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Conventions 2012 / Conventions 2012

Fact Checking the GOP Speakers

Former Secretary of State Condelezza Rice speaks to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

August 29, 2012

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

Day Two of the Republican convention focused heavily on national security, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Many speakers, including vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also focused heavily on the economy and fiscal issues. Here is a look at some of the statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact:

Paul Ryan on Medicare:


Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin repeated his main criticism of President Obama’s health reform law from the campaign trail: that it cuts $716 billion from the federal health care program for the elderly.

“Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is 'Obamacare,' and we’re going to stop it.”

Obama’s health care law wrings $716 billion in savings over 10 years from Medicare, mainly by slowing the rate of growth in payments to hospitals and insurance companies. That money will be used to expand health insurance to an estimated 30 million people. The savings will pay to expand coverage to uninsured Americans, but Democrats say that hospitals and insurers will benefit by the fact that more patients will be covered by insurance.

Ryan said the cuts mean the Medicare obligation is “being sacrificed.” According to an annual report on Medicare’s financial health, that is false. Government officials found that the health reform law extended the program’s solvency through 2024, up from 2016.

Paul Ryan on closed General Motors plant:

Ryan spoke of a General Motors where some of his high school classmates worked. “Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you ... this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”

The GM plant in Janesville closed in December 2008, while George W. Bush was president.

Paul Ryan on 'cronyism' and stimulus:

Ryan criticized Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, declaring it a waste of money and an example of “cronyism”: “It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.”

GOP nominee Mitt Romney has made similar statements about “crony capitalism”—a charge that The Washington Post awarded “one Pinocchio”—a “shading” or “selective telling” of the truth, according to the guide. 

The Post notes that the Energy Department’s decision to restructure Solyndra’s loans could be classified as crony capitalism because it “represents bureaucratic interference with the free market. Private investors probably would have been less likely to risk money on a company showing no signs of life if they weren’t promised protection ahead of taxpayers.” 

But, the analysis concludes, “Overall, the facts of the Solyndra matter represent a strong case for Romney’s claims of crony capitalism, but they don’t provide conclusive evidence.”

Still, Ryan’s decision to paint the stimulus broadly as cronyism is additionally misleading. The package included aid to states, money for infrastructure spending, tax cuts, and many other provisions.

John Thune on federal regulations:

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said the Obama administration wrote too many federal regulations, rules that are making a “sluggish” economy and “weighing down our job creators.”

Thune took aim at health insurance premiums, which he said have increased nearly 19 percent for families since Obama took office. That figure is accurate. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average family getting insurance from an employer paid $12,532 for that coverage in 2008. That figure increased to $14,809 in 2011.

While health insurance costs have increased during the Obama administration, Democrats’ health reform law is not to blame. The law’s most significant reforms on the insurance market don’t take effect until 2013 and 2014. Moreover, health insurance premiums have been steadily rising from before Obama took office. Since 2001, employee contributions to family premiums have increased 131 percent.

John Thune on farming chores for children:

Thune also took aim at a proposed Labor Department policy near and dear to his state’s farming roots. Thune said the Obama administration tried to ban farm kids from doing “basic chores.” In March, the Labor Department did withdraw a proposed rule that would have added federal regulations for children under 16 working on farms. The department said it was withdrawing the rule because of the “thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms.”

“To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration,” the Labor Department notice said.

Rob Portman on Obama’s economic plan:

"Governor Romney had a plan to build his business,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said. “He now has a detailed plan to restore our economy and strengthen the middle class. I ask you, where’s the president's economic plan? Blaming others does not qualify as a plan."

Portman may have been speaking lightly, but in the somewhat humorless world of fact-checking, this  statement isn’t true—Obama does have an economic plan. You can find it right here.

John McCain on national-security leaks:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pressed his accusations that the Obama White House leaked classified information on national-security matters for political gain. “We can’t afford to have the security of our nation and those who bravely defend it endangered because their government leaks the secrets of their heroic operations to the media,” McCain said to a round of applause.

