Do facts matter? The early analysis of a debate is always superficial. Who was more aggressive? Who had the best zingers? Who sounded like they knew what they were talking about? It’s a lot easier to look at body language and mood and make a quick judgment than to actually dig into the facts.
Of course, facts matter. While a candidate may sound great telling a lie, if it’s a lie then…well…it’s a lie.
Tuesday’s debate featured no shortage of lies. Here are the top seven.
“I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families. Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it’s completely wrong. I saw a study that came out today that said you’re going to raise taxes by $3 [thousand] to $4,000 on — on middle-income families. There are all these studies out there.” –Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney has claimed that his tax plan, such as it is, will not raise taxes on the middle class. Unfortunately, an analysis of the non-partisan Tax Policy Center has shown that Romney’s plan would cut taxes dramatically for the rich, but raise them for the poor and middle class. When Obama brought this up in the debate, Romney had a ready answer: Heck, sure, some studies say one thing, others say another, who can know? Trust me.
Should we trust Romney on this? In a word, no. Romney first advanced this argument a month ago, when they cited five studies that supported their argument. Unfortunately, two of those studies turned out to be not so much studies as Wall Street Journal editorials. The other three studies were by authors who were ideologically supportive of Romney. Politifact rated the claim that independent studies supported Romney’s tax plan as “mostly false.”
It’s quite simple: the only non-partisan analysis of Romney’s plan has shown that in order to break even, it would have to cut so many deductions that the middle class would end up paying more in taxes. Yes, Romney can claim some people agree with his plan — but that hardly makes the claim meaningful.
“First of all, I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of a scale that you’re talking about.” — Mitt Romney
Romney has claimed that his tax cut won’t be equal to $5 trillion in the end, because he’ll cut out deductions to even things out. That may be true, in a sense. But the only parts of the plan Romney has been specific about — cutting tax rates by 20 percent and extending the Bush tax cuts – would indeed cost $5 trillion.
Romney may indeed have a specific list of deductions that he would cut in order to keep the plan revenue-neutral. But again, that gets back to the previous point — the precise deductions targeted could wreak havoc on the middle class and poor.
“The second topic, which is you said you get a deduction for getting a plant overseas. Look, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant.” — Mitt Romney
Romney really should fire his accountant, because the tax code definitely allows companies to deduct the cost of moving jobs overseas. You would think with the experience Romney has in outsourcing that he’d realize this, but in his defense, maybe Romney and Bain had a really bad accountant working for them.
If you find that unlikely, perhaps a more accurate analysis is that Romney was simply lying, because it is outrageous that companies are able to get tax breaks for destroying jobs, and Romney would look like an awful person if he supported those breaks. Which he does.
“Let — well, actually — actually it’s — it’s — it’s a lengthy description, but number one, pre-existing conditions are covered under my [health care] plan.” –Mitt Romney
This is just flat-out wrong. Romney’s health care plan would not help people with pre-existing conditions get care. How do we know? Romney’s own advisor, Eric Fehrnstrom, admitted it after the debate.
“With respect to pre-existing conditions, what Governor Romney has said is for those with continuous coverage, he would continue to make sure that they receive their coverage,” Fehrnstrom said. That’s nice. It also was already law, even before Obamacare was passed.
Of course, if you don’t have insurance, and you have a pre-existing condition, you were out of luck under the old health care laws. Romney has offered no indication of what, if anything, he’d do to help out someone who had cancer, or reached their lifetime limits. In Massachusetts, he signed Romneycare into law, of course — but Obamacare, which is essentially the same, is for some reason beyond the pale. I can’t imagine why.
“But on Medicare, for current retirees he’s cutting $716 billion from the program. Now, he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers, actually just going to them and saying we’re going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board, everybody’s going to get a lower rate. That’s not just going after places where there’s abuse, that’s saying we’re cutting the rates.” –Mitt Romney
President Obama and Congress did agree to slow the growth of Medicare by $716 billion. Note that, though — this was not a cut, this was a reduction in the rate of growth.
Medicare has been growing at a rapid and unsustainable rate. At some point, in order to preserve the program, cuts have to be made. Romney’s vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, acknowledged as much in his budget, which preserved those reductions to Medicare spending.
Moreover, while those cuts are aimed at providers, they do not reduce the care patients receive under Medicare. Patients will receive the same coverage as before.
Romney has proposed immediately restoring the $716 billion to Medicare — an odd position for someone demanding fiscal discipline. What would that do? Well, for one thing, it would cause the Medicare Trust Fund to run out of money by 2016. Absent new taxes to make up the difference, or draconian cuts in other programs, Romney’s plan would balloon the deficit while providing no additional coverage for seniors. It’s a classic lose/lose.
“Mr. — Mr. President, you’re entitled, as the president, to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts — (laughter) — all right? I’m — I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on continuing to grow, so I’m not planning on making changes there.” — Mitt Romney
Romney has not specifically called for education cuts, primarily because Romney has refused to go into specifics about his budget. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has put forth at least a quasi-specific budget, though, one which Romney had previously endorsed. That budget cut discretionary spending by 20 percent — spending which includes education.
Now, maybe Mitt Romney wouldn’t cut education. That would be swell. But then he would have to support more cuts from transportation, or agriculture, or Medicaid, or housing, or any of the other programs covered under discretionary spending.
Romney can claim that he isn’t going to cut education spending because he refuses to go into specifics, but that in and of itself is a dodge. Romney has endorsed cuts to the pool of money from which we fund education. If he wants to claim that he won’t cut education, he needs to explain what other programs he’d rather get the ax.
MR. LEHRER: Excuse me, one sec — excuse, me sir. (Laughter.) We’ve got — we’ve got — barely have three minutes left. I’m not going to grade the two of you and say you’ve — your answers have been too long or I’ve done a poor job —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You’ve done a great job, Jim.
Jim Lehrer is an icon of the American news media, and his career is far more distinguished than most journalists could dream of aspiring to. Unfortunately, on this night, he simply wasn’t up to the task of moderating this debate.
Lehrer let himself get steamrolled by Romney repeatedly, and at times by Obama as well. He was deferential to the point of meaninglessness. He simply lost control of the debate. When he did manage to reassert himself, it was often only to get the candidates to admit to differences between them — which both candidates had been glad to do.
Now, there may be something to the idea of two candidates going on stage with no moderator, and simply debating. This debate had a moderator, however, one who simply failed to moderate.
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey