“Middle-class Iowans to Romney: Greetings from ‘under the bus’”

— Obama campaign Web site

During Mitt Romney’s just-concluded bus tour this week, the presumptive GOP nominee has been followed by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee seeking to poke holes in his arguments. A typical example is the screen grab from the Obama Web site above, depicting the problems that would await the citizens of Iowa if Romney became president.

Let’s explore where these statistics come from and whether they are valid. We will focus on the stats for Iowa, but the same method was applied for all of the states.

The Facts

“150,000 families will see their taxes go up by an average of $900”

This claim is based on the fact that Romney would let three tax provisions from Obama’s stimulus expire, which were mostly aimed at low-income Americans. The figures come from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, using Census data for the state’s population.

What’s missing here? Well, Romney of course has promised a big cut in tax rates, and the same Tax Policy Center analysis shows that most people (about 70 percent) would get tax cuts. As we have explained previously, Romney has not specified how he would adjust the tax cuts so the very wealthy would NOT get most of the tax cuts, which he says is his goal. So at the moment it is an incomplete analysis.

In general, most people — except those making less then $20,000 — appear in line to get a tax cut under Romney’s plan. As a philosophical matter, Republicans generally do not consider refundable tax credits for the working poor to be considered a “tax cut” since it results in negative income tax. But, as we said, that is a philosophical dispute. Democrats tend to label these provisions as tax cuts.

“3,400 educators won’t be in the classroom”

This claim stems from Obama’s stillborn jobs plan, which included $30 billion to support local education. It relies on data in a White House report issued last fall titled “Teacher Jobs at Risk,” which predicted as many as 280,000 teacher jobs were at risk.

We checked in last week, now that the school season is over, and found that no more than 33,500 teacher jobs were actually lost. The number is smaller in part because the White House labeled as a “teacher” anyone who is counted in Bureau of Labor Statistics data as being employed in local education, even though as many as half are not full-time teachers; those jobs also include cooks and janitors.

At least the Obama campaign used the word “educator.” But the number at this point appears to be inflated, since it has been clear that savings were found in other areas and that the pace of teacher layoffs have slowed.

“203,000 students could each see their financial aid cut by $1,000”

This is a reference to the complex battle over funding for Pell Grants, which Republicans say is on an unsustainable path. The Obama campaign is attributing to Romney policies that are in the House Republican budget plan, on the grounds that he has expressed support for it.

The GOP budget plan would tighten eligibility for Pell Grants and freeze the maximum award at $5,500 — it was supposed to go up to $6,030 by 2017 — but the budget blueprint does not identify specific cuts, just an overall decline in discretionary spending. (This is typical of congressional budget resolutions.)

So note the use of the word “could.” The Obama campaign simply assumed an across-the-board spending cut, which is not what would happen in reality, and then added up the number of Pell Grant recipients in each state..

Presto, they had a number!

The Pinocchio Test

The Obama campaign is clearly trying to show that lots of real people could face higher taxes, lower financial aid or fewer teachers if Romney wins the presidential election. These numbers are not invented out of thin air, but they either lack context or are based on dubious assumptions.

Two Pinocchios

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