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FactChecking GOP Economic Debate

The fourth Republican presidential debate featured fewer candidates, but no shortage of factual missteps.


Republican presidential candidates debated once again on economic issues and offered some misleading takes on jobs, tax plans, immigrants and state budgets.

  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that “welders make more money than philosophers.” Actually, those with undergraduate degrees in philosophy earn a higher median income than welders.
  • Businessman Donald Trump said that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had forced out 1.5 million immigrants who were in the country illegally. The federal government claimed it was 1.3 million, but historians say that’s exaggerated.
  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the Tax Foundation calculated that his tax plan “costs less than virtually every other plan people have put up here, and yet it produces more growth.” But the foundation said Bobby Jindal’s and Rubio’s plans both would lead to higher gross domestic product growth over a decade.
  • Cruz also repeated the years-long falsehood that there’s a “congressional exemption” from Obamacare. Members of Congress and their staffs face additional requirements than other Americans, not fewer.
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that his state has had “eight credit upgrades,” but two credit rating agencies moved the state to a “negative” outlook in February. And it faces a $117 million deficit in its most recent budget.
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he had cut his state budget by 11 percent during the 2001-2003 recession. Over his entire tenure, however, spending went up by 50 percent.
  • Jindal claimed that there were “more people working in Louisiana than ever before.” That’s wrong. There were fewer Louisianans working in September than there were in December 2014.
  • Huckabee said that Syrians make up only 20 percent of the refugees arriving in Europe. The figure is actually 52 percent for 2015.


In the Fox Business Network debate held Nov. 10 in Milwaukee, only eight candidates took to the main stage — Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rand Paul.

Four more Republicans debated earlier that evening: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Philosophers Better Paid Than Welders

Rubio proposed increasing vocational education opportunities for high school students, but he went too far when he said that “welders make more money than philosophers.” Typically, they do not.

Rubio: For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.

The Wall Street Journal, a cohost of the debate, published a chart on undergraduate degrees that “pay you back,” and prominently mentioned philosophy majors.

The Journal wrote, “Your parents might have worried when you chose Philosophy or International Relations as a major. But a year-long survey of 1.2 million people with only a bachelor’s degree by PayScale Inc. shows that graduates in these subjects earned 103.5% and 97.8% more, respectively, about 10 years post-commencement” than they had earned right out of college.

PayScale’s latest data, for 2015-16, show that the median starting salary for a worker holding a philosophy degree is $42,200, rising to $85,000 after 10 years. By contrast, the median income for a welder with zero to 5 years experience is $38,728, increasing to $44,498 after 10 years, according to PayScale.

Similarly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median annual wage was $63,630 for a philosophy and religion teacher as of May 2014, and $36,300 for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers as of 2012.

Trump Invokes ‘Operation Wetback’

Trump, defending his promise to deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally, cited the actions of President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Trump: Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president. … Moved a 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country. …  You don’t get nicer. You don’t get friendlier. They moved a 1.5 million out. We have no choice. We have no choice.

It’s true that during a 1954 effort that was officially known as “Operation Wetback” (a term that many today find offensive), the federal government claimed to have forced as many as 1.3 million people to return to Mexico, but historians consider that number to be exaggerated.

Texas State Historical Association: It is difficult to estimate the number of people forced to leave by the operation. The INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] claimed as many as 1,300,000, though the number officially apprehended did not come anywhere near this total. The INS estimate rested on the claim that most undocumented immigrants, fearing apprehension by the government, had voluntarily repatriated themselves before and during the operation.

Trump also claimed that those forced to return “never came back” after being moved “way down south” rather than just across the border. According to historian Mae M. Ngai, in her book “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America,” many of those deported were simply transported a few miles across the border and left in the desert, but more than 25 percent were transported to the Mexican coastal city of Veracruz on hired cargo ships. A congressional investigation later likened one of the ships to “an eighteenth century slave ship,” Ngai wrote.

Worth noting is that after the operation was concluded, border officials declared that “[t]he so-called ‘wetback’ problem no longer exists,” and that “[t]he border has been secured.” That, of course, turned out to be wishful thinking.

Cruz’s Tax Plan Boast

Cruz said that according to the Tax Foundation, his tax plan “costs less than virtually every other plan people have put up here, and yet it produces more growth.”

