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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

Sunday morning’s talkathons featured a few misstatements in a debate between Kentucky’s Senate contenders, and some confusion about debts and deficits.   

 Kentucky Senate Candidates Debate

"Fox News Sunday" hosted a debate between Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway. 

Paul’s statements about the economic and citizenship status of the country’s uninsured population were false:

Paul: Well, there are two aspects to health care problems. One’s the expense and one’s access. We had 45 million people nationwide that were not receiving or didn’t have health insurance.

A third of them made more than $50,000 a year and weren’t getting it because of the expense. We didn’t address expense at all. So that doesn’t fix that problem.

A third of them were poor and were eligible for Medicaid but not receiving Medicaid because they weren’t going down and filling out the appropriate paperwork.

But a third of them were in the country illegal and were illegal aliens.

It’s true that the U.S. Census Bureau projected that nearly 45 million people living in the country were uninsured in 2007. The agency’s estimate increased to nearly 50 million in 2009.

But Paul got his fractions wrong in the make-up of those uninsured. None of his categories – people here illegally, or eligible for Medicaid but not signed up, or earning more than $50,000 a year – accounted for a third of the uninsured.

There are no actual hard data on the percentage of the uninsured that are undocumented, but the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, reported in 2008 that non-citizens, including both documented and undocumented, accounted for about 21 percent of the uninsured population. KFF’s most recent report puts the figure at 19 percent.

The percentage of the uninsured who are eligible for public assistance but not taking advantage of it is also not quite a third. Nearly 25.5 percent of the uninsured population was eligible for Medicaid, but was not enrolled, in 2006, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation. Similarly, the Kaiser Family Foundation says that "[c]onfusion over who qualifies for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and an enrollment process that can be cumbersome leave one-quarter of the uninsured without coverage despite eligibility for these programs."

Likewise, less than a third of the uninsured earns more than $50,000 a year. The Census Bureau put the figure bringing in more than that amount at 22.3 percent for 2007. In its most recent report for 2009, the agency projected that about 25.1 percent had an income of more than $50,000. 

Many Deficits = The Debt

Republican strategist Ed Gillespie overstated the increase in the national debt under President Barack Obama, compared with its growth under President George W. Bush. Speaking on CNN’s "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," he said:

Gillespie: When Republicans say, and note, rightly, that this president, this administration, has increased the debt more in 18 months than President Bush did in eight years …

Actually, if Republicans are saying that, they’re not doing so "rightly." The debt at the beginning of the Bush administration stood at $5.73 trillion. At the time Bush handed Obama the keys to the Oval Office, it had increased to $10.63 trillion, for a jump of $4.9 trillion. As of Sept. 30 of this year, it was $13.56 trillion, which means under Obama it has gone up another $2.93 trillion. That’s sizable, but it’s not more of an increase than occurred during Bush’s eight years.

But Gillespie’s counterpart on the program, Democratic consultant Donna Brazile, also misspoke:

Brazile: President Obama, again, when he took office, $1.3 trillion in debt. So the notion that somehow or another he’s doubled the national debt, a debt that President Bush did not have when he took office. His – President Bush inherited a surplus from President Clinton and Vice President Gore.

Bush, in fact, did have a debt when he took office. As we noted above, it was roughly $5.73 trillion. What he didn’t have was a deficit, the amount by which federal outlays exceed revenues in a given year. In 2001, there was a surplus of $128.2 billion. But by 2008, that surplus, plus much more, was gone. The deficit that year was $458.6 billion.

In 2009, the deficit came in at $1.413 trillion, a swelling that reflected in part the bank rescue package, the stimulus law and declining tax revenues, all of which were tied to the recession. The $1.3 trillion Brazile mentioned is actually what CBO predicts the deficit will be for 2010 – a drop from last year.

Job Creation Inflation

On "Face the Nation," Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont inflated the lower-end estimate of job creation by the stimulus legislation. He said "the stimulus package … created and saved 2-and-a-half to 3 million jobs." But the most recent estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is that the stimulus had increased the number of those employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million people, compared with what employment would have been without the measure.

Cap and Trade Flip-Flop?

On the Fox News debate, host Chris Wallace and Conway disagreed over whether the Democrat ever supported cap and trade legislation introduced by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey last year to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Conway: I’m against cap and trade, too. Always have been.

Wallace: Well, no, no, no. That’s not true.


Wallace: In fact, you supported the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill back in 2009.

Conway: No, I didn’t. No, I didn’t.

Wallace: Well, the Bowling Green Daily editorial said that you flip-flopped on the issue, sir.

Conway: I have said I’m always going to protect coal and I’m always going to protect electricity. And…


Wallace: Did you not support…

Conway: I did not — I did not support Waxman-Markey. And look, I even took on the EPA. I filed a lawsuit against the EPA when they were doing just what Dr. Paul was describing.

So I have been consistent in this. And don’t read the Bowling Green News. Take a look at my actions as attorney general.

Wallace is correct that a June 2010 opinion piece in the Bowling Green Daily News claimed that Conway supported the cap and trade bill that passed the House last year. The editorial didn’t quote Conway, though, or offer any other evidence that Conway favored the bill. Kentucky’s Paducah Sun newspaper, however, said Conway issued a statement in support of the bill in July 2009, with conditions, according to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign.

A report from the Louisville Courier-Journal, also in July 2009, quoted from the statement and captured some of the nuance involved here. While noting that Conway did in fact oppose the legislation as it was originally proposed in the House, the Courier-Journal said that he suggested he could support the bill if some changes were made to it. Conway "said he favors it as long as there are provisions that protect American consumers and businesses," the paper said. But Conway may have been trying to have it both ways, because his caveats weren’t exactly chicken scratch:

Louisville Courier-Journal, July 11, 2009: While [Conway] said he opposed the legislation as originally filed, he added that he liked some of the changes made in the House. They included giving utilities additional credits and time to meet goals, as well as spending $60 billion in federal money to fund research into technology that would capture carbon before it is released into the atmosphere, and another $20 billion to fund battery research.

But Conway said the bill needs to go further in providing tax credits to offset any increase in energy costs, providing strict government oversight of the trading of emissions credits, and requiring that international agreements be in place that would require China, India and other countries to abide by the same provisions.

"I think with these adjustments to the current bill, we will protect Kentucky jobs, create new jobs and garner research dollars for our universities," he said in a statement.

Some of Conway’s prerequisites, such as having in place international agreements mandating equivalent action from China, India and other nations, have proved extremely difficult to achieve, a fact that wouldn’t be lost on Conway. In August 2009, Conway pledged to never cast a vote that would "hurt coal," and by October he was clearly speaking against the bill. But was that an evolving position, as Paul and other Republicans charge, or has Conway always been opposed to the bill, as he says? We’ll have to leave this one to readers to decide.

DNA Testing

Finally, "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer asked Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, why his party was having difficulty getting out its message. Rendell responded: Number one, our — ours is a complex message. … Secondly, we just don’t have it in our makeup, in our DNA to mislead the public."

That’s a misleading statement in itself. As any visitor to our website can attest, one thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to share is the genetic material required to lead voters astray.