FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Sat, 28 Feb 2015 16:52:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 FactChecking CPAC http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/factchecking-cpac/ Sat, 28 Feb 2015 02:24:15 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93097 A parade of potential Republican presidential candidates took turns at delivering speeches and answering questions at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that started on Feb. 26. They boasted of their accomplishments and voiced their opinions, but along the way there were some distortions of facts:

  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said “all” of the legal immigration in the U.S. was “based on whether or not you have a family member here.” Nearly two-thirds of the inflow of legal permanent residents in 2013 was based on family-sponsored immigration.
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that the cost of government regulation “hits American families for $15,000 a year.” That figure comes from a conservative group’s admitted “back-of-the-envelope” calculation of estimated regulatory costs that does not include any potential savings.
  • Perry mixed and matched jobs data to embellish Texas’ record on job creation. He claimed Texas created 1.4 million jobs in the last seven years, while the rest of the country lost 250,000. In fact, Texas created 1.3 million jobs and the rest of the country added 987,900 jobs.
  • Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal overstated the federal government’s role in Common Core State Standards, which Rubio described as a “national curriculum” and Jindal said imposes “content standards.” State leaders developed the standards, and local school officials set the curriculum.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said his state’s ACT scores rank second in the country. That’s second out of 30 states, and the composite score hasn’t changed during Walker’s tenure.

Rubio on Immigration

Rubio stretched the facts a bit on legal immigration.

Rubio, Feb. 27: We also have a legal immigration system that’s the most generous in the world. A million people a year come to this country legally. No other country even comes close to that. But it’s all based on whether or not you have a family member here, and it can’t continue to be based on family alone. It’s got to be based on some sort of merit and economic contribution.

Rubio overstates his case when he says legal immigration in the U.S. is “all based on whether or not you have a family member here, and it can’t continue to be based on family alone.” (Emphasis is ours.)

According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly two-thirds of “lawful permanent resident flow” — 990,553 in 2013 — was due to family-sponsored immigration. (See Table 2.) Much of the emphasis on family-based immigration can be traced to the Immigration Act of 1990, a bill that passed with bipartisan support and raised caps on family preferences. In remarks made when he signed the bill into law, President George H.W. Bush noted that the law sought, in part, to promote “respect for the family unit.”

Still, two-thirds is not “all,” as Rubio stated. About 16 percent of the permanent legal immigration in the U.S. in 2013 was from “employment-based preferences,” which includes “priority workers,” professionals with advanced degrees, skilled workers and those who make large investments in American companies. Another 12 percent were refugees, and nearly 5 percent came via the U.S. “diversity” program to encourage immigration from many countries.

Rubio may argue that more of the immigration system ought to be based on “merit and economic contribution” — more than the 16 percent given “employment-based preferences” now — but he went a bit too far by stating that our immigration system is “based on family alone.”

As for the claim that the U.S. immigration system is the “most generous in the world,” that’s true in raw numbers. As we said, the inflow of legal permanent immigration was 990,553 in 2013 (that’s down from 1,031,631 in 2012). The next closest country for immigration was Germany, which saw nearly 400,000 new permanent immigrants in 2012, followed by the U.K. with 286,000, and France, Italy, Canada and Australia all seeing roughly a quarter of a million permanent immigrants that year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (See Table 1.1)

However, when immigration is considered as a percentage of a country’s total population, the U.S. ranked 18th in 2012. (See Figure 1.4.) And as Adam Ozimek, an associate at an economics consulting firm, noted in a blog posting for Forbes in 2012, the U.S ranked 12th when it came to the stock of immigrants as a percentage of a country’s overall population. So whether the United States’ legal immigration policy is the “most generous” in the world, as Rubio claimed, is a matter of debate.

Perry’s Regulatory Cost-Per-Family Statistic

In his speech, Perry took aim at over-regulation, claiming that “regulatory cost hits American families for $15,000 a year.”

Perry, Feb. 27: This regulatory cost hits American families for about $15,000 a year. That’s the highest cost on your budget than anything other than housing.

Perry’s dubious figure comes from an admitted “back-of-the-envelope” calculation from a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is “dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” In other words, it is a staunch opponent of government over-regulation.

In the report, “Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State,” author Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. calculates the 2013 cost of federal regulatory compliance at nearly $1.9 trillion. To arrive at the cost-per-family figure, that $1.9 trillion was simply divided by the number of American households. By that math, Crews argues, “each U.S. household ‘pays’ $14,974 annually in a hidden regulatory tax report.” And, the report notes, that that figure is “higher than every annual household budgetary expenditure item except housing.”

Crews admits in the report that his methods are “not scientific” but argues that “the comparison is a useful back-of-the-envelope way of reflecting on the magnitude of regulatory costs.”

But a deeper look into the $1.9 trillion figure — contained in another report “Tip of the Costberg“ — shows that the figure is based on the Office of Management and Budget’s annual reports to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulation. The problem is that Crews focused on the “costs” and ignored the “benefits” listed in those reports. The OMB typically makes the case that benefits exceed costs, as you can see in its latest report.

As our fact-checking colleague Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post noted when the same statistic was cited by Rep. Bob Goodlatte last month, “Seat belts are a regulation, but they also result in fewer deaths, which is presumably a benefit. Higher fuel-economy standards raise the initial cost of a car, but also result in savings on gasoline over time.”

One is free to take issue with the conclusions of the OMB’s cost-benefit analyses, but to highlight the costs while ignoring benefits tells only half the story.

Texas-Size Job Boast

Perry also repeated misleading claims he had made earlier this year about job creation in Texas. He mixed and matched labor statistics to puff up his state’s record.

Perry Feb. 27: In my 14 years as governor, we helped to create almost one third of all the private sector jobs in America. In the last seven years, we created 1.4 million jobs. You take those jobs out of the equation, minus those jobs created in Texas, this country lost a quarter of a million jobs.

Perry made similar claims in January in his farewell speech to lawmakers days before he left office.

His first claim — that Texas “helped to create almost one third of all the private sector jobs in America” while he was governor — is correct, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nonfarm payroll data, the job growth measure preferred by economists and used by BLS to calculate job growth figures it releases monthly. Also called the Current Employment Statistics survey, the data come from a monthly survey of about 550,000 business establishments that include millions of employees. Perry’s claim is even correct if we look at all jobs — both private sector and government jobs — from December 2000, when he took office, through December 2014, the most recent state statistics available. Either way, Texas is responsible for 29 percent of the nation’s job growth in that time period.

But Perry’s second claim — that in the last seven years Texas created 1.4 million jobs while the rest of the country lost 250,000 — isn’t accurate at all, using those same nonfarm payroll numbers. Instead, those numbers show that Texas created 1.3 million jobs and the rest of the country, without Texas, created 987,900 jobs.

