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Politics

CAMPAIGN 2012

Fact Checking the Presidential Debate

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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question as President Obama listens during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver on Wednesday.((AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall))

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' budget analysis. The center's assumptions on deficit reduction include discretionary-spending cuts enacted during 2011.

The first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney on Wednesday night in Denver covered topics ranging from taxes to health care to job creation. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.

 

Romney on health care spending:

Romney claimed that middle-income Americans are spending $2,500 more for health care now than they did when Obama took office in 2008. While Americans are spending more for their insurance and overall health spending since 2008, the difference is closer to $1,000, not $2,500. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average employee purchasing family health insurance in 2012 paid $4,316 for insurance, just under $1,000 more than what they paid for insurance in 2008. Total per capita health expenditures had about the same $1,000 spread between 2008 and 2012, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In 2008, CMS found Americans spent $7,910 per capita on health care; in 2012, they are estimated to spend $8,952.

Obama on Simpson-Bowles:

 

Obama, answering a challenge from Romney, said that he did take an adjusted version of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction framework to Congress, and that he has proposed $4 trillion in deficit reduction. Not quite.

After the Simpson-Bowles commission failed to get the necessary votes needed to introduce its plan in December 2010, the White House looked the other way. The commission's plan would have reduced deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of discretionary-spending cuts, broad tax reform, and entitlement savings.

Obama said his own proposals would also reduce the 10-year deficit by $4 trillion, an assertion that has been challenged by some budget experts as overly optimistic.

The president takes his number from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which includes in its calculations cuts in discretionary spending already enacted into law during 2011.

 

Romney on "Obamacare's" Medicare board:

Romney’s claim that Obama’s health reform law includes a Medicare board that can “tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have” was one of the biggest whoppers of the night. It’s a line that Republicans used during debate on the health reform law, when they regularly and inaccurately called the Medicare spending board a “death panel.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare board would have the job of keeping Medicare spending within a specific target: gross domestic product plus 1 percent by 2020. The board, which would be appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, is explicitly restricted from directly cutting Medicare benefits. In other words, they must cut hospital, doctor, and nursing-home payment rates, and they are not allowed to restrict what kinds of treatments those providers can offer to treat seniors.

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Obama on Romney’s tax plan:

The two candidates spent the first part of the debate squabbling over taxes, running roughshod over moderator Jim Lehrer to trade barbs over the finer points of Romney’s plan. Obama criticized the plan early on, repeating the theme that Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class in order to preserve cuts for the wealthy.

Obama’s claim stems from a much-publicized Tax Policy Center analysis of Romney’s framework, which found that a 20 percent across-the-board reduction in marginal personal income-tax rates couldn’t be achieved without ridding the tax code of some tax expenditures that help the middle class. Roughly $1.1 trillion in revenue is lost to deductions and credits each year, with about 90 percent of that money going to the top 20 deductions--including widely popular items like the employer-provided health-insurance deduction and the mortgage-interest deduction.

The only top deduction that almost exclusively benefits the wealthy is the preferential rate for capital gains--and Romney has said he will preserve existing incentives for investment. The $17,000 cap on deductions Romney floated earlier this week would hit the wealthiest the hardest--in part because the wealthy are more likely to use deductions, as The Washington Post notes in its analysis--but the recouped funds would not be high enough to make up for the revenue lost by the sweeping rate reduction.

Romney on new business start-ups:

In the first question of the debate, Obama and Romney were asked to spell out the differences between their job-creation plans. According to Romney, small businesses create jobs--and new business start-ups are at a 30-year low.

Fact-checking website PolitiFact looked into this claim when House Speaker John Boehner made it in March, rating it “true.” PolitiFact quotes Scott Shane, chairman of the economics department and professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University:

“Using data from the Census Bureau and U.S. Small Business Administration, Shane found that the per capita rate of new employer business formation in 2009 (the most recent year available) was 1.32 per thousand people--‘an astonishing 51.4 percent of the rate in 1977,’ he said. ‘That is, Americans are starting new businesses with employees at half the rate they did 30 years ago.’ ”

Romney on gas prices:

Romney said gas prices have doubled under Obama. That’s true, Slate reported in April, and has become an oft-repeated criticism of the incumbent from the GOP.

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