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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Republican Retreads from Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. — On the first day of the Republican convention — marked by a delegate vote making former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the party’s official nominee for president — we’re already hearing a lot of exaggerated, misleading or downright false claims that we’ve heard before.

The theme of the day centered on repeated misrepresentations of a quote from President Obama. From the various speakers we also heard:

  • A misleading statistic about women’s job losses that has grown so stale it is now wholly false.
  • More bogus claims about “raiding” Medicare and the doctor-patient relationship under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
  • A completely false claim that more than half of the younger generation is unemployed. (Actually, 86 percent who want work have it.)
  • More false claims that Obama blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline. Construction has already begun on the southern leg of the project, and the company says it expects approval for the Canada-to-U.S. leg early next year.


Note to Readers

Our deputy managing editor, Robert Farley, is on the scene in Tampa at the convention center. This story was written with the help of the entire staff, based in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Next week, we will dispatch our managing editor, Lori Robertson, to Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic convention. We intend to vet the major speeches at both conventions for factual accuracy, applying the same standards to both.

A Misleading ‘Theme’

Republicans announced in advance that the theme of the day for Tuesday would be “We Built It,” and that they would remind their audience of a clumsy quote from President Obama that they’ve been taking out of context ever since he said it.

“He thinks that if you started a business, ‘You didn’t build that,’ ” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said. And many other speakers played off the same idea. But that’s not exactly what the president said.

Obama did utter those words, as we have written before, but the full context of his remarks makes it clear he was saying taxpayer-funded public support — education, infrastructure and research — “gave you some help” to succeed in business. He was making an argument to continue funding government programs that help businesses flourish.

Obama, July 13: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The Obama campaign says the word “that” in the phrase “you didn’t build that” refers to roads and bridges. That is not grammatically correct; in strictly proper usage, “that” would refer back to the closest noun, in this case “business.” But the sentence Obama spoke just prior to his now infamous phrase does refer to infrastructure. He said: “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

There is no room for misinterpretation, though, in Obama’s summary statement — which is very clearly worded: “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Some of the Republican speakers who used the president’s words out of context, include:

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell: We need a president who will say to a small businesswoman: Congratulations, we applaud your success, you did make that happen, you did build that! Big government didn’t build America: You built America! Small businesses don’t come out of Washington D.C. pre-made on flat bed trucks. That coffee shop in Henrico. That florist in Virginia Beach. That bakery in Radford. They were all built by entrepreneurial Americans with big dreams, not a big spending government with a wide open wallet full of other people’s money!

Lisa Stickan, chairman of Young Republicans: We’re working to build our own businesses, struggling to pave our own way, only to learn that, according to this president, we didn’t build it.

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu: Mitt Romney will get our private sector moving again, and will respect the successes of our entrepreneurs, who deserve credit because they really did build it.

Priebus: Republicans believe American greatness comes from the American people — not from the federal government. But Barack Obama thinks the government is at the center of the economic universe. He thinks that if you started a business, “You didn’t build that.”

The Republicans also released three videos featuring small-business owners taking issue with Obama’s words. But Obama’s speech was edited in a way that removes all references to teachers, roads and bridges, government research, and “this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.”

The president’s words were edited so it sounds as if this is one seamless, uninterrupted sentence: “Let me tell you something, if you’ve got a business, that … you didn’t build that.”

The day’s theme did highlight a central disagreement between the parties. Republicans give more credit to markets and free enterprise and dislike regulation, while the president and fellow Democrats tend to see government’s role as positive. But that’s no excuse for distorting the president’s meaning.

Stale Statistics

Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women, used a couple of stale statistics borrowed from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. By failing to update her figures, she claimed that “850,000 women … have lost their jobs under President Obama” and that “women lost 92 percent of all the jobs lost under the Obama administration.” Wrong on both counts. Neither of those figures is close to being accurate anymore.

Employment for women was actually only 401,000 lower in July than when Obama took office, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s less than half the figure claimed by Chornenky. And her outdated percentage figure is now even more wildly off base.

