The Fact Checker: Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum’s defense of debt ceiling votes

(Jae C. Hong, AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Facts

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

Continue Reading »

Romney and Plan B: The Santorum and Gingrich claims


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Facts

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

Continue Reading »

Rick Santorum’s debate attacks against Mitt Romney

(Octavian Cantilli, Reuters)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Facts

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

Continue Reading »

Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston


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

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

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

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

— Newt Gingrich

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

Continue Reading »

Santorum’s erroneous marriage attack on Obama

(Chris Keane, Reuters)

“Elayne Bennett runs a program called Best Friends — the wife of [former Secretary of Education] Bill Bennett. And she told me through Bill that the Obama administration now has a policy — and this program is a program targeted at at-risk youth, specifically, in many cases, in the African-American community, who are at-risk young girls. The Obama administration now has regulations that tells them that they can no longer promote marriage to these young girls. They can no longer promote marriage as a way of avoiding poverty and bad choices that they make in their life. They can no longer actually even teach abstinence education. They have to be neutral with respect to how people behave.”

— Rick Santorum, during the GOP debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 16, 2011

Santorum made these remarks in response to a question about whether “the time has come to take special steps to deal with the extraordinary level of poverty afflicting [African Americans.]” You might recall that the candidate made headlines earlier this month by bungling a statement about a related issue.

 “I don’t want to make peoples’ lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” Santorum told a group of Iowans on Jan. 1. The comment represents pretty standard conservative fare, but the former senator uttered a syllable that, to some ears, sounded like “black” before “people’s lives,” causing critics and the media to pounce.

Debate moderator Juan Williams may have been baiting Santorum into a race discussion, but the GOP candidate cleverly shifted the spotlight onto the Obama administration, making the type of accusation that gets a rise out of values voters.

We talked to Elayne Bennett and reviewed Obama’s record on abstinence education to determine whether Santorum’s debate remarks were accurate.

The Facts

Bennett told us that no federal officials ever prohibited her organization from encouraging marriage. In fact, the federal government bankrolled the foundation’s efforts to promote healthy marriages before and after Obama entered the White House, so Santorum is wrong on that account.

Continue Reading »

Fact Checking the Fox News-WSJ debate in South Carolina

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

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

— Newt Gingrich

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

Continue Reading »

Rick Santorum and welfare reform (Fact Checker biography)

(Chris Keane, Reuters)

“I wrote the welfare reform bill in the Contract with America. I was the ranking member on that subcommittee. And when I came to the Senate, through a quirk, I ended up managing the bill on the floor of the United States Senate and working with President Clinton and getting a bill signed after he vetoed it twice to end welfare. We bloc-granted the program, got rid of the federal entitlement -- the only one in the history of the country that’s ever been done. And I was the principal author of it in the United States Senate, managed the bill on the floor.”

-- Rick Santorum, remarks during the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, Jan. 4, 2012

Santorum’s debate comments echo a claim from a campaign ad that portrays him as a “full-spectrum conservative” who has the best chance to beat President Obama in the general election. Our colleagues at PolitiFact already covered this issue, calling the former Pennsylvania lawmaker’s assertion about welfare reform “Half True.” We have a different take.

Santorum isn’t the only Republican candidate to tout the 1996 welfare-reform act as one of his own accomplishments. Fellow presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich talks up his own involvement, having pushed hard for the overhaul while serving as speaker of the House after the 1994 Republican Revolution.

We examined the comments Gingrich made on welfare and Medicare reform, determining that he deserved one Pinocchio for exaggerating the impact of those measures. Santorum’s statement is different because he isn’t talking about impacts. He’s bragging about his role in the reform effort. We looked back at how the welfare overhaul became law to determine whether Santorum was involved in pushing the legislation as much as he claims.

The Facts

Santorum is one of many 1990s politicians who pushed for welfare reform, and not all of them were Republicans. In fact, President Bill Clinton vowed during his first run for office to “end welfare as we know it,” among other promises, such as resurrecting the economy.

Continue Reading »

Rick Santorum: His record on winning the political center (Fact Checker biography)

(Evan Vucci, AP)

“I'm the only one in this race that has a track record of winning elections in tough states. I had a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and in two statewide elections, running against very strong candidates, I was able to win the state of Pennsylvania, something a Republican hasn't done for president since 1988. And so if you look at everybody else in the field, no one has ever run as a conservative and been able to attract independents and Democrats to win.”

— Former Sen. Rick Santorum, during an interview with NBC News, Dec. 29, 2011


“Iowa is a tough state. Pennsylvania is tougher as far as Republicans to win. And here I am, and I went out and not just once, but twice won a heavily Democratic congressional district, not once but twice went out and won a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans.”

— Santorum, during campaign stop in Marshalltown, Iowa, Dec. 30, 2011

Santorum insists he can defeat Barack Obama in the general election, despite the fact that he polls poorly against the president in comparison with other GOP candidates. He’s banking on the notion that blue-collar voters — in particular conservative Democrats — will rally behind him in every swing state from Pennsylvania to Iowa, with the exception of Illinois, which is the president’s home state and a Democratic stronghold.

 The GOP candidate, who nearly won the Iowa caucuses, touts his record of winning elections in Pennsylvania as proof that he’ll fare well from the nation’s Rust Belt to its Breadbasket. He claims his conservative values and his plan to eliminate the corporate tax on manufacturers — an attempt to bring jobs back from overseas — will appeal to middle-class voters across the spectrum, making him the most electable candidate in the Republican field. 

 We examined Santorum’s electoral record to find out whether he’s done as well as he claims in attracting Pennsylvania’s Democrats and independents.


Santorum has won four elections in a Democrat-leaning state, mainly by courting values voters and the working class. He won his first bid for election in 1990, edging out seven-term Democratic incumbent Doug Walgren for a seat in the U.S. House with 51 percent of the vote compared to his opponent’s 49 percent.     

Continue Reading »

Santorum’s record on fiscal policy (Fact Checker biography)

(Mary Ann Chastain/Reuters)

“I’ve voted toughly over the years to cut spending and to rein in entitlements. I’ve led on those things.”

— Rick Santorum, during Dec. 29, 2011, interview on NBC’s “Today Show”

“What happened after I left Congress was budgets began to explode. When I was in the Senate I voted for tough budgets, I voted for restrictions on spending, and made sure that that didn’t happen.”

— Santorum answering a question about his record of earmark spending during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jan. 1, 2012

“I’m the only one in this race who didn’t increase an entitlement like Gov. Romney did in Massachusetts.”

-- Santorum, during campaign stop in Amherst, N.H., Jan. 7, 2012

Santorum’s comments suggest that he pushed conservative fiscal policies while serving in Congress. Fellow GOP presidential hopefuls Ron Paul and Rick Perry have challenged him on his record of promoting earmarks spending, and the first two quotes above represent his typical defense. The last comment represents a jab he took at Romney, suggesting he never increased entitlements as the former governor did with his Massachusetts health-care reform law.

Continue Reading »

Rick Santorum and the K Street Project (Fact Checker biography)

(Eric Thayer, Reuters)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of columns this week examining how factual former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Santorum’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Santorum talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt RomneyRick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

--Glenn Kessler


“I had absolutely nothing to do -- never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything -- with Grover Norquist and the, quote, K Street Project.”

-- Rick Santorum, during an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 25, 2006

“I have never called anybody or talked to anyone to try to get anybody a position on K Street with one exception, and that is if someone from my office is applying for a job and an employer calls me.”

-- Santorum, in an interview with The Washington Times, Jan. 30, 2006

Santorum made these comments while trying to distance himself from the so-called “K Street Project,” an effort by key Republicans to place party loyalists in top lobbying positions. The program, led by conservative activist Grover Norquist and former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), took place to varying degrees from roughly 1995 until about 2006. Its name refers to the D.C. corridor where lobbyists have set up shop in large numbers.

Continue Reading »

Fact checking the ABC News and ‘Meet the Press' debates

Boy, three- and-a- half hours of debates to check this weekend! The candidates were up to their usual tricks and so the list of suspect statements is long and varied. We will go through them quickly, in the order the statements were made, beginning with the ABC News/Yahoo debate on Saturday night. After that, we tackle the Meet the Press/Facebook debate from Sunday morning. As always, we may take a deeper look at some assertions later in the week.



“But in the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.”

--Mitt Romney

Last week, when Romney mentioned this statistic, his campaign said the 100,000 figure was based on the number of employees at three companies with which Bain Capital was involved.

Continue Reading »

Rick Santorum’s claim that ‘no Palestinian’ lives in the West Bank

(Charles Krupa/AP)

“All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis.  They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Nov. 21. 2011

A blog on The Jewish Week Web site highlighted this statement on Monday, which was also captured on tape and posted on YouTube. (See clip at the end of the column.) The statement is somewhat reminiscent of former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” 

 Gingrich’s comments spawned outrage at the time, but Gingrich actually spoke a couple of weeks after Santorum’s remarks, which were made in the context of defending Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank. As Jewish Week noted, Santorum’s “views got little attention at the time because he was considered a hopeless back-of-the-pack candidate and not being taken very seriously.”

 In many ways, Santorum’s remarks have even more important policy implications than Gingrich’s statement, which was a historical observation (though a highly debatable one).


The Facts

 In the conversation captured on tape, Santorum argues that the West Bank belongs to Israel because Arab nations launched an “aggressive attack” in 1967 but Israel defeated them and acquired the land as part of the spoils of war.

“It was ground that was gained during war,” he said, similar to the United States gaining territory after defeating Mexico in the 19th century. “Should we give Texas back to Mexico?” he asked. “Bottom line, it is legitimately Israeli country.” 

Continue Reading »

Fact checking the Fox News debate in Iowa

(Eric Gay/AP)

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

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

— Newt Gingrich

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

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

Continue Reading »