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Fact-Checking the Democratic Speakers Fact-Checking the Democratic Speakers

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Conventions 2012

Fact-Checking the Democratic Speakers

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

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 Factcheck.org 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.

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