FACT CHECK: Presidential debate missteps

(EDITOR’S NOTE — An occasional look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story.)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney spun one-sided stories in their first presidential debate, not necessarily bogus, but not the whole truth.

They made some flat-out flubs, too. The rise in health insurance premiums has not been the slowest in 50 years, as Obama stated. Far from it. And there are not 23 million unemployed, as Romney asserted.

Here’s a look at some of their claims 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: In promising $4 trillion, Obama is already banking more than $2 trillion from legislation enacted along with Republicans last year that cut agency operating budgets and capped them for 10 years. He also 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.

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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 care 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 what treatments they can prescribe.

Romney seems to be resurrecting the assertion that Obama’s law would lead to rationing, made famous by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s widely debunked allegation that it would create “death panels.”

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.

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OBAMA: “Over the last two years, health care premiums have gone up — it’s true — but they’ve gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years. So we’re already beginning to see progress. In the meantime, folks out there with insurance, you’re already getting a rebate.”

THE FACTS: Not so, concerning premiums. Obama is mixing overall health care spending, which has been growing at historically low levels, and health insurance premiums, which have continued to rise faster than wages and overall economic growth. Premiums for job-based family coverage have risen by nearly $2,400 since 2009 when Obama took office, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2011, premiums jumped by 9 percent. This year’s 4 percent increase was more manageable, but the price tag for family coverage stands at $15,745, with employees paying more than $4,300 of that.

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