In order to claim that Texas created more than a million jobs while the rest of the country lost jobs, Perry has to switch from the nonfarm payroll data he used for his first statistic to the Current Population Survey, which is a monthly survey of 60,000 households that’s used to calculate the unemployment rate. (It’s not as easy to find those employment numbers for both Texas and the nation on BLS’s website as it is to pull up the nonfarm payroll data.)

The household survey counts as “employed” people who aren’t on a payroll, such as unpaid family workers, the self-employed and day laborers. It also includes agricultural workers and those who are absent from work and not being paid.

Perry is mixing and matching data sets here, using the measure that makes Texas’ record look more impressive. But if he’s talking about job creation – and using the standard measuring stick he himself cited in nearly the same breath — then it’s incorrect to say the rest of the country outside Texas lost jobs.

Common Core and the ‘National Curriculum’

On education, Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal misrepresented the Common Core State Standards.

Both criticized the federal government for imposing a “national curriculum,” as Rubio described Common Core in an exchange with moderator Sean Hannity. The Obama administration does support the standards, and federal money has been used to develop the standardized tests that students will take. But the standards were developed by state governors and education officials and voluntarily adopted by states, and the curriculum is set by state and local school officials.

Jindal, Feb. 26: We object to Common Core because the federal government has no right imposing curriculum, imposing content standards in local classrooms when these decisions have always been made by local parents, by teachers, by local leaders.

A day later, Rubio made similar remarks.

Rubio, Feb. 27: The second thing is, we need to help our people be stronger than ever. That begins with strong families, by empowering parents, by allowing parents to choose the school their kids go to, not tell — not have the government tell them where they’re going to go to school. By the way, that also means not having a national school board that imposes a national curriculum on the whole country.

Hannity: So I’ll put you down as yes for Common Core.

This is not the first time that Rubio has made such remarks. In 2013, Rubio said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that Common Core was well-intended, but was “increasingly being used by the Obama Administration to turn the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board. This effort to coerce states into adhering to national curriculum standards is not the best way to help our children attain the best education.” (Our colleagues at Politifact called Rubio’s statement “false.”)

The Common Core State Standards are a set of standards developed by the states for what children from kindergarten through 12th grade should know in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. They were developed by high-ranking state officials through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core does not set curriculum; that is still left up to state and local school boards and officials.

Discussions on the standards first began in November 2007, but much of the work developing the standards occurred in 2009 and 2010, according to a timeline on the official website, called corestandards.org. A final plan was released in June 2010.

The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards, and adoption of the standards is voluntary, as explained on the NGA’s Common Core website:

Common Core State Standards website: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided funding for the Race to the Top grant program. It also began before the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint was released, because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government.

A total of 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards. That includes Florida and Louisiana.

Jindal initially supported the standards, telling the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in 2012 that the Common Core standards were part of his “bold plans to reform Louisiana’s education system.” He rattled off several accomplishments, including: “Adopting the Common Core State Standards, which will raise expectations for every child.”

The governor is now seeking a court order to stop his state’s students from taking the test next month.

We talked to Scott Richard, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, about implementation of the Common Core standards in Jindal’s home state. “It’s been a train wreck,” he said. “You can quote me on that.”

Richard said the governor has prevented the state from purchasing the PARCC assessment tests that will be used to measure Louisiana student performance on math and English. It is one of two assessments that have been developed with federal funding. (The other test was developed by Smarter Balanced).

Federal funding to develop the assessment tests is at the root of the complaints about Common Core, Richard said. “Local school boards choose what local curriculum to teach to students,” he said. “But the reality is … the actual assessments drive the decisions that school boards make.”

Education Secretary Arnie Duncan says critics are misinformed, confusing standards for curriculum.

Duncan, June 25, 2013: We need to be very clear about definitions here.

  • Standards — learning standards, academic standards — are the goals, typically set by states, for what students should know by a certain age.
  • Curriculum — on the other hand — is what teachers teach to help students meet those standards. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level — and in many cases individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.

We agree. We take no position on the merits of the Common Core standards. But Rubio’s description of Common Core as a “national curriculum” and the Department of Education as “national school board” — and Jindal’s claim that the federal government is “imposing curriculum, imposing content standards” — overstates the federal government’s role in the standards. They were developed by state political and education leaders and implemented by state and local school officials.

Walker on Test Scores

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker overstated the impact of his policies while talking about education.

Walker, Feb. 26: Because of that in our states we don’t have seniority or tenure anymore. We can hire and fire based on merit. We can pay based on performance. We can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can keep them there. And you know what it’s working. It’s working. Our school scores are better. Our ACT scores are 2nd best in the country. Our graduation rates are up over the past four years. Our reading scores are up over the past four years because we put the power back in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers and the people they elect to run their school boards.

As we have written once before, Wisconsin ranks second among the 30 states that had 50 percent or more of their students take the ACT college admission assessment in 2014. ACT does not rank states, but that’s how Wisconsin ranks itself, as Walker’s office has told us before. So, Wisconsin ranks second out of 30 states, not “in the country.”

Also, Wisconsin’s composite ACT score has not changed under Walker, so it’s misleading to credit his policies for the state’s ranking.

Wisconsin ranked third in 2010-11, when Walker took office, so its ranking has improved slightly. But that’s not because its scores are better. Its composite score was 22.2 in 2013-14, the same as it was in 2010-11. Wisconsin moved up to second because Iowa’s composite score was 22 in 2014, down from 22.3 in 2011.

Walker is also not quite right about reading scores.

The governor is referring to the statewide assessment tests that are given to students beginning in third grade. The reading scores for elementary and high school grades were up in 2013-14 compared with 2010-11, but they were down for the middle school grades. The percentage of middle school students who scored proficient or advanced in reading was 37 percent in 2010-11, and it dipped slightly to 36.2 percent in 2013-14. By individual grade, reading scores were down for fifth and eighth, but up for all other grades.

As for graduation rates, they are up slightly – from 87 percent to 88 percent — from school year 2010-11 to 2012-13, the most recent year for which statistics are available. But there’s no evidence that Walker’s policies have had an impact on reading scores or graduation rates.

– Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley and Lori Robertson

]]>
Will Power Plant Rules Cause Blackouts? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/will-power-plant-rules-cause-blackouts/ Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:54:26 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93029 The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told Congress her agency’s proposed rules governing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will not affect the reliability of electricity service. That’s debatable.

Various analyses have arrived at differing conclusions on this issue, and some electricity grid operators say there is a potential for service disruption under the Clean Power Plan.

The EPA unveiled the Clean Power Plan in June 2014, with hopes it will be implemented beginning in the summer of 2015. It is designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The agency says that this will improve public health while also significantly cutting the country’s contribution to global warming.

