A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the GOP Debate, Early Edition


The Republican presidential candidates who failed to make the cut for the Aug. 6 prime-time debate repeated a number of past false and misleading claims, while adding some new ones that we hadn’t heard before:

  • South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the U.S. sends “$300 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts.” But that’s spending on all oil imports, including from Canada and Mexico.
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal claimed a study proved “expanding Medicaid does not improve health care outcomes.” The study he cited measured only three health indicators over a two-year period, and even then found some positive benefits.
  • Former New York Gov. George Pataki said when he left office, “there were over 1 million fewer people on welfare in New York state than when I took office.” True, but that decrease was part of a national trend after President Clinton signed the 1996 welfare overhaul legislation.
  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum claimed that “almost all” immigrants in the past 20 years “are unskilled workers.” Not so. In 2010, 30 percent of working-age immigrants had a college degree while 28 percent lacked a high school diploma.
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that under his tenure, and since the recession, Texas gained jobs while the rest of the country lost them. According to the job-growth measure used by most economists, the rest of the country gained 1.2 million jobs, while Texas gained the same.
  • Santorum also exaggerated in saying 74 percent of Americans lack a college degree. The number for those age 18 and older is 65 percent.
  • Jindal claimed President Obama said that “we don’t have leverage with China to get a better deal on Iran,” because the U.S. borrows money from China. Not exactly. Obama said economically cutting off the world’s largest banks, China and other countries would have consequences for the U.S.

The debate was held in Cleveland a few hours before the top 10 candidates took the stage.

Oil and Facts Don’t Mix

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the U.S. sends “$300 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts.” But that amount represents all spending on oil imports, including huge amounts from countries such as Canada and Mexico, which, according to polls, do not “hate our guts.”

Graham: When it comes to fossil fuels, we’re going to find more here and use less. Over time, we’re going to become energy independent. I am tired of sending $300 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. imported a total of 3.37 billion barrels of oil in 2014. The average cost of all that oil was $89.56 per barrel, again according to the EIA. That means that the total import cost in 2014 was just under $302 billion, close to the figure Graham cited.

But that oil comes from a variety of countries, and some of them do not appear to hate the United States. In fact, the U.S. imported the most oil — about 1.24 billion barrels — from Canada. Our neighbor to the north is generally not considered an American enemy, and polling bears that out: The Pew Research Center found in its most recent survey that the U.S. has a 68 percent favorability rating in Canada. (It is also, of course, not “overseas.”)

Saudi Arabia is the second biggest provider of oil to the United States, sending 425 million barrels in 2014; Pew does not have data on favorability in this country. Mexico is third with 307 million barrels, and 66 percent of that country sees the U.S. in a positive light. Venezuela is next, at 287 million barrels; according to Pew, 51 percent of Venezuela has a favorable opinion of the U.S. In fifth place is Iraq at 132 million barrels, again with no data from Pew on favorability.

In sixth place is Russia, at 119 million barrels of oil. At last count, only 15 percent of Russians surveyed see the U.S. favorably. Even if we allow that Russia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia may “hate our guts,” that represents less than $61 billion in oil imports. The other three countries in the top six represent about $164 billion of the total expenditures, meaning the U.S. spends more money importing fossil fuels from countries that do not actually hate our guts.

Jindal Overplays Medicaid Study

Explaining his opposition to Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said a study in Oregon showed that “simply expanding Medicaid does not improve health care outcomes.” But the Oregon study wasn’t as sweeping as Jindal claimed — for one, the study found that Medicaid expansion lowered rates of depression. And other studies have shown more positive health outcomes from Medicaid expansion.

We looked at this issue in depth in a story we wrote in July titled, “Is Medicaid Bad for Your Health?” At the heart of the issue is a study called the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 2, 2013. The study took advantage of a Medicaid expansion in Oregon that was based on lottery drawings and compared data from 6,387 adults who were able to apply for Medicaid coverage with 5,842 adults who were not selected.

The authors of the study concluded that, “Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years, but it did increase use of health care services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.”