McCain did not mention the ongoing investigation into the national- security leaks, which appears to focus on recent media reports about U.S. cyberattacks on Iran to derail its nuclear program; the president’s secret drone campaign and an apparent “kill list” of counterterrorism targets; and a terrorist plot by al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch that was foiled by a double agent. Obama has categorically denied that his White House purposefully released classified national-security information as a means of making the president appear strong on security issues. Just hours after Obama called such suggestions “wrong” and “offensive,” his Attorney General Eric Holder ordered two U.S. attorneys to lead criminal investigations into potential unauthorized disclosures of classified material. FBI agents have interviewed a slew of current and former high-level government officials, reaching into the White House, Pentagon, National Security Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency,  The New York Times reported, calling it the “most sweeping inquiry into intelligence disclosures in years.”

McCain also made no mention of other potentially inflammatory breaches of classified information: A soon-to-be-released book penned by a Navy SEAL has been making headlines in recent days for its promised first-person account of the raid that took down Osama bin Laden last May. Spokespersons for both the Navy and National Security Council have said that the author, who was a former member of SEAL Team 6—the unit that killed the al-Qaida leader—did not seek prior approval. Adm. Bill McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, has promised that the military would take legal action against anyone who exposes sensitive information that could harm other troops, Reuters reported.

John McCain on Afghanistan timetable:

McCain blasted Obama for committing to withdraw from Afghanistan “before peace can be achieved and sustained.” The Obama administration’s drawdown requires the remainder of the 33,000 surge troops to pull out by September and all combat troops to leave the country by 2014. Such a commitment, McCain said, “has discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies, which is why our commanders did not recommend these decisions and why they have said it puts our mission at much greater risk.”

It’s not so simple. It is true that Obama’s decision to remove 10,000 troops by the end of last year and another 23,000 by September was more aggressive than some military leaders preferred, and that then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said the decision was “more aggressive and incur[s] more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.” But Obama’s June 2011 announcement about how many troops he would withdraw from Afghanistan was the result of a compromise plan brokered by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who sold Obama and his top civilian aides on a slightly slower withdrawal, as National Journal reported last year. Senior White House officials originally wanted all of the 33,000 U.S. “surge” troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by this past spring.

What’s more, the pace of the rest of the drawdown has yet to be determined for the remaining 68,000 American troops slated to remain in Afghanistan after the summer. Afghan war commander Gen. John Allen will assess the military campaign and make his own recommendations to the White House about the best way to draw down after the surge troops leave at the end of the summer. “I intend to take a very hard look at the state of the insurgency," Allen said in May. While the devil is in the details, the withdrawal plan has already been endorsed by the international coalition: NATO leaders in May embraced the plan to hand combat command in Afghanistan to local forces by the middle of next year and withdraw combat troops by 2014.

John McCain on Iran:

McCain, who had urged Washington to unequivocally support the 2009 Green Movement protests in Iran and seize a chance to topple the regime there, repeated that call at the convention. “When Iranians rose up by the millions against their oppressive rulers ... [Obama] missed a historic opportunity to throw America's full moral support behind an Iranian revolution that shared one of our highest interests: ridding Iran of a brutal dictatorship that terrorizes the Middle East and threatens the world,” McCain said.

While both Republicans and many Democrats have criticized the Obama administration for what they call its muted response to the Iranian protests, many experts believe it’s unlikely that even if Obama had been more vocal in expressing solidarity with Iranian protesters, the uprising would have led to the overthrow of Iran’s rulers. In June 2010, Fareed Zakaria, in a Washington Post article titled “The Fantasy of an Iranian Revolution,” pushed back against the largely neoconservative idea that the U.S. missed a chance to transform the country back in 2009. Despite accusations that the 2009 election was rigged, Zakaria notes that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did have millions of supporters—especially among the poorer, rural, and more-devout communities.

