Saint Anselm College Presidential Debates
We assembled a team of crack fact checkers to truth squad the Republican and Democratic debates at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, and call the candidates out for any inaccuracies. Environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin was sitting next to me in the media filing center. She is also an expert on Congress, having covered it all her life. We were joined in Washington by John Solomon, a veteran political reporter for the Associated Press and now the Post, and diplomatic reporter Glenn Kessler. Prior to the foreign policy beat, Glenn covered economics. I was a foreign correspondent for the Post for more than a decade, and also covered education, so I hope we will be able to weigh in quickly on most factual disputes.
Backing us up In Washington were ace researcher Alice Crites and editor Steve Ginsberg. Since this was a live fact check, we are not going to issue any definitive rulings this evening. Our aim was more modest--to flag questionable statements and contribute to a more informed discussion.
Hillary Clinton said that George Bush's tax cuts benefited the wealthiest Americans. This is correct, since Bush cut marginal tax rates. However, such a charge lacks context. The wealthiest Americans pay a lion's share of non-Social Security taxes. The 400 wealthiest taxpayers pay about as much in federal income taxes as more than 40 million individuals and families at the bottom of the income scale, according to Internal Revenue Service data. The top 1 percent of taxpayers pay more than 30 percent of the taxes, which is why 30 percent of Bush's tax cuts went to the top one percent.
Cap and Trade
Richardson argued that a carbon tax would raise prices and take money out of the economy, as opposed to a cap and trade bill. The fact is both approaches will make energy more expensive, because they will increase the cost of generating that energy. The two approaches distribute the costs of producing cleaner energy differently, but they will both boost the cost of heating and lighting American homes by compelling energy producers to either install new technology or buy credits to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions they emit into the atmosphere.
The Clinton campaign came to this debate loaded for bear. No sooner had Clinton accused Obama of flip-flopping on funding for the Iraq war, health care, and the Patriot Act, her spokesman Phil Singer emailed reporters with factual backup for the New York senator's charges. Here is a sample from the press release on the the Iraq War:
"As a Senate candidate in November 2003, Obama said he would have 'unequivocally' voted against war funding because it was the only way to oppose Bush on Iraq:"
"Just this week, when I was asked, would I have voted for the $87 billion dollars, I said 'no.' I said no unequivocally because, at a certain point, we have to say no to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled, we are not going to stand a chance." [Obama remarks, New Trier Democratic Organization forum, 11/16/03 .]
"But until he ran for president, Obama supported every funding bill for Iraq."
[The campaign goes on to list a long series of Obama votes.]
Richardson and North Korea
"I've gone head-to-head with the North Koreans. We got the remains of soldiers back. We persuaded them to reduce their nuclear weapons." --Bill Richardson
Richardson consistently inflates his experience with North Korea, and this is another exaggeration. As U.N. ambassador, Richardson secured the release of an American held in North Korea and more recently he traveled to Pyongyang to retrieve the remains of U.S. troops lost during the Korean War. But his trip was largely unrelated to the recent six-nation agreement in which North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons. (A White House official was assigned to accompany Richardson to Pyongyang and held some low-level talks with North Korean officials, but the deal had already been struck months earlier.) Moreover, the North Korea deal is now on the rocks. North Korea has shut down a nuclear plant, but it has not yet disclosed the full extent of its programs, let alone reduce its stockpile of nuclear material.
Health Care Spending
Obama claimed that the United States spends twice as much as any other industrialized nation when it comes to health care. While it is true that in per capita terms, the United States spends more than most nations on health care, its rate of spending does not double that of several Western nations.
According to a January 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the United States spent $5,711 per person on health care followed by Luxembourg at $4,611, Switzerland at $3847 and Norway at $3,769.
Obama and War Funds
Hillary Clinton attacked Obama for saying he was against funding the Iraq war even though he voted to spend $300 million on it. Obama was not in the Senate when the vote to authorize an attack against Iraq took place; Clinton was in the Senate in 2002 and voted for the war resolution. The Clinton campaign has noted that Obama, as a Senate candidate in 2003, said he would oppose a vote then on the floor of the Senate to fund $86 billion for the war. Since joining the Senate, Obama has said that despite his opposition to the war, he would support funding for the troops already on the ground. But Clinton also voted for the same funds that Obama did.
Health Insurance for National Guard Members
Clinton seems to be exaggerating her accomplishments in getting health insurance for National Guard members in New Hampshire and elsewhere. She has made the same boast in ads that are now running in New Hampshire. My fellow fact checkers at Factcheck.org have already looked into this. Their conclusion: "Active-duty Guard and Reserve troops already were covered by federal insurance, and four out of five non-active-duty guardsmen and reservists already were covered by their civilian employers or other sources. Clinton did help expand and enhance health care coverage for reservists but can't claim credit for creating coverage where none existed."
The Democratic debate seems more sedate than the Republican debate. The candidates are attacking each other less, and making fewer errors as a result. However, Sen. Barack Obama has just suggested that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty "fell apart" under the Bush administration. There have certainly been a lot of reverses over the last seven years, particularly on North Korea, but things weren't great under Clinton. It was under Clinton, after all, that India and Pakistan both tested nuclear weapons, which put a huge hole in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
On to the Democrats
OK, here we go again with the Democrats, again on foreign policy. We could not get to all the questionable statements made by the Republicans, such as the clash between Romney and Huckabee over the surge and withdrawal, but we will come back to them over the next day or so.
Obama's Health Care Plan
During an exchange on energy dependence, several of the Republicans tied oil imports to terrorism. Mike Huckabee suggested each time an Ameican filled up with gas it could fund terrorism. "Every time we swipe our credit card in the gas pump, we might as well be sending a check over to the madrassas that are training the terrorists." John McCain said that some oil money "will end up in the hands of terrorist organizations "
In fact, three of the largest sources of imported oil for the United States are non-Muslim countries with no ties to terrorism: Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the top sources of U.S. oil imports last year were: 1) Canada, 2) Saudi Arabia, 3) Mexico, 4) Venezuela, 5) Nigeria, 6) Iraq.
Obama's Health Care Plan
Mitt Romney is correct when he claims that Obama's health care plan will cost billions of new money. By the estimates of the Obama campaign, his plan will cost in the region of $50-$65 billion, to be paid for by ending tax cuts for Americans making more than $250,000 a year.
Romney was stretching the truth, however, when he insisted that his own health care plan in Massachusetts involved "no new money." Jason Furman of the Brookings Institution points out that the plan will be funded in part by $385 million in excess Medicaid payments that Massachusetts is now being permitted to keep.
McCain and Rumsfeld
McCain boasted how he went public to declare he had no confidence in Bush's first Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his handling of the Iraq war. But McCain didn't hold that position for most of Bush's first term. He finally came out with his "no confidence" comment in December 2004--well after the presidential election that saw Bush win a second term.
Obama's Health Care Plan
Barack Obama "wants the government to take over health care."
Nonsense. Obama's health care plan is arguably less radical than the one that Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts while he was governor. Obama has got into trouble with his fellow Democrats for not including an individual mandate in his health care plan, similar to the one that Romney introduced in Massachusetts. Obama has focused on bringing the price of health care down--not introducing government-run health care.
McCain's Immigration PLan
John McCain and Mitt Romney just had a tussle about what Romney said about McCain's immigration plan two years ago. Romney is now attacking the plan as allowing amnesty for illegal immigrants--though in the debate he acknowledged it was not "technically" amnesty--but here is what he said about McCain's plan in November 2005, courtesy of the Boston Globe.
In an interview with the Globe, Romney described immigration proposals by McCain and others as "quite different" from amnesty, because they required illegal immigrants to register with the government, work for years, pay taxes, not take public benefits, and pay a fine before applying for citizenship.
