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Conventions 2012 / Conventions 2012

Fact Checking the Democratic Speakers

(AP Photos / Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

September 6, 2012

(In Case You Missed It: Fact Checking Day One)

Democrats hammered Republicans for blocking President Obama's jobs plan and proposing to give tax cuts to millionaires on the second day of their national convention in Charlotte. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.

Former President Clinton on jobs:


“In the last 29 months the economy has produced about 4.5 million private sector jobs,” former President Clinton said. “But last year, the Republicans blocked the president’s jobs plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another jobs score: President Obama, plus 4.5 million; congressional Republicans, zero.”

Clinton attributed the creation of 4.5 million private-sector jobs to Obama's policies. The number represents the growth in the jobs since the economy stopped sliding in February 2010, but that doesn't represent Obama's total record on jobs because it does not include the job losses of the first year of his presidency.

Also, estimates varied on the number of jobs that Obama’s 2011 American Jobs Act would have saved if passed. The White House insisted that 1 million jobs were at stake, but a Bloomberg survey of 34 economists last September found a median estimate of 270,000 jobs being saved or created over two years.

Clinton on welfare:

Clinton criticized a Republican attack line on welfare, saying that President Obama was not ending the welfare-to-work requirement the Clinton administration had put into place.

“They can keep the waivers only if they increase employment. The requirement was for more work, not less,” Clinton said.

According to the Health and Human Services Department, that statement is true. In a letter from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the federal government is willing to waive work requirements for state welfare programs if they come up with their own plans to “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes.”

In other words, if states think they have a way of getting welfare recipients to work that is more effective than the federal rules—which can get as tedious as only counting a job search as “work” for four consecutive weeks—they can present that plan to Sebelius for approval. 

Clinton on health care spending:

Clinton delved into detailed health care policy, crediting Democrats' health reform law with slower-than-average growth in health care spending in 2010 and 2011.

“Health care spending has been under 4 percent in both years, for the first time in 50 years,” Clinton said.

It’s true that health spending only increased by 3.9 percent in 2010 and 3.8 percent in 2009. But economists don’t all agree that slow health care spending is the result of the health reform law. Some attribute the slow growth in health spending to the sluggish pace of growth in the economy as a whole.

Clinton on the health care reform law:

Clinton praised President Obama’s decision to cut $716 billion from Medicare hospitals and insurance companies as a move that helped save seniors money on their prescription drugs and added eight years to the solvency of the Medicare trust fund.

Both of those facts are true, but Republicans contend that Democrats are “double-counting” the Medicare savings, since they will go straight from the trust fund toward helping to pay for health insurance coverage for an estimated 30 million people.

Clinton was also correct when he said that GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan kept the same $716 billion in his most recent House budget. Ryan repealed the spending expansions in the health reform law, but kept the Medicare cuts.

Sen. Patty Murray on student loans and taxes:

To Romney and Ryan, "every problem is a nail, and the only hammer they have is cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "They believe in this failed approach so deeply that they'll cut anything—from student loans to health care for seniors—to give the wealthiest Americans an even bigger break.... They would sell out our middle class to cut taxes for millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations.”

The student-loan assertion is misleading. Republicans sparred with Democrats over a bill extending low student-loan rates this spring—but the argument was over how to pay for the cut, not the policy itself, which was supported by both parties. The GOP said they wanted to pay for the extension using about $6 billion from the new health care law’s prevention fund. Democrats cried foul, arguing that the GOP was targeting women’s health (though the fund was not targeted to women), while the GOP said it was simply restoring money that had been diverted from student loans to begin with.

Not quite. When Democrats overhauled the student-loan subsidy program by eliminating private-lender middlemen in March 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projected savings of $19 billion over 10 years. As Politifact has confirmed, $10 billion of the savings was marked for deficit reduction, and the remaining $9 billion went to funding the health care law. But Republican assertions that Democrats were trying to divert money from student loans were inaccurate since the $9 billion was to have come from projected savings.

Still, the GOP’s push to use the prevention fund to pay for lower student-loan rates was not an attack on student loans per se. Republicans would also take issue with Murray’s suggestion that they are solely motivated by giving money to the wealthy. They contend that their spending and tax cuts are geared at deficit reduction and economic growth, not breaks.

Sen. Chuck Schumer on taxes:

“When Mitt Romney says he wants to reform the tax code, hold on to your wallets," warned Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We know Mitt Romney never met a tax haven he didn't like. But his new favorite tax haven is actually not the Cayman Islands—its Paul Ryan's budget. Under this plan, Mitt Romney's own taxes would drop to almost zero.”

Schumer was echoing a line of attack that the Obama campaign has repeatedly pressed—that Romney would pay less than 1 percent in federal taxes each year under the Ryan budget plan. The assertion is based on a 2010 budget proposal from now-running mate Paul Ryan that called for the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends. Since most of Romney's earnings are in the form of investments, the elimination of those taxes would sharply reduce his tax bill. But the attack is misleading for several reasons. Romney's own plan would eliminate the dividend and capital-gains taxes only for people making $200,000 or less—well below the Republican White House contender's income-tax bracket. Also, Ryan's call for an across-the-board elimination of taxes for dividends and capital gains was dropped from his more recent fiscal proposals, including his latest budget.

“But for the middle class,” Schumer continued, “it's a rip-off. Families with children whose household income is less than $200,000 would see their taxes go up $2,000, on average. That's not trickle-down. That's a dirty trick.”

The $2,000 figure comes from a Tax Policy Center paper analyzing Romney's promise to both deliver tax cuts and offset any lost revenue through a streamlining of the tax code. But he has not specified which loopholes and breaks in the tax code he would eliminate in order to achieve revenue neutrality. The Tax Policy Center study said that in order to cut taxes and achieve revenue neutrality, some popular middle-class tax breaks would have to be scrapped. It said that doing so would result in average tax increase of $2,000 per year for middle-class families. Romney has insisted he would not raise taxes on the middle class, but he has left himself vulnerable to criticisms by not releasing details on how he would overhaul the tax code. Still, the Schumer attack is misleading because Romney has not offered any plan that specifically calls for an increase in middle class taxes.

Cecile Richards on women’s health care and the definition of rape:

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said that Republicans voted to “end cancer screenings and well-woman visits for 5 million women, end funding for birth control at Planned Parenthood.”

That statement is mostly accurate, as House Republicans voted several times to strip the women’s-health organization of federal funding. The organization does not rely entirely on federal funding, so some services may have continued. According to Planned Parenthood’s own numbers, the organization serves “nearly 5 million women, men, and adolescents worldwide each year.”

Richards said that Republicans “even tried to redefine rape.”

Soon after taking control of 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.

Cristina Saralegui on Romney's immigration stance:

Cristina Saralegui, former Univision and Telemundo talk-show host, said that Mitt Romney’s immigration policies could not be more extreme. “He said Arizona’s immigration law should be a model for our country,” she said.

But Romney did not say that Arizona's controversial immigration law should form a template for federal laws. In a February debate, Romney did refer to "a model" in Arizona: The state's requirement that businesses use the E-Verify system, which can check whether a person is authorized to work in the United States. While investigating a similar claim to Saralegui by Democratic Rep. Charles Gonzalez of Texas, Politifact Texas noted the E-Verify requirement is not actually part of the Arizona law in question, S.B. 1070. It is contained within an earlier state law. Politifact rated Gonzalez's assertion as false.

Nonetheless, Romney has not exactly distanced himself from the Arizona law, having promised to drop the immigration lawsuits against Arizona and other states on “Day One” of his term—presumably referring to the Obama administration’s legal challenge to S.B. 1070. Romney also criticized Obama's failure to lead on immigration after the Supreme Court in June struck down three parts of Arizona’s law (warrantless arrests, ID requirements, and criminalizing work of undocumented workers). "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. "Of course, saying he wouldn’t sue states that adopt S.B. 1070-style laws isn’t the same as saying that Arizona’s law should be the model for federal immigration laws," Politifact noted.

Saralegui’s point that Romney “even made the architect of that horrible law an immigration adviser for his campaign” is true. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, author of S.B. 1070,  is an informal adviser to the Romney campaign and an influential member of the Republican platform committee.

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