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Debate Fact Check: Israel, Health, Romney Money, Colombia Trade Debate Fact Check: Israel, Health, Romney Money, Colombia Trade

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / Campaign 2012

Debate Fact Check: Israel, Health, Romney Money, Colombia Trade

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, stand during the National Anthem at the Republican presidential candidates debate at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

January 26, 2012

Romney Distorts Obama Position on Israel

A Palestinian-American member of the audience at Thursday's CNN debate asked Republican presidential candidates how a GOP administration would help bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis. There were several problems with Mitt Romney’s response:

--Romney said Obama “went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained on Israel from the Gaza Strip.”

 

In fact, Obama invoked the threat of rockets into Israel in that speech last fall. “Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them," he said.

Obama has taken a tough stand on Israeli settlements. However, the Obama administration strongly defended Israel's interests twice last year at the United Nations. The United States was the only country to veto a February resolution in the U.N. Security Council calling for a halt in Israeli construction in the West Bank. The United States also pledged to veto the Palestinians' bid to join the United Nations and lobbied against the bid going forward. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Obama's opposition as a "badge of honor."

--Romney said Obama “disrespected Prime Minister Bibi Netanyuahu has time and time again shown distance from Israel.” The numbers, and Obama administration rhetoric, say otherwise. The administration requested more than $3 billion in security assistance funding for Israel in 2012 — the largest such request in U.S. history, according to Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. The administration also committed to implement a 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel committing $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years, even in “challenging budgetary times” these next few years.

--In a familiar talking point, Romney said Obama “threw Israel under the bus” when he suggested the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, with mutually agreed on swaps. While Netanyahu was unhappy with that speech, that had been the basis of earlier negotiations -- even as U.S. presidents avoided saying so publicly. Obama insisted he simply said “publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”

Santorum Half Right on Obamacare and Romneycare

Rick Santorum aggressively went after Mitt Romney on Thursday night for the health care plan he enacted in Massachusetts that Santorum said was too similar to “Obamacare,” as it is derisively known among conservatives, for Romney to credibly go toe-to-toe against the president in the fall.

The similarities between the Massachusetts plan and the national reform law have been well-documented. PolitiFact notes that both include an individual mandate, health care exchanges, affordability subsidies, expansion of Medicaid, and insurance market regulation, among other similar measures, although details do differ.

Regarding Santorum’s criticisms of high health care costs and unreasonable waiting times in Massachusetts as a result of the health care plan enacted by Romney, the nonpartisan FactCheck.org has already found those claims shaky at best. Costs for the plan had initially increased more than expected, but have lately come in line with projections by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. PolitiFact has ruled false a super PAC's ad claim that the Romney law sent health costs spiraling.

Factcheck.org also reported that 62 percent of doctors have said that waiting times have remained the same.

Finally, approval for the law is high, standing at 67 percent, and 98 percent of state residents now have insurance, poking holes in Santorum’s claim that people would rather pay a fine rather than purchase health insurance.

Santorum also accused of Newt Gingrich of supporting an individual mandate for 20 years. Indeed, PolitiFact found multiple instances beginning in 1993 of Gingrich voicing support for an individual mandate or posting a bond for future care (a similar idea that holds individuals responsible for paying for their own care).

Some Romney Housing Investments Were Not in Blind Trust

In Thursday night's CNN debate, Newt Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of making investments that fueled the housing crisis.

“He has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is, today, foreclosing on Floridians,” Gingrich said. “Maybe he should tell us how much money he's made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments.”

Romney answered the charge this way: “First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments for the last ten years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments that they made, we learned about this, as we made our financial disclosure, had been in mutual funds and bonds. I don't own stock in either. There are bonds that the investor has held through mutual funds.” 

Yet, according to Romney's financial disclosure forms, not all of his mutual funds were part of a blind trust. The Boston Globe reported in September that Romney owned between $250,001 and $500,000 in a mutual fund called the Government Obligation Fund that invests in debt notes of various government entities, including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and he made between $15,001 and $50,000 in interest from those investments. 

Since those assets were considered a charitable trust rather than a blind trust, Romney could have reviewed them himself.

Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul said that the fund was managed by a trustee for Romney, not by the candidate himself, and that the asset has since been sold.

Santorum Overstates Obama Lag on Colombia Trade

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum unfairly accused President Obama of holding Colombia "out to dry for three years" on the free trade agreement. The pact first stalled during the Bush administration, and Obama revived it.

"Colombia, who's out there on the front lines working with us against the narco-terrorists, standing up to Chavez in South America-- and what did we do?" Santorum said. "For domestic, political purposes, the president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia hanging out to dry for three years. We cannot do that to our friends in South America."

While it's fair to say the president didn't pick up the Colombia Free Trade agreement immediately upon taking office, the deal first stalled under former President George W. Bush. Obama revisited the trade pact and got it passed in October.

Here's a brief timeline:

The Colombia Free Trade agreement was originally negotiated by President Bush, who sent a version to Congress on April 7, 2007. It stalled when Congress failed to consider it within the time frame stipulated under Trade Promotion Authority.

The Obama administration began discussing the future of the free trade agreement when former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe visited in 2009. Those discussions continued after the election of Juan Manuel Santos in 2010.

The two countries re-opened official negotiations after the successful negotiation of the Korea agreement. Those talks led to the creation of the Colombia Labor Action Plan which both countries signed in April 2011.

That agreement set up a series of labor-related goals and benchmarks that the Colombia government had to meet and report to the U.S. both before the agreement would be submitted and throughout the ratification process.

After Colombia completed the first segments of the labor plan, Obama sent the agreement to Congress and the deal was approved, along with the Panama and Korea deals, on October 12, 2011.

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