"That's very different than amnesty, where you literally say, 'OK, everybody here gets to stay,' " Romney said in the interview. "It's saying you could work your way into becoming a legal resident of the country by working here without taking benefits and then applying and then paying a fine."
Romney did not specifically endorse McCain's bill, saying he had not yet formulated a full position on immigration. But he did speak approvingly of efforts by McCain and Bush to solve the nation's immigration crisis, calling them "reasonable proposals."
Romney also said in the interview that it was not "practical or economic for the country" to deport the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. "These people contribute in many cases to our economy and to our society," he said. "In some cases, they do not. But that's a whole group we're going to have to determine how to deal with."
Islamic Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy
"There's an Islamic terrorism threat against us. It's an existential threat. It has nothing to do with our foreign policy."
That may be how Giuliani sees it, but it is definitely not how Osama Bin Laden views the matter. It may be true that he detests America for its "freedom," as Giuliani and President Bush have claimed, but he has made clear in his public pronouncements that U.S. foreign policy is central to appeal for Islamic Jihad. In his first public statement, "A Declaration of War Against the Americans," issued in 1996, Bin Laden announced he was fighting U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and in particular U.S. support for the House of Saud and the state of Israel.
In his interviews and public declarations, Bin Laden repeatedly attacked the deployment of U.S. troops in his homeland Saudi Arabia, which he regarded as an assault against Islamic religion.
As Washington Post foreign correspondent Craig Whitlock reported in November 2004, Bin Laden's "underlying message" has remained consistent over the years: "Americans have repeatedly humiliated Muslims with a foreign policy that has propped up corrupt governments in the Middle East and perpetuated conflict in the region. Until you prevail on your government to stop, we will strike back."
Sounds like U.S. foreign policy does have something to do with his war against the United States, at least in his own mind and the mind of his supporters.
"We don't need Hillary care or socialized medicine"
Romney praised the health care plan that he introduced as governor of Massachusetts for insuring hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured citizens. He proceeded to attack Hillary Clinton's health care plan, which is very similar to the plan that he introduced in Massachusetts while he was governor. Both plans include an individual mandate obliging tax payers to take out health insurance.
The former Massachusetts governor said that his plan would lead to everybody being insured in the state. In fact, several hundred thousand Massachusetts residents were still uninsured when the mandate came into force at the beginning of this year.
Fireworks right from the start on foreign policy, with clashes between Paul, Huckabee, Giuliani, and Romney. They can't all be right. We are checking Huckabee's statement that the Defense Department said that "we would need 400,000 troops to successfully bring stability to Iraq." Not sure where he got the figure of 400,000 from. The army chief of staff, Gen. Shinseki, was roundly criticized by Bush administration officials when he argued that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be required to stabilize the country after the invasion, but did not mention a specific figure.
Giuliani Stretches Military Cuts
"Bill Clinton cut the military drastically. It was called the peace dividend, one of those nice-sounding phrases: very devastating. It was a 25, 30 percent cut in the military."
Giuliani accused former President Bill Clinton of reducing the size of the military by "25-30 percent" under a policy known as the "peace dividend." Giuliani's statement was a slight exaggeration. Pentagon figures show that when Clinton took office at the start of 1992, the combined active duty military personnel totaled 1.79 million. When Clinton departed eight years later, there were 1.4 million. That amounts to a decline of 21.8 percent.
But his comment ignores the fact that Clinton continued a policy that was originally implemented by President Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, and broadly supported by both parties after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In fact, the former President Bush bragged about how much he had cut the military in his 1992 State of the Union address: "After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper [MX] missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles. . . The reductions I have approved will save us an additional $50 billion over the next five years. By 1997 we will have cut defense by 30 percent since I took office."
Or as then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney boasted at the time: "We will have taken the five-year defense program down by well over $300 billion. That's the peace dividend. . . And now we're adding to that another $50 billion . . . of so-called peace dividend."
| January 5, 2008; 10:44 PM ET
Categories: Barack Obama, Economy, Health, Immigration, Iraq, Live Fact Check, Other Foreign Policy, Social Issues
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