In an exchange during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the EPA budget (at the 1:33:11 mark), Rep. Bob Latta, a Republican from Ohio, asked EPA administrator Gina McCarthy whether states might be able to receive waivers or another exemption if reliability of electricity delivery is a concern. McCarthy responded:

McCarthy, Feb. 25: EPA does not see the rule as it has currently been proposed to have an impact on reliability.

Reliability refers to the electricity grid’s ability to avoid disruptions to electricity supply — in short, a reliable grid is one that doesn’t have a lot of power outages. This depends on a number of factors, and the concerns regarding reliability and the Clean Power Plan stem primarily from the fact that certain power plants will likely be forced to close earlier than otherwise planned.

SciCHECKinsert

There is no one simple answer as to whether the Clean Power Plan will negatively impact reliability of electricity delivery, in part because the plan does not prescribe exactly how the cuts in emissions should be achieved. Each state can decide how to arrive at the goals, through energy efficiency improvements, cutting pollution from existing power generation facilities, and through installing new cleaner facilities including renewable energy as well as natural gas power plants.

There is nothing in the plan specifically forbidding coal-fired power generation, but the EPA estimates that “[t]he use of coal by the power sector will decrease by roughly 30 to 32 percent by 2030.” Coal plants emit more carbon dioxide than natural gas plants, and other sources including hydroelectric, solar, wind and nuclear emit no carbon dioxide. In 2013, coal accounted for 39 percent of U.S. power production, followed by natural gas (27 percent) and nuclear power (19 percent).

Because there are varying paths available to achieve the Clean Power Plan’s targets, the grid’s resulting reliability is hard to predict. An EPA spokeswoman pointed us toward several documents containing EPA analyses of reliability, all of which found little cause for concern. For example, EPA estimates a reduction in total “operational capacity” — how much electricity generation is available — of 3.5 percent in 2020, mostly due to coal plant retirements. The details and the amount of that reduction, EPA says, means the rule will “have little overall impact.”

Still, several of the organizations responsible for moving electricity around the country and maintaining the grid (known as ISOs — independent system operators — and RTOs — regional transmission organizations) have expressed concerns. These groups are nonprofit organizations that do not take policy positions.

For example, the Midcontinent ISO, which covers parts of 15 states from North Dakota down to Louisiana, released its preliminary findings on reliability in November 2014, and noted some “reliability concerns” regarding the timing of the Clean Power Plan rules. Because the rules would lead to retirement of power plants before otherwise planned, MISO’s CEO said that “[b]uilding new generation, natural gas infrastructure and transmission facilities necessary to support electric system reliability will take more time than the interim performance period allows.” If the rule goes into effect largely as proposed, states would be expected to start “to make meaningful progress toward reductions by 2020.”

Similarly, in comments filed with the EPA, the New York ISO wrote that “the Clean Power Plan presents potentially serious reliability implications for New York.”

The Southwest Power Pool, which covers Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of several other states, has expressed similar concerns: “Unless the proposed CPP is modified, the SPP region faces serious, detrimental impacts on reliable operation of the bulk electric system — introducing the very real possibility of rolling blackouts or cascading outages that will have significant impacts on human health, public safety, and economic activity.”

Again, this is due to the retirement of power generating facilities. SPP estimated that its “reserve margin,” essentially how much electricity is available to meet periods of high demand, would drop well below its required minimum of 13.6 percent down to 4.7 percent in 2020 and below zero in 2024. Though building new generation could change these numbers, SPP says there won’t be enough time to complete such construction.

Some other ISOs and RTOs continue to study the issue but have not issued specific findings. PJM Interconnection, for example, which coordinates electricity in parts of 13 states and Washington D.C., told us in an email that a full analysis will be completed this spring.

“Our preliminary review suggests that power plant retirements that would result from CPP likely would occur over time, potentially making the retirements more manageable … assuming that transmission upgrades are made in a timely manner,” said PJM’s Ray Dotter.

A collective group of the grid operators called the ISO/RTO Council has suggested that the Clean Power Plan would benefit from a “reliability safety valve.” This would essentially build in reviews of grid reliability to the final rule, and allow for some “enforcement flexibility” to help lessen any damaging impacts.

Outside of the grid operators, there are conflicting studies on how the Clean Power Plan and the related retirement of power plants might affect reliability. A report from the nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corp. (which is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) from November 2014 expressed concern about the plan, noting that “Essential Reliability Services may be strained by the proposed CPP” and that more time for the plan’s implementation might be necessary in order to ensure grid reliability.

Two studies funded by advocates for clean energy found otherwise. One was a report from the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm: “These two responsibilities — assuring electric system reliability while taking the actions required under law to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants — are compatible, and need not be in tension with each other as long as parties act in timely ways.” This analysis was supported by the Energy Foundation, which works to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Another consulting firm, the Brattle Group, also found that “compliance with the CPP is unlikely to materially affect reliability.” This report was commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, a nonprofit that promotes “advanced” energy and describes the proposed EPA rule as “an opportunity to be embraced.”

The array of seemingly opposite conclusions has much to do with the fact that the Clean Power Plan is not yet in its final form, and that parties disagree about how quickly new generation facilities might be constructed. According to the Brattle Group report, North American Electric Reliability Corp. did not consider a wide variety of solutions to reliability concerns, including increasing uptake of energy storage technology and market incentives to improve performance. It is clear, though, that McCarthy’s statement is an oversimplification of a complicated topic.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

]]>
Biden Resurrects Bogus Talking Points http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/biden-resurrects-bogus-talking-points/ Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:00:58 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93022 Vice President Joe Biden resurrected years-old, Democratic talking points on the Affordable Care Act and oil production during a recent speech in New Hampshire:

  • Biden said the ACA would reduce U.S. debt by “another $1 trillion over the next 10 years.” That’s a Democratic estimate for 10 years starting in 2022 or 2023, not the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office projects the law would reduce the deficit by $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period, but said beyond that it is “very difficult to predict.”
  • Biden said North America has “more gas and oil rigs … pumping today than all the rest of the world combined.” It’s true North America had 2,051 rigs operating in January, nearly 800 more than the “international rig count” of 1,258, according to industry data. But the international data do not include China and Russia, two top oil-producing countries.

Biden hasn’t said if he will run for president in 2016, but he has been making visits to key early primary states, including Iowa, South Carolina and, most recently, New Hampshire. He visited the University of New Hampshire School of Law on Feb. 25 to pick up the Warren B. Rudman Award for Distinguished Public Service.

In his speech at the law school, the vice president gave an upbeat assessment of the Obama administration’s achievements and the direction of the economy.

$1 Trillion Deficit Reduction?

Biden made his comment about the Affordable Care Act — referring to debt instead, which is the accumulation of yearly deficits minus any surpluses — when speaking on economic policies.

To be sure, CBO has long estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce yearly deficits, not add to them once both spending and revenues from the law are taken into account. But in recent years, CBO has stopped giving a hard estimate for even the next 10 years, saying instead only that “the ACA will reduce deficits over the next 10 years and in the subsequent decade.”

The latest hard number projection — $109 billion of deficit reduction over 10 years – is from a July 2012 CBO analysis of a Republican bill to repeal the ACA. The analysis went on to say, in reluctant, uncertain terms, that for the subsequent 10-year period (beginning in 2023), repealing the ACA would increase deficits by “a broad range around one-half percent of [gross domestic product],” meaning that with the law in place, deficits would be reduced by that general amount. (A 2011 CBO analysis gave the same loose, long-range estimate.)

CBO noted that the agency “does not generally provide cost estimates beyond the 10-year projection period,” because it’s difficult to project that far into the future. “Over a longer time span, a wide range of changes could occur — in people’s health, in the sources and extent of their insurance coverage, and in the delivery of medical care — that are very difficult to predict but that could have a significant effect on federal health care spending.” And, CBO said, such a calculation has to assume that all provisions of current law won’t change over the following 20 years, an iffy proposition.

Despite all of those caveats, Democrats took the “one-half percent of GDP” estimate and calculated that it would amount to a little more than $1 trillion, based on estimates of what GDP would be two decades into the future.

We first wrote about this claim in January 2011, when Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi claimed, as she was passing the gavel to Speaker John Boehner, that the health care law would “save taxpayers $1.3 trillion.” A few months later, in April 2011, President Obama said in a speech on deficit reduction that the ACA “will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.” Neither politician mentioned that this was a 20-year figure filled with uncertainty.

In March 2011, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf said in testimony to Congress that the impact of the law “becomes more and more uncertain the farther into the future one projects,” calling the second decade estimate “a rough outlook.”

The White House still includes the shaky deficit reduction claim on its website pages on the economy, saying the ACA would reduce the deficit “more than $1 trillion in the second decade.” The administration might want to update that page: It also includes an old estimate that the law would extend health insurance to 34 million Americans. CBO said in 2011 that that would be the reduction in the uninsured by 2020, but the most recent CBO estimate is a reduction of 27 million.

That’s just one illustration of how these types of estimates of future outcomes can change over time.

Rigging Oil Rig Data

The vice president also discussed energy, describing North America as “the epicenter of energy for the 21st century.” But then he went too far when he compared the number of operating crude oil and natural gas rigs in North America with the rest of the world.

Biden, Feb. 25: We have more gas and oil rigs, whether you like it or not, pumping today than all the rest of the world combined today. Combined today. And it’s growing.

We asked the vice president’s office where Biden got his information, but we did not receive a response. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration — which collects data on U.S. oil and gas rigs, but not for other countries — referred us to Baker Hughes Inc., an oilfield service provider. Baker Hughes has been providing the industry with North America rig counts since 1944 and international rig counts since 1975. The company’s most recent monthly report shows that in January there were 2,051 rigs operating in North America (defined as Canada and the United States), while the “international rig count” was 1,258.

Those figures give the false impression that Biden is correct. He’s not.

Baker Hughes does not include data for countries where reliable information is difficult to obtain. The company’s international rig counts do not include, for example, all of Russia and land rigs in China. Both are major oil-producing countries. In fact, the EIA says Russia and China were the third and fourth top oil-producing countries in the world, respectively, in 2013.

Baker Hughes, on its FAQ page, lists the countries and regions that are not included in its international rig count:

Baker Hughes FAQ page: The Baker Hughes International Rotary Rig Count is a monthly census of active drilling rigs exploring for or developing oil or natural gas outside North America (U.S. and Canada). The Baker Hughes International Rotary Rig Count does not include rigs drilling in Russia, the Caspian region, Iran, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea or onshore China. Iraq was excluded from the International Rotary Rig Count for the period September 1990 to May 2012. Syria is currently excluded from the International Rotary Rig Count as of February 2012 due to difficulty obtaining data as a result of continued civil unrest.

Baker Hughes does include offshore rigs in China, but there were only 33 of them in January. Most of China’s oil and gas rigs are on land.

BP Energy Outlook 2030, a report released in January 2013 by British Petroleum, estimated that, in 2011, China had about 1,500 land rigs in operation, and Russia, identified in the BP report as FSU (the Former Soviet Union), had more than 1,000. (See the chart in the BP report labeled “Onshore oil & gas rigs 2011.”) So, Russia and China combined — let alone the rest of the world — had more rigs operating in 2011 than North America, which Baker Hughes says had 2,298 that year.

Biden’s claim that the North America rig count is “growing” is also false. He could have made that case a few months ago, but plummeting crude oil prices have forced companies to shut down rigs.

As we mentioned, North America had 2,051 oil and gas rigs in operation as of January. That’s over 200 fewer than were operating in January 2014, when there were 2,273 rigs operating in North America. And the number of operating rigs continues to fall. For the week ending Feb. 20, there were 1,670 operating rigs in North America, down from 1,740 the prior week and down from 2,403 for the same week a year ago, according to Baker Hughes.

Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy firm that also produces rig counts, blamed the steady decline in active rigs on falling crude oil prices.

Wood Mackenzie press release, Feb. 19: “The oil price collapse is hitting onshore activity and rig operators, drilling rigs are currently being stacked at an alarming rate,” says Scott Mitchell, Research Director at Wood Mackenzie.

As for rigs in the United States, Wood Mackenzie’s release said the post-recession peak occurred in November 2014, when there was a monthly average of 1,859 active rigs in the U.S. But even at its recent peak, the number of U.S. rigs in operation was far less than what it was in the 1980s.

EIA historical data, from 1949 through 2012, show the number of crude oil and natural gas rigs peaked at 3,970 in 1981. So, the current level is less than half what it was more than three decades ago.

In boasting about North America having more oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined, Biden was repeating an old, Democratic talking point that Politifact wrote about in 2012, when President Obama made a similar claim. It should be retired.

– Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely

]]>
Feb. 21: ACA, Immigration, NIH Budget http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/feb-21-aca-immigration-nih-budget/ Sat, 21 Feb 2015 14:59:03 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93155
]]>
‘Amnesty Bonuses’? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/amnesty-bonuses/ Fri, 20 Feb 2015 19:12:51 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92788 Q: Will people living in the U.S. illegally receive “amnesty bonuses” because of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration?
A: There is no automatic payment, but some working immigrants could claim up to four years of earned income tax credits if they meet eligibility requirements.

FULL QUESTION

Is it true that illegal immigrants who sign up and who have paid no income taxes will get back $24,000 though they have not paid any income taxes?

____________________________________

Is it true that illegal immigrants who receive amnesty and a Social Security number would receive Earned Income Tax Credits for the previous three years without paying taxes for those years?

