A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Debate Watch


The six Republican presidential candidates who are set to meet and debate again on Dec. 10 have all made some claims that don’t line up with the facts. Will they repeat this shopworn spin, or have they tired of these talking points? Here’s what to watch and listen for when they gather in Des Moines for the latest debate — sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo! News, the Des Moines Register, local WOI-TV and the Republican Party of Iowa:

  • Gingrich: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has boasted several times that he “helped balance the federal budget for four straight years.” But he was in Congress for only two of those years. The budget was balanced for fiscal years 1998 to 2001. Gingrich left office in January 1999, so he wasn’t present to help approve the fiscal 2000 (or 2001) budget.
  • Romney: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has repeatedly twisted the facts about the Massachusetts and federal health care overhaul laws. He has said the state plan affected only 8 percent of the population (the uninsured), which is not true. It included a mandate covering nearly everybody, just like the new federal law. And he claimed that the federal law “is taking over 100 percent of the people,” when in fact most will continue on private insurance just as in Massachusetts. He also said that the uninsured in his state “get private insurance, not government insurance,” but his law covered tens of thousands of the uninsured by expanding Medicaid, a joint federal-state government program.
  • Romney: Romney also said that Massachusetts didn’t raise taxes to pay for the health care law, but his successor, Gov. Deval Patrick, raised the cigarette tax to help pay for it. Plus, the original law includes fines for people who don’t have insurance and businesses that don’t offer it. The Romney camp has called similar fines “taxes” when talking about the federal law.
  • Gingrich: Recently, on Dec. 3, Gingrich said that he “never favored cap-and-trade.” In fact, he said he would “strongly support” cap-and-trade in 2007 if it included “a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions.”
  • Perry: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said that under his flat tax plan, “everybody gets a tax cut.” Not true, according to the Tax Policy Center, which found taxes would go up for lower-income households. For example, higher taxes would affect 63 percent of households making $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
  • Bachmann: Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said earlier this week that there is “not one shred of evidence that lowering the payroll tax rate created jobs.” But there’s plenty of evidence: The nation has added more than 1.4 million jobs in the 11 months since the payroll tax cut was implemented, and economists say that reducing payroll taxes does spur job growth.
  • Paul: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas made questionable and misleading claims about taxes in his state since Perry became governor, saying that “our taxes [in Texas] have doubled.” We could find no evidence that taxes for Texas residents had doubled under Perry. Paul also said: “Our spending has gone up double. Our debt has gone up nearly triple.” After adjusting for inflation and population growth, the spending increase was 21 percent, not a doubling. The debt claim is a reference to the state bond debt, which has nearly tripled in real dollars. That’s not the same as running a deficit; the state has a balanced budget requirement.
  • Gingrich: Gingrich said Medicare and Medicaid pay “between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks.” That overstates the extent of the fraud. The total for “improper” payments in 2010 for those two programs was officially estimated at $70 billion when Gingrich made the claim. For all federal programs the estimate was $125 billion. (More recent totals for 2011 are $64.8 billion for Medicare and Medicaid and $115 billion for all federal programs.) But not all of that goes to “crooks.” Many of those “improper” payments result from clerical errors — such as payments sent to the wrong person, payments of the incorrect amount sent to the right person, or payments given without proper documentation.
  • Santorum and Bachmann: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Bachmann both have made false claims about a Medicare advisory panel created by the federal health care law. Bachmann claimed that the Independent Payment Advisory Board “will make all the major health care decisions for over 300 million Americans,” while Santorum said that Medicare will be cut “and it’s going to be rationing of care from the top down.” The board, to be made up of medical and economic professionals, is charged with finding ways to slow the growth of Medicare. It is forbidden from rationing care (page 490 of the law), and its recommendations can be rejected by Congress.
  • Santorum and Bachmann also have exaggerated the amount the federal government borrows. In August, Santorum said the government borrowed 42 cents of every dollar spent, and in October, Bachmann said it was 40 cents on the dollar. The true figure is 36.1 cents for fiscal year 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (It was running at 37 cents when the candidates made their claims.) The CBO says that under current law, the figure will be 27 cents for this fiscal year. This popular GOP exaggeration showed up in an ad from a conservative group in November.
  • Romney and Perry have claimed that President Obama said “Americans are lazy.” But that misconstrues the president’s words. He was talking about efforts to attract foreign investment, saying: “But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted — well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.”
  • Paul: He played down international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the CIA told him there is “no evidence” Iran is “working on” a nuclear weapon. We can’t say what conversation the CIA had with Paul. But there is plenty of concern about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, including on the part of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which sees “possible military dimensions” to the country’s civilian program.
  • Perry: He has touted Texas’ job-creation record with a misleading line, saying: “While this country was losing two-and-a-half million jobs, Texas was creating one million jobs.” Actually, during Perry’s tenure as governor, the state has gained about 1 million jobs while the nation has lost 1.4 million.
  • Both Romney and Bachmann have claimed that the federal health care law “kills jobs.” Bachmann said it “will kill 800,000 jobs,” but she distorts the findings of the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO and other experts say the impact would be “small.” And mainly the supply of labor would be reduced as individuals choose to work less or retire earlier, because they either receive subsidies or can’t be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.
  • Bachmann: She has repeated her illogical claim that the debt ceiling agreement gave Obama a “$2.4 trillion blank check.” Actually, the amount of additional borrowing is specified (not blank) and the money goes for obligations that Congress has authorized, not for the president to spend any way he wants.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman won’t participate in the debate; he failed to meet a requirement of polling at 5 percent in Iowa or the country.

We’ll stay up late Saturday night to weigh in with a fact-check of what the candidates actually say.

— Lori Robertson