Actually, among the tax plans of seven Republican candidates that it analyzed, the Tax Foundation concluded that the gross domestic product would grow more over the next decade under two other plans — from Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio. The Tax Foundation also concluded that Rubio’s plan would lead to higher wage and capital investment growth.

Cruz’s tax plan calls for a 10 percent flat tax on individual income, though for a family of four, the first $36,000 would be tax-free. On the business end, the corporate income tax and payroll taxes would be eliminated and replaced with a “business flat tax” of 16 percent.

Cruz correctly noted that the Tax Foundation concluded that under a “static” basis, the plan would reduce revenues by $3.6 trillion over 10 years. But under “dynamic” scoring — accounting for the economic growth the Tax Foundation expects his plan would spur — it estimates the plan would only reduce revenues by about $768 billion. That means it is estimated to cost less than every other Republican plan analyzed by the Tax Foundation, except for Rand Paul’s (which it estimates would increase revenues by $737 billion).

But Cruz was wrong to say the Tax Foundation found his plan produces the most growth.

According to the Tax Foundation, Cruz’s plan would grow the GDP by 13.9 percent over the next 10 years. But the Tax Foundation concluded that Jindal’s plan would grow the GDP by 14.4 percent, and Rubio’s plan would grow the GDP by 15 percent.

The Tax Foundation also found that Cruz’s tax plan would lead to 10-year capital investment growth of 43.9 percent, and to 10-year wage rate growth of 12.2 percent. That’s lower than the projected growth from Rubio’s plan of 48.9 percent for capital investment and 12.5 percent for the wage rate.

Cruz Repeats ‘Exempt’ Whopper

Cruz repeated the long-running myth that Congress is “exempt” from Obamacare. Lawmakers and their staffs actually face additional requirements that other Americans don’t, thanks to a Republican amendment.

Cruz: And, I’ll give you an example of that, which is the Congressional exemption from Obamacare, which is fundamentally wrong, and I’ll tell you this, if I’m elected president, I will veto any statute that exempts members of congress. The law should apply evenly to every American.

Unlike other Americans who get their insurance through their employers, members of Congress are now barred from directly doing so. As of 2014, they can no longer get health coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as they and other federal employees have done for years. Because of a Republican amendment added to the law, members are required to get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces.

Before that amendment, the legislation said that federal employees, employees of large companies, and those who get insurance through Medicare or Medicaid wouldn’t be eligible for the marketplaces, which were designed for individuals buying their own insurance. That gave rise to the false notion that Congress was somehow “exempt” from the law. But lawmakers were being treated just like other workers with employer-provided insurance. And they were required to have insurance or face a penalty, just like everyone else.

But even after the amendment put Congress in the ACA marketplaces, the “exempt” claim lived on.

The federal government had long made premium contributions to pay for part of federal employees’ health insurance, including the insurance of members of Congress and their staffs — just like other employers do. And in August 2013, the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the FEHB Program, said that the federal government could continue to make those premium contributions for Congress, even though members were getting insurance through the marketplaces. OPM said the contribution couldn’t be greater than what’s made under the FEHB Program. Republicans claimed, once again, that this made Congress “exempt” from the law — even though lawmakers were getting the same employer contributions they got before, but faced the requirement of getting new coverage through the marketplaces.

Louisiana’s Finances Not So Rosy

Jindal painted a rosy picture of his state’s fiscal situation. Attacking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, he said: “In New Jersey, you’ve had nine credit downgrades, setting a record. We’ve had eight credit upgrades in Louisiana.”

Jindal is right about New Jersey. But Louisiana’s finances are not as good as the governor suggests. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, two credit rating agencies — Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s — moved Louisiana from a “stable” to a “negative” outlook in February. “Both agencies held off on downgrading the state’s credit rating at this time, but a ‘negative’ outlook does leave the state vulnerable to a future drop,” the newspaper reported.

More recently, the Associated Press reported that the state ended its most recent budget year with a $117 million deficit, which by law must be made up before the next budget year begins. “Louisiana has faced repeated budget shortfalls during Jindal’s two terms in office, a combination of the economic downturn and the cost of tax breaks that have siphoned more dollars away from the state treasury than expected,” the AP reported. “Rather than match state spending to income, the governor and lawmakers have raided savings accounts, sold property and used other short-term fixes to patch together budgets. But that creates new gaps each year.”

Huckabee on Cutting Arkansas Budget

Huckabee repeated a claim he made during the 2008 presidential campaign, saying that when he was governor of Arkansas “we ended up cutting 11 percent out of the state budget through that [2001-2003] recession.” Jindal countered that “spending in Arkansas went up 65 percent” under Huckabee.

Huckabee cherry-picks from his two terms to make his claim. Jindal is close, but doesn’t adjust for inflation. Spending in Arkansas went up by 50 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over Huckabee’s time overseeing the state budget.

We checked Huckabee’s 11 percent claim before — way back in January 2008 in a Republican presidential debate. The head of the Arkansas Budget Office told us it was “certainly plausible” that the cuts amounted to 11 percent of the budget in fiscal 2002 — a year for which a glitch in the state record-keeping system made accessing data difficult.

But the better measure of Huckabee’s record is his entire time in office. In inflation-adjusted dollars, spending went from $10.4 billion in fiscal year 1998, the first budget under Huckabee’s responsibility, to $15.6 billion by the end of 2006.

Jindal accurately cited a figure from a Cato Institute commentary piece. But using inflation-adjusted figures, the increase was less than 65 percent.

Jindal on Job Growth

Jindal said that “as we sit here today, we have more people working in Louisiana than ever before” and that “we’ve had 60 months in a row of consecutive job growth in our state.” That’s not accurate.

In fact, there were fewer people working in Louisiana in September than there were in December 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while there has been a fairly steady increase in employment since the end of the recession, there have been several months with dips.

Trish Regan, a moderator of the Fox Business debate, noted that as governor, Jindal has “pushed Louisiana’s energy resources as a means to grow jobs in your state” but that “as oil prices have plunged in recent months, so has jobs growth.”

Regan correctly stated that Louisiana now has an unemployment rate, 6 percent, above the national average, even though in February 2014 the Louisiana rate (5.4 percent) was more than a percentage point below the national average (6.7 percent). So, she asked, “Will your energy-focused jobs plan for the country be subject to the same market ups and downs?”

Jindal responded, “In Louisiana, we’re actually a top 10 state for job growth. As we sit here today, we have more people working in Louisiana than ever before, earning a higher income than ever before. We’ve had 60 months in a row of consecutive job growth in our state. So the reality is, we have diversified our economy.”

According to the latest available employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,990,000 people employed in Louisiana in September. That’s 6,600 fewer jobs than in December 2014, so it is incorrect for Jindal to say, “As we sit here today, we have more people working in Louisiana than ever before.” There has been a dip, and some energy industry experts have attributed that to a drop in oil prices.

In addition, the unemployment rate in Louisiana was at 6 percent in August and September. As Regan said, that’s higher than the national average, which was 5.1 percent in September. The state’s unemployment rate was below the current rate of 6 percent from November 2013 through May 2014.

We’re not sure which 60 months Jindal was referring to when he boasted that Louisiana has had “60 months in a row of consecutive job growth.” But that’s not true of any 60-month period during Jindal’s tenure as governor, which began in January 2008. Although there has been fairly steady job growth in Louisiana since the end of the recession, there have been several setback months interspersed along the way.

As for Louisiana being a top 10 state for job growth, we reached out to the Jindal campaign to see what time period that referenced, and we did not hear back. But looking at the entirety of Jindal’s tenure as Louisiana governor, the rate of job growth, 2.9 percent, slightly lagged the national growth rate of 3.1 percent over the same period.

Huckabee Understates Syrian Refugees

Huckabee said that Syrians make up only 20 percent of the refugees arriving in Europe. That’s wrong.

Huckabee: The idea that we’re just going to open our doors, and we have no idea who these people are — what we do know is that only 1 out of 5 of the so called “Syrian Refugees,” who went into Europe were actually Syrian. Many of them, we had no idea who they were. They weren’t Syrian.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Syrians made up 52 percent of the more than 792,000 refugees who crossed the Mediterranean sea into Europe in 2015.

In September, the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, reported that 4 out of 5 of the refugees arriving in Europe weren’t from Syria. But that analysis only looked at the 213,000 refugees arriving in April, May and June of this year. That’s about one-fourth of the total number of refugee arrivals in 2015.

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

Correction, Nov. 11: We incorrectly referred to the Fox Business Network as Fox Business News. We have corrected the error.


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