FULL ANSWER

Several readers have asked if President Obama is “granting amnesty bonuses to illegal immigrants.”

No, the administration isn’t giving automatic payments to all immigrants who may be affected by executive actions the president announced in November.

However, it’s possible that some of those who have been working while living in the U.S. illegally — even if they paid no income tax — could receive several thousands of dollars in tax credits from the IRS if they file tax returns.

But Republican Rep. Paul Gosar went way too far at a town hall meeting in Arizona on Feb. 9 when he claimed “each illegal alien will get $24,000 in compensation.”

That amount is the maximum in tax credits that a family with three or more children could receive if they filed a tax return this year and amended tax returns for work done in past years.

What is this all about?

Obama’s immigration actions would allow parents illegally residing in the U.S. for at least five years, and who also have children who are citizens or legal permanent residents, to remain in the country for up to three years without the threat of deportation, if they register and pass a background check. If they meet the requirements, they would also be given work authorization for the three-year period and would be able to get a Social Security number.

With that Social Security number, they would be able to file new tax returns, or amend old ones, and possibly claim the earned income tax credit that helps low-income workers.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen confirmed that fact during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 11.

Koskinen: … to be eligible for the earned income tax credit you have to work. It’s in the earned income tax credit.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney: Correct.

Koskinen: To apply — be able to apply for it, you have to have a Social Security number.

Mulvaney: OK.

Koskinen: So if you either are — we have about 700,000 [Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers] out there by the illegal immigrants who are paying taxes …

Mulvaney: Correct.

Koskinen: … but they’re not eligible to apply because they don’t have a Social Security number.

Mulvaney: But several million of them will get Social Security numbers under the new program, right?

Koskinen: And under the new program, if you get a Social Security number and you work, you’ll be eligible to apply for the earned income tax credit. You will get them — an amount depending on your situation.

Koskinen told Mulvaney and other committee members that “if you get a Social Security number, you can then file for this year if you’re working, and if you earned income in the three years before that and filed, you’ll be eligible.”

Those living in the country illegally and working can file tax returns using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, but those ITINs can’t be used to claim the earned income tax credit. So, those who filed with an ITIN would have to submit amended returns to receive any credits.

But Koskinen also said that even those who had not filed tax returns in the past could attempt to claim the credits for work done up to three years ago.

“If you did not file, you’ll have to file a return and you’ll have to file to demonstrate with the same information you would — anybody else would that you actually earned income and, therefore, [are] eligible,” he said.

That last point about non-filers was a clarification from an earlier Senate Finance Committee hearing on Feb. 3, in which Koskinen mistakenly told committee members that only those immigrants who had previously filed returns would be eligible to claim the credits retroactively.

We should note that the EITC is a refundable tax credit. That is, if the credit is greater than a worker’s tax liability, the IRS will refund the difference. The IRS will even refund the amount of the credit if the worker — whether a citizen or immigrant who qualifies for the reprieve from deportation — paid no income tax.

$24,000 ‘Bonuses’?

So how much could those successfully claiming the credits receive?

Gosar, an Arizona congressman, said “it was learned that the household income deferred tax credit applies retroactively three years. So each illegal alien will get $24,000 in compensation.” That’s not accurate at all.

As we said, there is no automatic payment for anyone. Even those who apply for the tax credits are not guaranteed to get anything, let alone the highest amount possible.

Some have correctly noted that for those with large families — having at least three qualifying children — the tax credits could amount to as much as $24,000 over four years. But that’s only if the immigrants qualified for the maximum credit of about $6,000 each year and owed little to no income tax on their earnings.

Those eligible for the EITC could receive a lot less depending on their income, marital status and family size. The income limits and credit ranges for 2014 are as follows:

Number of Qualifying Children For Single/Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er), Income Must be Less Than For Married Filing Jointly, Income Must be Less Than Range of EITC
0 $14,590 $20,020 $2 to $496
1 $38,511 $43,941 $9 to $3,305
2 $43,756 $49,186 $10 to $5,460
3+ $46,997 $52,427 $11 to $6,143

So a $6,000 credit each year is by no means a guarantee.

According to IRS statistics, nearly 28 million people received the EITC in 2013, totaling more than $66 billion. The average credit that year was $2,407.

The Pew Research Center estimates that Obama’s planned actions on deferred deportation would affect about 4 million immigrants, most of whom — 3.5 million — are parents whose children have legal status. But Pew didn’t say, and Koskinen said the IRS doesn’t know, how many immigrants may receive the tax credits or how much it could cost the government.

And now, it’s at least possible that immigrants who were set to apply to Obama’s expanded deferred action program won’t get anything.

In Texas, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued a ruling on Feb. 16, temporarily blocking the administration’s planned immigration actions from taking effect.

“The judge said that the administration’s programs would impose major burdens on states, unleashing illegal immigration and straining state budgets, and that the administration had not followed required procedures for changing federal rules,” reported the New York Times.

The White House has said that the Justice Department will appeal the decision.

– D’Angelo Gore

Sources

Senate Committee on Finance. Hearing on Internal Revenue Service Operations and the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016. 3 Feb 2015.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Hearing on “GAO’s High Risk Report: 25 Years of Problematic Practice.” 11 Feb 2015.

Associated Press. “Republicans Critical of Obama’s ‘Amnesty Bonuses.’ ” 14 Feb 2015.

IRS. Statistics for Tax Returns with EITC. Accessed 18 Feb 2015.

IRS. Tax Year 2014 Income Limits and Range of EITC. Accessed 18 Feb 2015.

White House. “Immigration Accountability Executive Action.” Fact sheet. 20 Nov 2014.

Krogstad, Jens Manuel and Passel, Jeffrey S. “Those from Mexico will benefit most from Obama’s executive action.” Pew Research Center. 20 Nov 2014.

Shear, Michael D. and Preston, Julia. “Dealt Setback, Obama Puts Off Immigrant Plan.” New York Times. 17 Feb 2015.

Kessler, Glenn. “Lawmaker bungles immigration facts at town hall meeting.” Washington Post. 20 Feb 2015.

]]>
FlackCheck.org Video: SciCheck Findings http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/flackcheck-org-video-scicheck-findings/ Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:14:27 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92974 FlackCheck.org, our sister website for political literacy, recaps the recent work of SciCheck, our new feature on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.

This video looks at Sen. Rand Paul’s claim that “many” children have developed “profound mental disorders” after vaccinations, Rep. Gary Palmer’s assertion that temperature data used to measure global climate change have been “falsified,” and President Barack Obama’s claims about the Human Genome Project’s return on investment and the cost of sequencing a single person’s full genetic code.

For more on these topics, see our full articles: “Paul Repeats Baseless Vaccine Claims,” Feb. 3; “Nothing False About Temperature Data,” Feb. 12; and “Obama Juices the Genome Numbers,” Jan. 30.

SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

]]> Paul Knocks Flies and NIH Funding http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/paul-knocks-flies-and-nih-funding/ Thu, 19 Feb 2015 21:45:27 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92809 Sen. Rand Paul made several misleading statements about the National Institutes of Health and some of the research that it funds.

  • Paul claimed the NIH’s budget has been increasing “for years.” That’s not accurate even in raw dollars. And when adjusted for inflation, the budget has actually decreased over the last decade.
  • He also suggested the NIH wasted $1 million on a study of whether male fruit flies prefer older or younger females, and in the process he belittled the impact of basic research using flies — which has yielded dozens of discoveries and even a few Nobel Prizes over the last century.

Paul spoke at the American Spectator Annual Gala in Washington (at the 10:03 mark), and commented on how he has tried to point out potential areas where government spending could be reduced.

Paul, Feb. 11: Remember when we were talking about Ebola last year? Everybody was going crazy about Ebola, and they’re like, oh Republicans didn’t spend enough at the NIH. And they didn’t spend enough on infectious disease. Turns out, the budget had been going up for years and years at NIH, the budget had been going up for infectious disease. You know how much they spent on Ebola? One-40th of the budget was being spent on Ebola. But you know what we did discover? They spent a million dollars trying to determine whether male fruit flies like younger female fruit flies. I think we could have polled the audience and saved a million bucks.

Paul is wrong about the NIH budget increasing “for years and years,” even when using figures unadjusted for inflation. The budget was lower in raw dollars in 2014 and 2015 ($30.1 and $30.3 billion, respectively) than it was in 2010, when it reached a high of $31.2 billion. A spokesman from Paul’s office sent us the unadjusted dollar amounts to explain the senator’s claim.

SciCHECKinsert

NIH, which is the primary funding source for basic science research in the United States, did see its budget increase dramatically from the mid-1990s, when it stood around $11 billion, through 2003, when it hit $27.2 billion. Since then, the budget has risen in small amounts some years in unadjusted dollars, and declined slightly in other years.

When inflation is taken into account, no increase in funding is evident in the last decade. The $27.2 billion in 2003 is equivalent to almost $35 billion in 2014 dollars, when the NIH budget was just over $30 billion. In other words, the NIH budget has actually decreased by almost $5 billion over the last decade in inflation-adjusted dollars.nihbudgetchart_border

The earlier increases, from the mid-1990s through 2003, are still evident even after adjusting for inflation, rising from about $18 billion to $35 billion over eight years in 2014 dollars. Notably, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (known as the stimulus bill) did inject almost $9 billion of extra funding into NIH in 2009 and 2010; sequestration, however, required a cut of $1.55 billion from NIH’s 2013 budget. Paul’s spokesman did not mention these as part of the senator’s calculation.

One other measure shows the decreasing emphasis on funding basic science research. From 2003 to 2014, the NIH budget in unadjusted dollars rose by 11 percent. The total federal government spending, meanwhile, rose by 62 percent. These same calculations using inflation-adjusted dollars show a decrease in NIH budgeting of 13.9 percent, and an increase in federal spending of 25.9 percent.

Paul also said the budget specifically for infectious-disease research had increased; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of NIH) actually saw similar stagnation to the overall budget, with a slight decline when inflation is considered. The NIAID budget was $3.7 billion in 2003, equivalent to about $4.8 billion in 2014 dollars; the actual 2014 and 2015 NIAID budget was about $4.4 billion. An analysis by Vox showed that about $100 million was being spent on Ebola specifically in each of the last few years, which Paul’s spokesman confirmed is the source for his “one-40th” claim. The $100 million would be about that fraction of the total NIAID budget, and his spokesman pointed out that some emergency supplemental funding for Ebola research actually puts the number above that estimate; in December 2014 an additional $238 million was appropriated to NIH for Ebola research.

The Amazing Fruit Fly

Paul specifically called out one project involving fruit flies in his speech. In doing so, he grossly underestimated the value of scientific discoveries that can come from research using Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly.

The fruit fly research Paul mentions is actually an ongoing series of projects in the lab of Scott Pletcher, now at the University of Michigan (previously at Baylor College of Medicine). According to a search we ran on an NIH database of grant awards, Pletcher hasn’t received one NIH grant worth $1 million. But he has had several recurring grants used for fruit fly research, ranging in dollar amounts from about $75,000 per year up to about $380,000 per year, which would add up to more than $1 million.

Moreover, the characterization of the project as simply testing “whether male fruit flies like younger female fruit flies” is misleading. The study was in fact part of ongoing work looking into olfaction and other sensory perception, the aging process and how it relates to sexual and social activity. A paper that came out of the same line of inquiry appeared in the prestigious journal Science in 2013, showing that exposure to female pheromones without the opportunity to mate actually decreased male flies’ life spans. In short, sexual reward “specifically promoted healthy aging,” according to Pletcher. His lab’s work could yield insights both into how humans age and into aging-related diseases.

Perhaps the more important point, though, is that such findings in flies are not as trivial as Paul would like his audience to believe. Fruit flies first were used as a model organism in 1906, and more than 100 years later remain among the most important and useful tools in the biology toolkit. “It has been pioneering research,” Hugo Bellen, a Drosophila expert at Baylor College of Medicine, told us in a phone interview. Drosophila “has led to the discovery of genes that cause cancer, genes that [affect] metabolism, genes that cause developmental defects, genes that play a critical role in neurodegeneration. It has been a discovery tool for many, many different pathways, proteins, diseases.”

Bellen has written extensively about the history of fruit fly research, and he said that about 8,000 genes in the fruit fly (of about 14,000 in total) are “conserved” in humans, meaning humans have a number of essentially the same genes as flies. The “conservation” of so many genes from flies to mice and even to humans has helped us make incredible discoveries in a wide range of fields. Another Drosophila expert, Gerald Rubin, cowrote a paper in Science in 2000 summarizing the fruit fly’s contributions. He told us in an email that “most of what we know that is relevant for understanding basic human biology and how it can go wrong in disease was discovered with simpler organisms. These basic mechanisms have been very well conserved in evolution and thus this has been a very efficient, cost-effective and ethical way to gain this knowledge.”

Even the most important of discoveries, if described in certain ways, would sound just as ridiculous as Paul’s description of fruit fly sexual proclivities. For example: Researchers spent time and money counting up how many flies had white eyes and how many had red eyes.

That might not sound like it has much practical import, but that work, by fly research pioneer Thomas Hunt Morgan, led to the understanding of chromosomes and heredity — basically, the way in which human traits are passed on from parents to children. Morgan won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for this in 1933. This is not an isolated example. Three other Nobel Prizes have been awarded for fruit fly research, including for the discovery that X-rays can cause mutations in genes.

