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Conventions 2012 / Conventions 2012

Fact-Checking the Democratic Speakers

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan/Charles Dharapak/Lynne Sladky)

September 4, 2012

Day One of the Democratic convention featured speakers including San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Charles Gonzalez of Texas, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who covered topics from the economy to Medicare to immigration. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.

Julian Castro on President Obama’s jobs record:

"Four years ago, America stood on the brink of a depression,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said. “Despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition, our president took action. And now we've seen 4.5 million new jobs.”


The statement about jobs leaves out two qualifiers: Castro appears to be referring to private-sector job creation, not total job creation. He is also referring to the number of jobs created since February 2010, when payrolls stopped shrinking—not to the total net job creation since President Obama took office in January 2009. Private-sector jobs grew about 4.5 million during that period, but that was partly offset by the loss of 543,000 government jobs, which meant net job creation as a whole was only about 4 million.

Deval Patrick on jobs:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick utilized the now well-worn Democratic talking point that Obama has created more jobs in a little more than two years than George W. Bush created his entire presidency. Not so. The claim only holds when using different metrics to judge the two presidencies, as Obama did during an economic speech in June. Including the job losses incurred in the 2001 recession—which started that February, weeks after Bush took office—in the total figure for Bush and not including the losses of the first year of his own presidency was dishonest, as noted at the time. The private-sector job growth after each of the two recessions are similar, but public-sector jobs contributed to a stronger recovery under Bush. Public-sector job losses are currently a drag on overall economic growth.

Kathleen Sebelius on Medicare:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius led the evening’s attacks on health care, delivering the harshest critiques on the GOP plan to overhaul Medicare.

“What’s missing from the Romney/Ryan plan for Medicare is Medicare,” Sebelius said. “They would give seniors a voucher costing seniors as much as $6,400 more a year.”

Both statements are misleading. The plan currently backed by Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan would preserve traditional Medicare for seniors who choose to keep it. However, their plan would pit traditional Medicare against private plans, and would give seniors a set amount of money for their health care coverage. Democrats argue that would eventually end the guarantee that Medicare would cover whatever health benefits seniors need.

The $6,400 figure has featured prominently in campaign ads and in President Obama’s speeches on the trail, but it is an estimate at best. It comes from the Congressional Budget Office, but it is not a number that CBO’s economists offered themselves. Instead, it is an interpretation of CBO’s analysis. Liberal thinkers took CBO’s first estimates of Ryan's Medicare plan, which unlike Romney’s plan does not keep traditional Medicare as an option for seniors, and used simple subtraction to arrive at the $6,400 figure—taking the difference between what seniors would have to pay for the estimated cost of a private Medicare plan in 2022 and what traditional Medicare would cost seniors that same year. That might be as close to reality 10 years from now as the 10-year deficit projections CBO releases every few months.

The estimate also highlights one of CBO’s biggest challenges: predicting the behavior of individuals and markets and their influence on health care costs. As Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee in 2011, his office doesn’t have the ability to account for any cost decreases (or increases, for that matter) that could come from competition between private plans.

Harry Reid on Romney's taxes:

“Never in modern American history has a presidential candidate tried so hard to hide himself from the people he hopes to serve,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. “When you look at the one tax return he has released, it's obvious why there's been only one.”

Romney has released a return for 2010 and an estimate for 2011 (his website says a copy of the return will be posted once it’s filed). And, while Democrats refer to Romney’s father George Romney’s decision to release 12 years of returns in 1968 as precedent, there’s no standard benchmark. Sen. John McCain released two years of returns in 2008, while Obama released seven. George W. Bush released partial returns, according to Tax Analysts’ Tax History Project, which tracked presidential tax returns back to FDR.

Tim Kaine on Medicare:

Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine repeated a charge against the GOP that President Obama likes to use on the campaign trail: “They’d turn Medicare into a voucher system,” Kaine told the audience at the Democratic National Convention.

