 2)

“If you look at OMB documentation, there are exhibits where you report spending by fiscal year and through the fiscal year ’13. So, by the end of September, it was north of $600 million spent.”

-- David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office, testimony before Congress, Nov. 13, 2013

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President Obama’s claim that ‘Obamacare’ has helped hold down health-care costs

President Obama’s claim that ‘Obamacare’ has helped hold down health-care costs

“I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years.”

--President Obama, news conference, Nov. 14, 2013

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The White House’s happy tweet about ‘Obamacare’ enrollment

The White House’s happy tweet about ‘Obamacare’ enrollment

“Thanks to #Obamacare, more than 500,000 Americans have already signed up for health coverage.”
— tweet from The White House, Nov. 13, 2013

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Sarah Palin’s claim about China, U.S. debt and the ‘foreign master’

“Our free stuff [government programs] today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China. When that note comes due -- and this isn’t racist but it’s going to be like slavery when that note is due, right? We are going to be beholden to a foreign master.”

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What will have a greater impact in reducing the deficit: the sequester or ‘Obamacare’?

What will have a greater impact in reducing the deficit: the sequester or ‘Obamacare’?

“If you look at the biggest thing that are cutting our deficit over the medium and long run, it’s actually the Affordable Care Act, which is, you know, by bringing down the cost of health care, that doesn’t just help our economy, it helps bring our deficit down.”

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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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A cautionary tale for politicians: Al Gore and the ‘invention’ of the Internet

A cautionary tale for politicians: Al Gore and the ‘invention’ of the Internet

“Maybe they’ll bring in Al Gore, you know, the guy who says he invented the Internet, maybe they’ll fix the Web site [].”

-- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), on “Fox News Sunday,” Oct. 27, 2013

Jindal’s dig at the troubled Affordable Care Act manages also to ding former vice president Al Gore for a statement he made nearly 15 years ago. We’re not trying to pick on Jindal, but Gore did not actually say this, though people may differ about whether he came close to saying this.

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How much did cost?

How much did cost?

This column has been updated with new information

How much did the troubled actually cost?

It may be much less than you’ve heard.

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Jim DeMint’s claims about Medicare cost estimates from 1965

Jim DeMint’s claims about Medicare cost estimates from 1965

“Nearly 50 years ago, at the time of Medicare’s enactment, it was projected that the federal government would spend $9 billion on Part A hospital services in 1990. Actual spending in that year totaled $67 billion—an increase of 644% compared with initial estimates.

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Kerry’s claim that Afghanistan’s U.S. forces deal is ‘under the same standard’ as Japan or Korea

Kerry’s claim that Afghanistan’s U.S. forces deal is ‘under the same standard’ as Japan or Korea

“With respect to the jurisdiction issue, we have great respect for Afghan sovereignty. And we will respect it, completely. And that is laid out in this agreement. But where we have forces in any part of the world, and we unfortunately have them in a number of places in the world in Japan, in Korea, in Europe, in other parts of the world, Africa. Wherever our forces are found, they operate under the same standard. We are not singling out Afghanistan for any separate standard. We are defending exactly what the constitutional laws of the United States require.”

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A guide to Obamacare claims, pro and con

A guide to Obamacare claims, pro and con

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The Fact Checker will be away for the next couple of weeks, tending to a family commitment. Presumably the nation will still be teetering on the edge of default, or something like that, when the column returns.

In honor of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, here are some of the major claims that we have vetted, pro or con, about the law, as many are constantly repeated. Click on the headline if you want to read the full column.

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Jack Lew’s fuzzy deficit statistic

Jack Lew’s fuzzy deficit statistic

“Because of the policies that we’ve put in place, our deficit has fallen faster than at any point since the demobilization after World War II, and should continue to decline relative to GDP [gross domestic product] over the 10-year budget forecast.”

-- Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, speech before the Economic Club of Washington, Sept. 17, 2013

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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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Kerry’s claim that only three ‘tyrants’ have used chemical weapons

Kerry’s claim that only three ‘tyrants’ have used chemical weapons

“In the nearly 100 years since this global commitment against chemical weapons was made, only two tyrants have dared to cross the world’s brightest line. Bashar al-Assad has now become the third.”

-- Secretary of State John F. Kerry, remarks before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Sept. 4, 2013

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History lesson: When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)
“People say, ‘Well, he killed 100,000 people. What’s the difference with this 1,400?’ With this 1,400, he crossed a line with using chemical weapons. President Obama did not draw the red line. Humanity drew it decades ago, 170-some countries supporting the convention on not using chemicals -- chemical warfare.”

-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sept. 3, 2013

One of the administration’s main arguments for attacking Syria is because the government crossed an important line by using chemical weapons against its own people.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a strong supporter of military strikes, echoed that argument on Tuesday. She noted that as far back as 1925, nearly 40 nations had joined together to ban the first use of chemical weapons when the Geneva Protocol was signed. (Her mention of 170 countries appears to refer to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which seeks to prohibit the production of chemical weapons and mandates their destruction; Syria has refused to sign the treaty, though 189 other countries have signed it.)

Such treaties generally do not have mechanisms for enforcement. As far as we know, no nation has ever attacked another to punish it for the use of chemical weapons, so Obama’s request is unprecedented.

Indeed, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile results from a never-acknowledged gentleman’s agreement in the Middle East that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons, Syria’s pursuit of chemical weapons would not attract much public acknowledgement or criticism. (The Fact Checker, when serving as The Washington Post’s diplomatic correspondent, learned of this secret arrangement from Middle Eastern and Western diplomats, but it was never officially confirmed.) These are the sorts of trade-offs that happen often in diplomacy. After all, Israel’s nuclear stockpile has never been officially acknowledged, and Syria in the 1980s and 1990s was often supportive of U.S. interests in the region, even nearly reaching a peace deal with Israel.

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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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A misleading ‘Obamacare’ poll, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce and Harris Interactive

A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled “The Impact of Obamacare,” in Littleton, N.H., in this Oct. 27, 2012, file photo. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters - Reuters)

“Despite the Administration’s delay of the employer mandate by a year, small businesses expect the requirement to negatively impact their employees. 27% say they will cut hours to reduce full time employees, 24% will reduce hiring, and 23% plan to replace full time employees (30 hours per week or more) with part-time workers to avoid triggering the mandate.”

— United States Chamber of Commerce Small Business Outlook Study, conducted by Harris Interactive, released July 16, 2013

We have long warned readers about the perils of relying on data from opt-in Internet polls, especially those that make broad claims about estimating population values. We have given Pinocchios both to President Obama, for relying on an opt-in poll when he claimed that a majority of millionaires support the Buffett rule, and the National Rifle Association, for asserting that an opt-in poll reflected the views of the nation’s police.

This is a yet another case, but with a wrinkle. Here, the polling company, Harris Interactive, and the sponsor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented the data in a highly misleading way — and then made false claims about the type of poll that had been conducted.

The Chamber has been a fierce opponent of the health-care law, a.k.a. Obamacare, and we frequently warn readers they should always be skeptical of polls peddled by partisan organizations. Perhaps it should be no surprise that this poll was released just as the GOP-led House of Representatives scheduled a vote to repeal the law.

Given the way the data was presented, Republican lawmakers thought they had been handed a gift — and ended up with egg on their faces.

Looking at the language in the report, highlighted above, is it any wonder that House Speaker John A. Boehner would tweet: “Study: ‘74% of small businesses will fire workers, cut hours under #Obamacare.’”

Or that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would write: “75% of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.”

Of course, that was the intended message. If there was any doubt, Chamber senior vice president Rob Engstrom tweeted a thank-you to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly for mentioning the survey on the air, adding: “74% will fire or reduce hours bc of employer mandate.”

But that’s not what the survey says — not by a long shot. Let’s dig into the data.

The Facts

In an apparent effort to give the poll statistical authority, Harris included this line: “Margin of sampling error: +/- 2.5 percentage points.” That is supposed to mean that 95 out of 100 times the poll was conducted, the numbers in the poll should fall within in that range.

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The White House claim that Obamacare is not reducing full-time employment

(Susan Walsh/AP)

“If you look at the economic data, the suggestion that the [Affordable Care Act] is reducing full-time employment is belied by the facts….The data reflects that there is not support for the proposition that businesses are not hiring full-time employees because of the Affordable Care Act.”

--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, news briefing, July 16, 2013

Some readers questioned this assertion, having read articles such as one that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week, titled “Restaurant Shift: Sorry, Just Part-time.” In fact, Carney’s statement was in direct response to a question about the article.

Forgive us for being press critics, but the story actually did not live up to the headline. It was largely anecdotal in nature, with numerous caveats and at times speculation. We encountered the same issue when we examined the case of the City of Long Beach amid reports that it was shifting 1,600 workers to part-time because of the health care law. The initial reports were overstated.

That’s part of the problem at this point. Critics may seize on a month’s data here or an anecdote there, but the full impact of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, on employment will not be felt until after it is fully implemented. (The employer mandate supposedly pushing companies to hire part-time workers, in fact, has been delayed until 2015.)

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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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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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Sarah Palin’s misreading of polling data

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“You’ve just abandoned the Reagan Democrats with this amnesty bill. It was the loss of working class voters in swing states that cost us the 2012 election, not the Hispanic vote.... You disrespect Hispanics with your assumption that they desire ignoring the rule of law.”

— Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) in a Facebook post titled “Great Job, GOP Establishment, June 28, 2013

Given how many variables can affect a national election, it is sometimes foolhardy to suggest one group or another swung the election. For instance, President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney split 49-49 percent among heterosexuals, while Obama overwhelmingly (76-22 percent) won the votes of gays. But just focusing on that fact would ignore the efforts made by Obama to reach out to other groups to build his winning coalition.

Palin’s comment, posted in response to bipartisan passage of a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, struck us as interesting because it assumed Romney lost the so-called Reagan Democrats and that Hispanic voters do not favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. What do the data show? (We were assisted by Scott Clement, analyst at The Washington Post’s Capital Insight, in finding some of these data.)

The Facts

First of all, there have been a whole series of polls asking Hispanics about their views on overhauling immigration laws. Excluding advocacy polls with loaded questions, there is a consensus that Hispanics overwhelmingly support a path to citizenship. Here are two key samples:

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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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James Clapper’s ‘least untruthful’ statement to the Senate

The key question asked at this March 12 hearing appears at the 6:00 mark.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.): “This is for you, Director Clapper, again on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference, and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘The story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is completely false.’

“The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Director of National Intelligence JAMES CLAPPER: “No, sir.”

SEN. WYDEN: “It does not?”

DIR. CLAPPER: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

SEN. WYDEN: “Thank you. I’ll have additional questions to give you in writing on that point, but I thank you for the answer.”

— exchange during a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, March 12, 2013

This exchange during a congressional hearing has suddenly achieved new prominence in the wake of the revelations of National Security Agency programs that include the collection of data from U.S. phone call records and the NSA’s surveillance of online communications to and from foreign targets.

Through the top-secret program known as PRISM, authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the NSA apparently can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data.

On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a tough statement, saying Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did not give a “straight answer” to his question. Wyden added that the day before the hearing, he gave Clapper’s office advance notice that he would be asking this particular question and that “after the hearing was over, my staff and I gave his office a chance to amend his answer.”

Wyden’s staff declined to release the correspondence, citing a policy of wanting to keep communications with administration officials private. But Wyden’s statement strongly suggests Clapper had been deliberately misleading when he appeared before the Senate panel.

The Facts

Clapper has long indicated his discomfort about addressing confidential matters in public, particularly in response to questions from lawmakers. At the beginning of the hearing involving the exchange with Wyden, Clapper made the following observation:

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Obama’s claim that it takes three times longer for his judicial nominees to get confirmed

President Obama gestures while speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 4 to announce the nominations of, from left, Robert Wilkins, Cornelia Pillard and Patricia Ann Millet to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Evan Vucci/AP)

“Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote. As a result, my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.  Let me repeat that:  My nominees have taken three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.”

— President Obama, remarks on nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, June 4, 2013

This is the second of two columns looking at the rhetoric concerning the debate over the D.C. Circuit.

President Obama was so fond of this statistic that he repeated it during his ceremony announcing his three nominees to what is generally regarded as the second-most-important court in the United States. On Thursday, we analyzed Republican claims that the D.C. Circuit is underworked and does not need its full slate of judges.

Now let’s examine the president’s claim.

The Facts

We became curious about this statistic when we noticed an unusual correction to the White House transcript after spokesman Jay Carney repeated this talking point at a news briefing. Carney originally said, “The duration from nomination to confirmation is three times greater in his presidency than it was in his predecessor’s.” In the correction, the word nomination was replaced by “Committee approval.”

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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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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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John Kerry’s misfire on U.S. performance on Kyoto emissions targets



“We are below the Kyoto levels now. We are below the Waxman-Markey levels. …We are doing things but nobody is doing enough.”

— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, remarks at Youth Connect with BBC’s Hardtalk, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 26, 2013

“The United States of America today is below Kyoto levels in emissions. People don’t know that. The United States today is actually below the Waxman-Markey legislation mandates that didn’t pass. So we’re doing things — automobile efficiency, standards, efficiencies, building codes, fleet purchase, all kinds of things, but not enough. No one is doing enough.”

— Kerry, remarks with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Kiruna, Sweden, May 15


We became interested in these comments after a reader directed our attention to an illuminating fact check, by Brad Klapper of the Associated Press, concerning a range of “iffy claims” made by Kerry in Africa. Oddly, at least two of the comments that the AP checked are not in the official State Department transcript. But we confirmed the accuracy of Kerry’s remarks by listening to a recording of the session.

In any case, Kerry has made this same point about the United States meeting Kyoto emissions targets at least twice this month while making impromptu remarks. (By contrast, this observation did not appear in his official speech to the Arctic Council Ministerial Session.)

 Could this claim possibly be correct?


The Facts

The Kyoto agreement, officially  known as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was an international treaty negotiated in 1997 that sought to force industrialized countries to meet targets in reducing greenhouse gases. The United States, under the Clinton administration, signed the agreement but it was never ratified by the Senate.

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The White House claim of ‘doctored e-mails... to smear the president’


That’s a very serious offense that happened where Republicans on the Hill, we voluntarily provided these e-mails to, took one of them, doctored it and gave it to ABC News in an attempt to smear the president.”

— White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” May 19, 2013

“I think one of the problems that there’s so much controversy here is because one of the e-mails was doctored by a Republican source and given to the media to falsely smear the president.” 

— Pfeiffer, on Fox News Sunday, May 19     

“They received these e-mails months ago, didn’t say a word about it, didn’t complain ... And then last week a Republican source provided to Jon Karl of ABC News a doctored version of a White House e-mail that started this entire fear. After 25,000 pieces of paper are provided to Congress they have to doctor e-mail to make political hay, you know they’re getting desperate here.”

— Pfeiffer, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” May 19

When a White House aide uses the same word — “doctored” — on three television shows, you know it is a carefully crafted talking point. On top of that, he says that this was done to “smear the president.”

These are strong words concerning the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. But is this a case of the White House communications chief taking liberties with the facts?


The Facts

Under pressure, the White House in March provided the e-mails to Capitol Hill Republicans surrounding the development of its talking points on the Benghazi attack when John Brennan was nominated to be CIA director. The talking points became an issue because they were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice on the Sunday public affairs shows the week after the attack. Republicans, however, were not permitted to have copies of e-mails, but could only take notes on them.

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A bushel of Pinocchios for IRS’s Lois Lerner

(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

In the days since the Internal Revenue Service first disclosed that it had targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, new information has emerged from both the Treasury inspector general’s report and congressional testimony Friday that calls into question key statements made by Lois G. Lerner, the IRS’s director of the exempt organizations division.

The clumsy way the IRS disclosed the issue, as well as Lerner’s press briefing by phone, were seen at the time as a public relations disaster. But even so, it is worth reviewing three key statements made by Lerner and comparing them to the facts that have since emerged.

“But between 2010 and 2012, we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving, and many of these organizations applying more than doubled, about 1500 in 2010 and over 3400 in 2012.”

Lerner made this comment while issuing a seemingly impromptu apology at an American Bar Association panel. (It was later learned that this was a planted question — more on that below.) In her telling, the tax-exempt branch was simply overwhelmed by applications, and so unfortunate shortcuts were taken.

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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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An alternative explanation for the Benghazi talking points: Bureaucratic knife fight

The U.S. “diplomatic post” in Benghazi in flames after the attack of Sept. 11, 2012. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters)

From time to time, the Fact Checker writes an analytic look at news events, based on his three decades of experience covering diplomacy and politics, rather than a traditional fact check. This is one of those columns.


There have been many questions raised about the development of the administration’s talking points in the aftermath of the attack on Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador. There have been allegations that the administration deliberately covered up the fact that this was a terrorist attack. We have noted before, in our extensive timeline of Benghazi statements, how long it took the president to concede that point in the midst of his reelection campaign.

But with the release of 12 versions of the talking points Friday by ABC News, perhaps there is an alternative explanation: This basically was a bureaucratic knife fight, pitting the State Department against the CIA.

In other words, the final version of the talking points may have been so wan because officials simply deleted everything that upset the two sides. So they were left with nothing.

Let’s examine the evidence for a bureaucratic explanation.

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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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The Benghazi hearings: what’s new and what’s not

(Cliff Owen/AP)

“I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed”

— Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission to Libya, testifying on his reaction to U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice’s remarks on the terror attack in Benghazi, May 8, 2013

Readers who are just tuning into the Benghazi story may be a little confused about what is new — and what is not. As a reader service, here’s an effort to help readers through some of the fog of charges and countercharges that emerged at the House hearings on Wednesday.


Reports of Demonstrations

 Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the attack, testified that it was clear from his perspective that this was a terrorist attack. The last words he heard from J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador who was killed in the attack, were: “Greg, we’re under attack.”

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The Benghazi talking points: What’s known and unknown

The U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in flames on Sept. 11, 2012, after a terrorist attack (ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI/REUTERS)

“I wasn’t involved in the talking points process.... As I understand it, as I’ve been told, it was a typical interagency process where staff, including from the State Department, all participated, to try to come up with whatever was going to be made publicly available, and it was an intelligence product.”

— Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jan. 23, 2013

This column has been updated

New information is raising questions about the development of the administration’s talking points on the deadly attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans, including the ambassador, dead.

Readers may recall that The Fact Checker concluded that there was something rather odd about U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice’s comments on the Sunday news shows shortly after the attack. Rice said the attack “began spontaneously” because of a reaction to a protest in Cairo sparked by a “hateful video,” and there was no indication it was “premeditated or preplanned.”

We awarded her Two Pinocchios the morning after she appeared on the shows, concluding that “the publicly available evidence stands in stark contrast to Rice’s talking points.”

The White House at the time sharply disputed that conclusion, but over time that column has held up rather well. (In an interview with congressional investigators that was released over the weekend, deputy chief of mission Gregory Hicks said “my jaw hit the floor as I watched this.”) Some readers have suggested we should boost the Pinocchio rating for Rice’s comments. Still, it is clear Rice was simply mouthing the words given to her. The bigger mystery now is who was involved in writing — and rewriting — the talking points.

The talking points have become important because, in the midst of President Obama’s reelection campaign, for a number of days they helped focus the journalistic narrative on an anti-Islam video — and away from a preplanned attack. As we noted in our timeline of administration statements, it took two weeks for the White House to formally acknowledge that Obama believed the attack was terrorism.

We also have awarded Pinocchios to Republicans for claims about Benghazi. In this column, as a reader service, we outline below some of the new disclosures, contained in a report by House Republicans and an article in the Weekly Standard, and contrast the new information with previous statements made by administration officials.

The House report contains references to specific e-mails between administration officials; the Weekly Standard then identifies who wrote the e-mails as well as various drafts of the talking points. As far as we know, the administration has not publicly denied the information about the talking points contained in the GOP report or the article.

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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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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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History lesson: the NRA’s ‘support’ for expanded background checks


“In fact, even the NRA used to support expanded background checks. The current leader of the NRA used to support these background checks.” 

— President Obama, remarks on Senate vote on gun bill, April 17, 2013

Some readers were curious to learn more about the National Rifle Association’s purported support for background checks. As it happens, there is a bit of fact checker dispute about this history.

PolitiFact in March rated as “true” this statement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “In fact, if you go back to 1999, [NRA chief executive] Wayne LaPierre testified on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done.”

But last week dinged Vice President Biden for making a claim similar to the president., which issues no ratings, said Biden described the NRA’s policies through “rose-colored glasses,” because the organization only supported language denounced as a sham by then-President Bill Clinton.

When fact checkers disagree, it’s often because the statements being vetted are slightly different. Bloomberg, for instance, carefully did not use the word “support” and he did not refer to the “good old days” of working with the NRA, as Biden did. (PolitiFact, however, on Thursday reiterated its “true’ ruling for Obama’s statement above.)

The Fact Checker has learned from decades of covering politics and diplomacy that looking at the words sometimes is not enough; actions are also important. Is this a case where “support” for a particular action may have only been tactical, designed to block or kill proposals that pose a danger to an organization?

As former House speaker Newt Gingrich memorably explained during the GOP presidential debates in 2011, the individual mandate that formed the core of President Obama’s health care law was originally designed to block health reform efforts by Hillary Clinton:  “In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less-dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do….It’s now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional. But, it started as a conservative effort to stop HillaryCare in the 1990s.”

In other words, it was tactical maneuver — subject to change later.

The history of the NRA’s “support” for expanded background checks is worth recounting, in part because it has striking resemblances to the current gun-control battle.


The Facts

As with this year, the gun-control battle of 1999 was sparked by a horrific school shooting: the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre in which two students killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide. President Clinton, similar to President Obama, pushed for immediate action on gun-control legislation.

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NRA ad claims that poll data reflect views of ‘America’s police’

“President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg are pushing gun control. America’s police say they are wrong. Seventy-one percent of police say that Obama’s gun ban will have zero effect on violent crime. Eighty percent of police say that more background checks will have no effect. Ninety-one percent say the right answer is swift prosecution and mandatory sentencing. Tell your senator to listen to police, instead of listening to Obama and Bloomberg.”

— voiceover of a new ad by the National Rifle Association, citing a new “national survey” by

The NRA’s new ad caught our attention, given that it was featured prominently on the Washington Post Web site Wednesday.

But there are polls — and there are polls.

Regular readers know that we have urged caution against relying on opt-in Internet surveys that appear to make broad claims about estimating population values. Indeed, the American Association for Public Opinion Research's 2010 task force, in its top recommendation, warned researchers to avoid “nonprobability online panels” when trying to accurately estimate population values.

For that reason, we gave Two Pinocchios to President Obama in 2012 for claiming that a majority of millionaires support the Buffett rule. He was relying on an opt-in Internet poll.

Let’s find out more about this survey, and whether it justifies the language used by the NRA.


The Facts is a Web site that caters to law enforcement and is part of San Francisco-based Praetorian Group, a family of Web sites for first responders. The headline on the news release announcing the poll last week said: “ Releases Survey of 15,000 Law Enforcement Professionals about U.S. Gun Control Policies.”  PoliceOne’s Web site describes the survey-takers as “more than 15,000 verified law enforcement professionals.”

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John Kerry’s claim that foreign students are ‘scared’ of U.S. gun violence

(Paul J. Richards/AP)

“We had an interesting discussion about why fewer students are coming to, particularly from Japan, to study in the United States.  And one of the responses I got from our officials, from conversations with parents here, is that they’re actually scared.  They think they’re not safe in the United States and so they don’t come.”

— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, interview with CNN, April 15, 2013


Kerry’s comments, made in an interview as he ended a 10-day around-the-world trip, spawned numerous headlines, including this one from CNN:  “Kerry: Foreign students ‘scared’ of guns in U.S.”

In the interview, Kerry specifically cited Japan, noting that it has highly restrictive gun laws and thus relatively few deaths from gun violence.  “They think they’re not safe in the United States and so they don’t come,” he said, before noting that he was “out of politics” and so no longer involved in the debate.

Yes, but he is Secretary of State now, so his words resonate around the world. What do the facts show?


The Facts

The Institute of International Education, which promotes international education, tracks both the number of students who study in the United States and where U.S. students study abroad. Its annual report also provides country by country assessments of the changes in numbers.

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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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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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History lesson: China’s reluctance to pressure North Korea

A North Korean flag flies over boats in a Chinese shipyard along the Yalu River bordering the North Korea town of Sinuiju, in the Hailong village of Dandong, Liaoning Province, China. (How HweE Young/EPA)

Note: From time to time, The Fact Checker writes an analytical look at politics or diplomacy, rather than a traditional “fact check,” based on his experience in covering Washington and diplomacy. This is one of those columns.

“China’s leaders issued thinly veiled rebukes to North Korea for raising regional tensions, with the president saying no country should throw the world into chaos and the foreign minister warning that Beijing would not allow mischief on its doorstep.”

Reuters , April 8, 2013

“The Obama administration, detecting what it sees as a shift in decades of Chinese support for North Korea, is pressuring China’s new president, Xi Jinping, to crack down on the regime in Pyongyang or face a heightened American military presence in its region.”

The New York Times , April 6, 2013

The Holy Grail in North Korea diplomacy is getting China to put pressure on its long-time protege.

Perhaps the stars have finally aligned with a new Chinese president and young and untested North Korean leader. But recent history suggests that, once again, any Chinese movement will be frustratingly too incremental for U.S. officials — even though, in theory, China should have important leverage as North Korea’s biggest trading partner.

An interesting analysis by the Congressional Research Service shows that trade between China and North Korea almost doubled in the years immediately after its first nuclear test in 2006.

The Fact Checker closely covered diplomacy with North Korea during the Bush administration and the early days of the Obama administration. U.S. officials often expressed the hope that, this time, China would begin to take action against North Korea. But after a brief glimmer of success, the Chinese reverted to a favorite script — urging the United States to show “more flexibility” in negotiations.

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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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Obama’s continued use of the claim that 40 percent of gun sales lack background checks


“Why wouldn’t we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?”

— President Obama, remarks on gun safety, March 28, 2013

“FACT: Nearly 40% of all gun sales don't require a background check under current law. #DemandAction”

— tweet from @BarackObama, March 28

We were away last week and have been catching up on the recent rhetoric. A number of readers asked us about this comment last week by President Obama, and his Twitter account (managed by his campaign spin-off Organizing for Action), given that we had looked closely at this statistic back in January, in two columns, and found it wanting. It ultimately earned a rating of Two Pinocchios. PolitiFact in January also concluded there were serious problems with this particular statistic, giving it a rating of “half true.” And the Associated Press, in a March fact check, labeled this factoid “old and surely very tired.”

Normally we would expect some adjustment of the language in response to a fact-checker consensus. Alas, it appears to be time for a refresher course — and a new rating.


The Facts

There are two key problems with the president’s use of this statistic: The numbers are about two decades old, yet he acts as if they are fresh, and he refers to “purchases” or “sales” when in fact the original report concerned “gun acquisitions” and “transactions.”  Those are much broader categories of data.

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Obama’s speech in Israel versus Bush’s speech


Note: From time to time, The Fact Checker writes an analytical look at political or diplomatic language, rather than a traditional “fact check,” based on his experience in covering Washington and diplomacy. This is one of those columns.


President Obama gave a major speech in Israel on Thursday, intending to reframe his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As we have noted before, the president’s efforts in the region have suffered setbacks, sometimes self-inflicted. At the moment, prospects for sustained peace negotiations are dismal.

In 2008, President George W. Bush also gave a major speech in Israel — when his administration was engaged in serious but ultimately unsuccessful negotiations. In many ways, the two speeches are very similar — almost as if Obama’s speechwriters had studied Bush’s speech — but there are also some important differences.

Obama, meanwhile, tweaked some of his language on the conflict, tilting toward Israel in potentially significant ways.




Mention of Harry Truman’s almost instant recognition of Israel

 “Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.”

— Bush

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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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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: The threat to free meals for seniors

(Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)

“Federally assisted programs like Meals on Wheels would be able to serve 4 million fewer meals to seniors.”

— White House fact sheet on the impact of sequestration

“If you address the tax expenditure issue, we’ll limit the amount of deductions people can take, you will have a fairer tax system, and you will not have to then take food out of the mouths of seniors on Meals on Wheels and all of the other community-oriented initiatives that we as Americans take pride in.”

— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Feb. 28, 2013

Google “meals on wheels” and “sequester,” and you’ll see that this has been one of the White House’s most successful pitches to reporters about the dangers of the automatic spending cuts that take effect Friday.

“Spending cuts could derail Meals on Wheels”

USA Today

“Sequestration Cuts Will Stall Meals On Wheels”

Huffington Post

“Meals on Wheels Would be Hit by Sequester”

NBC Bay Area

“Meals on Wheels affected if budget cuts deal fails”

Minnesota Public Radio

“Federal budget cuts could impact local Meals on Wheels program”

12 News Now, Texas

It’s obviously an irresistible story line for journalists. But let’s look deeper at the administration’s estimate and what it means. There’s less than meets the eye when you scratch the surface.

The Facts

Federal dollars are an important part of free meals for seniors, but it is just part of the overall funding picture. The Meals on Wheels Association of America says that for 2010, the most recent year available, $1.4 billion was spent on such meals. About 37 percent came from Older Americans Act funds — the primary vehicle for such aid from the federal government — and the rest came from other public and private sources.

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4 Pinocchios for Arne Duncan’s false claim of ‘pink slips’ for teachers

((Chris Usher/CBS News via Getty Images))

“It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. ... There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”

— Education Secretary Arne Duncan, CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 24, 2013

“Yes, there’s a district where it’s happened. But, again, it’s just because they have an earlier union notification than most, so Kanawha County, West Virginia. … In that district, to be clear, it’s Title I teachers and Head Start teachers, so it’s these funding sources that are being cut. Whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know, but these are teachers who are getting pink slips now.”

— Duncan, White House briefing, Feb. 27

Duncan’s claim, on one of the Sunday morning shows, that teachers were already getting pink slips because of the looming sequester was actually the second time he had made this assertion.

“I was on a call yesterday, people are starting to give RIF [reduction in force] notes,” Duncan said in a meeting with reporters Feb. 21, three days before his appearance on CBS. “Schools are already starting to give teachers notices.”

Oddly, however, the Education Department for days was unable to cough up the name of a single school district where these notices had been delivered. Then, on Wednesday, Duncan appeared before the White House press corps and produced a name — Kanawha County in West Virginia — with a major league caveat. “Whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know,” he said.

Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said in an e-mail that “the information shared on the call was that just over 100 teachers and Head Start teachers had received layoff notices.”

Unlike the dubious figure that “40,000 teachers could lose their jobs” — more on that below — this at least was specific information. So let’s check it out.

The Facts

The first thing that was striking about this figure of 100 teachers is that it was higher than the estimate in the state-by-state impact of the sequester released by the White House over the weekend. For the entire state of West Virginia, the White House said, “around 80 teacher and aide jobs [were] at risk.” And yet here, according to Duncan, was a single county with 100 potential layoffs. (Update: the fact sheet also mentioned a reduction in funds for another 40 “teachers, aides and staff” who help children with disabilities.)

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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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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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Obama and early childhood education: a rhetorical leap of faith


“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children — like Georgia or Oklahoma — studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”

— President Obama, State of the Union address, Feb. 12, 2013

 “In states like Georgia that have made it a priority to educate our youngest children, states like Oklahoma, students don’t just show up in kindergarten and first grade more prepared to learn, they're also more likely to grow up reading and doing math at grade level, graduating from high school, holding a job, even forming more stable families.”

— President Obama, remarks on early childhood education, Decatur, Ga., Feb. 14. 2013

There’s a subtle difference in these two statements: the reference to “studies” is missing from the president’s speech in Georgia. In other words, the second statement is more of an opinion, rather than a stated fact.

 Coincidentally or not, the president’s rhetoric was tweaked after The Fact Checker asked the White House for documentation on those studies — in particular, an explanation of what research showed that the children in states receiving preschool education were more likely to hold a job or form stable families.

Let’s look at what’s going on here.


The Facts

President Obama on Thursday unveiled a proposal to greatly expand pre-K and other early childhood education programs. As a White House statement put it, Obama believes that “high-quality early education provides the foundation for all children’s success in school and helps to reduce achievement gaps.”

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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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Does the NRA really have more than 4.5 million members?

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

“It’s an honor to be here today on behalf of more than 4.5 million moms and dads and sons and daughters, in every state across our nation, who make up the National Rifle Association of America. Those 4.5 million active members are joined by tens of millions of NRA supporters.”

— National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre, testifying before Congress, Jan. 30, 2013

 “Due to the importance of the fundamental speech and associational rights of the National Rifle Association’s four million members, and considering the blatant attack on those rights that S. 3369 represents, we strongly oppose the DISCLOSE Act and will consider votes on this legislation in future candidate evaluations.”

— Letter signed by Chris Cox, executive director of NRA-ILA, dated July 16, 2012

A number of readers have wondered about the NRA’s claim that it has more than 4.5 million members. As can be seen above, just in the space of six months, the NRA’s estimate of the size of its membership jumped by 500,000, an increase of more than 12 percent.

 Shortly after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Fox News quoted an anonymous source as saying the gun-rights association had gained an average of 8,000 new members a day since the tragedy. But Politico quoted the NRA as saying that it had gained 100,000 new members in 18 days — which is an average of 5,500 a day.

 Even if such numbers could be sustained over a period of time, that would mean about 80,000 to 130,000 new members in December — and 275,000 to 400,000 by early February. In either case, that falls short of a 500,000 gain.

 Mother Jones magazine in January documented how the NRA’s estimate of its membership rolls has varied greatly in the past 20 years, between 3 million and 4.3 million. In an update, the magazine also suggested an alternative way of discovering the actual membership — counting the number of subscribers to the NRA’s magazines, which are provided free as part of the membership fee. (In fact, that’s the only way to get the magazines, since they are not sold on newsstands.)

 The Alliance for Audited Media, which audits the circulation of magazines and newspapers, on Thursday released new magazine circulation figures — reported by the publishers — for the six-month period that ended Dec. 31, 2012. For the first time, digital subscriptions were also included. Let’s see what the results show.


The Facts

With a new membership, the NRA offers the choice of three six-times-a-year magazines: American Rifleman, American Hunter or America’s First Freedom. (For children under the age of 15, there is also a digital publication, NRA Insights, but that has a circulation of just 25,000.) 

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Obama’s careful claim about entitlement savings

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“I’ve offered sensible reforms to Medicare and other entitlements, and my health-care proposals achieve the same amount of savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that have been proposed by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission.”

— President Obama, remarks to reporters, Feb. 5, 2013

People in Washington can debate forever who is responsible for the sequester. We previously documented how reporting by Bob Woodward shows this originally was a White House idea, but then lawmakers in both parties embraced it. But when the president met with reporters Tuesday to discuss the looming sequester, it was this line about entitlement savings that jumped out at us.

Regular readers may recall that we took a rather long look at this question in November, back when Democrats tried to suggest that Obama’s health-care proposals yielded more savings than Bowles-Simpson. This sentence appears carefully crafted to avoid such problems. So let’s take a look — is this Fact Checker bait?

The Facts

Bowles-Simpson, or more accurately the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is considered by many in Washington to be the model for a bipartisan approach for deficit reduction — even though the commission actually failed to endorse the final report. Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), were the co-chairmen of the 18-member commission. But you need to be wary when politicians make favorite comparisons between their policies and Bowles-Simpson proposals.

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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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Update: Obama claim on background checks moved from ‘verdict pending' to 2 Pinocchios

(Larry Downing/Reuters)

“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.”

— President Obama, remarks on gun violence, Jan. 16, 2013

“Studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement.”

— “Now Is the Time: The president’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence,” released Jan. 16

Earlier this week, we gave this claim a “verdict pending.” We said we faced a bit of a conundrum because the 40 percent statistic was based on a single, relatively small survey of 251 people from nearly two decades ago — but that foes of gun control had made it difficult for further research to be conducted.

We also gave kudos to Vice President Biden for acknowledging that the statistic might not be accurate. So we said we would be watching carefully for how the statistic would be used by gun-control advocates in the future.

We also noted that the microdata used in the original survey could be accessed by researchers. A pair of readers, including John R. Lott Jr. (a noted skeptic of gun restrictions) downloaded the data and presented us with an Excel analysis to argue that the words used by the President and the White House—“gun purchases” and “gun sales” — were inaccurate. That’s because the original report on the survey, from which the statistic is derived, referred to “gun acquisitions” and “transactions” — much broader categories of data.

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The ultimate guide to secretary of state travel

Using historical data on the State Department Web site, our colleague Emily Chow of the Graphics Department has helped us put together a nifty graphic that shows where each of the last six secretaries of state have traveled on official business. We decided not to go back further than James A. Baker III because nearly two dozen countries have been formed since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There are lots of stories hiding in these data. You can see when countries were in the diplomatic doghouse (no trips to India by Baker or Warren Christopher; no trips to Syria after Colin L. Powell). You can see when Middle East peace was on the agenda (34 trips to Israel by Christopher, 25 trips by Condoleezza Rice). You can also see where certain secretaries concentrated their priorities: Baker virtually ignored South America but concentrated on Russia and the former Soviet republics; Madeleine Albright spent a lot of time in Europe.

Follow this link to see the complete graphic. The graphic will also take you to the State Department data for each country.

Here are some other insights:

■ While Hillary Rodham Clinton visited more countries than any other secretary, she essentially practiced “Woody Allen” diplomacy: “80 percent of success is just showing up.” In other words, she went to many countries just once or twice, so she covered the globe — but with the exception of China and surrounding countries, she appears to have had no strong area of focus.

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The claim that the Brady Law prevented 1.5 million people from buying a firearm


“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun.”

— President Obama,  remarks on gun violence, Jan. 16, 2013

Gun-control advocates frequently cite the claim that the Brady Law has kept 1.5 million of the “wrong people” from getting a firearm, but the number has come under attack from gun-industry supporters as a bogus figure.

 We’ve spent several days trying to unravel this question, because it is complicated and the data are sometimes murky. There are certainly gaps in the information — and a surprising lack of prosecutorial follow-up, which has further muddied the picture.

 Let’s examine what is happening here.


The Facts

 The Brady law — named after Ronald Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, who was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt on the president — requires federally licensed firearms sellers to check whether a purchaser is prohibited from owning a gun because of a criminal history. Generally, this is done through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) through either the FBI or state agencies.

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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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The stale claim that 40 percent of gun sales lack background checks


“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.”

--President Obama, remarks on gun violence, Jan. 16, 2013

“Studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement.”

--“Now Is the Time: The president’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence,” released Jan. 16

“That’s why we need, and I’ve recommended to the president, universal background checks. Studies show that up to 40 percent of the people -- and there’s no -- let me be honest with you again, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because of the lack of the ability of federal agencies to be able to even keep records, we can’t say with absolute certainty what I’m about to say is correct. But the consensus is about 40 percent of the people who buy guns today do so outside the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check] system, outside the background check system.”

--Vice President Biden, remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Jan. 17

Regular readers of this column know that we are often suspicious when politicians inject the phrase “up to” before citing a statistic. That’s because it often suggests the politician is picking the upper value in a range of possibilities.

A reader expressed deep skepticism of this 40-percent figure when Obama used it. We were further struck by Biden’s admission he could not say with “absolute certainty” that it was correct. So let’s investigate.

The Facts

The White House says the figure comes from a 1997 Institute of Justice report, written by Philip Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago. This study is based on data collected from a survey in 1994, just the Brady law requirements for background checks was coming into effect. (In fact, the questions concerned purchases in 1993 and 1994, while Brady law went into effect in early 1994.) In other words, this is a really old figure.

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Is Lance Armstrong the world’s biggest liar?


“[This was] one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.”

— Lance Armstrong, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired Jan. 17, 2013

It is fair to say that in more than three decades of reporting, The Fact Checker has never written a sports story. But The Fact Checker has written a lot about people who stretch the truth — or to put it less delicately, are liars.

 With Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs to repeatedly win the Tour de France multi-stage bicycle race, the question arises: Is Lance Armstrong the biggest liar alive?

 Take a look at this ABC News video, which is an amazing collection of repeated denials, over many years, by Armstrong that he engaged in doping. These are not simple shadings of truth, or careful weasel words. These are outright and often vehement denials, with a particular animus toward anyone who came forward to say that Armstrong was cheating in his sport — even when they made such accusations in sworn testimony.

Here are some other quotes, courtesy of BBC News:

“I have been on my deathbed, and I am not stupid. I can emphatically say I am not on drugs.”

— at the end of Stage 14 of the 1999 Tour de France

“This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it and study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

— in a 2001 Nike TV commercial

“I have never doped, I can say it again, but I have said it for seven years — it doesn’t help.”

— in 2005 on CNN’s Larry King

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”

— in July 2012

Armstrong was not just a user of banned drugs. The 2012 report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said he supplied drugs to teammates and demanded they follow his doping program or be replaced: “He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team; he enforced and re-enforced it.”

 Armstrong did not just lie. He actually sued London’s Sunday Times for libel when it suggested in an article there were grounds to suspect he used drugs — and he won a settlement. “The Sunday Times has confirmed to Mr. Armstrong that it never intended to accuse him of being guilty of taking any performance-enhancing drugs and sincerely apologized for any such impression,” the newspaper’s lawyers meekly said in 2006.

Armstrong also testified under oath in 2005 deposition, strongly denying any doping, winning $7.5 million from a company that had refused to pay a bonus because it accused him of cheating in the Tour de France.

In the interview with Winfrey, Armstrong asserted that he has been clean since 2005, meaning he did not use drugs when he made a comeback to cycling and placed third in the Tour de France in 2009. But given his track record, it is not clear why this new claim should be considered credible.

By any measure, Armstrong’s skill at lying, consistently over the years, is impressive. How does he stack up against others in sports, politics, journalism and entertainment?


The Facts

Questions were first raised in 1999 about whether Armstrong engaged in doping, according to an authoritative collection of articles posted by Cycling News. The French newspaper Le Monde reported on an investigation of urine tests, indicating traces of a synthetic steroid hormone. Armstrong had reported to authorities that he had taken no drugs, and he dismissed the test as the result of using a skin cream for saddle sores. As the New York Times put it: “In a televised news conference after today's stage, a bitter Armstrong described himself as ‘persecuted’ and a victim of ‘vulture journalism.’” 

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4 Pinocchios for a slashing NRA ad on security at Sidwell Friends School

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

— voiceover of a new National Rifle Association television ad, released Jan. 15, 2013

The National Rifle Association, in a tough television ad on gun-control measures and in a longer 4-minute video presentation, has highlighted what it see as “elitist” hypocrisy by President Obama because his children are “protected by armed guards at their school.”

 After some blowback for involving the president’s children in a political debate, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam insisted that the ad was not about Malia and Sasha Obama: “If anyone thinks we’re talking specifically about someone’s children, they're missing the point completely. This isn’t an issue about comparing the president’s kids. This is an issue about school safety and protecting all our children, regardless of tax bracket and how important their parents are. The intent of our ad is to make sure that we point out that there is a double standard that exists.”

[Discuss the NRA’s response to President Obama’s gun proposals in The Washington Post’s new discussion forums.]

Still, the ad features an image of NBC newsman David Gregory, whose children also attend Sidwell Friends School, which is a selective Quaker private school. And the longer version of the ad quotes a conservative Web site as saying: “Armed Guards — Good enough for the David Gregory’s kids’ school, not for the rest of us. …[The] school Obama’s daughters attend has 11 armed guards.”

 While some news organizations reported that the ad was referencing the Secret Service protection provided to the Obama family — as required by federal law — the longer ad makes it clear that the NRA is specifically referring to the security force at Sidwell Friends.

 Indeed, it would be remarkably odd for the NRA to suggest that Obama ignore the law and refuse Secret Service protection for his children. Moreover, those Secret Service agents are there only to protect those children — and no one else at the school.

In an interview with The Washington Post, however, Arulanandam brought up the Secret Service: “The president and his family enjoy 24-hour-security from law enforcement at taxpayer expense, and this ad asks very real questions: If it’s good enough for the president, why shouldn’t it be good enough for the rest for us?”


The Facts

The NRA ad notes that Obama said he was skeptical about armed security in schools, which the organization has touted as a solution to mass shootings such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. Obama did use the word skeptical, in an interview with Gregory, but the NRA has clipped the full meaning of his words.

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A misguided tea party claim on the debt ceiling

A tea party rally in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“It is pure baloney to say we have to pay the bills for things Congress has already approved. We are drawing the line on future spending, not the debt or obligations to Social Security, Medicare and the military, which can all be met without an immediate rise in the debt ceiling.”

— Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, in a statement, Jan. 14


Kremer issued that statement after President Obama, in a news conference on Monday, argued that if Congress did not raise the debt limit, the United States would not be able to pay for services rendered in the past: “If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits will be delayed,” Obama said. “We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners.” 

This is an interesting question, which we explored before the last debt limit showdown in 2011. Then, we examined whether Social Security benefits could still be paid even if the debt ceiling was breached; the answer was a bit inconclusive. But after that last crisis, the Treasury Department’s inspector general provided Congress with a detailed look at the options the administration had considered for such a crisis.

Moreover, Kremer has upped the ante by saying the government could pay not only Social Security benefits but also Medicare and the military — three of the biggest parts of the budget — as well as interest payments on the debt. Let’s examine whether her claim is credible.


The Facts

This year’s debt ceiling showdown is exacerbated by the fact that February is just about the worst month in terms of government finances because relatively little money is collected while lots of bills must be paid, including income-tax refunds. Both the Treasury Department and the Congressional Research Service say that there is tremendous legal uncertainty about whether some payments could be honored while others ignored if the nation goes about the borrowing limit.

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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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Bill Clinton’s over-the-top ‘fact’ on mass shootings

“Half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the assault weapons ban expired in 2005, half of all of them in the history of the country.”

— Former president Bill Clinton, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Jan. 9, 2013

A colleague spotted this eye-popping statistic by the former president and wondered if it was correct.

 President Clinton signed the assault weapons ban into law in 1994, but it expired after 10 years and was not renewed. Even supporters have said it was riddled with loopholes, limiting its effectiveness. But the rash of mass shootings in recent years, including the Newtown tragedy, have provided new impetus for a renewed ban.

 So let’s dig into the data and see what we find.


The Facts

 With gun shootings, you immediately get into some definitional issues. Depending on how one defines a “mass public shooting,” the answers might turn out to be different. There is also surprisingly little historical data about mass murder in the United States to go back all the way to the nation’s founding.

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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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Hillary Clinton’s overseas diplomacy versus other secretaries of state

(Matt Rourke/AP)

“Mrs. Clinton holds the record for the most countries visited by a secretary of state, 112, though her total of 956,733 air miles will fall short of the 1.06 million logged by her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice.”

— New York Times, Jan. 4, 2013

The New York Times came up with a nifty phrase earlier this week in an article about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health — that she is the “most widely traveled” secretary of state. That refers to the fact that she has visited more countries than any previous secretary of state.

The Fact Checker is as guilty as anyone in using travel as a metric for grading a secretary of state, having written an article as The Post’s diplomatic correspondent that negatively assessed Colin L. Powell’s travel record as secretary of state, based on records maintained by the State Department historian’s office.

Counting countries is another way to do it, though it might also suggest the secretary lacks a clear focus or agenda. The records show that most other secretaries racked up the miles while trying to achieve peace in the Middle East. Clinton earned her country points by hitting all three Baltic states, lots of ‘stans, much of the former Yugoslavia and countries not visited by a secretary of state in more than five decades (Laos) or ever (Togo).

But Clinton made only five visits to Israel — the least of any full-term secretary of state since William Rogers, who served in the Nixon administration. By contrast, Condoleezza Rice visited Israel 25 times, Warren Christopher 34 times and Henry A. Kissinger 36 times.

Now that the State Department has announced that Clinton will no longer travel during her tenure, we thought it would be worth updating the statistics to see where she ranks in terms of what we call “days on the road” — in other words, conducting actual diplomacy and meeting with foreign officials overseas.

Under this method, we ignore the often-useless hours (or days) spent in the air flying to far-flung locations. It is the only fair way to compare different secretaries of state, given the way the records are kept and differences in aircraft.

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Chuck Hagel and Israel in context: A guide to his controversial statements

(Nati Harnik/AP)

 “In the Senate, I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind, even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”

— President Obama, nominating former senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, Jan. 7, 2013


Washington always loves a confirmation fight.

President Obama’s nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel is especially interesting because most of the initial opposition is from Hagel’s fellow Republicans — even though his positions on social issues such as abortion rights (a vote against allowing servicewomen to use overseas military hospitals for abortions) and gay rights are fairly conservative.

 Meanwhile, Democrats have long collected evidence of what they consider Hagel’s anti-Israel positions — which is now being used as ammunition by Hagel’s foes.

 Hagel says his positions on Israel has been “completely distorted,” though he acknowledges that “I have also questioned some very cavalier attitudes taken about very complicated issues in the Middle East.”  Certainly, Hagel has expressed sentiments that many U.S. politicians tend to avoid, including a consistent concern for the plight of Palestinians.

Our colleague Richard Cohen argues that such uniformity in American views hampers effective policy-making: “He could be the necessary corrective to the Netanyahu government’s expectation that anything Israel wants from Washington it’s entitled to get. Nothing Hagel has said about Israel is not said in the Israeli press on a daily basis.”

 Obama, during the 2008 campaign, also criticized what he called an “unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel.” But pro-Israel advocates, such as our colleague Jennifer Rubin, have found Hagel’s comments deeply troubling.

 We take no position on the matter, as the meaning and importance of his statements are rather subjective. But readers can judge for themselves.

Here is a guide to some of the most controversial statements made by Hagel, along with the context in which he made them.


“The Israeli government essentially continues to play games... Desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away. And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

— Aug. 27, 1998, after a visit to the Middle East

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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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Did Michigan lawmakers ram through ‘right to work’ laws?

(James Fassinger/Reuters)

“The people of Michigan do not want this law, and Gov. [Rick] Snyder and the lawmakers who are trying to enact this anti-worker bill before their terms expire at the end of the year know full well that what they are doing is immoral and unjust. They are not carrying out the will of the people; they are punishing the people who voted to replace them in the new year.”

