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Final Night: Fact Checking the Democratic Speakers Final Night: Fact Checking the Democratic Speakers

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Conventions 2012 / Conventions 2012

Final Night: Fact Checking the Democratic Speakers

(AP Photo/ J. Scott Applewhite)

September 6, 2012

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

On the final night of their convention in Charlotte, Democrats, including President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, criticized Republican nominee Mitt Romney over his policies on taxes, Medicare, and national security while touting White House proposals to rein in the deficit. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.

President Obama on Romney's stance on Afghanistan:

 

In his nomination acceptance speech, President Obama accused Mitt Romney of having no plan to end the war in Afghanistan. “My opponent said it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. I have, and I will,” Obama told a cheering crowd.

This is a charge that Obama has made before—as recently as Sunday in Colorado—and the Romney campaign has fought back. Spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg told Yahoo News this week that the Republican nominee does embrace the current timeframe to withdraw combat troops by 2014. "As president, Governor Romney's goal will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 by evaluating conditions on the ground and soliciting the best advice of our military commanders, not ignoring them," she said. Romney himself has endorsed this deadline in past primary debates, but his website’s Afghanistan section does not mention it at all. Instead, it promises to review the U.S. handover to the Afghan military by “holding discussions with our commanders in the field.”

Obama on war spending:

President Obama promised to use the money “we’re no longer spending on war” to pay down U.S. debt and put more people back to work by rebuilding roads, bridges, and schools. “After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home,” Obama said.

However, Obama’s suggestion that he would repurpose war spending in lieu of other priorities invokes a somewhat controversial budget quirk. It’s true that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that savings from ending the wars would total around $1 trillion over a decade. But Republicans have balked at the idea that Obama should get credit for “saving” that amount because it would come from funds that would never have been spent in the first place. In February, when Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget claimed $4 trillion in savings to reduce the deficit (including some from reduced future war costs), The New York Times reported: “A Republican administration may have unwound those wars more slowly than the Obama administration has, but Republican budget writers say that no one believes combat costs would have stayed steady over the next 10 years. Therefore, counting savings is misleading, Republicans say, since the savings come from money that would never have been spent.”

Obama on the deficit:

“You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without wrecking our middle class. Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion,” President Obama said.

As The Washington Post’s fact checker pointed out after former President Clinton made the same claim on Wednesday night, “The $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress. So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.” Furthermore, Obama has been roundly criticized for counting $700 billion in savings from war money that no one expected to be spent anyway now that the wars are winding down.

Vice President Joe Biden on Romney's tax plans:

Vice President Joe Biden pressed the Democratic line of attack that Mitt Romney would raise taxes on the middle class in order to reduce the wealthy’s tax burden.

“Governor Romney believes that it’s okay to raise taxes on the middle class by $2,000 in order to pay for over a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the very wealthy,” Biden said. 

This is misleading. 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. Romney has not specified which tax breaks he would eliminate. Some breaks do benefit the wealthy more than the middle class, but the amount of revenue lost through lowering rates would mean, according to the study, cutting some popular middle-class breaks. Ridding the tax code fo those breaks would result in average tax increase of $2,000 per year for middle-class families, according to the study.

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, Biden’s suggestion that Romney would get rid of breaks just to be able to give extra privilege to the wealthy makes the charge even more misleading.

Biden on Medicare:

Vice President Joe Biden criticized the Republican presidential ticket’s plan for Medicare, saying it would “immediately cut benefits for more than 30 million seniors already on Medicare” and would “cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.”

Those critiques are mostly, though not entirely, true. Though the Medicare-reform plans proposed by Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin do not make immediate changes to the Medicare program, their goal of repealing the president’s 2010 health reform law would reduce benefits for seniors already in the program and increase Medicare’s accounting woes.

