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Deja Vu: The Latest Attacks from Santorum


The latest TV spot from Rick Santorum’s campaign recycles a veritable “Best Of” list of misleading claims about Mitt Romney’s record and positions.

Regular readers of FactCheck.org may recognize some claims as ones we have tagged as misleading, repeatedly. The ad says Romney’s health care law “included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs.” It says Romney supported “job-killing cap and trade.” And it asks viewers to believe that Romney “stuck taxpayers with a 1 billion dollar shortfall” in Massachusetts.

Some days political campaigns can seem like a scene from “Groundhog Day,” with the same misleading attacks repackaged into new ads for the latest primary state. The latest TV ad from the Santorum campaign, which is running in Wisconsin, is one such effort.

The ad begins with a woman jabbing a thumb at a picture of Obama and listing a bunch of political positions, to set up the punch line at the end: “What if I told you the man I’m talking about isn’t him. It’s him.” It then flashes a picture of Romney.

Here’s the text of the ad:

Narrator, Santorum TV ad, “This Man”: What if I told you this man’s big government mandating health care included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs. Would you ever vote for him? What if I told you he supported radical environmental job killing cap and trade and the Wall Street bailouts? And what if I told you he dramatically raised taxes and stuck taxpayers with a 1 billion dollar shortfall? One more thing. What if I told you the man I’m talking about isn’t him. It’s him.

Let’s take these claims one by one, again.

$50 Abortions

The ad makes the claim that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s “big government-mandating health care included $50 abortions.”

As we have noted before, that’s misleading. The state health care law signed by Romney didn’t say anything about abortion. Instead, an independent government body, the Commonwealth Connector, later decided that subsidized insurance plans would include coverage for abortion. And the Commonwealth Connector may have had little choice but to do so. In 1981, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that women eligible for Medicaid had a state constitutional right to payments for medically necessary abortions. In 1997, the state high court again ruled that Massachusetts must cover medically necessary abortions if it covers other medically necessary care, such as childbirth.

As we’ve said before, some have argued that Romney could have done more to put limits on abortion coverage in the state health care law. But it’s not true that he signed a law that included “$50 abortions.”

Overall, the law didn’t lead to any increase in abortions in the state. In fact, both the number and rate of abortions have declined since the legislation was passed.

The Guttmacher Institute, whose research on abortion has been cited by both political parties, has compiled statistics that show the number of abortions in the state went from 27,270 in 2005, the year before the law was passed, to 24,900 in 2008, the most recent statistic available. And the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age fell from 19.9 in 2005 to 18.3 in 2008. That’s an 8 percent drop, compared with a small rise of 1 percent nationally.

Mass. Law Killed Thousands of Jobs?

The ad claims the Massachusetts health care law signed by Romney “killed thousands of jobs.”

We last dealt with this issue when Texas governor and then-presidential candidate Rick Perry said in a September debate that the Massachusetts health care law killed 18,000 jobs. As we noted in our story — titled “Romney’s Health Care Law Killed Jobs?” — that was not a hard count of laid-off or fired workers but instead was an estimate from a conservative think tank. The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University ran health care cost variables through its economic model and determined that the state had “created 18,313 fewer jobs in 2010 than it would have had [the state health care law] not been in place.”

We can’t say whether or not Massachusetts businesses really chose to create 18,000 fewer jobs – or any other number – because of the law, but here’s what we can say:

  • There’s a matter of relativity. Paul Bachman, one of the authors of the study and director of research at the Beacon Hill Institute, told us that 18,000 “is quite small.” It’s less than 1 percent — 0.56 percent — of the total number of jobs in the state.
  • Other experts disagree with the study’s premise that the law led to higher costs. For example, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who advised both the Romney administration and the Obama administration on health care, said that while premiums did go up, it’s not clear that the law was the cause. In fact, the percentage increase was higher in other nearby states that didn’t pass a health care overhaul (see pages 11-12 of this Gruber report).
  • Opinions of employer groups are mixed. Richard Lord, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest employer group, said in an interview with FactCheck.org that AIM’s members blame high health care costs on health care inflation and not the law. On the other hand, Bill Vernon, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said that small businesses that are just under the coverage requirements of the law — that’s employers with fewer than 11 employees — are reluctant to hire an additional person, as they would then have to offer coverage or pay a $295 per-employee, per-year fine.
  • Massachusetts’ unemployment rate fared better than the U.S. overall since the law was enacted. In September, when the study was released, the state’s rate was 7.4 percent, compared with 9.1 percent for the country. The Beacon Hill study claims the state would have done even better.

Cap and Trade, Again

The ad says Romney “supported radical environmental job-killing cap and trade.” This too, is a topic about which we have written several times.

In fact, for years Romney has been a consistent opponent of any national cap-and-trade plan. Nearly a decade ago, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney flirted with the idea of a regional cap-and-trade system for the Northeast — but he ultimately rejected it as too burdensome on businesses.

In Pittsburgh, on Oct. 27, 2011, Romney was asked about cap-and-trade at an event at the Consol Energy Center, the city’s new hockey arena. His answer leaves little doubt about his position on a cap-and-trade plan now.

Romney, Oct. 27: I do not believe in a cap-and-trade program. By the way, they don’t call it America warming, they call it global warming. So the idea of Americans spending massive amounts, trillions of dollars, to somehow stop global warming is not a great idea. It loses jobs for Americans and ultimately it won’t be successful because industries that are energy intensive will just get up and go somewhere else. So it doesn’t make any sense at all.

Wall Street Bailouts

The Santorum ad says Romney supported the Wall Street bailouts. And this claim is true. Romney supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) —  at least he supported its original intent to prop up failing banks. He did not support President Obama’s later expansion of the program, including loans to the auto industry.

We took issue with a claim from the pro-Santorum super PAC Red White and Blue Fund that Romney not only supported the Wall Street bailout, but that the bailout put America “trillions in debt.” That last part is wildly inaccurate, but the claim that Romney supported the Wall Street bailout is not.

The ad also is on firm ground with its claim that Romney “dramatically raised taxes” as Massachusetts governor. Romney has repeatedly claimed not to have raised taxes as governor. But regular readers of FactCheck.org know all about this sleight of hand. As we’ve written many times, technically, Romney never raised personal income taxes, but he did increase fees by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he also closed loopholes on some corporate taxes.

Billion Dollar Shortfall

Lastly, the ad claims that as Massachusetts governor, Romney “stuck taxpayers with a 1 billion dollar shortfall.”

We last dealt with this claim when the Red White and Blue Fund claimed in an ad that Romney left Massachusetts “over $1 billion in debt.” The Santorum campaign ad is a little closer to the truth with the word “shortfall.” It would have been even closer had it said, “one-time, projected shortfall that never came to pass.”

As we noted when we wrote about the Red White and Blue Fund ad, $1 billion was the high end of a projected budget shortfall for the following fiscal year. And, as it turns out, tax revenues came in much higher than expected due to an improving economy, largely erasing the projected deficit, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

— Robert Farley