Flies are useful for research because of their short life spans and the ease with which scientists can manipulate the insect’s genes. Bellen’s review published in 2010 highlights a few of the other discoveries made using Drosophila, from insights into how humans learn and remember things to how circadian rhythms (a sort of internal clock that all animals have) function in humans. He also pointed out that fly research is among the cheapest available.

“You get 10 times more biology for a dollar invested in flies than you get in mice,” Bellen said, thanks to the ease with which their genes can be manipulated.

Paul is entitled to his opinions on where government funds are best spent, but the study of flies has yielded important benefits to human health.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

Disclosure: The author’s father is a neuroscientist who has received NIH funding to do research involving Drosophila melanogaster.

]]>
Moving the Goalposts http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/moving-the-goalposts/ Thu, 19 Feb 2015 18:28:33 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92814 President Barack Obama says the Affordable Care Act is working “a little bit better than we anticipated,” based on the 11.4 million people who signed up for insurance on the exchanges during the recent open enrollment period. That’s better than the administration anticipated, but worse than a Congressional Budget Office projection.

The latest open enrollment period for those buying insurance through the federal HealthCare.gov or the state-based exchanges was from Nov. 15, 2014, through Feb. 15 of this year. In a video on the White House website and posted on Twitter, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell tells Obama that the “preliminary estimates” show 11.4 million people either signed up for or re-enrolled in marketplace plans during that period. Obama says that’s “great news,” telling viewers: “The Affordable Care Act is working. It’s working a little bit better than we anticipated. Certainly, I think working a lot better than many of the critics talked about early on.”

The 11.4 million figure is better than the projection released by the administration in November, just before the enrollment period began. Then, HHS told reporters that it anticipated between 10.3 million and 11.2 million would sign up or re-enroll by the end of the open enrollment period. By that measure, the estimated 11.4 million who did sign up is “a little bit better” than anticipated.

But an HHS analysis said the department expected the figure would decline by the year’s end, as some wouldn’t pay premiums or would take other health insurance. The analysis estimated that between 9 million and 9.9 million would be the total for 2015′s marketplace enrollment. That’s 3 million to 4 million fewer Americans than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimate at the time: 13 million on marketplace, or exchange, plans this year.

So, the 11.4 million figure is a little bit worse than the CBO anticipated. CBO’s 13 million estimate is from April 2014; the most recent report, from January, estimates that 12 million would be on marketplace plans this year.

These estimates are just that: estimates. And the CBO, too, constantly updates its forecasts. In March 2011, CBO estimated 14 million would be on marketplace plans in 2015; the year before that, days before the final legislation was signed into law, it put the number at 13 million.

But the administration’s November analysis moved the goalposts, saying that it would take longer than CBO estimated for marketplace enrollment to grow.

The CBO expects a major expansion of exchange enrollment in the next few years — going from 12 million in 2015 up to 21 million in 2016 and then 25 million for 2017 and subsequent years, according to the most recent CBO report. HHS said in its analysis that enrollment won’t reach 25 million that quickly, due to uncertainty over the number of shifts that may occur from employer-sponsored and individually purchased insurance to the marketplace plans. HHS says the growth CBO expects could happen over four or five years, not three, and that its 9 million estimate for 2015 is actually similar to CBO’s numbers if they were modified to fit that longer period of time.

It’s easier to come out ahead, of course, if expectations are lowered.

The administration did cite CBO’s estimate for marketplace signups in 2014, before the federal and state marketplace websites launched. Then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a June 2013 press conference that “we’re hopeful that 7 million is a realistic target.” And Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gave the 7 million projection in a leaked Sept. 5, 2013, memo. The administration then backed away from that number after the HealthCare.gov website got off to a shaky start and initial enrollment was slow. In late December 2013, White House aide Phil Schiliro told MSNBC, “That was never our target number,” a claim that earned him two Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker.

In the end, 8 million signed up for exchange plans during 2014’s open enrollment, a number that slipped to 7.1 million by October 2014 as some didn’t pay premiums or took other insurance, such as through a new job. That just beat CBO’s estimate. But this year, the administration rejected the CBO estimate rather than embrace it.

The White House also boasts in a graphic on its website: “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 11.4 million Americans are signed up for private health coverage,” adding the hashtag #11MillionAndCounting. The “thanks to the ACA” wording suggests that those Americans wouldn’t have had private insurance otherwise. And that’s not the case.

In fact, as the HHS explains in its analysis, those who enroll in marketplace plans come from three groups: those re-enrolling in marketplace plans, those shifting from other individual insurance or employer plans, and those who were previously uninsured. We don’t know how many moved from a private plan outside the exchanges to a new private plan sold through the exchanges. But CBO estimates that the number with employer-sponsored coverage or insurance purchased individually outside of the marketplaces will decline by 5 million in 2015.

– Lori Robertson

]]>
Boehner and Benghazi http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/boehner-and-benghazi/ Tue, 17 Feb 2015 22:45:08 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92768 House Speaker John Boehner says there are “unanswered questions” about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. He specifically asks “why didn’t we attempt to rescue” Americans under siege and why were some U.S. personnel “told not to get involved” in rescue attempts?

But those questions have been answered at length in several investigative reports, including two by Republican-controlled House committees. Congressional committees and an independent board detail the rescue attempts that night, carried out despite U.S. military assets not being in position to defend the Benghazi facility. Those reports say there were no undue delays in responding to the attacks, and they pointedly rejected unfounded allegations that the U.S. response was deliberately thwarted by a “stand down” order.

“Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response,” the independent Accountability Review Board concluded in its Dec. 18, 2012, report.

The “U.S. military performed well in responding to the attacks,” the House Armed Services Committee said in a February 2014 report. Separately, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said in its November 2014 report that the CIA — which was first on the scene of the attack — responded in a “timely and appropriate manner.”

Boehner appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and discussed the Select Committee on Benghazi, a special panel created by the Republican-controlled House last year. The U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi (referred to in official reports as a temporary mission facility, or TMF) was attacked by heavily armed extremists on Sept. 11, 2012. The terrorist attack left four U.S. citizens dead — including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

Host Chris Wallace asked Boehner why he set up the committee “even though there have been about a half dozen investigations” and the GOP-controlled House intelligence committee “basically said there was no there there.” Wallace asked if the committee was created to hurt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Boehner, Feb. 15: No, Chris, it’s — the idea here is to get the American people the facts about what happened. Why wasn’t the security for our embassy in Libya, the extra security, given to the ambassador after repeated requests? The night of the event, why didn’t we attempt to rescue the people that were there? Why were the people there told not to get involved?

And then, as importantly, when did the president know this? And why, for some two weeks, did he describe it differently than what it really was?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and as Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the Benghazi committee, has been told by me, I don’t need a big show here but we need our facts. The American people deserve the truth about what happened and that’s all we’re interested in.