— American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox, Sr. in a news release, Dec. 11, 2012

(This post has been updated to reflect a change in the Pinocchio rating.)

Michigan last week enacted a pair of so-called right-to-work laws that allow employees to opt out of paying union dues when they work for union shops, dealing a blow to organized labor in a state that was once at the heart of that movement and which still claims the fifth-highest unionization rate in the nation.

J. David Cox, Sr., head of the American Federation of Government Employees union, released a statement the next day condemning the measures. He described their passage as an effort by GOP lawmakers to strike a blow to labor before leaving the GOP-controlled legislature.

“Today’s maneuver by Michigan Republicans to ram through a ‘right to work for less’ bill in the lame-duck session of the Michigan Legislature is a vile example of political revenge,” Cox said.

Let’s take a closer look at the Wolverine State’s 2012 election results to determine whether Republicans would have the numbers to pass the same legislation in 2013.

The Facts

Republicans controlled both chambers of the Michigan legislature and the governor’s office in 2012. That won’t change next year.

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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 more things change...

(Brendan Hoffman — Getty Images)

We’ve been covering presidential transitions for so long that even news reports written 20 years apart start to read the same. Consider these two items in The New York Times about possible Cabinet selections — in 1992 and 2012.

“Concerned that his first Cabinet appointments might signal the wrong intentions for his Administration, President-elect Bill Clinton plans to expand this week’s announcements to include posts that would be filled by female and minority appointees….

“Mr. Clinton said repeatedly during the campaign that his closest circle of advisers would ‘look like America,’ his way of promising a Cabinet that would include men, women and members of minorities.

“But some of his advisers have worried that as he grew closer to making his first public announcements — probably on Thursday — this promise would conflict with his desire to fill economic posts first.

“His leading choices for the financial jobs, including Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas for Secretary of the Treasury, Roger C. Altman as Mr. Bentsen’s deputy, and Robert E. Rubin or Robert B. Reich as Economic Security Adviser, are all white men.”

— The New York Times, Dec. 7, 1992

“The announcement [of Sen. John F. Kerry as Secretary of State] will be delayed, at least until later this week and maybe beyond, because of the Connecticut school shooting and what one official called “some discomfort” with the idea of Mr. Obama’s announcing a national security team in which the top posts are almost exclusively held by white men.

“The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, who is black and was considered Mr. Obama’s leading candidate for the job, withdrew her name from consideration last week after opposition to her nomination grew in the Senate….

“With Ms. Rice out of the running, Mr. Kerry’s appointment ‘is the working presumption,’ said a senior State Department official who has been preparing for the transition to a new secretary. But White House officials said the deal was not entirely done, because the lineup currently envisioned — with former Senator Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department and the acting C.I.A. director, Michael J. Morell, likely to be named to the post permanently — looks a bit too much like national security teams of a previous era.”

— The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2012

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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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Did Karl Rove earn any money from American Crossroads?

Chris Matthews: “Who got all this money? Nobody got it — not even him {Karl Rove]. It was just wasted.”

Rick Tyler: “So he said. Do you really believe Karl Rove got no money?”

Matthews: “Well, he said he volunteered.”

Tyler: “Well, fine. Show us your K-1s and your tax returns and we’ll see if you got any money. I don’t believe it.”

exchange on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Nov. 30, 2012

It is an axiom of Washington that when politicians spend money, lots of people are getting a piece of the action. So when the Super PAC American Crossroads spent some $300 million in 2012 on behalf of Republican candidates, with rather mixed results, some speculated that nevertheless Republican strategist Karl Rove, who co-founded the group, certainly earned a pretty penny.

Rove has denied he earned anything from his work with Crossroads, saying he was simply a volunteer. But that has not stopped the chatter.

After the election, US News ran an article titled “Why We May Never Know How Much Money Karl Rove Made Running Crossroads.” (The magazine later issued a long mea culpa, acknowledging “there is no credible basis to believe that Karl Rove earned any compensation, either directly or indirectly, from these outside groups.”)

Rick Tyler, a GOP consultant who is close to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also publicly expressed his deep skepticism on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” Tyler has also been a senior adviser to failed Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri, and during the campaign he publicly scolded Crossroads for not backing his candidate. “They would rather win television commissions than win the Senate,” he claimed.

But others have also assumed Rove ended up with a chunk of the millions of dollars raised by Crossroads. Bill Moyers in July said protesters “marched at the DC offices of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which is the right wing money mills run by the mastermind of much of this massive fundraising, Karl Rove. He’s making a bundle himself, buying and selling free speech.”

Meanwhile, New York magazine columnist Frank Rich, on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, declared this week: “I'm sure he [Rove] gets a lovely salary from American Crossroads, too.”

In an exchange of e-mails, Tyler initially defended his comments, noting he was responding to Rove’s assertion of being merely a volunteer.

“I've not made a claim. He has. I simply don't believe his claim,” Tyler wrote. “I have no way of knowing if his assertion is true. Only Rove knows and given the responsibility he had with resources under his stewardship and that he was presented as an honest broker both on Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, he should provide some assurances that his assertion is true. We know that media buying precipitates commissions (kickbacks). Who got that money or where was it spent and why was it not disclosed?”

Rove is certainly a controversial figure, but we’re interested in the facts. Let’s look deeper at what the records show.

The Facts

American Crossroads was created after the 2008 elections, in an effort to create a conservative counterpoint to the alliance of labor and liberal interest groups that work on behalf of Democrats. As a tax-exempt organization subject to Section 527 of the tax code, the Super PAC is required to disclose its funding and its salaries, but a spin-off 501 (c)(4) nonprofit group known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS) does not have to disclose donor information.

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Obama’s missing context on manufacturing jobs

“American manufacturing is growing at the fastest pace since the 1990s.”

— President Obama, remarks at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant, Dec. 10. 2012

The presidential campaign may be over, but President Obama has kept up a pace of campaign-style speeches to build support for his push to raise taxes on the wealthy.

 On Monday, he reached back to the campaign to cite one of his favorite statistics. Sounds great, but it is missing some context. Let’s explain.

The Facts

In January, the White House issued a report touting the private-sector jobs record since the depths reached in early 2010. The report noted: “Over the past two years, the economy has added 334,000 manufacturing jobs — the strongest two-year period of manufacturing job growth since the late 1990s.”

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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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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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Geithner’s fuzzy math on entitlement ‘spending cuts’

(Chris Usher/AP)

 “We've laid out a detailed plan of spending cuts. $600 billion in spending in mandatory programs over 10 years. They phase in gradually, they build over time. They are good policy. They make a lot of sense.”

— Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dec. 2, 2012 
“We've laid out a very comprehensive detailed framework of how we do it and in what stages with $600 billion of spending cuts spread over 10 years in entitlement programs.”

— Geithner, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dec. 2

The debate over the “fiscal cliff’ is largely about numbers — and clearly, $600 billion was the Treasury secretary’s talking point of the day on the Sunday talk shows.

 Eager to rebut Republican claims that the administration was not serious about reining in entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Geithner insisted the administration did have “a detailed plan of spending cuts,” totaling $600 billion, in what he described as “mandatory programs” or “entitlement programs.”

 But his language is a bit slippery. Let’s explore what’s going on.


The Facts

 President Obama’s opening bid in the battle of wills with Republicans is essentially his fiscal year 2013 budget, so it’s fairly easy to get the details by looking at Table S-9 of the White House budget. Every policy change is detailed there across 20 pages of numbers, though a few items have already been enacted.

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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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Bridging the ‘fiscal cliff’ gap over spending

(Olivier Douliery/via Bloomberg)

“I’ve put forward a detailed plan that allows us to make these investments while reducing our deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.”

— President Obama, Nov. 9, 2012

Much of the attention concerning the so-called “fiscal cliff” has focused on tax revenues, specifically President Obama’s demand that tax rates rise for the wealthiest Americans. But the other side of the ledger — spending — is equally important, if the goal is to reduce federal budget deficits.

Indeed, the fiscal cliff includes automatic spending cuts that members of both parties want to halt. But more broadly, a “grand bargain” between the two parties would likely include an effort to slow the growth of big entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

There’s one key roadblock to any agreement: Are lawmakers actually speaking the same language, budget wise, as they negotiate?

Let’s explain.

The Facts

 The first step in any budget agreement is the baseline — the point from which lawmakers and the administration measure any cuts or increases in spending and revenue. The baseline is also the source of many budget gimmicks.

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Overselling the importance of independent voters

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“Independents are going to decide this race in all of these states. Governor Romney consistently leads among independents because they've seen his message for creating 12 million jobs, real recovery, strengthening the middle class.”

— Rick Beeson, Romney campaign political director, Fox News Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012

We don’t mean to pick on Beeson two weeks after the election, since his notion that independent voters were critical to the outcome was widely shared by reporters and political analysts.

 The Wall Street Journal, for instance, offered this headline Nov. 5: “Votes of Independents Could Be Key.” The article noted that Mitt Romney had a seven-point lead among independent voters, in a WSJ-NBC News poll, and it quoted a pollster as saying the finding posed a problem for President Obama: “You are really flirting with trouble if you’re losing independents by this margin.”

 So what happened? Obama lost independents by a margin of 45 percent to 50 percent — and he still won the election handily.

 Indeed, in 2004, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee, won the “independent” vote — 54 percent to 45 percent — and also lost.

 Let’s dig into the exit polls and find out what’s really going on.


The Facts

 Among the many questions on exit polls, there are two overlapping queries — one that asks about political ideology (liberal, moderate and conservative) and one that asks about political party affiliation (Democrat, Republican or independent).

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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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Tracing impact of negative ads on presidential race

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Negative ads often work. But clearly some negative ads work better than others.

 Going over the exit poll data, it is striking to see that the messages sent by the Obama campaign were effective, while the messages of the Romney campaign largely fell on deaf ears.

Let’s take a look at three examples.


The Bain attacks

 The Obama campaign — with an early assist by former House speaker Newt Gingrich — sought to define former governor Mitt Romney as a corporate raider with little regard for the concerns of middle-class Americans. Regular readers of this column will recall that we were frequently highly critical of these ads (for those who still care, here is a collection of columns), because the ads often stretched the facts and took complex business deals out of context.

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An imaginary, misleading ‘debate’ between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu

(Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama at the White House.ISRAELI GPO/GETTY IMAGES)

DEBATE MODERATOR: “Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.”

OBAMA: “I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.”

MODERATOR: “Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.”

NETANYAHU: “The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.”

MODERATOR: “Mr President, your rebuttal.”

OBAMA: “Obviously there are some differences between us.”

ANNOUNCER: “Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.”

— Text of a “robocall” message sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel

The Fact Checker was surprised to hear this “debate,” using the actual voices of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he answered his home phone earlier this week. We did a little digging, and this has got to be one of the most ridiculous attacks in an increasingly bitter campaign. Let’s see how the Emergency Committee for Israel cut and snipped this call together.

The Facts

Obama’s first statement sounds rather weak and feckless during the robocall, but it changes dramatically when viewed in its proper context — a presidential news conference held on June 23, 2009, to condemn the attacks by the Iranian government on pro-democracy demonstrators. Obama’s point is that the pro-democracy activists were not being directed by the United States, as the Iranian government had claimed. The sentence used in the call is highlighted in bold.

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Obama’s fanciful claim that Congress ‘proposed’ the sequester

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

“The sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.”

— President Obama, in the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 2012


As the saying goes, success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan. And if there ever is an orphan in Washington these days, it is that odd duck known as “sequestration.”

 We’ve earlier written that there are bipartisan fingerprints over the looming defense cuts that Mitt Romney has sought to pin on President Obama. Now, in the final presidential debate, Obama sought to toss the hot potato of sequestration — the process that is forcing those defense cuts and reductions in domestic spending — into Congress’s lap.

 Fortunately, there is a detailed and contemporaneous look at the debt ceiling deal that led to the current budget crunch: Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics.” The book clearly had the full cooperation of top White House and congressional officials. With the help of our colleague, we took a tour through the relevant sections in order to determine the accuracy of the president’s statement.


The Facts

 The battle over raising the debt ceiling consumed Washington in the summer of 2011, with Republicans refusing to agree to raise it unless spending was cut by an equivalent amount. Obama pressed but failed to get an agreement on raising revenue as part of the package. Woodward’s book details the efforts to come up with an enforcement mechanism that would make sure the cuts took place — and virtually every mention shows this was a White House gambit.

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Fact-checking the third-party debate

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“All these presidential and vice-presidential debates, look how constricted these debates have been when you’ve had two parties there — the Republicans and the Democrats.”

— Justice Party presidential candidate Rocky Anderson during third-party debate, Oct. 24, 2012

The Free and Equal Elections Foundation hosted a debate Tuesday for third-party candidates, giving four non-establishment politicians a chance to make their case in front of online viewers and attendees of the event, which was not aired on television. Participants included Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green Party.

As the remarks above suggest, Anderson argued that the current format for mainstream presidential debates limits voter choices, allows the two major parties to dictate the nature of the political discussion and snuffs out alternative viewpoints.

During Tuesday’s event, which was moderated by former CNN personality Larry King, the candidates expressed their positions on a variety of issues ranging from the electoral system and education to the war on drugs and foreign policy. They largely refraining from attacking each other like President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, but also showed some of the usual rhetorical tendencies of any politician: exaggeration, mischaracterizations and partial facts lacking context — as well as some straight talk.

Let’s take a look at a few of the claims from these third-party candidates to see how they hold up.

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Did Obama promise a ‘war on affordable energy’?

“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

“So, if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, it’ll bankrupt them.”

-- Excerpts of Barack Obama interview featured in an American Energy Alliance ad

This ad uses cropped comments from a January 2008 interview between then-Sen. Barack Obama and the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board.

The president’s critics have cited these same comments as proof that the current administration is bent on destroying the fossil-fuel industry and the jobs that go along with it. The American Energy Alliance, a fossil-fuel advocacy group that produced the ad, said on its Web site that “President Obama is waging a war on affordable energy.”

Generally speaking, taped comments are factually accurate, barring any editing to manipulate language or splice together unrelated remarks. But we’re always suspicious when an ad strings together snippets of a discussion. After all, cutting at just the right place can leave a thought incomplete, giving viewers the wrong impression.

Let’s examine Obama’s 2008 interview and his coal-industry policies to determine whether this video provides adequate context. Is the president preventing energy prices from dropping? Has he failed to protect jobs in the coal industry?

The Facts

The comments in this ad appear in reverse chronological order. The remarks about coal-fired plants came first, as the candidate was responding to a question about how he squares his previous support for the coal industry -- including a bill he introduced in 2007 to promote coal-to-liquid fuels -- with his call to fight global climate change.

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Romney’s official stance on abortion

“Trying to mislead us? That’s wrong. But banning all abortions? Only if you vote for him.”

— Narration from Barack Obama campaign ad, referring to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney engaged in an ad war last week with President Obama, with both sides trying to define the GOP challenger’s stance on abortion. The exchange was no surprise considering that recent polls show Romney closing the gap among women. A USA Today/Gallup poll last week had the Republican virtually tied with his opponent among female likely voters.

Romney’s ad features a woman concluding that, contrary to what the Obama campaign has said, the GOP candidate doesn’t oppose contraceptives or abortion in cases of rape and incest. The president’s team shot back with an ad that shows Romney saying during a 2007 Republican primary debate that he would be “delighted” to sign a bill banning all abortions.

Romney’s abortion positions involved some well-documented twists and turns over the years, but we wondered how accurately the Obama ad depicts his current stance. Let’s take a look at the GOP candidate’s record and examine the full context of his 2007 debate comments.

The Facts

Former Fact Checker columnist Michael Dobbs created a detailed list back in 2007 that details Mitt Romney’s flip-flops on the abortion issue. There is no doubt that the Republican’s stance has evolved.

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Obama’s claim that Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion

(Scott Eells/BLOOMBERG)

“Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military’s not asking for them.”

— President Obama, in the second presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012

The assertion that Mitt Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion over 10 years, even though the military does not want it, has been a key claim by President Obama in presidential debates and Vice President Biden in the vice presidential debate.

It is such a large sum that it is probably difficult for most readers to grasp. But, as we often warn about big budget numbers, it is also a figure subject to so many variables that it should be treated with skepticism. It is certainly not a number that the Romney campaign accepts, though for some reason Romney has not tried hard to rebut it in the debates. (GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan disputed the number in his debate with Biden.)

There are two parts to this statement we will examine — the $2 trillion number and the claim that the military has not asked for this budget. We obviously take no position on the proper size of the U.S. military or the right defense policy. We just want to explain the numbers. Warning: It’s complicated.