When Romney first used the 92 percent figure — to support a claim that it’s really Obama’s economic policies that amount to a “war on women” — we said the number was “accurate as far as it goes,” but not the whole story, and misleading. That was back in April, and Romney was using the latest statistics from March. But now — after four more months of job gains by both men and women, it’s far from accurate.

The fact is, men have now regained all the jobs lost since Obama took office, and more. The latest employment for men stands at 85,000 higher than it was when he took office. Figured the same way that Romney came up with his 92 percent figure, the current percentage would be a minus 470 percent. Besides not making much sense, that large a figure is even more misleading than Romney’s original number. It’s a statistical fluke.

Women’s employment didn’t start to turn down until a full year after men’s employment stated declining, in March 2007. By the time Obama took office in January 2009, both men and women were losing jobs at the worst rate since the Great Depression — 277,000 women’s jobs and 541,000 men’s jobs were lost the month before he was sworn in. The start of the recovery for women lagged that for men. After men finally started gaining jobs in March 2010, it took women another eight months to see their employment start to turn up.

The fact is that over the entire course of the job slump, women have lost less than half as many jobs as men. In July, women’s employment was more than 1.6 million below its peak, while men’s employment remained nearly 3.4 million below its peak.

‘Raiding’ Medicare

We think we’ll be hearing plenty of this bogus claim throughout the convention: “$716 billion raided from Medicare to pay for ObamaCare.”

That version was offered Tuesday by Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin. It’s wrong, however, to say that money is being taken away, or “raided,” from Medicare. The health care law calls for reducing the future growth of Medicare spending over 10 years. If it happens, that would stretch out Medicare’s financing, keeping the hospital insurance trust fund solvent for longer.

As we’ve explained before, Medicare doesn’t have $716 billion sitting around that could be “raided.” Instead, the reductions in the future growth of projected spending would be primarily to Medicare Part A, which covers hospital expenses, and Part A’s trust fund had $244.2 billion at the end of 2011. All of that money must by law be spent for its intended purpose. The president can’t take money out of the trust fund; Medicare holds those bonds and can cash them in as it needs to cover whatever isn’t paid by current payroll taxes. The law even increases the amount of tax revenue that will flow into the trust fund by imposing a 0.9 percent Medicare surcharge on certain high-income individuals.

If Part A doesn’t need to spend income it receives from payroll taxes immediately, Treasury issues Medicare a bond and the amount is credited to Medicare’s Part A trust fund. When Medicare wants to cash that bond, Treasury has to pay it, even if Treasury already spent the original money on something else.

And that’s where the Republicans’ real complaint lies. Both the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare’s chief actuary have said that in practice, the $716 billion savings can’t cover two things at once. But the program won’t be “raided,” and the law actually extends the life of the trust fund, delaying the day when currently projected hospital benefits can’t be fully paid without additional funding. That’s now estimated to happen in 2024. Without the cuts in spending growth and the new tax revenue promised by the law, the day of reckoning moves up to 2016.

Misrepresenting the Affordable Care Act

John Archer, a Republican congressional candidate from Iowa’s 2nd District, repeated a popular — but wrong — talking point about the Affordable Care Act. He claimed incorrectly that the new law interferes with doctor-patient relations.

He said, “And finally, we’ll talk about getting government out from in between patients and their doctors by repealing Obamacare — we can do better.” Actually, the law doesn’t regulate what doctors can and can’t do, or even which doctors patients can see, another anti-health-care-law meme.

Romney made this same claim in late June after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law. Many Republicans have pointed to the law’s creation of an Independent Payment Advisory Board — which is charged with finding ways to slow the growth of Medicare spending — as a source of rationing. But that’s far from accurate.

The board has extraordinary power: Its recommendations are supposed to go into effect automatically unless Congress overrides them by a three-fifths vote of both House and Senate. But that power is quite limited in scope. The law says the board “shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums … increase Medicare beneficiary cost sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and co-payments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.”

