- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2012

At some point in the first presidential debate Wednesday night, President Obama likely will claim 90 percent of the federal debt that has piled up during his presidency is a consequence of the policies of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama won’t be telling the truth. Treasury data cited by the president covers a 10-year period that excludes Mr. Obama’s fourth year, and the president signed two bills alone that account for $1.6 trillion of the $5.2 trillion in deficits over the last four years — about 31 percent.

Likewise, don’t be surprised if Republican nominee Mitt Romney claims during the high-stakes encounter with Mr. Obama that five separate “studies” show the Republican’s tax plan will cut rates without lowering revenue and without raising taxes on the middle class.

Also not true. There are three studies that reviewed and supported the Romney claim, but the candidate inflates that number by throwing in a couple of favorable newspaper editorials.

As much as journalists would like their work to be considered “studies,” researchers never view them as such.

Looking to flip the race’s momentum in the much-anticipated debate in Denver, Mr. Romney arrived in Colorado late Monday after being drilling with his debate team, which features Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, standing in as the president. Mr. Romney was to hold a rally in Denver on Monday night before engaging in a final round of debate preparations.

Mr. Obama, whose game plan is to avoid mistakes, was holed up Monday with his top advisers to practice in a Middle East-themed resort near Las Vegas. Aides are coaching Mr. Obama to shorten his sometimes windy answers for the debate format, and to not look perturbed at the expected criticism from Mr. Romney.

The Obama camp also is trying to spin the idea that there are very high expectations for Mr. Romney, portraying the Republican as an accomplished debater who has been practicing for years for this moment.

Mitt Romney … has been preparing earlier and with more focus than any presidential candidate in modern history,” said Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “Not John F. Kennedy, not President Bill Clinton, not President George Bush, not Ronald Reagan has prepared as much as he has.”

As the candidates gear up for the first of their three prime-time showdowns, both men have been tossing around self-serving claims on the campaign trail and in interviews that stretch the truth beyond the breaking point. Whether or not they believe these dubious talking points, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have been sticking to their stories, even when fact-checkers call them out for inaccuracies or just plain falsehoods.

Take the president’s rather defensive explanation of the botched Fast and Furious gun-walking operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) into Mexico. Mr. Obama claimed during a town-hall meeting hosted by Univision in Miami on Sept. 20 that Fast and Furious “was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration.”

His assertion simply isn’t so. A report by the Justice Department’s inspector general shows that the program began in October 2009, during Mr. Obama’s first year as president.

Another program called Operation Wide Receiver, similar to Fast and Furious, did take place under the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007. The earlier program also attempted to track guns, and it also operated out of the ATF office in Phoenix.

Mr. Obama also has been telling people that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was cleared by the “independent” report on Fast and Furious. Although the report has been praised by people in both parties, it was the work of Justice’s inspector general and was ordered by the Obama administration. It was not the product of a special counsel or other independent, outside investigator, as some critics have called for.

The president is fond of claiming in campaign speeches that his administration has “doubled renewable energy” in America, which isn’t true. He is referring to wind and solar power. When larger categories of ethanol and hydropower are included, total renewable energy has risen by about 27 percent in four years. FactCheck.org said all renewable energy accounts for only about 9 percent of the nation’s energy production.

Mr. Romney can be expected to argue during the debate, as he has on the campaign trail and in ads, that Mr. Obama is to blame for looming budget cuts for the military. It’s a huge oversimplification of the debt-reduction talks between Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans that fell apart in the summer of 2011.

The result of those negotiations, the Budget Control Act of 2011, called for $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years. But it also required a congressional supercommittee to find another $1.2 trillion in savings. If the supercommittee failed, the law called for automatic, across-the-board cuts to go into effect in 2013, with half of the cuts targeted for defense.

While the White House reportedly came up with the idea for the defense cuts, neither side wanted or expected those cuts to take place. The cuts were viewed as an incentive to force Republicans to reach an agreement, just as automatic cuts to social programs were seen as an incentive to compel Democrats to compromise.

With the first debate focused on domestic policies, the economy will, of course, be central.

Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democratic Network, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, said he expects Mr. Romney’s biggest “whopper” in the debate to be “that the economy is worse today than when Obama took office.”

Asked to predict the president’s biggest whopper in the debate, Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said: “He will probably try to paint America as generally better off than we were four years ago and use manipulated statistics to back up that claim.”

Mr. Romney has attacked the president’s economic leadership, saying people are not better off than they were four years ago. Mr. Obama will point to 30 straight months of job growth in the private sector, although he acknowledges the unemployment rate is still too high — it was 8.1 percent in August, while the jobless rate was 7.2 percent when Mr. Obama took office.

That raises another claim likely to surface in the debate: Mr. Romney’s argument that the president “promised” that his stimulus plan would lower the unemployment rate below 8 percent. Actually, the president didn’t make such a promise, but his top economic adviser issued a report predicting that, with the stimulus program, unemployment would peak at just under 8 percent in 2009.

Mr. Romney also could claim, as he has in recent months, that he didn’t raise taxes as governor of Massachusetts. While he didn’t raise state income or sales taxes, he did raise hundreds of millions of dollars through fees, and closed business tax loopholes that generated about $350 million per year.