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Fact Check | Stumbles in Latest Presidential Debate

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

US President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. US President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

In the rough-and-tumble of a town hall-style presidential debate, the facts took something of a beating Tuesday night.

Mitt Romney wrongly claimed that it took 14 days for President Barack Obama to brand the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya a terrorist act. Obama yet again claimed that ending the Afghanistan and Iraq wars makes money available to "rebuild America," even though it doesn't.

A look at some of their claims:

OBAMA: The day after last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, "I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."

ROMNEY: "I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror."

OBAMA: "Get the transcript."

THE FACTS: Obama is correct in saying that he referred to Benghazi as an act of terrorism on Sept. 12, the day after the attack. From the Rose Garden, he said: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. ... We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act."

But others in his administration repeated for several days its belief that the violence stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam. It took almost a month before officials acknowledged that those protests never occurred. And Romney is right in arguing that the administration has yet to explain why it took so long for that correction to be made or how it came to believe that the attack evolved from an angry demonstration.

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OBAMA: "Let's take the money that we've been spending on war over the last decade to rebuild America, roads, bridges, schools. We do those things, not only is your future going to be bright, but America's future is going to be bright as well."

THE FACTS: What Obama didn't mention is that much of the money that has been paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was borrowed. In fact, the government borrows nearly 40 cents for every dollar it spends. Thus using money that had been earmarked for wars to build schools and infrastructure would involve even more borrowing, adding to the federal deficit.

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ROMNEY: "As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters."

OBAMA: "Very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my - the previous president was an oilman."

THE FACTS: Both statements ring true, as far as they go. Obama more correctly describes the bigger picture.

According to an Energy Department study published in the spring, sales of oil from federal areas fell 14 percent between 2010 and 2011 and sales of natural gas production fell 9 percent, supporting Romney's point. The lower oil production was a result mainly of a moratorium on offshore drilling imposed by the Obama administration after the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

According to the same report, though, oil production from federal areas is up 13 percent since Obama took office despite last year's dip, and analysts say Gulf oil production is expected to soon exceed its pre-spill levels.

Natural gas production from federal areas has been declining for years because drillers have found vast reserves of natural gas in formations under several states that are cheaper to access than most federally controlled areas.

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OBAMA: "For young people who've come here, brought here often times by their parents, have gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag, think of this as their country and understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers, we should make sure we give them a pathway to citizenship. And that's what I've done administratively."

THE FACTS: His administrative actions do not provide a pathway to citizenship. The administration is allowing as many as 1.7 million young illegal immigrants to apply to avoid deportation for up to two years and get a work permit. And the government has begun a policy of prosecutorial discretion under which illegal immigrants with long-standing ties to the U.S. and no criminal history are generally not arrested and deported by immigration authorities. But these steps do not extend legal status or a process resulting in citizenship.

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ROMNEY: "I know he keeps saying, `You want to take Detroit bankrupt.' Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And I think it's important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommended and ultimately what happened."

THE FACTS: What Romney recommended did not happen, and his proposed path probably would have forced General Motors and Chrysler out of business. He opposed using government money to bail out the automakers, instead favoring privately financed bankruptcy restructuring. But the automakers were bleeding cash and were poor credit risks. The banking system was in crisis. So private loans weren't available. Without government aid, both companies probably would have gone under and their assets sold in pieces.

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OBAMA: "And what I want to do is build on the 5 million jobs that we've created over the last 30 months in the private sector alone."

THE FACTS: As he has done before, Obama is cherry-picking his numbers to make them sound better than they really are. He ignores the fact that public-sector job losses have dragged down overall job creation. Also, he chooses just to mention the past 30 months. That ignores job losses during his presidency up until that point. According to the Labor Department, about 4.5 million total jobs have been created over the past 30 months. But some 4.3 million jobs were lost during the earlier months of his administration. At this point, Obama is a net job creator, but only marginally.

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ROMNEY: "The proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is that you're paying at the pump. If you're paying less than you paid a year or two ago, why, then, the strategy is working. But you're paying more. When the president took office, the price of gasoline here in Nassau County was about $1.86 a gallon. Now, it's $4.00 a gallon. The price of electricity is up. If the president's energy policies are working, you're going to see the cost of energy come down."

THE FACTS: Presidents have almost no effect on energy prices; most are set on financial exchanges around the world. When Obama took office, the world was in the grip of a financial crisis and crude prices - and gasoline prices along with them - had plummeted because world demand had collapsed. Crude oil prices have since risen even as U.S. oil production has soared in recent years because global demand is reaching new heights as the developing economies of Asia use more oil.

Other energy prices have fallen during Obama's term. Electricity prices, when adjusted for inflation, are down, and homeowners are finding it much cheaper to heat their homes with natural gas. That's because natural gas production has surged, reducing prices both for homeowners and for utilities that burn gas to generate electricity.

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OBAMA: "What I've also said is, for (those earning) above $250,000, we can go back to the tax rates we had when Bill Clinton was president."

THE FACTS: Not exactly. The Bush tax cuts set the top income rate at 35 percent. Under Obama's proposal to raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000, the president would return the top rate to the 39.6 percent set during the Clinton administration. But he neglected to mention that his health care law includes a new 0.9 percent Medicare surcharge on households earning over that amount - and that tax would be retained. The health care law also imposes a 3.8 percent tax on investment income for high earners. So tax rates would be higher for the wealthiest Americans than they were under Clinton.

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ROMNEY: "I'm going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I'm going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end, because I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they're paying now."

THE FACTS: Romney is proposing to cut all income tax rates by 20 percent, eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, maintain and expand tax breaks for investment income, and do it all without adding to the deficit or shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class. He says he would pay for the tax cuts by reducing or eliminating tax deductions, exemptions and credits, but he can't achieve all of his goals it under the budget rules presidents must follow.

The Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group, says in a study that the tax cuts proposed by Romney would reduce federal tax revenues by about $5 trillion over 10 years. The study concludes that there aren't enough tax breaks for the wealthy to make up the lost revenue, so the proposal would either add to the deficit or shift more of the tax burden on to the middle class.

Romney's campaign cites studies by conservative academics and think tanks that say Romney's plan will spur economic growth, generating enough additional money to pay for the tax cuts without adding to the deficit or shifting the tax burden to the middle class. But Congress doesn't recognize those kinds of economic projections when it estimates the budget impact of tax proposals.

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ROMNEY: "A recent study has shown that people in the middle class will see $4,000 a year in higher taxes as a result of the spending and borrowing of this administration."

THE FACTS: Romney's claim is based on an analysis by the conservative American Enterprise Institute that examines the amount of debt that has accumulated on Obama's watch and in a potential second term and computes how much it would cost to finance that debt through tax increases. Annual deficits under Obama have exceeded $1 trillion for each year of his term.

However, Obama is not responsible for all of the deficits that have occurred on his watch. Most of the federal budget - like Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security - runs on autopilot, and no one in a leadership position in Washington has proposed deep cuts in those programs. And politicians in both parties voted two years ago the renew Bush-era tax cuts that have contributed to the deficit. Even under the strict spending cuts proposed by Romney, the debt would continue to rise, just not as fast.

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Comments [16]

Wow Art, talk about check your facts. What Crowley said after the debate was that she didn't mean to take sides. She wanted to move the conversation along (true or not, it isn't reversing what she said). And the fact that the President mentioned that no acts of terror would deter us, in the Rose Garden speech, about the Libya attack, the day after the Libya attack could in no way be understood as referring to the Libya attack. He MUST have been talking about the underwear bomber.

Oct. 18 2012 09:26 AM
Art

Acts of Terror in the Rose Garden speech were not about the death's in Libya. There was no reference to "terroism" in Libya on September 12th by the President and Ms Crowley corrected herself today. Check YOUR facts.

Oct. 17 2012 10:05 PM
tag from New Jersey

the debate showed the weaknesses of both candidates. It was an excellent debate and most people will not be able to choose either one because of this. This is important in choosing candidates with more potential. The two party system is not working and we should have more capable candidates running for president. The fact that President Bush was elected to office twice shows how negligent we are as a country. He caused the financial crisis. Going into Irag has ruined the country for many years to come. Pres. Obama has inherited an impossible term as president. He could never do anything to improve it.

Oct. 17 2012 02:36 PM
JVJones

I'm not an immigrant but it seemed very condescending for Romney to imply that he understands [his] American citizenship like an immigrant because he was born in Mexico while his American parents were there... But, I am a woman who was totally insulted by Romney's story of going to "women's groups" to find women who could "qualify" for his MA cabinet - low and behold! who knew there were enough to fill binders! As he flipped through those binders, I wonder what the criteria was then?

Oct. 17 2012 01:18 PM
Marie from New Milford, NJ

I found it kind of funny when Romney included his family as immigrating from Mexico. His family went to Mexico from the U.S.A. to practice polygamy!

Oct. 17 2012 12:25 PM
J from nj

Nobody wins. We ALL lose when this is the level of "important" discourse we arrive at. Who has the best zingers and one-liners? Who wore his tie better? What a load of nonsense. EACH issue needs hammered on for a whole night, not two minutes. And though I feel that both candidates have dirt on their hands, I'll show my colors by asking a question: Does everyone NOT remember that it was guys like Romney who got us into this financial disaster -- and we're supposed to give him the keys to the treasury? Are you kidding me, America?