All the questions posed by Boehner have been addressed by various House and Senate committees and by the Accountability Review Board convened by the State Department, but we focus in particular on the U.S. rescue attempts because the premise of those questions is misleading.

Let’s review what the reports say about the rescue attempt and how U.S. security, intelligence and military personnel were deployed that night.

Extremists armed with small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacked the diplomatic facility at about 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time on Sept. 11, 2012, according to a Defense timeline. In about 17 minutes after the attack, the Defense Department diverted an unmanned surveillance drone to Benghazi, the timeline says. At about the same time, the chief of a CIA annex near the Benghazi diplomatic facility was making preparations to send a team of seven to assist in a rescue operation.

At 10:04 p.m., the CIA team departed in two armored vehicles, arriving at the facility at 10:25 p.m. and immediately engaging in a 15-minute firefight with the extremists, according to a bipartisan report issued December 30, 2012, by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The House intelligence committee report said that “some Annex team members wanted urgently to depart the Annex for the TMF to save their State Department colleagues,” but the Annex chief “ordered the team to wait so that the seniors on the ground could ascertain the situation at the TMF and whether they could secure heavy weaponry support from local militias.”

This order to wait has been described by some as a “stand down” order, but it was not. The Republican-controlled House intelligence committee said that based on all the evidence, “the Annex leadership deliberated thoughtfully, reasonably, and quickly.”

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nov. 21, 2014: The evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order. Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets.

A bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report released on Jan. 15, 2014, reached the same conclusion.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Jan. 15: The Committee explored claims that there was a “stand down” order given to the security team at the Annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.

At about midnight Benghazi time, a little more than two hours after the attack began, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gathered top military leaders at the Pentagon to discuss military options, according to the Defense timeline. (We will get back to Panetta’s decisions later.)

While military leaders convened at the Pentagon, a six-man security team from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, including two military personnel, departed for Benghazi at about 12:30 a.m. Rear Adm. Brian Losey, commander at the time of Special Operations Command Africa, did not send all the security forces stationed in Tripoli. He ordered Army Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson’s team to remain in Tripoli to protect the U.S. embassy in the event of an attack there, according to the House Armed Services Committee report.

Gibson was initially “visibly upset” that his team was not dispatched to Benghazi along with the other team from Tripoli, the House report said. A colleague described Gibson as being “furious” at the time at having been ordered to “stand down.” But “Gibson made it clear to the committee that ‘in hindsight’ he believes remaining in Tripoli was appropriate,” the House report said.

“I was not ordered to stand down. I was ordered to remain in place,” Gibson told the House Armed Services Committee. ” ‘Stand down’ implies that we cease all operations, cease all activities. We continued to support the team that was in Tripoli.”

The Tripoli team arrived in Benghazi in about an hour, but it was delayed at the airport “for at least three hours,” according to the Senate homeland security committee report. The committee said the delay “merits further inquiry” to determine if it was merely part of the “chaotic environment” at the time or “was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi.” It turned out to be the result of the “chaotic environment,” not “part of a plot.”

The Senate intelligence committee later said in its report that the Tripoli team was trying to locate Stevens before leaving the airport. There had been reports that Stevens may have been at the Benghazi Medical Center, but Libyans were concerned about security at the hospital and feared the Americans could be lured into an ambush, the committee report said.

“After more than three hours of negotiations and communications with Libyan officials … the Libyan government arranged for the Libyan Shield Militia to provide transportation and an armed escort from the airport” to the CIA Annex, the Senate intelligence committee report said.

The Tripoli team arrived at the CIA Annex at 5:04 a.m., “about ten minutes before a new assault by the terrorists began, involving mortar rounds fired at the Annex,” according to the Senate homeland security report. That attack resulted in the deaths of Annex security team members Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, the report said. Libyan forces arrived at the Annex at 6 a.m. with 50 vehicles and transported the remaining Americans to the airport, where they would be evacuated by plane to Tripoli in two trips at 7:40 a.m. and 10 a.m. enroute ultimately to Germany.

Where was the U.S. military?

Panetta’s midnight meeting (Benghazi time) at the Pentagon lasted until about 2 a.m. After the meeting, Panetta took several actions. He agreed to send one Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoon stationed in Rota, Spain, to Benghazi and another to Tripoli. He also directed two special operations forces — one from Central Europe and another based in the United States — to depart for a staging base in Italy, according to the Defense timeline and the Senate homeland security report. None of those troops reached Benghazi in time.

“[T]here simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference,” as the independent Accountability Review Board said in its report. But other rescue efforts did make a difference.

The ARB report, which was released Dec. 18, 2012, said “every possible effort was made to protect, rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.” Smith, a State Department information management officer, also died in the attack at the diplomatic mission.

Accountability Review Board: The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference. Senior-level interagency discussions were underway soon after Washington received initial word of the attacks and continued through the night. The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.

The ARB was led by Thomas R. Pickering, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush, and retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Although there has been some criticism of the board in conservative circles, the State Department inspector general’s office issued a report in September 2013 that reviewed the board’s operations in general and its work specifically on Benghazi, and concluded that the ARB “operates as intended — independently and without bias.”

In a press conference on the board’s report, Mullen addressed the military’s inability to mobilize its assets quickly enough to defend the Benghazi facility. He said that “it is not reasonable, nor feasible, to tether U.S. forces at the ready to respond to protect every high-risk post in the world.”

There was, however, an increase in military protection of U.S. diplomatic facilities after the Benghazi attacks. A Congressional Research Service report dated July 30, 2014, said that “the U.S. Marine Security Guard posted detachments to 152 U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world as of September 2012; 35 new Marine Guard detachments were requested by the department after the Benghazi attacks.”

There is no question that mistakes were made prior to Sept. 11, 2012, that left the U.S. facilities in Benghazi vulnerable to attack. Multiple investigative reports document those mistakes.

The Senate homeland security report said the State Department made a “grievous mistake” in keeping the Benghazi facility open given the “dangerous threat environment” in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack. The ARB report said “systemic failures” and leadership “deficiencies” caused the State Department to ignore “repeated requests” for additional security staffing in Libya, leaving the Benghazi facility “grossly inadequate to deal with the attack.” (Which goes to another of Boehner’s questions: “Why wasn’t the security for our embassy in Libya, the extra security, given to the ambassador after repeated requests?”)

But as far as the night of the attack? The consensus is that the rescue attempts were carried out in a timely manner under difficult circumstances. For Boehner to ask “why didn’t we attempt to rescue” Americans under attack and why were some U.S. personnel “told not to get involved” ignores the evidence.

– Eugene Kiely

]]>
Feb. 14: US Exceptionalism, Climate Change, Global Attitudes http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/feb-14-us-exceptionalism-climate-change-global-attitudes/ Sat, 14 Feb 2015 13:45:35 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93014
]]>