Rand Paul on the national debt:

Toward the end of a scathing criticism of big government generally—and what he cast as the Obama administration’s pursuit of it, specifically—Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky cited two statistics about the federal debt.

“Unfortunately, we are one of a select group of countries whose debt equals their gross domestic product.” This is true, when referring to the country’s total gross debt, currently about 100 percent of the country’s GDP. Publicly held debt, however, is typically the figure that debt-ratings agencies watch. Once publicly held debt reaches 90 percent of a nation’s economy, it is considered large enough to inflict serious economic damage. Publicly held debt is currently about 75 percent of GDP in the United States, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released earlier this month.

Paul also told a raucous crowd that “President Obama’s administration will add nearly $6 trillion dollars to our national debt in just one term” This is true—if anything, Paul lowballed it. As of Tuesday, the gross federal debt was $15.98 trillion, according to Treasury, up $5.35 trillion from Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama took office. But when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, CBO predicts the annual deficit will clock in at $1.039 trillion, which would push the debt growth under Obama well past $6 trillion (though it’s worth noting that the deficit cannot simply be added to the debt for a total because of the complex accounting involved).   

Mitch McConnell on economic recovery:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attacked the Obama administration on the country’s slow economic recovery.

“To call this a recovery is an insult to recoveries,” McConnell said. While the pace of growth has been slow by historical standards, the U.S. economy has officially been out of a recession and in a recovery since June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonpartisan arbiter of the nation’s business cycles.

McConnell also dismissed Democratic accusations that a desire to keep Obama from winning reelection has prompted Republicans to block many of the president’s initiatives on the economy. Many Democrats say that Republican intransigence on the economy is part of the reason for the slow pace of growth.

But McConnell, in his convention speech, countered: “This is not the result of forces beyond our control. It is not the result of some sinister political plot, as some of the more paranoid inhabitants of the left-wing fever swamps would have you believe.”

McConnell was criticized after telling National Journal in October 2010 that the GOP's No. 1 priority should be preventing Obama from getting a second term.

Mitch McConnell on fiscal cliff:

McConnell accused Obama of advocating tax increases that would send the economy into another recession.

“We know what the president's got on his iPod, but we don’t know what he plans to do about a looming tax hike that could trigger yet another serious recession that would result in even more Americans losing their jobs,” he said.

CBO says the economy would indeed enter a recession if Congress allows all of the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at year's end and if automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion kick in. CBO has said that unemployment could rise as high as 9.1 percent by the end of 2013 and remain above 8 percent through 2014.

But Obama has not advocated an expiration of all of the Bush tax cuts. He has called for an extension of the middle-class cuts and a rolling back of the cuts only on individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000 a year. Obama has also said that he wants to work out a deal with Congress to prevent the automatic spending cuts from taking effect.

Raising taxes only on those making more than $250,000 a year would produce a very different fiscal scenario for the country than the one detailed by CBO.

Condoleezza Rice on free trade:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized the Obama administration for “abandoning the playing field of free trade”—and insisted the decision “will come back to haunt us.”

While it’s true that Obama has been less vigorous in its pursuit of a free-trade agenda than President George W. Bush, he has not scaled back free trade in any significant way either. Last October, Congress passed—and Obama signed—the long-stalled free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. While all three pacts were negotiated under Bush, The Washington Post noted that the move “authorize[s] the most significant expansion of trade relations in nearly two decades."

The Obama administration has taken some specific punitive actions against China in some instances. For example, it slapped tariffs on Chinese tires in 2009 and lodged a request for consultations with Beijing at the World Trade Organization for allegedly hoarding rare-earth minerals. Overall, though, Obama—like Bush—has maintained a free-trade approach toward China and has resisted entreaties from some lawmakers to declare China a currency manipulator, which could lead to trade sanctions against Beijing.

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