The Affordable Care Act began closing the Medicare prescription-drug “doughnut hole,” reducing seniors’ out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs. It also required Medicare to offer preventive-health services with no co-payment. If the health reform law is overturned, seniors would be on the hook for those drug fees and co-payments again. Plans by Romney and Ryan to cut Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, could also affect current Medicare beneficiaries. About 5.5 million seniors are enrolled in both programs and use Medicaid funding to cover Medicare premiums and deductibles and to pay for long-term care. The Medicaid cuts proposed by Romney and Ryan don’t come with policy prescriptions, but it’s reasonable to expect that these seniors, who represent a significant proportion of spending in the program, will feel them.

As for bankruptcy, Biden is almost right. The Medicare Trustees estimate that the Medicare Hospital Trust, which funds hospital care for Medicare patients, will be exhausted in 2016 if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. But exhaustion is not the same thing as bankruptcy. The fund will still have money coming in—just less than the bills it will have to pay. Congress can also elect to use general funds to pay Medicare’s bills. With the Affordable Care Act on the books, the actuaries estimate that the fund will be exhausted in 2024. The rest of Medicare is already paid out of the general fund, and is in no immediate danger of bankruptcy.

Biden also described Romney and Ryan’s plan as “Vouchercare.” Champions of the Romney-Ryan approach, known in health-wonk circles as “premium support” say that it’s not, strictly speaking, a voucher program; the dispute is mostly one of semantics. The plan would allow private plans and traditional Medicare to compete on prices, and the federal government would give seniors a subsidy to buy a plan in that marketplace. Ryan’s plan would limit the amount that government spending on those payments could increase every year, which means that they may fail to keep pace with increases in the cost of providing care. Romney has been more vague about whether there would be a limit on how much the government would pay for Medicare premiums.

John Kerry on Obama Lead on Libya:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts said that President Obama “enlisted our allies, built the coalition, shared the burden” when now-deposed Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi promised to kill his own people. It’s true, as Kerry said, that “Muammar el-Qaddafi is gone and Libya is free” after the United States took military action.

But France and Great Britain led the calls for a NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya to stop Qaddafi’s warplanes from attacking rebels taking part in the uprising, even as Obama appeared reluctant in the earliest stages of the violent crackdown. Kerry himself was an earlier advocate for the no-fly zone in Libya. Still, Kerry is correct to credit Obama for helping to build the military coalition with European and Arab partners once he agreed that military action was necessary—and the United States did insist that any United Nations resolution authorizing actions go well beyond simply enforcing a no-fly zone. On March 19, a coalition led by the United States, France, and Great Britain began the air war before transferring the lead to NATO later that month. “Unlike other NATO operations, Europeans led the charge with France and Britain conducting the bulk of air strikes while the United States [played] a quiet yet crucial role by providing intelligence and air-to-air refueling,” as Agence-France Presse reported.

Barney Frank on Romney’s Massachusetts record:

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts took on Romney’s record as the governor of Massachusetts, repeating the often-used statistic about the state ranking 47th in job creation during his four years in office.

“The myth of Romney is that his financial experience means he knows how to create jobs,” Frank said. “As governor of Massachusetts, the real Mitt Romney's record on job creation was terrible. During his term, net job growth was less than 1 percent, about one-fifth the national average, 47th in the country.”

It’s true that Massachusetts averaged 47th in job growth during the four years Romney was governor. But, as the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s factcheck.org notes, it was 50th the year before he took office and 28th the year after he left, so it was moving in the right direction.

“The myth of Romney is that he worked hard to bring employment opportunities to Massachusetts,” Frank continued. “The real Mitt Romney did no such thing. During his time in the governor's office, manufacturing jobs were leaving our state at twice the national rate.”

While Frank is correct that Massachusetts lost manufacturing jobs at twice the national rate, the statistic is misleading without context. The state was losing manufacturing jobs at a much faster rate in the years before Romney took office in January 2003—if anything, his tenure coincided with a slower pace of decline in the sector. From 2004 until 2008, manufacturing job losses slowed significantly, starting a year into Romney’s term and ending when the financial crisis hit.

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