The Facts

The $2 trillion figure stems from a statement in Romney’s National Security White Paper:

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The Obama-Romney clash over Libya

Video: Watch the exchange between President Obama and Mitt Romney on Libya at Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

The White House took issue with our instant fact check of the exchange on Libya between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. This is probably the pivotal moment of the second presidential debate.

“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”

— Obama

“I think interesting the president just said something, which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.... I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”

— Romney

The moderator, Candy Crowley then jumped in. The first part of her comment has been often replayed, but less focus has been on the second part.

“He did call it an act of terror,” Crowley told Romney. “It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”

This is how we assessed the exchange:

What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? We covered this previously in our extensive timeline of administration statements on Libya.
“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” Obama said.
But the president did not say “terrorism”— and Romney got tripped up when he repeated the “act of terror” phrasing.

Otherwise, Romney’s broader point is accurate — that it took the administration days to concede that the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad. (The reporting is contradictory on whether there was indeed a demonstration outside the mission.) By our count, it took eight days for an administration official to concede that the deaths in Libya was the result of a “terrorist attack.”

More to Romney’s point, Obama continued to resist saying the “T” word, instead repeatedly bringing up the video, even in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25. On Sept. 26 — 15 days after the attack — the White House spokesman felt compelled to assert “it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the president’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.”

But White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor wrote us to dispute this assessment. He noted that Obama made three statements that referenced “act of terror” in the days following the attack. He further stated that the statement by counterterrorism director Matt Olsen was based on specific criteria regarding the term “international terrorism” and that “there was considerable confusion on the ground” about what actually happened in Benghazi before the attack.

The debate over Libya has become so politically charged and confusing that it’s time for a refresher course to sort this out.

The Facts

Just as it is sometimes possible for Supreme Court justices to pick and choose among legal precedents in deciding a case, here too one can construct different narratives about the administration’s words. Here’s the case the administration is trying to make now.

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Would ‘Romney’s budget’ slash Medicaid’s nursing-home support?

“It’s one of the hardest decisions a family can make: Realizing a nursing home is the only choice. For many middle class families, Medicaid is the only way to afford the care. But as governor, Mitt Romney raised nursing home fees eight times. Mitt Romney’s budget cuts Medicaid by one-third and burdens families with the cost of nursing home care.”

-- Narration from President Obama campaign ad

The Obama campaign last week released this ad suggesting GOP challenger Mitt Romney would slash Medicaid funding and leave families with greater costs for nursing-home care. It also claims that the Republican candidate raised fees on nursing homes while serving as governor of Massachusetts, as though this is evidence of his attitude toward the elderly in need.

Let’s examine Romney’s Medicaid proposals and find out what he did to those nursing-home fees to determine whether this ad is misleading viewers.

The Facts

To start, let’s quickly distinguish between Medicare and Medicaid. Both are federal entitlement programs, but Medicare provides healthcare benefits to seniors while Medicaid does the same for the poor, the disabled, and in some cases the elderly — it provides benefits including highly expensive nursing-home care for about six million seniors.

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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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Misleading messages from Obama campaign on contraceptive mandate

“Dear Mom,

Mitt Romney says he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. So here’s a quick question: Can I borrow $18,000 to help pay for my birth control? Thanks!”

-- E-card featured on President Obama’s campaign web site

This e-card falls in line with the Democratic claims of a supposed GOP “war on women.” Interestingly, it also plays into the Republican notion that Democrats want people to be dependent on government from cradle to grave, an issue that came up with the “Life of Julia” infographic that earned Three Pinocchios for President Obama’s campaign.

In this case, we have a presumably young woman asking her mom to lend a substantial sum of money for birth control. The idea is that she won’t be able to afford contraceptives without the national healthcare reform law.

We noticed the Obama campaign also tweeted a graphic quoting GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan saying, “It will be gone. I can guarantee you that,” supposedly in reference to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraceptive coverage without co-payments.

Let’s take a deeper look at these issues to determine what’s going on with the $18,000 figure and what Ryan was talking about when he said, “It will be gone.”

The Facts

Before diving into the issue of costs and quotes, let’s review some background information on the so-called contraceptive mandate.

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Some debate questions for Obama and Romney to lob at each other

(Marc Serota/GETTY IMAGES)

“Mitt Romney plans to turn himself into a one-man truth squad during the first presidential debate next week, casting President Barack Obama as someone who can’t be trusted to stick to the facts or keep his promises.”

Politico, Sept. 27, 2012

“At the First Debate, Facts Will Matter”

Memo by Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod, Sept. 28

There has been a campaign to arrange for independent fact-checkers to be present at the presidential debates. We’re not sure what that would accomplish. Would we be like Olympic judges, holding up signs after each exchange with a numerical score for truthiness?

But we do applaud the idea of keeping the conversation grounded in facts, with either the moderator or the candidates themselves challenging misstatements, half-truths and exaggerations that have appeared in campaign ads and speeches throughout this election season. All too often, neither man has been directly challenged about his misleading statements. So here are some questions we would like to see.

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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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From video to terrorist attack: a definitive timeline of administration statements on the Libya attack


“We are still doing an investigation.”

— President Obama, Sept. 25, 2012

In any kind of confused overseas event, initial reports are often wrong. But the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including the ambassador, is a case study of how an administration can carefully keep the focus as long as possible on one storyline — and then turn on a dime when it is no longer tenable.

 For political reasons, it certainly was in the White House’s interests to not portray the attack as a terrorist incident, especially one that took place on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead the administration kept the focus on what was ultimately a red herring — anger in the Arab world over anti-Muslim video posted on You Tube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt — which apparently was prompted by the video — with the deadly assault in Benghazi.

Officials were also able to dismiss pointed questions by referring to an ongoing investigation.

 Ultimately, when the head of the National Counterterrorism Center was asked pointblank on Capitol Hill whether it was a an act of terror — and he agreed — the administration talking points began to shift. (Tough news reporting — as well as statements by Libya’s president — also played a role.) Yet President Obama himself resisted using the “t” word, even as late as Tuesday, while keeping the focus on the video in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

 On Wednesday, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged also that Obama himself believes the attack was terrorism — and so more than two weeks after the attack the Rubicon finally was crossed.

As a reader service, we have compiled a comprehensive timeline of administration statements, showing the evolution in talking points, with key phrases highlighted in bold. Many readers sent suggestions for this timeline, for which we are deeply grateful.

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Obama’s claim that ‘90 percent’ of the current deficit is due to Bush policies

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren’t paid for, as a consequence of tax cuts that weren’t paid for, a prescription drug plan that was not paid for, and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now we took some emergency actions, but that accounts for about 10 percent of this increase in the deficit, and we have actually seen the federal government grow at a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower, in fact, substantially lower than the federal government grew under either Ronald Reagan or George Bush.”

“Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So I haven’t raised taxes.”

— President Obama, interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” recorded on Sept. 12, 2012, and aired on Sept. 23

There are a lot of numbers and assertions in these statements by the president. We will primarily focus on the first statement, since it raises interesting questions of presidential responsibility.

But we do want to note the tax statement, since we seem to have a rare moment when Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney appear to agree. Here’s what Romney said on Tuesday: “I admit this, he has one thing he did not do in his first four years, he’s said he’s going to do in his next four years, which is to raise taxes.”

Generally, Republicans have argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that Obama’s health-insurance mandate is a tax. The health-care law also included a number of taxes aimed mostly at the wealthy. But broadly speaking, Obama has reduced taxes for most Americans, so much so that the Congressional Budget Office says that effective tax rates are at their lowest point in three decades.

In any case, let’s examine more closely Obama’s two key assertions during 60 Minutes — that only 10 percent of the current deficit comes from his policies and that the federal government has grown under his watch at a “a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower.” Are those claims correct?

The Facts

In support of the first statement, the Obama campaign pointed us to a chart made by the Treasury Department.

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Obama’s failed promise of a first-year immigration overhaul

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“When we talked about immigration reform in the first year, that’s before the economy was on the verge of collapse ...”

“And so we had to take a whole series of emergency actions to make sure that we put people back to work — cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses so that they could stay open or pay the bills; making sure that states got assistance so they didn’t have to lay off teachers and firefighters and police officers; saving an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse. And so that took up a huge amount of time in the first year.”

“And what I confess I did not expect — and so I’m happy to take responsibility for being naive here — is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform — my opponent in 2008, who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings — suddenly would walk away. That’s what I did not anticipate.”

— President Obama during a town hall interview hosted by Univision and Facebook, Sept. 20, 2012

Polls show President Obama maintaining a clear and consistent advantage over challenger Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters, but an interview last week on the Spanish-language television network Univision suggested that the current administration has left something to be desired with the demographic.

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos held Obama accountable for a promise the former Illinois senator made during his 2008 bid for office, when he said, “I can guarantee that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support.”

“I want to emphasize ‘the first year,’ ” Ramos said. “At the beginning of your governing, you had control of both chambers of Congress, and yet you did not introduce immigration reform. And before I continue, I want for you to acknowledge that you did not keep your promise.”

The president acknowledged only that he was naive to think Republicans would negotiate with him on immigration, and he excused his lack of progress on the issue by saying he spent most of his first-year dealing with an economic crisis.

Let’s take a look at Obama’s inaugural year in the White House and his record on immigration to determine whether his statements tell the whole story. Did his promise fail to materialize because of Republicans and the economy, or does the president deserve some blame here?

The Facts

Obama said repeatedly during his 2008 campaign that “presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time.” That’s the standard he set for himself: No excuses; presidents just have to juggle.

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Obama’s Univision denial that Fast and Furious started on his watch

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP Getty Images)

“I think it’s important for us to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration. When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it. We assigned a inspector general to do a thorough report that was just issued, confirming that in fact Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action and the people who did initiate this were held accountable.”

— President Obama during Univision interview, Sept. 20, 2012

President Obama on Thursday fielded some tough questions from Hispanic journalists and voters during a forum hosted by the Spanish-language television network Univision. Host Jorge Ramos asked Obama whether U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should be fired over Fast and Furious, a so-called “gun-walking”operation that allowed firearms to be transferred to suspected arms traffickers — and two guns purchased by a suspect in the Fast and Furious operation were found at a crime scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.

Obama said the previous administration initiated Fast and Furious and that Holder shut the program down after he found out about it. Let’s check the first part of that statement for veracity.

The Facts

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the president’s Fast and Furious comments referred “to the flawed tactic of gun-walking, which despite Republicans efforts to politicize this issue, began under the previous administration.”

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More flawed graphs in a Romney campaign ad

“This was household income when President Obama took office. This was the national debt. Under Obama, families have lost over $4,000 a year in income, and the national debt is now $16 trillion and growing. Barack Obama: More spending, more debt — failing American families.”

— Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has turned his attention back to spending and the economy after attacking President Obama last week on foreign policy and trade relations with China. This ad reminds voters that the national debt has grown while incomes have largely fallen, suggesting that the outlook for future generations is bleak under the current administration.

In a previous column, we examined an ad that used similar brick-layer bar graphs to make a point that the U.S. is losing ground to China on manufacturing. The illustrations in that video were badly inaccurate, exaggerating the severity of the situation.

Let’s see whether the graphs in this ad are more true to the facts.

The Facts

The last available data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that median household income was $50,054 in 2011 — the 2012 numbers won’t be available until next year. That’s compared to an inflation-adjusted $52,546 in 2008, so the difference during Obama’s tenure is $2,492, which seems to disprove Romney’s claim of a $4,000 drop.

So where does the GOP candidate get his numbers?

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Netanyahu, Obama and JFK’s ‘red line:’ a misreading of history

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“I think it's important to place a red line before Iran. And I think that actually reduces the chance of military conflict because if they know there's a point, a stage in the enrichment or other nuclear activities that they cannot cross because they'll face consequences, I think they'll actually not cross it. And that's been proved time and again. President Kennedy put a red line before the Soviets in the Cuban missile crisis. He was criticized for it, but it actually pushed back the world from conflict and maybe purchased decades of peace.”

 — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on CNN’S “State of the Union,” Sept. 16, 2012

Earlier in the week we looked at the Israeli Prime Minister’s comments on how close Iran was to acquiring the material for a nuclear weapon. Now, let’s examine the historical facts concerning his example of a “red line” — President John F. Kennedy’s actions during the Cuban missile crisis, which occurred almost exactly 50 years ago.

 To help us sort out this question, we are pleased to turn to a real expert on the Cuban missile crisis — and the originator of The Fact Checker column during the 2008 election. Our former colleague Michael Dobbs, in fact, is currently writing a blog at Foreign Policy regarding the anniversary of the crisis and live-tweeting the events as they unfolded 50 years ago. He is the author of a best-selling book about the showdown over Cuba, “One Minute to Midnight,” and of the forthcoming “Six Months in 1945: From World War to Cold War.

The Facts

 The crisis over Soviet missiles that were discovered in Cuba is, of course, one of the major confrontations of the Cold War, likely the closest the two sides came to nuclear conflict. But as Dobbs demonstrated in his book, many of the known facts concerning the crisis turned out to be wrong — or are simply misunderstood.

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Romney’s ad on manufacturing dominance and ‘China’s cheating’

“Under Obama, we’ve lost over half a million manufacturing jobs. And for the first time, China is beating us. Seven times, Obama could have stopped China’s cheating; seven times, he refused.”

— Narration from Romney campaign ad

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney focused much of his attention last week on manufacturing jobs and President Obama’s trade policy toward China. His campaign released an ad suggesting that U.S. manufacturing as a share of global output has shriveled in comparison with that of its Asian trading partner. The video also said the current administration has refused to stop China’s cheating.

Let’s take a look at the facts to determine whether those claims are true.

The Facts

The Romney campaign ad features a pair of bar graphs supposedly representing U.S. vs. Chinese shares of world manufacturing during Obama’s tenure in the White House. The illustrations suggest a giant shift in output between the two nations since the president took office in 2009.

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Was the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya planned?

(U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice/GETTY IMAGES)

“Based on the best information we have to date ... it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.... We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

— Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“The way these perpetrators acted and moved, and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.”

— Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, on the same program.

This column has been updated.

This is a strange one.

Just minutes after Libya’s de facto head of state says that the deadly attack on an American Consulate was “preplanned, predetermined,” the top administration spokeswoman on the same show disagrees with him, saying there is no “information at present” that suggests the attack was planned.

Yet in the same breath, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says that “extremist elements” joined in what she calls a demonstration that began “spontaneously” in response to another demonstration in Cairo. That certainly suggests that someone may have been planning to take advantage of any opportunity.

The investigation is in its earliest stages, but let’s explore what we know and why the administration would be eager to play down any suggestion that this tragedy was planned.

The Facts

The attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans took place on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. That may simply be a coincidence, but if so, it would be a pretty big one.

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Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is ‘six months’ from having nuclear bomb material

“They are very close, they are six months away from being about 90 percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb.”

--Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Sept. 16, 2012

Israeli officials have a long history of claiming that Iran is close to having a nuclear weapon–indeed, in 1992, Israeli officials suggested Iran was just a “few years” from a nuclear weapon. So with that track record, the latest assertion by the Israeli prime minister might be easy to ignore.

But in this case, Netanyahu is on the right track. In fact, a case could be made that Iran already is ahead of his timeline. Note that he did not say Iran would have a nuclear bomb—just that the Islamic Republic would have the material for a nuclear bomb.

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that Iran already has more than enough uranium enriched to 20 percent that could converted into weapons-grade (90 percent) uranium for at least one nuclear weapon.

An interesting commentary at ArmsControlWonk goes through the numbers, as does an article by Gregory S. Jones for the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Jones notes that the the combined stockpile of Iran’s enriched uranium is less than one cubic yard--making it a difficult target for any possible nuclear strike. (Some of Jones’ ‘breakout” calculations for Iran, which have received publicity, have been disputed by other experts.)

By way of explanation, below is a graphic (which first appeared in The Washington Post in 2010) that demonstrates that the leap from 20 percent to 90 percent enriched is much quicker than going from 5 percent to 20 percent. But it would be a risky gambit. Most experts believe that Iran’s breakout would be detected by the IAEA and the United States, and there would be enough time to respond, including militarily, before Iran could make enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb.

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Romney’s Medicare remarks: Would he pass costs on to seniors or not?

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GOV. ROMNEY: It strikes me the best deal for [future generations of seniors] is to let them either buy current Medicare or to have a private plan — a lot like Medicare Advantage today. I like Medicare Advantage.

DAVID GREGORY: But that didn’t drive down prices, Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, it sure did. Actually, what you’re seeing Medicare today, with Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, is that Congress, in putting this together, said, ‘Look, we’re going to allow companies to compete for a package of prescription drug benefits.’ And the cost that they’ve come up with is far less than anyone predicted. Look, competition works.

— Exchange between GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, aired Sept. 9, 2012

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced questions about his policy proposals during an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The exchange above deals with Romney’s support for the Medicare-overhaul plan his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), proposed this year.