The first part of that conclusion provides the basis for Jindal’s statement, “There is a better way to provide health care. The Oregon study showed this. Simply expanding Medicaid does not improve health care outcomes.” But he leaves out the second part that talks about lowering rates of depression, for example.

And as we noted in an article about the study in 2013, it had some limitations. For example, the study measured only three physical health indicators — blood pressure, cholesterol and glycated hemoglobin levels (which measure diabetic blood sugar control) — and only over a two-year period. There could be other improvements that the study didn’t attempt to measure, or that could show up once patients are covered for longer than two years.

In addition, other studies have shown more positive results for Medicaid expansion. For example, a study published on May 6, 2014, in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that after a health care overhaul in Massachusetts, mortality rates were improved compared with those in other states. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012 compared several states that substantially expanded Medicaid (before the ACA) to neighboring states that did not expand Medicaid and concluded, “State Medicaid expansions to cover low-income adults were significantly associated with reduced mortality as well as improved coverage, access to care, and self-reported health.”

A 2013 report from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation looking at the breadth of academic study concluded that “[h]aving Medicaid is much better than being uninsured.”

Pataki’s Welfare Boast, in Context

Former New York Gov. George Pataki credited his policies as governor for a “cultural change” in New York, boasting that when he left office “there were over 1 million fewer people on welfare in New York state than when I took office.”

That’s true, but he failed to mention that the drop was part of a national trend after Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

Pataki twice mentioned that he cut the welfare rolls by more than 1 million. The first time was when one of the debate moderators, Bill Hemmer, asked Pataki whether it was a mistake for states to expand Medicaid as permitted under the Affordable Care Act.

Pataki, Aug. 6: But getting back to Martha’s question about how we end dependency, do we have to have a cultural change? The answer is no. And I know this, because when I ran for governor of New York, 1 in 11 of every man, woman, and child in the state of New York was on welfare. On welfare. Think about that.

And people said “you can’t win, you can’t change the culture.” But I knew that good people who wanted to be a part of the American dream have become trapped in dependency because the federal government and the state government had made it in their economic interest not to take a job because the benefits that they didn’t work were better.

I changed that. We put in place mandatory workfare. But we allowed people to keep health care. We put in place child care support.

Hemmer: Yes or no, would you have expanded Obamacare in the state of New York, had you been governor at that time?

Pataki: No, it should be repealed. And by the way, when I left, there were over 1 million fewer people on welfare in New York state than when I took office.

Pataki was a three-term governor who served from Jan. 1, 1995, to Jan. 1, 2007. And, as we wrote when he entered the race, the average monthly number of welfare recipients in New York dropped 76 percent, from 1,264,063 in 1994 to 297,574 in 2006. That’s nearly 1 million fewer New Yorkers on welfare.

During that same time, however, the total number of welfare recipients in the U.S. dropped from 14,160,920 in calendar year 1994 to 4,148,498 in calendar year 2006, a decline of more than 10 million or 71 percent.

It’s true that the governor was an early supporter of overhauling the welfare laws, and he did make some changes as governor — including to Home Relief, a state welfare program for childless adults. But the far more sweeping changes that he proposed were rejected by the state Legislature and didn’t occur until the federal law passed.

Santorum’s Immigrant Claim

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also claimed that “almost all” immigrants in the past 20 years “are unskilled workers.” Not so.

Santorum: [A]fter 35 million people have come here over the last 20 years, almost all of whom are unskilled workers, flattening wages, creating horrible opportunity — a lack of opportunities for unskilled workers, we’re going to do something about reducing the level of immigration by 25 percent.

Santorum’s claim is contradicted by a 2011 study by the Brookings Institution, which found more immigrants of working age held college degrees than immigrants who never finished high school.

The study focused on the foreign-born ages 25 to 64 in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Neither the study nor Santorum made any distinction between legal and illegal immigration, and in fact Santorum spoke of reducing “immigration” in general by 25 percent.

The fact is, recent arrivals have been better educated than those who arrived here in earlier decades. The study, which was based on Census data in areas containing 85 percent of the immigrant population, stated:

Brookings, “The Geography of Immigrant Skills”: In 1980, just 19 percent of immigrants aged 25 to 64 held a bachelor’s degree, and nearly 40 percent had not completed high school. By 2010, 30 percent of working-age immigrants had at least a college degree and 28 percent lacked a high school diploma.

