Fact-checking the candidates

Posted: October 05, 2012

WASHINGTON - Here's a look at some of the assertions made by President Obama and Mitt Romney in Wednesday night's debate and how they stack up with the facts:

Obama: "I've proposed a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. . . . The way we do it is, $2.50 for every cut, we ask for $1 in additional revenue."

The facts: Obama claims more than $800 billion in war savings that would occur anyway. And he uses creative bookkeeping to hide spending on Medicare reimbursements to doctors. Take those cuts away and Obama's $2.50/$1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases shifts significantly more in the direction of tax increases.

Obama's February budget offered proposals that would cut deficits over the coming decade by $2 trillion instead of $4 trillion. Of that deficit reduction, tax increases accounted for $1.6 trillion. He promises relatively small spending cuts of $597 billion from big federal benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid. He also proposed higher spending on infrastructure projects.

Romney on cutting the deficit: "Obamacare's on my list. ... I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. ... I'll make government more efficient."

The facts: Romney has promised to balance the budget in eight to 10 years but hasn't offered a detailed plan. Instead, he's promised a set of principles, some of which - like increasing Pentagon spending and restoring more than $700 billion in cuts that Democrats made in Medicare over the coming decade - work against his goal. He also has said he will not consider tax increases.

He also has pledged to cut tax rates by 20 percent, paying for them by eliminating tax breaks for the wealthiest and through economic growth.

To fulfill his promise, Romney would require cuts to programs so deep - under one calculation requiring cutting many areas of the domestic budget by one-third within four years - that they could never get through Congress. He has offered only a few modest examples of government programs he'd be willing to squeeze, like subsidies to PBS and Amtrak.

Obama: "Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut - on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, that's another trillion dollars - and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign."

The facts: Presumably, Obama was talking about the effect of Romney's tax plan over 10 years.

Romney proposes to reduce income tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. The Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group, says that would reduce federal tax revenues by $465 billion in 2015, which would add up to about $5 trillion over 10 years.

However, Romney says he wants to pay for the tax cuts by reducing or eliminating tax credits, deductions, and exemptions.

The knock on Romney's plan, which Obama accurately cited, is that Romney has refused to say which tax breaks he would eliminate to pay for the lower rates.

Romney: Obama's health-care plan "puts in place an unelected board that's going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have. I don't like that idea."

The facts: Romney is referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel of experts that would have the power to force Medicare cuts if costs rise beyond certain levels and Congress fails to act. But Obama's health law explicitly prohibits the board from rationing care, shifting costs to retirees, restricting benefits, or raising the Medicare eligibility age. So the board doesn't have the power to dictate to doctors the treatments they can prescribe.

The board has yet to be named, and its members would ultimately have to be confirmed by the Senate. Health-care inflation has been modest in the last few years, so cuts would be unlikely for most of the rest of this decade.

Obama: It's important "that we take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America."

The facts: This assertion is based on a fiscal fiction. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were paid for mostly with borrowed money, so stopping them doesn't create a new pool of available cash that can be used for something else.

 

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