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Posted at 7:40 PM ET, 01/10/2008

GOP Debate Myrtle beach

By Michael Dobbs

Diplomatic reporter Glenn Kessler joined me for a live fact check of Thursday night's Republican debate on Fox News from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. We were backed up by researcher Alice Crites and editor Tim Curran.

This was our second live fact check. We inaugurated this new feature with the back-to-back Republican and Democratic debates from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., last Saturday. You can read the Saint Anselm transcript here.

Since this was a live fact check, we did not issue any definitive rulings. Our aim was more modest--to flag questionable statements and contribute to a more informed discussion.

10:30 p.m.
Ron Paul and Foreign Aid

Rep. Ron Paul said that "we give three times as much to the Arabs" as Israel, which he described as the Jewish state's enemies. This is wrong. The entire 2008 foreign aid budget for the Middle East is $5.4 billion, of which about $2.4 billion goes to Israel, according to State Department documents. Moreover, Egypt--which three decades ago signed a peace treaty with Israel--gets almost an equal amount of aid--$1.7 billion. Jordan, another country that has signed a peace treaty, also gets a substantial portion of the aid--$500 million.

The bottom line: Countries that have not made peace with Israel only receive less than half of the amount of aid given to Israel.

--Glenn Kessler

10.15 p.m.
John McCain and Pork, Part 2

John McCain underscored his opposition to pork-barrel projects by claiming that he never "received or asked" for a pork barrel project for his state of Arizona during his time in the Senate. That is not quite true. My colleague, John Solomon, recently came across an old letter written by McCain in 1992 in which he pressed the Republican administration of President H.W. Bush to secure a $5 million earmark for a wastewater project in Arizona after Congress had rejected the request in its own spending bill. Spurned by his colleagues, McCain took his case to the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"I would like to request that EPA either re-program $5 million out of existing funds or earmark the amount from an appropriate account," McCain wrote in his Oct. 9, 1992 letter to then-EPA Administrator William K. Reilly, calling the earmark "crucial to protecting the public health and the environment."

--Michael Dobbs

9:55 p.m.
Huckabee and taxes

Huckabee once again boasted about his record in cutting taxes over 90 times in Arkansas while he was governor. What he did not say was that taxes rose overall during his ten year stint, which ended earlier this year. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of October 9, 2007, he presided over a net tax increase of $505 million while he was governor. The state Department of Finance and Administration counted 21 tax increases that raised revenues by $883 million.

--Michael Dobbs

9:45 p.m.
Romney and jobs

Romney defended himself from charges that Massachusetts had one of the lowest job growth rates in the nation while he was governor between 2003 and 2007. He said that he was very proud of the fact that the state kept on adding jobs after turning the situation around. But here is what the Boston Globe wrote on February 15, 2006, as Romney was nearing the end of his governorship:

Since January 2003, when Romney took office, through the end of last year Massachusetts ranked 46th in job growth, up just 1.1 percent, according to Global Insight, an economic consulting firm. Nationally employment grew 2.8 percent. Massachusetts topped only Louisiana and Mississippi, which got crushed by Hurricane Katrina, and Michigan and Ohio, which got crushed by the decline of manufacturing.

It is not like we are picking up steam quite the contrary. In the last year, the gap between Massachusetts and the nation has widened, with the state's employment rising only four-tenths of 1 percent, or less than a third the national average of 1.3 percent. That put Massachusetts tied for 44th in the country.

Romney likes to point to the fact that the state's unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent from 5.7 percent when he took office. What he doesn't say is that is in large part because so many people have fled the state or given up looking for a job. There are 40,000 fewer people in the workforce than when Romney took over.

--Michael Dobbs

9.35 p.m.
McCain and Pork

Senator McCain said that he would control "out of control spending" to help the economy, using his "veto pen" to get rid of "pork-barrel" projects. But the dirty little secret of Washington that the portion of the budget that Congress controls, known as "discretionary spending," is just a small part of the pie. Out of the $3 trillion budget in 2008, only a little more than a third was discretionary spending. The rest of the budget was "mandatory spending" --Social Security, Medicare, welfare, and so forth. The cost of those programs is set by law and are difficult to change.

On top of that, more than half of the discretionary spending is for national defense., which is largely untouchable. So there is only a small part of the budget that can be changed by Congress, and a tiny part of that are "pork barrel" projects. In a $14 trillion economy, eliminating that spending won't make much of difference.

--Glenn Kessler


9.30 p.m.
Romney "on the side of Life"

Romney claims that he "came down on the side of life" on every decision that came to his desk as governor of Massachusetts. This is inaccurate. I have dealt with this claim several times in the past.

Romney announced his conversion to "pro-life" views in an editorial in the Boston Globe on July 25, 2005, the day after vetoing a bill expanding access to the so-called "morning after" pill, which required that it be made available to rape victims. See my detailed and updated chronology here. Abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood expressed shock at the governor's change of heart, after he had personally signed a pledge to support increased access to the "morning after" pill. "Pro-Life" groups hailed the decision.

That was not the end of the story, however. The controversy over "emergency contraception" continued to haunt Romney. In October 2005, another bill came to his desk, seeking a federal waiver to expand the number of Massachusetts citizens eligible for family planning services, including the "morning after" pill. Romney signed that bill over the objections of his new anti-abortion allies. On this occasion, he was applauded by "pro-choice" advocates.

The issue came up yet again in December 2005. After weeks of agonizing, Romney instructed all hospitals in the state to comply with the terms of the emergency contraception law, and make the morning-after pill available to rape victims. He acted on the advice of his legal counsel, over the objections of half a dozen Catholic hospitals, which had previously refused to provide emergency contraception on the grounds that it conflicted with their religious views.
--Michael Dobbs


Thursday, 9.20 p.m.
Does cutting taxes bring in more revenues?

The Republican candidates are being a lot more careful tonight about their claims on whether tax cuts would pay for themselves by stimulating the economy. After earlier claiming that tax cuts lead to increased tax revenues as a general rule, McCain tonight said merely that "they stimulate the economy."

Rudy Giuliani was also more cautious, but he said that a cut in corporate taxes from 35 percent to 30 percent will lead to "more revenues." This is debatable. A study of tax cuts on New York hotel rooms by the Independent Budget Office while Giuliani was mayor estimated that the revenues gained from the extra activity in the hotel trade only came to 50 per cent of the revenues lost through the tax cuts.

--Michael Dobbs


By Michael Dobbs  | January 10, 2008; 7:40 PM ET
Categories:  Candidate Record, Economy, Immigration, Live Fact Check, Other Foreign Policy  
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Next: Huckabee's Cut-and-Paste Job

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