Myrtle Beach Blarney
January 11, 2008
We note more falsehoods and distortions as Republicans debate for the third time in a week.
Another debate, another round of fact-checking. The GOP meeting in South Carolina was the third for Republican candidates in a week, but they haven’t run out of exaggerations or misstatements:
- Romney claimed Massachusetts gained jobs "every single month" he was governor after hitting a low point. In fact the job gains seesawed, with seven of 36 months producing job losses.
- Huckabee escalated his misleading claims about cutting taxes, saying he cut taxes for the first time in the history of the state of Arkansas, which is untrue. Others put through tax cuts before he did. Overall, Huckabee raised taxes.
- Romney falsely claimed to have been endorsed by the Massachusetts Right to Life Association. Actually, he was endorsed by a single chapter of a different group.
- Thompson, accusing Huckabee of Democratic tendencies, said he’d been endorsed by the National Education Association. But he was actually endorsed only by the New Hampshire chapter of that nationwide teacher’s organization.
- Huckabee claimed that highways in Arkansas had gone from the "worst road system in the country" to the "most improved" in the ratings of a trucking magazine. He failed to mention that despite the improvement they remained fourth from the bottom on the "worst" list.
- Giuliani asserted that cutting the corporate tax rate "will get more revenues." Unlike his earlier supply-side claims, he can point this time to an economic study suggesting that he might be right, but it’s not a certainty.
The debate was held Jan. 10 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and was moderated by Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, Carl Cameron and Wendell Goler from Fox News, which sponsored the event. Six Republican candidates took part: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California was not invited.
Romney's Misstated Job Figures
Romney puffed up his economic record in Massachusetts with some false statistics:
Romney: As to my record in the state of Massachusetts, I'm very proud of the fact that after many, many months of declining job growth, I took over the state and helped turn that around. And in my years as governor, we kept adding jobs every single month after we saw that turnaround.That's just not true. Payroll jobs in Massachusetts hit their low point in December 2003 at the end of Romney's first year in office. And the number of jobs declined in seven of the remaining 36 months of his term, as measured by total nonfarm employment, seasonally adjusted, which is the standard measure of payroll employment used by economists and journalists. The claim that jobs increased "every single month" is false.
Furthermore, Romney's job record provides little to boast about. By the end of his four years in office, Massachusetts had squeezed out a net gain in payroll jobs of just 1 percent, compared with job growth of 5.3 percent for the nation as a whole.
Bogus Claims: Now with Extra Bogus!
Huckabee repeated some dubious claims about his tax-cutting record in Arkansas, but this time he added even more embellishments:
Huckabee: I did something that had not been done in my state in 160 years. I cut taxes, with the legislature working with me, and we continued to do that 94 times.The former governor previously has claimed to have passed the first broad-based tax cut in Arkansas' 160-year history. We found that claim to be somewhat exaggerated, as former Gov. Bill Clinton signed an income tax cut that was similar to the one Huckabee championed. But the suggestion that Huckabee was the first in 160 years to cut taxes, period, goes beyond exaggeration into the realm of outright falsehood.
And we've said this so many times that we're considering programming a special key to automatically insert the text: While Huckabee did in fact cut taxes 94 times, many of those cuts were trivial, and overall, Huckabee presided over a more than $500 million net tax increase.
Still on the defensive about his tax record, Huckabee pledged not to raise taxes as president.
Huckabee: I don't think the federal government needs any more money. That's why I have signed a pledge that I would not raise taxes as president. It’s true that on March 2, 2007, Huckabee signed the tax pledge promoted by Americans for Tax Reform. He did so despite earlier reservations about tax pledges. Shortly after announcing his bid for the presidency, Huckabee told NBC's Tim Russert that he was wary of making such pledges:
Huckabee: I think you got to be very careful. I, I wouldn’t propose any new taxes. I wouldn’t support any. But if we’re in a situation where we are in a different level of war, where there is no other option, I think that it’s a very dangerous position to make pledges that are outside the most important pledge you make, and that is the oath you take to uphold the Constitution and protect the people of the United States.We don’t begrudge any candidate the right to change his or her mind about an issue. But we do think it’s worth noting that the Russert interview aired on Jan. 28, 2007 – just 33 days before Huckabee signed the tax pledge.
Romney's Phantom Endorsement
Romney played loose with the facts about his abortion record.
Romney: My term as governor was decidedly pro-life. On every decision I could make as governor, I came down on the side of life. And that's why the Massachusetts Right to Life Association awarded me their leadership award after my term as governor. It is true that Romney vetoed several bills that violated the anti-abortion position, including one that would have provided funding for embryonic stem cell research and another that would have made the morning after pill available without a prescription. As we've pointed out before, the Legislature overrode those vetoes, but Romney did indeed adopt a number of anti-abortion positions as governor. He neglects to mention, however, that in October 2005, he signed a bill seeking greater access to family planning services for low-income individuals – access that would have included availability of that same morning after pill.
It’s also a significant stretch to say that the Massachusetts Right to Life Association gave him an award. For starters, the award was given by the Pioneer Valley Regional Chapter of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. The chapter does represent the entire western half of Massachusetts, but it is nonetheless one chapter of the organization, and not the entire group, as Romney suggests. In fact, Massachusetts Citizens for Life President Mildred F. Jefferson put out a press release specifically to refute the suggestion that MCFL had somehow endorsed Romney.
Jefferson (Aug. 5, 2007): Massachusetts Citizens For Life, Inc. (MCFL) as a non-profit corporation can not legally endorse political candidates. As one of the state affiliates of the National Right To Life Committee, MCFL has joined with them in a resolution that no individual state organization would endorse a presidential candidate until all of the states could make the decision collectively. This makes sense because the Republican presidential slate may not yet be complete.The National Right to Life Committee endorsed Fred Thompson in November 2007.
Phantom Endorsements for Thompson, Too
Not to be left out of the phantom endorsement fun, Thompson likewise conflates a single chapter with an entire organization – only Thompson attributes the endorsement to rival Huckabee.
Thompson: He [Huckabee] has the endorsement of the National Education Association, and the NEA said it was because of his opposition to vouchers. Actually, Huckabee was endorsed by the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, not by the whole group. A spokesperson for the NEA confirmed that the national organization has not yet endorsed any candidates. The New Hampshire chapter did cite Huckabee's opposition to vouchers as one of the reasons for endorsing him, but the group also praised his positions on student testing and on judging teacher effectiveness as well as his support for art and music education.
Most Improved, But Still Awful
Huckabee claimed a trucking magazine said his state's roads had gone from "worst" to "most improved" during his time as governor.
Huckabee: I took on the worst road system in the country, according to Trucker's Magazine. When I left, they said it was the most improved road system in the country. For starters, Huckabee gets the name of the magazine wrong (we're familiar with that phenomenon, too). The magazine in question is called Overdrive, and according to Editor Linda Longton, "Huckabee referred to Arkansas’ rank at the top of Overdrive’s Worst Roads list in 1999 and our Most Improved list in 2004."
What Huckabee neglects to mention is that while Arkansas tops the most improved roads list in 2004, it still came in at No. 4 on that year's worst roads list. According to one of Overdrive's survey respondents: "Arkansas is trying. It’s better than it was, but they have a long way to go."
Magical Tax Cuts Redux
Giuliani backed off his previous claims that a big federal tax cut would produce "a major boost in revenues for the government," a notion that, as we reported on Dec. 12, nearly all economists say is a fantasy. He retreated to the narrower and somewhat less shaky ground of stating that a cut in the corporate tax rate will more than pay for itself. But his claim goes beyond what the evidence supports.
Giuliani: Well, the reality is that some tax cuts do add to revenues. ... If you cut something like the corporate tax at 35 percent, you bring it down to 30 percent, you will get more revenues from that cut, because our corporate tax is the second highest in the world. If you cut some other tax, you might not get those kinds of revenues. Giuliani has some support for this. A paper released in July 2007 by economists Alex Brill and Kevin A. Hassett of the pro-business American Enterprise Institute studied corporate tax rates in 30 industrialized countries between 1980 and 2005 and concluded that reduced corporate rates attract enough growth in corporate income to produce higher revenue, even at the lower rate.