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, the IPAB is therefore limited to getting savings from Medicare Advantage (subsidized private insurance that currently covers about 1 in 4 on Medicare), “the Part D prescription drug program, skilled nursing facility, home health, dialysis, ambulance and ambulatory surgical center services, and durable medical equipment.”

Archer’s comment is just one more example of Republicans pushing the idea that the health care law would create a government-run system, like many foreign countries have, where the government is the insurer and even the provider of health care. But the Affordable Care Act comes nowhere close to that — it leaves the United States’ primarily employer-based insurance system in place and expands business for private insurance companies.

A False Jobs Claim About ‘My Generation’

Alex Schriver, chairman of the College Republican National Committee, said that “half of my generation didn’t get up and go to a job this morning.” That’s incorrect. Far more than half of those in his age group were employed last month, according to government data.

We’re not sure exactly what the 23-year-old Schriver meant by “my generation,” but according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about 64 percent of the entire 20- to 24-year-old population was employed as of July, the most recent month for which figures are available.

And when looking at those who are actually in the labor force — not in college or the military, for example — the percentage is far higher, almost 86 percent. The labor force includes both those who have civilian jobs and those who say they want work and have looked for it in the last four weeks.

Schriver’s claim sounds very similar to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ statement back in January that “nearly half of all persons under 30, did not go to work today.” We found that just about 45 percent of the total population of those age 16 to 29 were not employed. But that included 16- to 19-year-olds, many of whom are high school or college students and not even looking for employment.

Schriver may have been referring to an analysis of government data conducted for the Associated Press that found that — in 2011 — nearly 1 in 2 college graduates were jobless or underemployed, meaning they had part-time jobs but wanted full-time work, or that they were employed in positions that did not require full use of their skills. Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, looked at the Census Bureau’s 2011 Current Population Survey and other data, and found that about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 were unemployed or underemployed that year.

That’s a figure that is out of date; the overall jobless rate was 9.1 percent in July 2011 and is down to 8.3 percent most recently. And it refers only to college graduates, not an entire “generation.” Furthermore, it’s not correct to say that a person with a part-time job, or a job for which they were overqualified, “didn’t get up and go to a job this morning,” as Schriver claimed.


Even More Pipeline Piffle

Again we heard misleading and exaggerated claims about a controversial oil pipeline from Canada.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said the Keystone XL pipeline would reduce gasoline prices for consumers — which actually wouldn’t happen any time soon. And he said Obama has “said no” to it, when the president has actually approved one leg of the project and deferred a decision on building the cross-border portion while the company submits a new route to avoid an environmentally sensitive area in Nebraska.

We called these claims “pipeline piffle” when we wrote about them back in March. And so it was just more of the same when Hoeven told the convention audience that this project would “help hold down the cost of fuel at the pump” and that Obama was saying “no to lower fuel prices for consumers.”

As we said then, there’s nothing stopping more Canadian oil from coming into the U.S. right now. Existing cross-border pipelines could carry perhaps 1 million additional barrels of oil per day. And despite continuing opposition from environmental groups, the company that would build the Keystone XL pipeline — TransCanada — still states on its website that it expects to begin construction fairly soon.

TransCanada website: TransCanada anticipates approval of the Presidential Permit application – which is required as the pipeline will cross the Canada/U.S. border – in the first quarter of 2013, after which construction will quickly begin.

Meanwhile, the company says that it began construction this very month on the project’s southern leg, which it now calls the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project.” Obama has publicly embraced that portion, a 485-mile segment of 36-inch pipe that will carry petroleum from Cushing, Okla., south to Nederland, Texas, to supply Gulf Coast refineries.

TransCanada website: Construction on the Gulf Coast Project commenced August, 2012, with an anticipated in service date of mid-to-late 2013. The Gulf Coast Project will have the initial capacity to transport 700,000 barrels of oil per day and can be expanded to transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast refineries.

Correction, Aug. 29: An earlier version of this story misidentified a speaker. We mistakenly attributed the words of Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women, to Deb Fischer, a Senate candidate from Nebraska. We have updated the item to correct our mistake. We apologize for the error.

— Robert Farley, with Brooks Jackson, Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore