More on the Debate
(Updates to add more detail on assault weapons issue)
President Obama and Mitt Romney covered a wide range of topics in the second of their three presidential debates, this one held on Tuesday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.
Obama and Romney on Libya:
Romney accused Obama of taking two weeks to admit that the fatal attacks in Benghazi were an act of terrorism. The president did refer to “acts of terror” when he delivered his first public remarks on the Sept. 11 deaths of four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. But Obama’s language in his Sept. 12 Rose Garden statement was ambiguous. After speaking about the memory of 9/11, Obama called the incident in Benghazi “an attack.” Later, he continued, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” It wasn’t entirely clear from the president’s remarks whether he was classifying the assault on the Benghazi facility as an act of terror or whether he was making a more general observation.
For several weeks afterward, Obama did not use the word “terrorism” to define the attack, even when asked about it directly in an interview and after other federal officials labeled the attack as terrorism. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice blamed the assault in Benghazi on a spontaneous protest outside the embassy that escalated into violence in a series of media interviews conducted on Sept. 16. Since then, State Department officials and the president himself have come to describe the assault as a planned terrorist attack.
Last week, State Department officials told reporters that they never believed that the Benghazi attack evolved from a spontaneous protest. The White House had said that Rice’s statements were based on the best available intelligence at the time.
Obama and Romney on energy production:
President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney had one of the most heated exchanges of Tuesday night’s debate over fossil-fuel production and gasoline prices.
They sparred over whether President Obama’s policies have increased domestic-energy production or slowed it down. It’s hard to answer that question right now because the most up-to-date information on production numbers actually reflects regulatory and policy action taken several years ago, dating possibly back to the George W. Bush administration or even earlier. A lag always exists between actual regulatory action and companies’ ability to drill or mine for a particular fossil fuel. That said, this debate over energy production has been raging over the last year; thus, plenty of numbers exist to fact-check the candidates.
President Obama said oil production is at its highest level in 16 years, natural-gas production is at the highest it’s been in decades and that coal production is up as well.
Obama is both right and wrong, depending on what fossil fuel you’re looking at and whether the production is on public or private lands.
Oil production on public lands is up 12 percent from 2008 to 2011, according to a March report by the Energy Information Administration. A discrepancy exists here between offshore and onshore federal lands. There was a dip in production in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011 because of the BP oil spill, but oil production on public lands has steadily increased since 2008.
Natural-gas production on public lands is down 16.5 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to the same EIA report. Natural-gas production on private lands has steadily increased from 2005 to 2011, largely because of massive shale gas resources found on private lands in states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Coal production on public lands is down 7.8 percent from 2008 to 2011.
Romney on gasoline prices:
Romney said that if “the president’s energy policies are working, you’re going to see the cost of energy come down.” By that, he meant that if Obama was truly opening up more oil drilling, gasoline prices would be going down.
Romney is wrong on this point. In order to make a substantial reduction in gasoline prices, the country would have to wean itself off oil no matter where it comes from, because gasoline prices are substantially affected by the global price of oil.
“Even if we were completely self-sufficient in oil, events in the global oil market would still make a difference,” Energy Information Administrator Adam Sieminski said earlier this week. “If something happens in the Middle East or you get a natural disaster occurring, the U.S. would still be subject to volatility because we’re part of a global market.”
Romney pointed out that prices at the pump in Nassau County, New York — where Tuesday’s night debate took place — were $1.86 a gallon when Obama took office. Prices are at $4 a gallon right now. Obama retorted that gasoline prices were much lower in 2009 “because the economy was on the verge of collapse.” Obama is right on that point. One of the silver linings of a poor economy are lower gasoline prices. But you’ll never hear a politician admit that.
Obama on Romney's tax plan:
Obama criticized Romney on the lack of specifics in his tax plan. “When he’s asked how he’s going to do it — which deductions, which loopholes, he can’t tell you,” Obama said. He is correct that Romney has given few specifics on his tax plan, and Romney himself has made it clear that the details are flexible. Romney suggested that he might manage to pay for his across-the-board 20 percent cut in income tax rates by eliminating special breaks and deductions. The GOP candidate has said he would consider capping deductions at a certain level: “Everybody gets, I’ll pick a number, $25,000 in interest and deductions,” he said.
But Obama’s point that the numbers “don’t add up” is mostly true — or as true as the claim can be given the paucity of specifics from Romney. A number of think tanks have studied whether Romney could achieve all three goals of his tax plan (across-the-board reductions in rates, shielding the middle class from an increase in its tax burden and avoiding adding to the deficit) and have found it difficult to make the numbers add up. For example, the Tax Policy Center’s much-cited analysis said the rate reductions could not be achieved without either increasing the deficit or adding to the burden on the middle class through elimination of tax deductions, such as the mortgage-interest deduction.
Romney on college graduates and jobs:
Romney said that half of college graduates can’t find jobs. Politifact rated this statement true: An Associated Press analysis of government data in April found that 53.6 percent of bachelor’s degree-holders (1.5 million) are jobless or underemployed.
Romney on Massachusetts college scholarships:
Romney described the John and Abigail Adams scholarship program in Massachusetts as an example of his concern for promoting education. He accurately explained that the scholarship covered full in-state tuition for Massachusetts students who score in the top 25 percent on standardized tests in their school districts. What he left out was that the scholarship doesn’t cover fees, which in the Massachusetts state university system are greater than tuition. At the flagship University of Massachusetts (Amherst), one semester of in-state tuition is $857. Fees each semester, meanwhile, can total more than $5,700. And that doesn’t include one-time fees.
Obama on Romney’s immigration stance
Obama said that Romney has promised to veto the Dream Act, that he has vouched for self-deportation, and that he has hailed Arizona’s controversial immigration-enforcement law — which supports racial profiling — as “a model for the nation.” Obama’s first two claims are true, but the third is not. Romney said during the Republican primaries that he would veto the Dream Act if Congress passed it, and he also said that immigrants should have the opportunity to “self-deport,” or leave the country if they can’t find work here. But as Romney himself reminded Obama, he did not call the Arizona immigration law’s stop-and-search provision a model: he hailed an older Arizona law, which required employers to use an online system to make sure they were hiring legal immigrants. The embrace of the federal database, called E-Verify, was “a model for the nation,” Romney said during the Feb. 22 Republican presidential debate.
Obama and Romney on the auto industry:
Obama said Romney would have “let Detroit go bankrupt” when the auto companies were in crisis in 2009. Politifact has rated this claim as half-true. It’s a matter of nuance: In a 2008 New York Times op-ed, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” (a headline he did not write), Romney suggested a “managed bankruptcy” for the auto industry. He emphasized in TV interviews that he was not advocating liquidation and that he was opposing government bailouts with no strings attached. He did not define “managed bankruptcy” in the op-ed, but listed a string of desired outcomes, including new labor agreements, new management, and an end to executive perks such as corporate jets. Most of Romney’s desired outcomes did eventually occur, which may have led him to suggest on Tuesday that Obama essentially did what he would have done.
Romney on job creation:
Mitt Romney said that his economic plan would create “12 million jobs in four years.” But economic forecasters believe that the economy will add that many jobs in four years regardless of who’s in the White House. Moreover, in a recent campaign ad, Romney promises that his energy independence plan would create over 3 million jobs; his tax reform plan would create 7 million jobs; and “expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training” would create the remaining 2 million jobs. That math doesn’t make sense, according to Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler. “The candidate’s personal accounting for this figure in this campaign ad is based on different figures and long-range timelines stretching as long as a decade — which in two cases are based on studies that did not even evaluate Romney’s economic plan,” Kessler reports.
Romney on contraception:
Romney said Obama was “completely and totally wrong” when he said Romney would allow employers to decide whether a woman gets contraception coverage. That statement is not entirely accurate.
Romney did support an amendment from Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., which would have allowed employers to opt out of providing any health care coverage that they say violates their conscience or religious beliefs. That amendment might have allowed a broad swath of companies beyond those associated with the Catholic Church to decline to provide coverage for contraceptives (or many other medical procedures) for their employees.
Romney on assault weapons ban:
Responding to a question about assault weapons, Romney said, “We, of course, don't want automatic weapons, which is already illegal in this country.”
The federal ban on assault weapons — first enacted in 1994 under former President Clinton — expired in September 2004, during the George W. Bush administration.
Romney might have misspoken in his characterization of “automatic weapons,” i.e., machine guns. Those weapons are legal but they are heavily regulated such that they almost never show up in gun control debates. They almost never show up in street crime, either. The types of weapons that the candidates were asked about in the debate, specifically AK-47s, are semi-automatic devices, also known as assault weapons.
It should also be noted that as Massachusetts governor, Romney signed into law an assault weapons ban ensuring that AK-47s, UZIs, and Mac-10 rifles were permanently prohibited in the state, regardless of federal laws.
Romney on number of people in poverty:
Romney said that since Obama took office, there are 3.5 million more people in poverty. Almost but not quite. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, (the year Obama took office) up from 39.8 million in 2008. By 2011, there were 46.2 million people living in poverty, which makes for an increase of 2.6 million from 2009 to 2011. Census data for 2012 are not available yet.