Thursday, October 04, 2012
Taking Stock of Some of the Claims and Counterclaims
Mitt Romney repeatedly questioned President Obama’s honesty at Wednesday night’s debate — likening the president and vice president at one point to his five sons repeating things that were not true — but he made a number of misleading statements himself on the size of the federal deficits, taxes, Medicare and health care.
“I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals,” Mr. Romney said to Mr. Obama, describing his plan to cut tax rates by 20 percent. “I know that you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it, and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that is not the case, all right?”
But among other misleading statements, Mr. Romney falsely stated that Mr. Obama had doubled the deficit. “The president said he’d cut the deficit in half,” Mr. Romney charged. “Unfortunately, he doubled it.”
Mr. Obama made a number of misleading statements of his own — mainly by filling in the blanks of some of Mr. Romney’s vague plans, usually in the least politically palatable way. He described Mr. Romney’s tax plan as a $5 trillion tax “cut” and said the average middle-class family would pay more, contrary to Mr. Romney’s pledges.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are hardly the first presidential candidates to use debates to challenge the honesty of their opponents.
But this year, as the line between acceptable political debate and sophistry has often been crossed, the accuracy of campaign statements has emerged as a campaign issue. Here is an examination of some of the claims and counterclaims.
Doubling the Deficit
Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had doubled the deficit. That is not true. When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the Congressional Budget Office had already projected that the deficit for fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30 of that year, would be $1.2 trillion. (It ended up as $1.4 trillion.) For fiscal year 2012, which ended last week, the deficit is expected to be $1.1 trillion — just under the level in the year he was inaugurated. Measured as a share of the economy, as economists prefer, the deficit has declined more significantly — from 10.1 percent of the economy’s total output in 2009 to 7.3 percent for 2012. JACKIE CALMES
The $5 Trillion Tax Cut
Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney repeatedly sparred over whether Mr. Romney has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut.
It is true that Mr. Romney has proposed “revenue neutral” tax reform, meaning that he would not expand the deficit. However, he has proposed cutting all marginal tax rates by 20 percent — which would in and of itself cut tax revenue by $5 trillion.
To make up that revenue, Mr. Romney has said he wants to clear out the underbrush of deductions and loopholes in the tax code. But he has not yet specified how he would do so.
This week, in a television interview, Mr. Romney did shed some light — floating the idea of capping each household’s deductions at $17,000.
“As an option, you could say everybody’s going to get up to a $17,000 deduction. And you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others, your health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you will, that $17,000 bucket that way,” he said. “Higher-income people might have a lower number.”
The deduction cap has the virtue of avoiding the tough negotiations over which tax expenditures to unwind. Many tax expenditures are highly popular, like the deduction for charitable giving. Moreover, many are important to the stability of the economy. Suddenly ending the home mortgage interest deduction, for instance, would threaten to destabilize the housing market.
But a number of unanswered questions about Mr. Romney’s tax plan remain.
For instance, Mr. Romney did not address how his proposed cap on deductions would affect tax credits. (Generally, deductions lower a family’s level of taxable income and credits erase part of their overall tax bill.)
It is also unclear whether his proposal to cap deductions would raise enough revenue to pay for his income tax rate cuts — at least not without increasing the tax burden on families making less than $200,000 a year, which Mr. Romney has vowed that he will not do. ANNIE LOWREY
Government ‘Takeover’ Of Health Care
Mr. Romney said that Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul would allow the federal government to “take over health care,” an assertion rejected by the president.
The 2010 health care law clearly expands the role of the federal government. But it also builds on the foundation of private health insurance, providing subsidies for millions of low- and moderate-income people to buy private insurance.
Under the law, close to 30 million Americans are expected to gain health coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Many of them would receive insurance through the expansion of Medicaid. The federal government will initially pay the entire cost of Medicaid coverage for newly eligible beneficiaries and would never pay less than 90 percent.
In addition, the federal government would subsidize the purchase of private insurance for millions of people with incomes up to four times the poverty level (up to $92,200 for a family of four). Private insurers would thus have many new customers.
Projections by the nonpartisan office of the actuary at the Department of Health and Human Services show that federal, state and local government health spending will account for nearly 50 percent of all health spending in the United States by 2021, up from 46 percent in 2011. The federal share of all health spending is expected to rise to more than 31 percent, from slightly less than 29 percent.
The changes reflect the expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the new subsidies for private insurance, as well as the increase in Medicare enrollment as baby boomers join the program.
When Mr. Romney and other Republicans complain of a federal takeover, they are referring to more than spending and enrollment in government health programs. They say the new health care law will require most Americans to purchase “government-approved insurance” or pay a new tax. The tax issue was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s much-debated 5-to-4 decision in June to uphold the president’s health care overhaul law, the Affordable Care Act. ROBERT PEAR
Mr. Romney said that half the companies backed by the president’s green energy stimulus program have gone out of business. That is a gross overstatement. Of nearly three dozen recipients of loans under the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, only three are currently in bankruptcy, although several others are facing financial difficulties. Mr. Romney also said that “many” of the companies that received such loans were supported by campaign contributors. George Kaiser, a major fund-raiser for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, was an investor in Solyndra, the failed solar panel maker, but there are also examples of Republican and Democratic campaign contributors who also invested in firms supported by the loan guarantee program. JOHN M. BRODER
The $716 Billion Cut From Medicare
Mr. Obama first brought up Mr. Romney’s frequent criticism that the president cut $716 billion from Medicare, by saying the cost savings were from reduced payments to insurance companies and other health care providers. But Mr. Romney repeated the claim, suggesting that the $716 billion in Medicare reductions would indeed come from current beneficiaries.
While fact-checkers have repeatedly debunked this claim, it remains a standard attack line for Mr. Romney.
The charge that Mr. Obama took $716 billion from Medicare recipients to pay for “Obamacare” has several problems — not least the fact that Mr. Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, included the identical savings in his budget plans that House Republicans voted for in the past two years.
Mr. Obama did not cut benefits by $716 billion over 10 years as part of his 2010 health care law; rather, he reduced Medicare reimbursements to health care providers, chiefly insurance companies and drug manufacturers. And the law gave Medicare recipients more generous benefits for prescription drugs and free preventive care like mammograms.
According to nonpartisan analysts, it is Mr. Romney who would both cut benefits and add costs for beneficiaries if he restored the $716 billion in reductions. Restoring higher payments to insurers and other companies would in turn increase Medicare premiums because beneficiaries share in Medicare’s total cost. Marilyn Moon, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, has calculated that a Medicare recipient’s out-of-pocket expenses would increase $577 a year on average by 2022.
Also, the Obama reductions added eight years to the life of Medicare’s financially troubled trust fund, to 2024, according to Medicare trustees. If the cuts were restored, the insolvency date would revert to 2016.
But the cuts to providers could cause private Medicare plans to raise their premiums, which is expected to reduce enrollment in them. Those changes have not materialized yet.JACKIE CALMES