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Some Old, Some New

We find a few new questionable claims in the Republican candidates' latest debate - and several old ones we already debunked.


Summary

The Republican candidates aired their views, claims and criticisms in yet another debate. We found a few mistakes and questionable pronouncements:

  • Rudy Giuliani said 2,000 illegal immigrants was the most the federal government deported from New York City during any of his years as mayor.  That doesn’t square with Department of Homeland Security figures. Giuliani also took a little too much credit for a drop in New York’s welfare rolls.
  • Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas tried to link gay marriage with an increase in children being born out of wedlock. His statistic, however, doesn’t do that.
  • And several candidates repeated bogus claims that we had previously addressed, particularly on taxes and immigration.

Analysis

The eight Republican candidates met once again, this time in Durham, N.H., for a Fox News-sponsored debate on Sept. 5. The presidential contenders included Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

Conspicuously absent from the event was the newly declared candidate Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and “Law & Order” star, who instead ran an ad about his candidacy and made an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” We won’t evaluate Thompson’s Leno appearance here – or the fact that he wasn’t at the debate – but we found some problems with what the participating candidates had to say.

Single-Mother Scandinavians?

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas predicted a dark future for the traditional European family:

Brownback: In countries that have redefined marriage, where they’ve said, okay, it’s not just a man and a woman, it can be two men, two women, the marriage rates in those countries have plummeted to where you have counties now in Northern Europe where 80 percent of the first-born children are born out of wedlock.

This sentence has so many problems it’s hard to know where to begin. Brownback’s campaign tells us that the senator got that statistic from conservative columnist Stanley Kurtz, who frequently asserts that two Norwegian counties, Nordland and Nord-Troendelag, have an out-of-wedlock birthrate in excess of 80 percent. Kurtz does not provide a source for this number, although in a column for the conservative National Review, he does link to a Statistics Norway summary. But that summary doesn’t address the number of children born out of wedlock in any county. We have been unable to find any other support for Kurtz’s figures.

And besides, Norway doesn’t have legalized gay marriage. The Netherlands and Belgium are the only Northern European countries that do. They enacted it in 2001 and 2003, respectively. The Netherlands’ rate of out-of-wedlock births is much higher than it was a decade ago, but in 2005 the rate was only about 35 percent. According to Statistics Netherlands, unmarried birth rates in both Belgium and the Netherlands have been climbing since the mid-1970s.

Finally, both Brownback and Kurtz talk about first-born children specifically, but the countries’ statistics bureaus don’t differentiate between first-borns and other children.

Immigration Squabbles

In characterizing his frustrations with federal immigration officials while mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani low-balled the number of deportations of illegal immigrants.

Giuliani: I had 400,000 illegal immigrants. The best year they ever had for deportations was 2,000. I figured out I was stuck with 398,000. It’s like simple arithmetic.

Giuliani’s point is valid: The Department of Homeland Security said in a 2006 report that it lacks the resources to deport even all illegal aliens who are convicted criminals. His numbers, however, aren’t. In his last year in office, 2001, the federal government deported 4,282 illegal immigrants from the New York field office. The number for New York City would be somewhat lower, since the field office serves not only the city’s five boroughs but also Long Island and several New York counties within a two-hour drive of the city. But it would not be less than half, or the 2,000 figure Giuliani cited.

Welfare Reductions

Giuliani claimed responsibility for a large reduction in the welfare rolls of New York City, saying, “They thought it was impossible to reduce welfare; I removed 640,000 people from the welfare rolls.”

The number is correct. Between Dec. 1993, the month before Giuliani took office, and Dec. 2001, the month he left, the number of people receiving welfare benefits declined from 1.112 million to 462,000, according to statistics compiled by the city’s Independent Budget Office. That total is actually 650,000. While mayor, Giuliani implemented welfare reforms, including organizational changes and increased work and work experience requirements. An Urban Institute report said that “[t]he scope and scale of change in New York City’s welfare policies in the 1990s were dramatic and wide-ranging.”

Whether Giuliani can claim that he personally removed those folks is highly debatable, though. New York City’s reductions occurred during a fall-off in the national welfare rolls, which accelerated when President Bill Clinton signed a comprehensive national welfare reform bill in 1996. In fact, while New York City’s welfare rolls declined by 58.5 percent under Giuliani’s tenure, the number of recipients nationally dropped by 62.2 percent between 1993 and 2001, the majority of the decrease coming after 1996.

Tax Day

Brownback also exaggerated and used a disputed statistic when talking about the tax burden on Americans.

Brownback: In most states, you’re working till about the middle of May to pay your taxes.