Oct. 17 2012 11:54 AM
Judy from PIttsford, NY

I'm an Obama lite supporter. Obama was the winner. Romney looked frazzled and upset at the end. He repeated the same lines so much. Also, in some of his lines, I was reminded of the story of him beating up the kid in his high school. When he couldn't get his point across or "score" he became a bully. For instance, when he told Obama he wasn't finished yet - "that is a statement, not a question", my bully radar came on big time. Did anybody else notice that? In contrast, Obama was cool.

Oct. 17 2012 11:50 AM

Obama had a strong performance.

I do think our President Barack Obama is true when his talking middle class issues.
Governor Mitt Romney doesn't have a five point plan, he has one one plan and lies which is to help the rich.

Oct. 17 2012 11:20 AM
Elda from Queens

I think Obama is a strategic individuals who nailed this at the right time. Mentioning the 47% comment at the right time. As a Democrat, I'm proud of the President's performance. Go Team Obama.

Oct. 17 2012 11:07 AM
Kearnypete from Kearny, NJ

Hey "Listener", I guess that name is accurate since you aren't a very good reader. How can you say this article doesn't mention the so called "help" Crowley gave on Libya when it's the first #@$ thing mentioned. You guys are crying bias whenver the FACTS don't turn in your favor. It was a bald-faced lie and she called him on it. He Obama done the same, as blatantly on something to crucial and direct, she probably would have nailed him on it. However, you guys don't believe any media person not paid by Fox or the Koch brothers. Too bad. Even I believe that Fox gets it right sometimes.

Oct. 17 2012 09:58 AM
Bosanaac from IOWA

I do think Obama is true when he is talking about middle class , his life stories and events that happened to his Family shows exactly what he is fighting for ,let get real we all know that ordinary people can not afford education healthcare or anything where huge amount of money needs to come out of their pocket ...We also have to understand when comes to energy we are not going to get independent probably for next 25 years so all that talk that Romney said its bunch lies. The way I see it times are tough economy moving slowly everywhere at his point NO ONE can control China and their rise as economic power but what we can do is exactly what Obama said focus on middle class to rise when we rise we will bring back bone of this country and when middle class is strong America is strong ....I really don't get anything that Romney wants deep down I am scared of him and he troubles me that we might end up in war that will never end ....Thank you

Oct. 17 2012 08:42 AM
john from office

Alex, unfair to which Romney, the Moderate from Mass, the Severe conservative from the primaries or the moderate who appeared at the last debate. This guy will say anything to get elected and drag in anyone he meets. Even the mother of the seal killed at the consulate ask him to stop using her son's death for votes. He has no shame and is a trojan horse. All he really is is a used trojan, to be flushed down the toilet.

Oct. 17 2012 07:57 AM
Charlie from Bronx

One thing that Obama failed to pick up on was some very fuzzy math by Romney. Romney said that the top 5% would continue to pay 60% of total taxes while the rest of the taxpayers would get a tax cut. But, if the top 5% continue to pay the same percentage of total taxes that they are paying now, and the other 95% get a tax cut, then the top 5% are also getting a tax cut, otherwise they would be paying more than 60% of total taxes. So there's now way that this can be regarded as tax relief focused on the middle class, which is the way that Romney tried to present it.

Oct. 17 2012 01:06 AM
Alex from Brooklyn, NY

I think that it was not fair to Romney, most of the questions favored Obama, - the questions had a bias towards seeking out truth. The other ones were like; How He Differs From Bush, if I was in the Obama campaign i would have payed someone to ask that question. whatever he would answer would have make Romney look bad and given Obama 2 minutes to paint him as more extreme then Bush.

Oct. 17 2012 12:34 AM
listener

Why no mention here of the Libya terror claim that Crowley oh so (un)helpfully chimed in on?
Figures.

Oct. 17 2012 12:08 AM
mick from Manhattan

Why did you choose to lead your fact checking with the breathless, typo infused attack on Obama? Yet again, "Romney is proposing to cut all income tax rates by 20 percent, eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, maintain and expand tax breaks for investment income, and do it all without adding to the deficit or shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class... but he can't achieve all of his goals it under the budget rules presidents must follow [and]...there aren't enough tax breaks for the wealthy to make up the lost revenue, so the proposal would either add to the deficit or shift more of the tax burden on to the middle class." This is bigger and more important news to me!!

Oct. 16 2012 11:32 PM

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