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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking Obama

We are periodically taking a look at past claims from the 2012 presidential candidates. Up next: President Barack Obama.

The president officially launched his 2012 campaign on April 4, but we’ve been fact-checking his statements for about four years now. Among the major misstatements:

  • Obama has misrepresented Republican plans for Medicare. Recently, he made the exaggerated claim that Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal was "a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry." But those age 55 and older will remain in the current program, and those who are younger would buy private plans, with the help of subsidies, on a Medicare exchange where coverage would be guaranteed and plans would have to charge the same rate to those of the same age. On the campaign trail, Obama ads falsely said that Sen. John McCain’s health care plan would result in "cuts in benefits, eligibility or both."
  • In a White House ad featuring Andy Griffith, the Obama administration glossed over the fact that under the health care law, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries could lose extra benefits they receive beyond the traditional "guaranteed" benefits. The Congressional Budget Office has said that the 10 million seniors on MA plans could see their extra benefits reduced by $43 per month on average.
  • The president also speculated that turning Medicaid into a block grant program, as Ryan has proposed, would would leave "poor children," "children with autism" and "kids with disabilities" to "fend for themselves." But the Republican plan doesn’t say that states can’t or shouldn’t cover those children. Instead, it says states would have "freedom and flexibility to tailor a Medicaid program" as they see fit.
  • Before last year’s midterm elections, Obama made the false claim that Republican leaders in Congress were "pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda." The GOP leadership wasn’t pushing to allow Americans to invest Social Security taxes in the stock market then, and leaders still aren’t doing it now.
  • He repeatedly has made inflated or optimistic claims about lowering families’ health care costs. Obama made the claim back on the campaign trail — and continued after he was elected — that families would save $2,500 a year on average. Obama said more than half of the savings would come from the use of electronic health records, and he said he’d do this "by the end of my first term." But that hasn’t happened yet. As of 2009, only 11.9 percent of hospitals had implemented basic or comprehensive electronic records, according to a study published in Health Affairs, and 17 percent of physicians were using such systems, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The campaign also said part of these savings for families would actually trickle down to them from the savings for government, insurance companies and health providers. That’s doubtful. After taking office, Obama said these $2,500 savings "could" happen because of "comprehensive reform" and cost-control measures from insurance companies and the health care industry. It’s important to note that Obama is talking about lowering the rate of growth in families’ spending — so costs would still go up, just not by as much, according to the president. We can’t predict the future, but this is still awfully optimistic.
  • During the 2008 campaign, he repeatedly called for eliminating "tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas." But that won’t do much to stop offshoring. As Eric Toder of the Tax Policy Center told us, the claim "is a nice political slogan, but will do little or nothing for U.S. employment or incomes."
  • Obama has made several ambitious, perhaps overly so, statements. In this year’s State of the Union address, he set goals of getting 80 percent of U.S. electricity from "clean" sources by 2035 and expanding high-speed rail so it reaches 80 percent of the county’s population in the next 25 years. But the first major "clean coal" plant isn’t yet in operation, and the president includes nuclear as a "clean" option. Is it "clean"? It doesn’t produce emissions, but then there’s the matter of what to do with the radioactive waste. As for those fast trains, about 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, but there’s only one high-speed rail line operating now. There’s a long way to go to connect all major cities.

At least a few of these claims are popular campaign talking points for Democrats. We’ll see if the president repeats them as campaign 2012 heats up.