The source for this statement is the business-backed Tax Foundation’s “Tax Freedom Day” report. This year, the Tax Foundation calculated that people living in 16 of the nation’s 50 states would need to work until May to make enough money to meet their federal and state income tax requirements – not “most states.”

As we outline on our companion Web site, FactCheckED.org, the “Tax Freedom Day” reports are misleading since they make the tax burden appear to be bigger than it really is. The reports lump all taxpayers together; however, lower income individuals earn enough to pay their taxes much earlier than upper income earners. But the reports, which use U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis income and tax collection figures, have remained consistent since 1970 and are an adequate measurement of whether the tax burden is increasing or decreasing.

Golden Oldies of ’07

We’ve always been fascinated by those who seem to believe that saying something often enough, even if it’s wrong, makes that statement true. This technique must be described in some Presidential Candidacy 101 textbook, given how often we’ve seen it deployed already in this campaign. In doing our small part to combat the widespread acceptance of these rotten chestnuts, we refer you to some of our recent articles.

  • Romney continued his criticism of Rudy Giuliani for presiding over a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants. As we have noted, New York City has never declared itself to be a “sanctuary city,” as some cities have. Romney refers to an executive order Giuliani renewed that prohibited city employees from giving the names of suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities, unless doing so was required by law or the immigrant was possibly involved in criminal activity.
  • While we’re at it, Romney again claimed that he didn’t raise taxes when governor of Massachusetts and that he faced a $3 billion budget shortfall. We have twice pointed out that Romney in fact increased fees by around $500 million during his four years as governor (a figure that includes both fee increases and “closing loopholes” in the corporate tax structure). Romney’s cuts in local aid also led indirectly to local tax increases (mainly in the form of property tax increases). Similarly, Romney’s claim to have closed a $3 billion budget gap is exaggerated. In fact, the gap was closer to $1.2 billion.
  • As we said in an article on another GOP debate in May, Hunter’s implication that an 854-mile border fence would do the same thing for the country that a much much shorter one has done for San Diego in cutting human and drug smuggling is highly misleading. For one thing, San Diego’s fence is an excellent illustration of the squeeze-the-balloon theory, driving border-crossers east to the Arizona desert. For another, only nine of the 14 miles of fencing in San Diego have been completed — and the project was started in 1996. Lawsuits, logistical difficulties and other issues have tied the project up, so the notion that hundreds of miles of fencing could be finished in six months, as Hunter promises if he’s elected, seems far-fetched.
  • We’ve spilled a good bit of cyber-ink over Rudy Giuliani’s claim that he reduced taxes 23 times in New York while he was mayor. That’s an inflated version of what he actually did, and credit-hogging to boot.
  • And Arizona Sen. John McCain repeated his claim that “it’s very clear that the increase in revenue that we’ve experienced is directly related to the tax cuts that were enacted.” Well, it’s not “very clear.” As we wrote, many government economists say revenues would be higher had the cuts not been enacted. The cuts spurred growth, they say, but it’s debatable how much of the revenue growth can be attributed to the tax cuts.

 – by Lori Robertson and Viveca Novak, with Justin Bank, Jessica Henig, Emi Kolawole, and Joe Miller

Update: In our section on Sam Brownback’s attempt to link gay marriage to high rates of out-of-wedlock births, we noted that we couldn’t find any support for assertions by Brownback’s source, conservative columnist Stanley Kurtz, that two Norwegian counties had rates of births of first children to unmarried mothers of higher than 80 percent. Shortly after we published the story, an alert reader pointed us to this chart. We contacted Kurtz, who confirmed that this was his source, though he had used a chart from an earlier year. A little calculation reveals that fewer than 20 percent of first-born children in Nordland and Nord-Troendelag were born to married mothers, and that the rate was fairly low in other Norwegian counties as well. Still, as we wrote, Norway doesn’t have legalized gay marriage, so Brownback’s use of Norwegian statistics to argue his point is illogical and misleading. (And, in fact, marriage rates in Scandinavia have been dropping for decades.)

Sources

Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “Detention and Removal of Illegal Aliens.” Apr. 2006.

New York City Independent Budget Office. “While Fewer in City Receive Welfare, Many More Get SSI.” 2 Dec. 2004.

Smith Nightingale, Demetra et al. “Work and Welfare Reform in New York City During the Giuliani Administration.” Urban Institute. 31 July 2002.

Sprangers, Arno and Joop Garssen. “Non-Marital Fertility in the European Economic Area.” Statistics Netherlands, Division of Social and Spatial Statistics, Department of Statistical Analysis. 23 February 2003.

Spagat, Eliot. “Slow pace of border fence project in San Diego raises questions about larger White House plan,” The Associated Press, 13 July 2007.