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3 Biden fact checks: On mass incarceration, ‘liberal’ and the tax cut

“This idea that the [1994] crime bill generated mass incarceration — it did not generate mass incarceration.”

— Former vice president Joe Biden

Biden has tried to deflect criticism that the 1994 crime bill contributed to an increase in incarceration by pinning the blame on the states for building more prisons and passing tougher laws. But the federal law set the tone — and the bill he helped craft included incentives for states to overhaul their laws and build more prisons.

The bill earmarked $8.7 billion over six years for states to build more prisons. About half of that was available to states that enacted “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which curb paroles and required people convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

There are many factors that contributed to the United States having such a high incarceration rate, but few experts dispute that the crime bill was a contributor. Even former president Bill Clinton admitted this in 2015: “I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it.”

“I was always labeled as one of the most liberal members of the United States Congress.”

— Biden

Biden has been trying to play up his liberal credentials as the Democrats have moved left, but he was generally considered a moderate Democrat.

Over the course of his Senate career, Biden was usually at or about the 25 most liberal members of the Senate, according to Voteview, a well-regarded database at the University of California at Los Angeles. Voteview offers every congressional roll-call vote in American history on a liberal-conservative ideological map, including information about the ideological positions of voting senators and House members.

His average over 19 congressional sessions was 74 percent on Voteview’s scale, which translates into the 26th most liberal senator. That meant he was no Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) or Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), but neither was he one of the conservative “blue dog” Democrats who voted more consistently with Republicans. So, in terms of perspective, Biden was more liberal than about three-quarters of the Senate.

“There’s a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it? Of course not. Of course not. All of it went to folks at the top and corporations.”

— Biden

This was Four-Pinocchio wrong. In terms of just individual tax cuts in the Trump tax law — which we should consider given that Biden was addressing union workers and other campaign supporters — the Tax Policy Center found 65 percent of taxpayers would get tax cuts. In the $50,000 to $75,000 income range, 82 percent would get tax cuts, with people who got a tax cut ending up with an average of almost $1,000. The Biden campaign tried to argue that he was talking about the impact of the law in 2027, when the individual tax cuts in the law will have expired. But Biden spoke in the present tense.

Fact-checking the first Democratic debate

Twenty candidates are taking the stage Wednesday and Thursday night, with 10 candidates each night. The Fact Checker will be watching and vetting the statements candidates make.