The Ryan plan would eventually cap government payments toward Medicare and provide future generations of seniors with premium-support payments — that Democrats label a “voucher” — to purchase coverage through traditional Medicare or on the private market.

Gregory asked Romney: “If competitive bidding in Medicare fails to bring down prices, you have a choice of either passing that cost on to seniors or blowing up the deficit. What would you do?”

Instead of selecting choice A or B, Romney pointed to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D as proof that competitive bidding works to bring down costs. Let’s look at how those entitlement programs impact federal spending and determine how much they really compare to the Ryan plan.

The Facts

We’ll start by pointing out that Medicare Advantage has not reduced Medicare spending. The program, which is used by 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, actually costs the government more per senior than traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

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An embassy statement, a tweet, and a major misunderstanding

“A statement by the U.S. Embassy just moments ago….”

— Fox News host Bret Baier, Sept. 11, 2012

Sometimes, timing is everything.

 It is clear now that much of the misunderstanding surrounding the statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo stems from the fact that some commentators thought it had been issued after protesters stormed the embassy compound. Instead, the embassy had released it hours before the protests began, in an apparent effort to cool down emotions over a film that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

 But elements of the statement also were placed in the embassy’s Twitter feed — and it gained new prominence in retweets after the storming of the embassy.

 Take a look at the Fox News video clip, from Tuesday evening, and one can see how such impressions take hold.

First, host Bret Baier shows scenes of protesters storming the embassy and replacing the American flag with a black flag. Then, reading from a piece of paper, he adds, “A statement by the U.S. Embassy just moments ago: ‘The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.’”

 After quoting from the embassy statement, Baier turns to our colleague Charles Krauthammer and asks for his reaction. Krauthammer, apparently under the misimpression the statement had just been released, terms it an embarrassment.

“That's a hostage statement,” Krauthammer said. “That's a mob of al-qaeda sympathizers in Egypt, forcing the United States into making a statement essentially of apology, on 9/11 of all days, for something of which we are not responsible.”

 Small wonder Mitt Romney campaign officials thought they should take advantage of that — and why the White House decided to distance itself from the statement. 

On Wednesday morning, Romney incorrectly reiterated the idea that the statement had been issued after the attacks, apparently hoping to place the incident in the campaign’s narrative that President Obama had been on an “apology tour” — a claim that has earned Romney Four Pinocchios.

 “The embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached,” Romney told reporters on Wednesday. “Protesters were inside the grounds. They reiterated that statement after the breach. I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.”

Romney’s reference to the idea that the statement was “reiterated” appears to be a reference to a tweet — since deleted — that said: “This morning’s condemnation (issued before the protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy.”

Even in this day and age, a tweet seems a pretty thin reed on which to hang a major policy pronouncement. In fact, the so-called reiteration makes clear that the first part of Romney’s comment — that the statement was issued after the breach — is incorrect.

 In context, the embassy statement appears similar to previous statements issued by embassies or spokesmen for the U.S. government in response to provocative actions that might inflame Muslims. The practice dates back at least to the appointment of Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public affairs in the second presidential term of George W. Bush.

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History lesson: What Ronald Reagan said

(Keystone/Getty Images)

Some six hours before protesters gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, at 12:17 p.m. local time Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Thanks to the miracle of Twitter, and retweets, an impression emerged that the statement was issued in response to the protests, rather than the release of a YouTube clip that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

 That in turned sparked a blast from GOP nominee Mitt Romney, saying, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

 We will leave aside the politics of the statement — or Romney’s decision to stand by it.

But because Republicans have frequently likened President Obama to Jimmy Carter, we were curious to learn how candidate Ronald Reagan responded to the worst foreign policy disaster on Carter’s watch — the failed mission to rescue U.S. diplomats in Iran, resulting in the deaths of eight servicemen.

 In April 1980, Reagan was still battling George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination, while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was challenging Carter for the Democratic nomination. This is excerpted from The Washington Post reporting on the political fallout:

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Bill Clinton’s defense of Obama’s new welfare rules

(David Goldman/AP)

“When some Republican governors asked if they could have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration listened because we all know it’s hard for even people with good work histories to get jobs today. So moving folks from welfare to work is a real challenge. And the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less.”

— Former President Bill Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 5, 2012

Readers may recall that in August we gave Four Pinocchios to Mitt Romney for a television advertisement accusing President Obama of gutting Bill Clinton’s welfare overhaul — and also Three Pinocchios for the Obama administration’s counterspin that Romney himself had sought a similar waiver when he was governor of Massachusetts.

What’s the fuss about? Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the 1996 legislation, established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. But in July the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum saying that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” As part of that, the HHS secretary would consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.

HHS’s action set off a firestorm of criticism by Republicans, which was echoed in Romney’s ad.

In his high-profile speech at the Democratic convention, Clinton himself came to Obama’s defense, claiming that the change in rules actually would require “more work, not less.” Last week, we said we wanted to spend some time digging into this statement before making a ruling. After talking to many people on all sides of the welfare debate, we can certainly say it is a very complex issue — which makes it ripe for fact-checking.

The Facts

There are three basic rules in Washington: 1) Nothing happens by accident, 2) Personnel determines policy, and 3) No argument is ever settled. That dynamic is central to understanding the controversy surrounding the HHS memo. In this case, conservatives suspected that the administration was trying to achieve through regulatory fiat what liberals had not been able to accomplish through legislation in the past 16 years.

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Understanding the battle over the looming defense cuts

“I voted for a mechanism”

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan

The Sunday public affairs shows sometimes leave ordinary Americans lost in a blizzard of Washington gobbledygook, especially when it comes to the federal budget. A lengthy exchange between Norah O’Donnell and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday is a good example of that, in which two people are simply talking past each other. 

 We are fairly convinced that 99.99 percent of the people watching this exchange had little clue what they were arguing about. In an effort to promote understanding, we will annotate it. Both Democrats and Republicans have their own narratives of what happened in the debt ceiling debate, so we will not try to adjudicate that dispute.


O'DONNELL: Let's talk about some of the cuts that have been agreed to. Mitt Romney said in an interview on NBC that Republicans were wrong to agree to a deal last summer that included automatic cuts to defense spending in exchange for this agreement to raise the debt ceiling. He said it was big mistake by Republicans.
He's talking about you because you voted for those cuts, correct?

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Fact checking Democratic convention claims about Romney’s Bain Capital experience

(J. Scott Applewhite — Associated Press)

“America cannot afford Romney economics. Mitt Romney will stick it to working people.”

— Former Ampad employee Randy Johnson during a speech at the Democratic convention, Sept. 5, 2012

The Democratic convention on Wednesday featured three speakers billed as “former employees at companies controlled by Romney’s Bain Capital,” who shared their experiences with layoffs, benefit reductions and plant closings while under the private-equity firm’s control. Each speaker tried to cast doubt on the notion that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is uniquely qualified to create jobs because of his work as a corporate executive.

Opponents have accused Romney of leading a firm that looted companies and drove them toward debt-induced bankruptcy. But a number of prominent Democrats have defended the firm.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company,” while Newark, N.J. Mayor Corey Booker said President Obama’s campaign should “stop attacking private equity.” Former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford, Jr. said “private equity’s not a bad thing; in fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances.”

Former president Bill Clinton cautioned voters not to judge Bain’s management practices based on a few deals that turned bad for workers. “I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say, ‘This is bad work, this is good work,’” he said, noting nonetheless that he strongly prefers Obama’s vision for the future over Romney’s.

We’ve noted in previous columns that former Obama administration “car czar” Steve Rattner also wrote a piece for Politico that said, “Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path.”

For easy reference, we’ve compiled a collection of Fact Checker columns dealing with the attacks on Romney’s record at Bain, most of which either lacked context or blamed the Republican candidate for job losses that occurred after he left the private-equity firm. Let’s examine the claims of these “former employees” to see how they hold up.

The Facts

First, a little background on private equity. A December Washington Post article described how the practice works, explaining that firms like Bain acquire businesses, trim costs, often borrow money and acquire competitors in an effort to make the companies more profitable. The goal is to eventually sell the businesses for a gain.

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Did Obama vote to deny rights to infant abortion survivors?

“When he was in the Illinois state Senate, Barack Obama voted to deny basic Constitutional protections for babies born alive from an abortion — not once, but four times. I know it’s by the grace of God that I’m alive today, if only to ask America this question: Is this the kind of leadership that will lead us forward — that would discard the weakest among us?”

— Failed-abortion survivor Melissa Ohden in a new ad from Susan B. Anthony List

“[Obama] supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb — even beyond the womb.”

— Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee during a speech at Republican National Convention, Aug. 29, 2012

These claims mirror attacks from abortion opponents during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. They relate to a series of no votes the former state lawmaker cast in the Illinois legislature between 2001 and 2003 against state bills that would have defined the term “born alive infant” and ensured legal protections to such newborns.

Supporters said the born-alive legislation was necessary to protect children who survive failed abortions, and they argued that Obama’s opposition showed an unwillingness to protect the lives of babies. Obama said unequivocally that he would have supported a born-alive act that didn’t undermine abortion rights.

Antiabortion activists have picked up where they left off in 2008, attacking Obama on the same issue. Let’s take a look at their claims to determine whether the president really voted to deny newborns basic constitutional protections and whether he truly believes human life is disposable — even beyond the womb. We’ll also examine Melissa Ohden’s claims about what happened after she survived an abortion.

Fair warning: Our analysis turned up several claims that are closely related to those in the quotes above. We’ll cover all of them in this column, applying our Pinocchio ratings as appropriate.

The Facts

The antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List released a video with testimony from failed-abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, who criticized the president’s Illinois Senate votes and said: “I was aborted and my body discarded like I didn’t exist. But a nurse heard me crying and cared enough to save my life.”

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Two conventions, in parallel narrative and philosophical universes

(Jason Reed/REUTERS)

Eight years ago, when Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) was the Democratic nominee for president, he blasted then-President George W. Bush for his record on jobs. He often noted that Bush was on track to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss in jobs.

Bush, by contrast, repeatedly proclaimed that 1.7 million jobs had been added since April 2003 — a cherry-picked date designed to put his jobs record in the best possible light.

With the economic shoe on the other foot, now it’s GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney who uses the attack lines honed by Kerry, and it’s President Obama who relies on Bush’s strained economic accounting.

Such manipulation of statistics is standard fare for political campaigns, which is one reason why voters should always take such claims with a grain of salt. Yet something deeper and more disturbing is also affecting the political system.

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Fact checking Obama’s and Biden’s speeches at the Democratic convention in Charlotte

In their defense of the administration’s policies Thursday night, President Obama and Vice President Biden sometimes took license with the facts or left out important information. Here are some highlights.

“Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion. Last summer, I worked with Republicans in Congress to cut $1 trillion in spending.”

— Obama

President Obama repeated a claim made by former President Bill Clinton the night before, but even less accurately. Clinton referred to a “plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade.” Obama leaves off the time line, and makes it sound like the current $1 trillion deficit would be eliminated, resulting in a surplus.

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Bill Clinton’s claim about Democrats spurring job growth

(Jason Reed/Reuters)

“Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42.”

— former president Bill Clinton, Sept. 5, 2012


In his nominating speech for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, the former president tossed out this interesting statistic. We wanted to think about it overnight before we issued a ruling.

 Here’s the conundrum: The numbers add up, but do they mean anything?


The Facts

 The statistic comes from a May report by Bloomberg News, which calculated that since John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, non-governmental payrolls “swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents.” The report said that Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 new private-sector jobs a month, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans.

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Fact checking convention claims about Romney’s taxes, Democrats on entitlements

(Eric Thayer/Reuters)

This post has been updated.

First lady Michelle Obama stayed above the fray during her speech Tuesday at the Democratic convention, praising her husband’s values and vision without attacking his opponents directly. Other Democrats weren’t so nice. Here are a few claims that stood out.

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Previewing the ‘facts’ in Obama’s acceptance speech

(Chuck Burton/AP)

The details of President Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night are not known, but he’s been road-testing various claims about his record — and GOP rival Mitt Romney — for months. Here are five dubious assertions that he frequently makes on the campaign trail.

Our goal is to help voters understand the context of these claims as they watch the speech. We did a similar exercise last week for Mitt Romney. He used three of the five examples we highlighted and a variation of a fourth.

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Fact checking Bill Clinton’s speech and other Democrats at the convention in Charlotte


“We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

— Former president Bill Clinton, quoting Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse

Whew. In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered the Clinton White House and always marveled at Bill Clinton’s speechifying, his apparent command of policy and his sometimes slippery use of the facts. We are going to offer an initial take on some of his claims — and those of other Democrats — and then may come back to others in the coming days. Everyone needs to get some sleep.

“He [Obama] has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade. For every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1. And he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission. … It passes the arithmetic test.”

— Former president Bill Clinton

“President Obama’s plan uses the bipartisan commission’s balanced approach. It reduces the deficit by more than $4 trillion.”

— Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

The repeated claim that Obama’s budget reduces the deficit by $4 trillion is simply not accurate.

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s false accusation of a misquote

“That comment was reported by a conservative newspaper. It’s not surprising that they would deliberately misquote me.”

— Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz during Fox News interview, Sept. 4, 2012

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Tuesday denied a report from Washington Examiner columnist Philip Klein, who quoted the Florida congresswoman as saying that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren described Republican policies toward Israel as “dangerous” for the Jewish state.

Wasserman Schultz said the Examiner misquoted her, saying she never attributed the comments to Oren and that she really just said the GOP was treating the Middle East nation “like a political football, which is dangerous for Israel.” Klein defended his reporting, saying it was accurate and promising to post audio of the congresswoman’s comments.

Let’s see who was right on this one.

The Facts

The report from Klein quoted Wasserman Schultz saying, “We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.”

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Biden’s incorrect claim that a Bain ‘bailout’ cost American taxpayers

(Mark Stahl/AP)

“Let me quote from a recent article. Quote, Romney was willing to go to extremes to secure federal bailout, end of quote, when Bain Consulting was on the verge of collapse. The way Bain Consulting reorganized cost the government and American taxpayers $10 million. Now, imagine that. It was one thing when a million middle-class jobs were on the line. It was another thing when his own financial interests and those of his partners are on the line.”

--Vice President Biden, Lordstown, Ohio, Aug. 31, 2012

Back in July, when we first looked at this issue, we noted that the Obama campaign had very carefully and cleverly avoided saying directly that Mitt Romney obtained a taxpayer-funded bailout when he led a rescue of his old consulting firm, Bain & Co.

But now Vice President Biden, seizing on a new report in Rolling Stone magazine, has dropped all pretense and declared that the deal “cost the government and American taxpayers $10 million.”

Is this any truer than it was back in July?

The Facts

The Rolling Stone article, headlined “The Federal Bailout That Saved Mitt Romney,” has one new element — documents from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents are certainly interesting, demonstrating some of the Romney’s hardball tactics to obtain a favorable outcome, including threatening to drain the company’s cash position by paying out bonuses if a deal was not reached.

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Fact checking RNC comments from Mike Huckabee and John McCain

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Wednesday’s speeches at the Republican National Convention struck us as somewhat safer than those from the previous day, but that doesn’t mean the event that day was completely free from misleading and factually incorrect remarks. Here are a few dubious comments that stood out.

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Fact checking the governors’ RNC speeches

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Tuesday’s RNC events featured speeches from several popular Republican governors who took turns hammering President Obama and promoting GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was nominated that same evening. The list of speakers included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Let’s take a look at their statements.

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Did Romney avoid taxes with Swiss bank accounts and Cayman investments?

(Relevant segment begins at 8:35 mark)

“First of all, there was no reduction, not one dollar of reduction in taxes, by virtue of having an account in Switzerland or a Cayman Islands investment. Those — the dollars of taxes remained exactly the same. There was no tax savings at all. And the conduct of the trustee in making investments was entirely consistent with U.S. law and all the taxes paid were those legally owed and there was no tax savings by virtue of those entities.”

— GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney during an interview aired Aug. 26, 2012, on “Fox News Sunday”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has so far released just one year of complete tax returns and an estimate for another year, leaving voters with little idea how much the former Massachusetts governor generally pays in taxes or how he built his fortune. But the few forms he disclosed combined with some leaked documents from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded, have provided ammunition to the GOP candidate’s critics, showing that he has Swiss bank accounts and invested in the Cayman Islands.

Opponents have criticized Romney for these financial arrangements, saying he must have something to hide — perhaps tax avoidance — and that a candidate with Swiss bank accounts can’t possibly relate with the average working American.

In an interview that aired over the weekend, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace pressed Romney on these issues, asking him why he didn’t pull his money from the Swiss banks and the Cayman Island investments when he decided to run for president. Romney said none of that mattered in the context of taxes, because “there was no tax savings by virtue of those entities.”

We examined the financial information available on Romney to determine whether the GOP nominee mislead viewers with his Fox News remarks.

The Facts

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the perks associated with Swiss bank accounts and investments in the Cayman Islands.