"We find that the revenue maximizing point has dropped over time, and is about 26 percent by the end of our sample," the authors concluded. Since the U.S. rate is now 35 percent, that suggests that the U.S. could gain more tax revenue from corporations by cutting the rate. However, this is far from a certainty. One of the authors, Hassett, told us: "You need to be cautious about applying these findings to a large economy like the United States. It's the little guys like Ireland that had the most success" in gaining revenue from cutting rates. He added, "It may or may not be correct to apply a result taken from an analysis of many countries and apply it to the U.S., which is the largest of them."
Giuliani may have been expressing his personal belief when he said a corporate rate cut "will" bring more revenues. That's his right. But he would have been more accurate to say it "might or might not."
Thompson's Curved Abortion Scores
Thompson cited his "100 percent pro-life voting record" as the reason for his endorsements from pro-life groups:
Thompson: I compiled 100 percent pro-life voting record during that time. And that's why the National Right to Life folks and the South Carolina Right to Life folks have endorsed me in my candidacy here. Thompson is correct that both the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and its South Carolina chapter endorsed him. But he is wrong to imply that these endorsements are based upon his having been awarded a 100 percent pro-life voting record. In fact, the NRLC's Federal Scorecard for 1997-1998 showed Thompson with an 86 percent pro-life rating. In the 1998-1999 session he scored even lower, with 77 percent. In both cases, these scores were due to Thompson's votes in favor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, which the NRLC opposed because of its provisions regarding issue ads.
It is true that Thompson did not vote counter to NRLC's positions on any bills that specifically dealt with abortion, and the NRLC obviously feels that Thompson best represents its stance. But it's misleading for Thompson to unilaterally round his C+ score to 100 percent.
Johnny Actually Reads Quite Well, Thank You
He just doesn't read quite as well as Huckabee would have you believe:
Huckabee: And this week, just, in fact, yesterday, American kids came and said that our schools were now the eighth best in the nation, which is a long way from 49th. It is true that Education Week’s newest Quality Counts report put Arkansas at eighth in the nation overall. These rankings take into account spending and assessment as well as achievement. Arkansas' scores in individual areas ranged from 45th to second. It ranked 34th in achievement.
Arkansas has not ranked 49th overall in the entire time Education Week has produced the Quality Counts reports, which it launched in 1997. A spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Education couldn't confirm that Arkansas had ever ranked 49th on a national education assessment but agreed that the state garnered very low education scores before recent increases in funding.
While we did not find any evidence to support the 49th ranking, we do think that Huckabee is right to point to educational improvements during his tenure. Arkansas has historically had a poor showing in educational rankings; an eighth place ranking is a staggering improvement. And the state came in dead last for education spending on the 1997 Quality Counts report; it has since moved to 25th in per-student expenditures. These accomplishments shouldn't require extra embellishments.
The Other White Meat
McCain again said that he had "never asked for or received a pork barrel project or earmark for my state." We previously wrote about three gray areas from McCain’s past that could be considered earmarks by some. But Citizens Against Government Waste told us that McCain’s actions in all three incidents were not requests for earmarks. We have now consulted Taxpayers for Common Sense, another watchdog group, which agrees with that assessment. Vice President Steve Ellis told us: "Plain and simple. The red flag about McCain getting earmarks is really red herring."
– by Joe Miller, with Brooks Jackson, Jess Henig, D'Angelo Gore and Lori Robertson
Massachusetts Citizens for Life. MCFL President Dr. Jefferson Responds to Governor Romney's Mention of the Organization in Iowa Republican Debate. August 2007. 11 January 2008.
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MSNBC. Meet the Press Transcript. 28 January 2007. 11 January 2008.
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National Right to Life Commission. Federal NRLC Scorecard, 105th session. 11 Jan. 2007.
National Right to Life Commission. Federal NRLC Scorecard, 106th session. 11 Jan. 2007.
Alex Brill & Kevin A. Hassett, "Revenue-Maximizing Corporate Income Taxes: The Laffer Curve in OECD Countries," American Enterprise Institute, AEI Working Paper #137, 31 July 2007.
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U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (State & Metro Area), statewide total nonfarm employment, seasonally adjusted figures for Massachusetts. BLS website. 11 Jan 2008.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National), total nonfarm employment, seasonally adjusted figures United States. BLS website. 11 Jan 2008.