Perry’s Jobs Boast

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry once again puffed up his state’s record on job creation, claiming that Texas had created 1.5 million jobs “during the worst economic time this country’s had since the great depression, while the rest of the country lost 400,000 jobs.” Actually, according to the job-growth measure used by most economists, and the appropriate time frame for Perry’s tenure, the rest of the country gained 1.2 million jobs, while Texas also gained 1.2 million.

Perry has used this statistic before, citing December 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession, as his starting point. But instead of using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nonfarm payroll data  — the data BLS itself uses to calculate the monthly job growth figures it releases — Perry relies on BLS’ household survey data, a monthly survey of 60,000 households that’s used to calculate the unemployment rate. The nonfarm payroll data, meanwhile, is a monthly survey of about 550,000 business establishments that include millions of employees.

That’s the survey most economists prefer for job growth. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco called it “the more accurate employment indicator.”

Besides being smaller, the household survey counts as “employed” people who aren’t on a payroll, including unpaid family workers, the self-employed including day laborers, and those who are absent from work and not receiving pay.

Perry can only get a loss of jobs for the rest of the country by using the household survey data for December 2007 and December 2014. But Perry left office on Jan. 20, 2015, and both of BLS’ surveys are taken during the week or payroll period that includes the 12th of the month. So January 2015 is the correct end point for Perry’s time in office. Using that month, the rest of the country gained 325,000 jobs, not lost them, even using the household survey.

Texas certainly created a lot of jobs, using either measure. But using the preferred job growth measure, the state created 1.2 million jobs from December 2007 through January 2015. The rest of the country gained 1.2 million jobs in the same time period.

Perry could accurately say that his state created about the same number of jobs as the rest of the country under his governorship since the start of the recession.

Santorum’s College Degree Figure

Santorum exaggerated the number of Americans who lack a college degree.

Santorum: Americans are … looking for someone who’s going to grow the manufacturing sector of our economy, so those 74 percent of Americans who don’t have a college degree have a chance to rise again.

Actually, the country is better educated than Santorum lets on. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 the number of Americans 18 and older who lacked “a college degree” of any sort was 65 percent.

That counts those with two-year academic associate degrees, but not those with occupational associate degrees.

Those who lack at least a four-year bachelor’s degree or better totaled 71 percent, still less than Santorum’s figure. But of course that 18-and-over group includes a lot of students who are still in college and soon will have degrees.

Limiting the count to those 25 and older, Census puts the number who lack a bachelor’s degree or better at 68 percent, and those who don’t have any sort of college degree at just 62.5 percent.

Jindal on Obama on China

Jindal claimed President Obama said that “we don’t have leverage with China to get a better deal on Iran,” because the U.S. borrows money from China. But that is not exactly what Obama said.

Jindal: Yesterday, the president stunningly admitted this. He said, “We don’t have leverage with China to get a better deal on Iran because we need them to lend us money to continue operating our government.”

Here is Obama’s full comment from an Aug. 5 speech on the Iran nuclear deal at American University.

Obama, Aug. 5: As a result, those who say we can just walk away from this deal and maintain sanctions are selling a fantasy. Instead of strengthening our position as some have suggested, Congress’s rejection would almost certainly result in multilateral sanctions unraveling. If, as has also been suggested, we tried to maintain unilateral sanctions, beefen them up, we would be standing alone. We cannot dictate the foreign, economic and energy policies of every major power in the world.

In order to even try to do that, we would have to sanction, for example, some of the world’s largest banks. We’d have to cut off countries like China from the American financial system. And since they happen to be major purchasers of our debt, such actions could trigger severe disruptions in our own economy and, by the way, raise questions internationally about the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency.

Obama was making the point that the U.S. cannot force China’s hand on the Iran nuclear deal simply by cutting China off economically. That would have consequences for the U.S. economy as well, he noted.

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

See our story on the prime-time debate, “FactChecking the GOP Debate, Late Edition.”