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Paul Ryan added to the Pinocchio tracker

(Evan Vucci/AP)

We’re sorry to have missed Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate — and the ensuing battle over Medicare — but we will try to make it up in the coming days with more detailed looks at the charges and countercharges about the old-age health-insurance program. Our standard rule applies: The more detailed and complex an issue is, the more susceptible it is to truth-twisting by politicians. Readers may recall that more than a year ago we offered this advice: “Mute the sound whenever a Medicare ad by either party comes on television.”

In the meantime, we have added Ryan to our “Pinocchio Tracker,” which provides an average rating of all columns on his statements as well as links to every column written about a presidential or vice presidential candidate.

Statements by Ryan—the chairman of the House Budget Committee-- have already been vetted seven times in past year and a half, and he starts out with a 1.86 average rating. This is largely because he once earned a rare “Geppetto” for a correct statement, which mitigated the effect of his other incorrect statements. (More on that below.) He’s also earned as high as Three Pinocchios for his claims.

Here is a guide to the previous columns on Ryan, in the order in which they appeared.

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Romney’s economic scorecard: Promising success, comparing records

Presidential Accountability Scorecard (ROMNEY CAMPAIGN)

“My Plan for a Stronger Middle Class will get our economy moving again, and Americans can use this scorecard to hold me accountable.”

— From the Mitt Romney campaign Web site

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week unveiled an “accountability scorecard” that invites voters to track his performance on the economy if he defeats President Obama in November. A quote on the sheet reminds potential scorekeepers that the president predicted that his administration would be “a one-term proposition” if his policies didn’t turn the economy around in three years.

The scorecard outlines Romney’s goals for future measurements, but it also compares Obama’s presidency with Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts, using simple up and down arrows to signify the two men’s respective records on various economic indicators: jobs, unemployment, home prices, budget deficits and family income.

For what it’s worth, Romney’s campaign first presented its scorecard after the Tax Policy Center released a report saying that the net effect of the GOP candidate’s tax proposals would be a higher burden for the middle class. We deemed that study to be fair after examining it for a column that covered an Obama campaign ad.

Romney also unveiled a new five-point “Plan for a Stronger Middle Class” that essentially repackages his older and relatively detail-deficient proposals for boosting the sluggish economy. His points include trimming the deficit, expanding trade, improving education and job-training programs, achieving energy independence and promoting small-business growth — pretty standard campaign fare.

As for the scorecard, let’s go through it to determine whether Romney’s simple arrows paint an accurate picture of the candidates’ records.

The Facts

Jobs and Unemployment

Data from the Bureau of Labor statistics shows that Massachusetts added 50,000 jobs during Romney’s tenure in office. But that number represents only 1.5 percent growth for the Bay State, compared to a higher 5 percent increase for the nation as a whole during the same period. (We used seasonally adjusted data for our comparisons).

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President Obama’s claim that insurance premiums ‘will go down’

(William Woody — Associated Press)

“The other thing we’ve done is to say, what are the critical needs of small business? A lot of time, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that you, as a sole proprietor, that you can get health insurance for you and your family.  So when you hear about the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — and I don’t mind the name because I really do care.  That’s why we passed it. You should know that once we have fully implemented, you’re going to be able to buy insurance through a pool so that you can get the same good rates as a group that if you’re an employee at a big company you can get right now — which means your premiums will go down.”

— President Obama, campaign speech in Cincinnati, July 16, 2012

President Obama has embraced the phrase “Obamacare,” once originally intended as an epithet by the heath-care law’s opponents, but we were a bit surprised the other day when he declared that health insurance premiums were going to go down.

We have previously dinged Republicans for claiming that premiums have already gone up because of the law. And we have noted the president made what we called a “foolish, dubious” campaign promise with a huge asterisk — that premiums would be $2,500 lower than they would have been without the law.

But, here, the president is claiming that premiums actually will go down for people in the individual and small group markets. The health-care law is obviously a work in progress but are there data that back up this sweeping claim?

The Facts

Since the law has not taken full effect yet, we have to rely on studies that estimate the potential impact. A 2011 White House report, using Congressional Budget Office data, argues some small businesses (ie, sole proprietors with employees) will have access to a new marketplace where they can compare benefits and services and find a plan that works for them. The theory is that these new exchanges will help drive down costs for businesses.

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Wind credits, part 2: the Romney campaign’s attacks on current policy

(Bill Roth — Associated Press)

“President Obama’s promise to ‘easily’ create 5 million green energy jobs has become a particularly depressing punch line amidst the endless disappointments of the last four years. The president spent $90 billion in taxpayer stimulus dollars, some of which went to his donors and political allies or was sent to create jobs overseas instead of here in America. Now we have American wind and solar energy sectors that combine to produce only one percent of our energy — and our wind industry has actually lost 10,000 jobs.”

— Remarks from Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams, July 31, 2012

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams made these remarks last week as he responded to criticism of the campaign’s newly stated opposition to tax breaks for the wind-energy industry. We covered a claim from President Obama’s campaign in a previous column, and now it’s time to examine this follow-up from Romney’s team.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) authored the original tax credit in 1992, and he is seeking an extension for it. He expressed disbelief over the Romney campaign’s statement, telling reporters on Tuesday that he would reach out to the former governor’s campaign for answers.

“I have got to get to the bottom of what they are doing,” Grassley said, “because I think people that didn’t know what they were doing said it, because [Romney] was over in Poland, he obviously wasn’t thinking about wind energy.”

The Romney campaign showed no signs of reversing its position. Instead, Williams described Obama’s green-energy promises as a joke, claiming that success of the federal investments had been minimal and that much of the funding went to the president’s allies. He added that the wind-energy sector lost 10,000 jobs while the wind and solar industries have produced only 1 percent of America’s electricity.

Let’s examine Williams’s claims to find out how much truth they contain.

The Facts

In terms of Obama promising 5 million green-energy jobs, Williams was referring to an October 2008 debate in which then-Sen. Obama talked about climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our time. Here’s what the Democratic nominee said:

“It’s absolutely critical that we understand this is not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity, because if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs, easily, here in the United States.”

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Wind credits, part 1: The Obama campaign’s jobs projections

(Don Bryan/AP)

“By opposing an extension to the wind production tax credit, Mitt Romney has come out against growth of the wind industry to support 100,000 jobs by 2016 and 500,000 jobs by 2030. Meanwhile, he supports $4 billion in oil and gas subsidies for companies that have rarely been more profitable.”

-- E-mail to the media from Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher, July 31, 2012

Mitt Romney’s campaign last week expressed opposition to the federal tax break for wind energy, drawing a stark contrast with President Obama and alienating the Republican candidate from certain members of his party, namely Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the original tax credit in 1992 and is pushing for an extension this year.

Romney campaign spokesman Shawn McCoy told the Des Moines Register that Romney would let the tax break expire in order to “create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.” He added that “wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive, and wherever private sector competitors with far more experience than the president believe the investment will produce results.”

This newly stated position — if it sticks — could affect Romney’s chances in Iowa, where lots of wind-energy jobs have sprouted up in recent years, in part because of tax relief and targeted investments by the government.

Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher quickly seized on Romney’s position, saying the GOP candidate has come out against growth in the wind industry to support hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2030.

We’ll look at a response from the Romney campaign in a separate column, but first let’s examine this assertion from Team Obama. Would the wind credit really support hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2030?

The Facts

First of all, we should clarify that the wind-energy tax break refers to the Production Tax Credit, which dates back two decades to the final year of the George H.W. Bush administration. Each president since then has signed an extension of the policy, including George W. Bush, who made the credit available for additional forms of renewable energy when he approved the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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Spin and counterspin in the welfare debate

“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and you wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”

— Mitt Romney campaign ad released Aug. 7, 2012

“This is a common sense reform to give governors — including some of Romney’s supporters — flexibility to live up to the goals of the welfare reform law. Romney should know: He used to support these kinds of waivers. In 2005, he joined other Republican governors in a letter to Senator Frist, urging the Senate to move quickly on ‘increased waiver authority’ for the welfare program.”

— Obama campaign defense on its Web site

When Bill Clinton signed the bill overhauling welfare 16 years ago, the 42nd president declared: “After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue. The two parties cannot attack each other over it. Politicians cannot attack poor people over it. There are no encrusted habits, systems, and failures that can be laid at the foot of someone else.”

Oops, guess he was wrong about that.

In an effort to reopen the welfare war, Mitt Romney this week began airing a tough ad that accuses President Obama of wanting to do away with the work requirements embedded in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. In effect, Romney is trying to suggest that Obama is such a left-winger that he would undo a central achievement of a Democratic icon.

People forget that Clinton’s signing of the bill — a few months before the 1996 presidential election — was highly controversial. Clinton, in his signing speech, spent almost as much time talking about the things he disliked in the GOP-crafted bill as he did about the parts he liked. Key members of his administration resigned in protest. And a young state senator in Illinois named Barack Obama also expressed his opposition.

This is a complex issue, and highly technical, which makes it ripe for spin and counterspin. Neither side necessarily conducts itself with glory here.

The Facts

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the 1996 legislation, established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services, without much fanfare, issued a memorandum saying that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” As part of that, the HHS secretary would consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.

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Is Obama challenging voting privileges of Ohio military members?

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“President Obama’s lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage … If I’m entrusted to be the commander in chief, I’ll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them.”

-- Facebook message from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Aug. 4, 2012

“In their lawsuit, the Obama campaign and the DNC argue it is ‘arbitrary’ and unconstitutional to provide three extra days of early, in-person voting to military voters and their families. At least 20 times in their legal papers, they argue that there is no good reason to give special flexibility to military voters – and that this policy adopted by the Ohio legislature is so wrong it is unconstitutional.”

-- Memo from Katie Biber, general counsel for the Romney campaign, Aug. 5, 2012

These statements concern a lawsuit that Democrats filed against Ohio’s secretary of state and attorney general to stop a new law that pushes the state’s early voting deadline back by three days for everyone except military personnel and their families. The measure, which was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature in 2011, changed a previously uniform deadline for all residents of the Buckeye State.

Ohio is a closely contested battleground state where the presidential candidates need every vote they can get to win the 2012 election. The state went to Barack Obama in 2008, with more than 1.4 million Ohio voters casting their ballots early, according to the United States Election Project of George Mason University.

Right-wing bloggers have weighed in on the Democratic lawsuit, with Breitbart saying that the president was seeking to “restrict [service members’] ability to vote in the upcoming election.” The Romney campaign fed that notion with its recent comments.

Plaintiffs in this case include Obama’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party. Meanwhile, a group of 15 fraternal military organizations filed a motion last week seeking to add themselves to the list of defendants officially fighting the suit.

We read the court documents for this case and researched Ohio’s new voting law to determine whether Romney and his campaign’s general counsel hit the mark with their comments. Does the Democratic lawsuit really try to undermine the voting rights of service members, arguing, as Biber contends, that “there is no good reason to give special flexibility to military voters – and that this policy adopted by the Ohio legislature is so wrong it is unconstitutional”?

The Facts

Ohio changed its voting laws after the 2004 election, allowing voters to cast early ballots until the Monday before Election Day — mainly to prevent long lines at polling stations. Obama seems to have benefitted from this during his 2008 presidential run, as many African-American churches drove congregants to the polls after Sunday services.

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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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Four Pinocchios: Giuliani’s anti-Obama remarks in Florida

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

“Remember Joe the Plumber? Joe the Plumber asked [then-Sen. Barack Obama]: ‘Would you raise taxes even if it didn’t bring any more money to the government? Like the capital gains tax. If you raise the capital gains tax — the government did this once 20 years ago — if you raise the capital gains tax, you actually make less money for the government, because people stop doing investments, or they’ll do investments overseas.’ He [Obama] said, ‘Well I would do it anyway because it’s only fair.’ ”

— Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during a pro-Mitt Romney speech at the Florida GOP headquarters in Tampa, July 26, 2012

“I don’t think the president of the United States has any idea how much damage he does when he does these ad hominem attacks on business. I mean, he basically destroyed Las Vegas by saying, ‘shouldn’t have junkets to Las Vegas.’ He put a lot of poor people out of work. All of a sudden, conventions are down 20, 30, 40, 50 percent.”

— Giuliani during private meeting with reporters after pro-Romney speech, July 26, 2012

Rudy Giuliani made these comments while stumping for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Florida’s Republican headquarters in Tampa last week. The former New York City mayor focused largely on the economy, telling the crowd that they could help spark an economic recovery by electing Romney.

Giuliani described President Obama as “anti-business” and “anti-profit,” specifically when it comes to taxes and regulations. He harped on the president for suggesting business owners don’t build successful companies without help from others, such as the government, and he mentioned an old exchange between then-candidate Obama and “Joe the Plumber,” an aspiring business owner the president met on the 2008 campaign trail.

During a private meeting with reporters, Giuliani brought up another example of Obama’s supposed hostility toward business, including the president’s 2009 and 2010 remarks about Las Vegas.

Let’s examine the exchange with Joe the Plumber and find out what’s happened with Las Vegas in recent years to determine whether Giuliani’s comments were accurate.

The Facts

Joe the Plumber

Joe the Plumber is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, an Ohio resident who asked then-Sen. Obama during a 2008 campaign stop to explain his tax policy and how it would affect him as an aspiring small-business owner. The Tampa Bay Times has provided a full transcript of the exchange, which is also posted on You Tube.

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Romney’s pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

“A Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999.”

Republican Party platform of 1996

 “Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.”

Republican Party platform of 2000

“Republicans continue to support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.”

Republican Party platform of 2004

“We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

Republican Party platform of 2008

“My understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital. That is something which I would agree with. But I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.”

— Mitt Romney, interview with CNN, July 29, 2012

Like Lucy and the football, the pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is a campaign promise that is never fulfilled. But once again it is in the news, particularly after White House spokesman Jay Carney last week could not answer whether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, so let’s take a closer look at this issue.

The Facts

 The Israeli government is located in Jerusalem, including the prime minister’s office and parliament, and yet all but two countries have chosen to locate their embassies outside of Jerusalem, most commonly in Tel Aviv. The United Nations also does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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An anti-Obama ad, featuring a Jewish Democrat

“I was a big Obama supporter. I had a fundraiser in my home, gave money to his campaign. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for. When he gave the speech about the ‘67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him. When he had the prime minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, to the White House…he was disrespectful to him to the point that I’d never seen.”

— Disillusioned Obama voter Michael Goldstein, in an ad by the Republican Jewish Coalition

The Republican Jewish Coalition is launching a $6.5 million campaign to convince Jewish voters — among the most loyal segments of the Democratic coalition — that it is okay to vote against President Obama because of his stand on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The campaign is aimed at key Jewish areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where the RNC hopes to swing just enough votes to tip those states in Mitt Romney’s electoral vote column.

 RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told us that the ad push will be accompanied by a Web site,, in which people can upload videos expressing their own thoughts on Obama and Israel. Brooks said the remarks by Goldstein were edited down from a 25-minute conversation.

 Democrats are planning to fight back with their own operation. The National Jewish Democratic Council has launched a Web site that includes a quiz that invites visitors to guess which president said what about Israel. (Hint: Obama didn’t do any of the negative stuff.)

 We obviously can’t fact-check opinions, but this is a fascinating example of how relatively incremental moments in the course of a presidency — and how they are portrayed by the media — can solidify into “facts” that erode support for that president. We spoke to Goldstein, who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., to gain a better understanding of how the two events he mentioned — the 1967 borders and the meeting with Netanyahu — turned him against the president.

The Facts

 Obama entered office determined to finally achieve a historic agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, even appointing a special envoy on his second day in office. As documented in the authoritative report this month by our Washington Post colleague Scott Wilson, Obama’s efforts quickly ran aground, and within six months the administration’s policies were in tatters. The administration never really recovered from its early stumbles.

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Fact checking the presidential candidates

For interested readers, above is a video of a recent speech given by Glenn Kessler on fact checking the statements of President Obama, former governor Mitt Romney and their allies during this presidential season. In the June speech before the National Capital Area Skeptics, Kessler describes the Pinocchio ranking system, explains how he evaluates various claims and provides commentary on various television advertisements that he shows to the audience. He also answers questions — some skeptical — from the audience.

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Obama and outsourcing: a guide to the GOP’s charges

(Susan Walsh/AP)

“Over his four years in office, Obama promised that he would focus on creating "jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced." However, as he racked up trillions in new debt, billions of dollars did go to create jobs that were outsourced or spent overseas. Whether it is electric cars made in Finland or solar panels in Mexico, taxpayers would be astonished to learn that their hard earned money went abroad for jobs that weren't created in the United States.”

— New Republican National Committee Web site ,

 “This president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies, solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States. If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it’s the president of the United States, not the guy who’s running to replace him.”

— Mitt Romney, July 10, 2012

We have written at length about the inaccurate and misleading claims of outsourcing made against presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by the Obama campaign — and surely will again. Now the Republican National Committee has tried to turn the tables on President Obama, and the Romney campaign is jumping aboard.  As The Washington Post reported this week, Obama also has critics on the left for his record on outsourcing.

Some of these claims on the Web site we have seen before, when we awarded Four Pinocchios to a pair of over-the-top television ads attacking Obama. Now the RNC has expanded the list to include examples from more than 20 countries. Are these claims any more valid? We’ve dug deep into the RNC’s documentary evidence so you don’t have to.

Remember: Outsourcing generally means that a company hires another company to do work for them. This is increasingly a common practice. Some of these “outsourced” jobs may be sent overseas.


The Facts

 First of all, the Obama quote used by the RNC is from a campaign speech he made on Oct. 30, 2008 — before he became president. The full context of Obama’s statement makes clear that he is referencing jobs in the renewable energy business — “jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and a new electricity grid”— and that he is talking about creating jobs over a 10-year period. His point was that the United States is lagging in those areas. 

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‘Obamacare’ tax hikes vs. tax breaks: Which is greater?

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“The Supreme Court looked at what the structure of the law was, and they saw that 1 percent of the people would be paying this charge if they chose not to avail themselves of health insurance. But more middle-class people are going to get a tax cut in this law. There’s a tax cut of $4,000 for people who need help paying for health insurance.”

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew on ABC’s “This Week,” July 1, 2012

Republicans have seized on the Supreme Court’s health-law ruling to blast the Affordable Care Act as a giant tax on the middle class. Rush Limbaugh went so far as to call it the “biggest tax increase in the history of the world,” a preposterous claim we debunked in a previous column.

On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew refused to acknowledge that the individual mandate represents a tax, even though the majority of the Supreme Court justices defined it as such. He called the enforcement measure a “charge” that would apply only to a small fraction of the population, and that “more middle-class people are going to get a tax cut.”

Let’s look at the numbers to determine whether tax breaks or tax hikes — including the mandate — will be greater under “Obamacare.” We’ll focus on the number of people affected by both aspects of the law, since that’s what Lew talked about. But we’ll also review the monetary totals, just for good measure.

The Facts

Before diving into the numbers, let’s remember why both campaigns need to play the semantics game: the“penalty-tax” can make either one of candidates look bad.

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The first six months of 2012: An accounting

Every six months, we provide an accounting of The Fact Checker ratings.

We do this in response to persistent questions from readers: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? Our Pinocchio Tracker provide a daily update of the ratings of the presidential candidates, but not of the political parties.

We frankly have no idea until we sit down and do some calculations. Many of the columns are generated by what’s in the news. (Hence, in March, there were lots of columns about political hot air concerning rising gas prices.) We do not consciously choose to focus on one party or another, believing it will all even out in the end.

While some readers in both parties are convinced we are either a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, depending on who we are dinging that day, the truth is that we pay little attention to party affiliation when evaluating a political statement. We have learned through long experience that both parties will twist the facts if they believe it will advance their political interests.

Still, it is clear that the average Pinocchio ratings this period have tended to be higher for Republicans than Democrats. We suspect it is because of the hard-fought primary battle on the Republican side, when many of our columns were about claims that Republicans made about each other. (Remember Newt Gingrich’s “King of Bain”? That was probably worse than anything the Obama campaign has thrown at Mitt Romney yet.)

The month of January, for instance, had 13 columns that resulted in Pinocchio ratings about Republican statements, compared to just four for Democrats—and that’s not even counting the debate round-ups. Things have evened out in recent months, with June featuring 11 Pinocchio-rated statements by Democrats and 10 by Republicans. Not all of our columns result in Pinocchio ratings, so those are not counted.

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4 Pinocchios for Romney’s claim on an Obama health care pledge

“Promise: President Obama promised to lower annual health insurance premiums by $2,500…Result: Annual health insurance premiums have increased by $2,393....Gap: health premium costs are $4,893 higher per family than President Obama promised.”

— new Facebook/Twitter post by the Romney campaign

 Promises made during the heat of an election campaign sometimes come back to haunt politicians.

 The campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is trying to nail President Obama for making an iffy promise during the 2008 campaign — that premiums will be $2,500 lower under his health care plan. Instead, the Romney campaign argues in an effort to create a viral Facebook post, the swing has gone $4,893 the other way.

 The Romney graphic is false on several levels, though Obama certainly left himself open to scrutiny with imprecise language in the 2008 campaign. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

 The Romney campaign cites a statement from a 2007 speech by Obama, but it’s a pledge that was repeated often: “When I am president, we will have universal health care in this country by the end of my first term in office. It's a plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by $2,500 a year.”

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Tim Pawlenty’s losing bet: Obama’s had no entitlement proposals

“We have in the White House now the president of the United States, the leader of our nation, who has not put out any specific proposals on some of the most pressing issues of the day. For example, where is President Obama’s specific proposal on reforming Medicaid and Medicare? Anyone who understands the budget crisis facing this country understands that entitlements have to be talked about. And we need a leader to address that in detail.

I’ll come to your house, Bob Schieffer, and mow your lawn if you can find President Obama`s specific proposals on reforming entitlements in this country.”

— Tim Pawlenty on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 24, 2012

In an interview on ”Face the Nation” Sunday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty issued a light-hearted but bold challenge while suggesting that President Obama hasn’t done anything to address the skyrocketing costs of entitlement programs. (His remarks begin at the 5:45 mark of the video).

Host Bob Schieffer laughed about the wager, noting that he lives in an apartment and wouldn’t be able to hold Pawlenty accountable.

We’re not going to let his guest off the hook so easily.

Let’s take a look at Obama’s record on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to determine whether the president has made any “specific proposals” for reforms during his tenure.

The Facts

We’ll deal with Medicare and Medicaid first, since Pawlenty named those entitlements during his interview. Obama didn’t just propose changes to those programs; he enacted some of them by signing the Affordable Care Act — which the Supreme Court upheld this week.

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Spinning the Supreme Court ruling on ‘Obamacare’

(Luke Sharrett/AP)

“The highest court in the land has now spoken.”

— President Obama, June 29, 2012

 “What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 29, 2012

Soon after the Supreme Court ruling upholding the health-care law, President Obama and his presumed GOP rival Mitt Romney emerged with talking points so dissimilar you’d wonder if they were speaking about the same law. We will try to disentangle some of the differences.

 But, first, a word about the claim, advanced by Rush Limbaugh and others, that because of the ruling that the individual mandate is a tax, “Obamacare” is now the biggest tax increase in history. That’s an absurdity.

The health-care law did include substantial taxes, such as an additional tax on investment income for the wealthy, but those were always disclosed and never hidden. The penalties it included for failing to get health insurance — which the Supreme Court has now labeled a tax — amounted to just about $13 billion a year, or $65 billion in the first 10 years of the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. (See Table 2.)

 That compares to a total of $525 billion in new revenues contained in the bill. (The CBO always listed the penalties as a revenue, along with the other taxes and fees contained in the bill.)

 As to whether this is the biggest tax increase in history, the best way to measure the impact of taxes over a long period is to consider a tax increase or decrease as a percentage of the overall economy, also known as the gross domestic product.

A 2006 Treasury Department study listed a tax increase passed in 1942 as the clear winner for the title of biggest tax increase — worth more than 5 percent of GDP. (Yikes, now that’s a tax increase. But the United States was fighting a world war at the time.)

 The health-care law doesn’t even come close — 0.49 percent of GDP. That’s one-tenth the size of the 1942 tax cut. Essentially, the health-care law’s taxes are about the size of Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase and significantly smaller than Ronald Reagan’s 1982 tax hike. (Our friends at PolitiFact beat us to the punch on this, awarding  “Pants on Fire” to Limbaugh, and they have all of the math, plus other statistics.)

 Now, let’s review the political statements.

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Romney’s claim that Obama did ‘nothing on immigration’ until now

“Well, as you know, he [Barack Obama] was president for the last three and a half years, did nothing on immigration. Two years, he had a Democrats’ House and Senate, did nothing of permanent or long-term basis.”

-- Mitt Romney during interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 17, 2012

President Obama announced last Friday that his administration would no longer deport some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Former governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, did not condemm or support Obama’s initiative, but criticized the president for failing to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform. Obama ”did nothing of permament or long-term basis,” he said.

Obama promised such reform while making his bid for the White House in 2008, and he has indeed failed to deliver on that pledge. But how much is the president to blame for the government’s inaction? After all, it takes more than just the executive to implement anything more than piecemeal reforms, and even then the options are limited.

Let’s review what’s happened with immigration reform during Obama’s term to determine whether the president has truly done “nothing.”

The Facts

Obama pushed for passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act before Republicans won the House majority in November 2010. The bill would have made children of illegal immigrants -- technically up to age 35 -- eligible for residency if they attend college or serve in the military and don’t have criminal records.

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A fierce tax debate, without much light

"Now, an independent study says that about 70 percent of this new, $5 trillion tax cut would go to folks making over $200,000 a year.  And folks making over a million dollars a year would get an average tax cut of about 25 percent.”

— President Obama, June 14, 2012, speaking about Romney tax plan

 “One of the absolute requirements of any tax reform that I have in mind is that people who are at the high end, whether you call them the 1 percent or 2 percent or half a percent, that people at the high end will still pay the same share of the tax burden they’re paying now. I’m not looking for a tax cut for the very wealthiest. I’m looking to bring tax rates down for everyone.”

— Former governor Mitt Romney, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 17, 2012, also speaking about his tax plan

How are such opposing statements even possible?

 The president declares on Thursday that his GOP rival will give the rich a 25 percent tax cut, citing an “independent study.”And then three days later, Romney insists that the rich will still “pay the same share of the tax burden.” In other words, no real tax cut.

 Part of the explanation is that Obama is trying to nail Romney with specifics — and Romney is trying to avoid them. Let’s take a closer look.

The Facts

 First, let’s examine the tax burden under current law. When it comes to federal income taxes, the wealthy already pay most of the taxes. (The percentages change a bit when payroll taxes are included, but not much.) People at the lowest levels have a negative share because they get refundable tax credits. Here are the figures from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center: 

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Spinning the number of teacher layoffs

“We have had 4.3 million private sector jobs created over the last 27 months, but we lost almost half a million public sector jobs, and most of them are teachers….We have lost 250,000 teachers in the last couple of years.”

— Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, on ABC’s “This Week,” June 10, 2012

Defending President Obama against his blooper that the “private sector is doing fine,” Axelrod stressed that government jobs at the state and local level have been hit hard ever since the president’s stimulus funds ran dry. He specifically mentioned huge declines in teaching jobs.

We wondered about the source of those figures. We also recalled that the White House, pushing the president’s jobs bill, had warned in a report last fall that “state and local funding cuts put as many as 280,000 teacher jobs at risk next year.” We were curious, now that the school year is nearly over, what actually happened to all those teacher jobs.

The Facts

Axelrod’s figures are derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment database. The number of jobs in state and local government has fallen by 450,000 since February 2010 — that’s Axelrod’s “almost half a million.” And then in a category known as “local government education,” the number of jobs has declined by 226,300.

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Mitt Romney’s nonsensical claim about ‘Obamacare’

(Nati Harnik — Associated Press)

“Today, government at all levels consumes 37 percent of the total economy or GDP. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will reach half of the American economy.”

— Mitt Romney, economic speech, June 7, 2012

This is a startling assertion by the presumptive GOP candidate, which he has made in several forms in recent weeks.

David Corn of Mother Jones first spotted it when Romney made a victory speech in New Hampshire, arguing, “With Obamacare fully installed, government will come to control half the economy, and we will have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society.” Corn quoted a number of economic experts finding fault with Romney’s reasoning, such as former Ronald Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett saying “this analysis is so stupid it is hard to know where to begin.” then weighed in when Romney had tweaked the language somewhat, but also found it wanting, saying it was “a pure partisan fantasy” and “patently false and misleading.”

With such harsh reviews, one would think that Romney might drop the assertion from his speeches. But now a new iteration has appeared, so we will examine it.

The Facts

The Romney campaign says this line is based on three separate claims. First, that in 2011, government expenditures amounted to 37.34 percent of the gross domestic product. Second, that with the president’s health plan in place in 2020, government expenditures are projected to climb to 39.18 percent. Finally, private health-care expenditures are projected to be 10.03 percent of GDP in 2020, so adding that altogether gets you to 49.21 percent.

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Obama and the national debt: The latest Crossroads GPS ad

“In the seconds it takes to watch this, our national debt will increase $1.4 million…He’s adding $4 billion in debt every day. He’s borrowing from China for his spending.”

— Voiceover from Crossroads GPS ad “Stopwatch”

The newest Crossroads GPS ad gives us yet another opportunity to examine the other side of the spending debate: How much is President Obama responsible for the sharp rise in the national debt during his presidency?

 The Obama campaign has claimed that spending increases under this president are the lowest since the days of Dwight Eisenhower — a claim which we have found problematic for a number of reasons.

There was a sharp increase in spending at the start of the administration, largely in response to the Great Recession, but spending increases have moderated since then, especially after Republicans took control of Congress.

 But the national debt is not just the result of spending; it is also because revenues are not high enough to pay for government outlays. It is that mismatch that creates the national debt.


The Facts

 Once again, we will display our handy chart that illustrates this dynamic. The blue line represents spending; the red line shows revenues. The big shaded area at the right shows the recession.

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The facts about the growth of spending under Obama, Part 3

“The truth is, the President’s supposed ‘spending binge’ is nothing but a myth, repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers. Federal spending growth has actually been slower under President Obama than under any other president since Dwight Eisenhower.”

Obama campaign Web site

The Obama campaign is doubling down on claim that President Obama has the slowest spending growth of any president since Dwight Eisenhower. The Democratic National Committee is also jumping into the act, asserting in a news release this week that “under his leadership, we’ve seen the lowest spending growth in nearly 60 years—in fact federal spending growth has been slower than under any President since Eisenhower.”

The Obama campaign’s Web site displays a modified version of a chart to this effect that originally appeared in a column by Rex Nutting for MarketWatch. The charts lists as among its sources: “Congressional Budget Office (CBO), nonpartisan analysis for the U.S. Congress.”

This sourcing to the CBO — though it was not CBO’s analysis that formed the basis of this claim — and the reference to “independent fact checkers” gives this page a patina of authenticity. But it remains a tendentious assertion.

Let’s take a look at who the Obama campaign cites as “fact checkers” — and what various fact checking organizations actually have said about this claim. We will also look more closely at Mitt Romney’s claim that Obama has engaged in a “spending inferno,” which the Obama campaign is responding to.

The Facts

At the bottom of the page, the Obama campaign displays a “Fact Checkers Report.” Three quotes are listed, by The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, and Ezra Klein of The Washington Post.

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Slanted take: Obama campaign on Romney’s Massachusetts record

“Romney Economics: It didn’t work in Massachusetts, and it won’t work now.”

— Slogan of a new series of Obama campaign ads

President Obama’s re-election team opened a new front last week in its effort to undermine the supposed strengths of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, shifting its focus from the candidate’s business background to his record as Massachusetts governor. The campaign is trying to convince voters that Romney’s executive experience is more of an embarrassment than a strong suit.

This ad, which came out Thursday, attacks the former governor in three core areas: jobs, taxes and debt. Former North Adams, Mass. Mayor John Barrett said Romney was an ineffective leader, claiming “the proof is in the pudding.” Let’s examine Romney’s record in the Bay State to see if he really left the state in such bad shape. We’ll focus on selected quotes that cover the main points of the ad.

The Facts

We should point out that the Obama campaign only sought commentary from Democrats for this ad. Every legislator in the video is a member of the Democratic Party, while the past and present mayors are all registered Democrats.

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The White House’s use of data on the gender wage gap

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“Women still earn just 70 cents for every dollar a man earns.  It's worse for African American women and Latinas.”

— President Obama, Remarks on Equal Pay for Equal Work, June 4, 2011  (The White House later corrected the president’s statement to 77 cents.)

 “Women earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn, with women of color at an even greater disadvantage with 64 cents on the dollar for African American women and 56 cents for Hispanic women.”

— White House Statement of Administration Policy on Paycheck Fairness Act, June 4


The debate over the latest legislation to address the gap in pay between men and women is a great opportunity to explore the various ways these data are collected and often used for political purposes. There is no perfect source of data — the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics come up with different numbers even though they can draw on similar data sets — but often advocates of action will tend to pick the worst possible figure to advance their cause.

 We will ignore the president’s misstatement and assume he meant to say 77 cents. (We don’t play gotcha at The Fact Checker.) But we also will probe how Obama and the White House come up with the claim that the gap is “worse” for black and Hispanic women.


The Facts

 We were struck by the disparities in the data when we noticed that a news release by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) trumpeted the 77 cent figure, but it included a link to a state-by-state breakdown that gave a different overall figure: 81 cents.

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