Republicans contend that their Medicare overhaul is a “premium-support” program, not a flat-out voucher. The difference is one of semantics among policy wonks, and there is no official distinction between vouchers and premium-support plans.

The general argument, made by liberal health care scholar Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution, who first coined the term “premium support,” is that a Medicare voucher is tied to a slowly growing index, while the amount of money in premium-support plans grows at a rate closer to health care costs. The difference is important, because it could end up determining how much seniors will have to pay out of pocket for their health insurance coverage.

Using that definition, the latest Medicare plan from Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is closer to a premium-support plan, since it ties the amount of money seniors will get to bids offered by health insurance plans. The first Medicare proposal from Ryan in 2011 would have tied how much seniors got for health care coverage to the consumer price index, making it more of a voucher plan. Democrats contend that under either plan, Medicare coverage will end up costing seniors more.

Charles Gonzalez on immigration:

Democratic Rep. Charles Gonzalez of Texas criticized Mitt Romney on U.S. immigration policies. “The truth is that Mitt Romney has embraced the racial-profiling policies of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and [Maricopa County] Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The truth is, he would separate families that have been here for generations."

This isn’t entirely true. Romney has called for strong border enforcement and has said he does not support amnesty. Romney, in a January debate, said he favored “self-deportation,” a strategy to induce illegal immigrants to voluntarily leave the country. But he has also suggested that there are ways to help undocumented teens stay here legally.

Gonzalez has previously claimed that Romney believes Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which originated in 2010 as state Senate Bill 1070, should form the template for federal immigration laws—an assertion that Politifact Texas rated as false. Romney has said, however, that the “right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing. And I will drop those lawsuits on Day One.”

Presumably, in that Feb. 22 debate, Romney was referring to the Obama administration’s legal challenge to S.B. 1070, which at the time was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Romney, as Politifact has noted, did not exactly distance himself from the Arizona law. After the Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona’s law (warrantless arrests, ID requirements, and criminalizing work of undocumented workers) in June, Romney criticized Obama for failing to lead on the issue, according to USA Today. “I believe each state has the duty—and the right—to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities," Romney said at the time.

Gwen Moore on Republicans and the definition of rape:

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said Republicans “tried to change the definition of rape.”

That is not exactly true. Soon after taking the House in 2011, Republicans were getting ready to consider an antiabortion bill from Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., that specified that only victims of “forcible rape” could be eligible for Medicaid funding for abortions. The language was an effort to draw a distinction with “statutory rape,” among other cases.

Traditionally, the federal government has provided funding for abortion procedures for women in government programs like Medicaid only in the case of rape, incest, or if the mother could die as a result of the pregnancy. The thinking of some antiabortion groups was that those exceptions made it too easy for some women to get abortions on the government’s dime.

For example, the concern was that a poor 16-year-old who is on Medicaid, under the age of consent, and pregnant could use Medicaid funding for an abortion since this involved a case of statutory rape.

But government funding for abortions in these circumstances are rare. In 2006, 191 abortions were covered with federal funds for women with pregnancies that could prove fatal or were the result of rape and/or incest.

After a skewering in the media (including The Daily Show With Jon Stewart), Republican leaders quietly removed that provision from the bill in February. Three months later, the House passed the legislation—without the redefinition of rape—251-175.

Bev Perdue on Obama's education policies:

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said the president’s education programs were helping her state’s schools “soar.”

“These investments are spurring education reform and innovation, and strengthening our nationally recognized early-childhood education programs,” Perdue said in a speech.

North Carolina has won two major grants from the Obama administration’s Education Department under the “Race to the Top” program. The state received $400 million in 2010, partly to help train the teachers in a new curriculum adopted by 44 other states, according to The News & Observer of Charlotte.

North Carolina was also one of nine states awarded funding from a $500 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge fund in December.

Perdue’s claim that the state has a “nationally recognized” early-childhood program is true, but experts are warning that cuts in state funding to education could harm that status. The National Institute for Early Education Research found North Carolina was 19th in the nation when it comes to providing access to early-childhood education, but was one of the few programs that met all quality standards.

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