FACT CHECK: Presidential debate missteps

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OBAMA:Gov. Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, that’s another trillion dollars — and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for. That’s $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign.”

THE FACTS:Obama’s claim that Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion doesn’t add up. Presumably, Obama was talking about the effect of Romney’s tax plan over 10 years, which is common in Washington. But Obama’s math doesn’t take into account Romney’s entire plan.

Romney proposes to reduce income tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. The Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group, says that would reduce federal tax revenues by $465 billion in 2015, which would add up to about $5 trillion over 10 years.

However, Romney says he wants to pay for the tax cuts by reducing or eliminating tax credits, deductions and exemptions. The goal is a simpler tax code that raises the same amount of money as the current system but does it in a more efficient manner.

The knock on Romney’s plan, which Obama accurately cited, is that Romney has refused to say which tax breaks he would eliminate to pay for the lower rates.

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ROMNEY: “What would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?”

THE FACTS: China continues to be portrayed by Romney and many other Republicans as the poster child for runaway federal deficits. It’s true that China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, but it only represents about an 8 percent stake. And China has recently been decreasing its holdings, according to the Treasury Department. Some two-thirds of the $16 trillion national debt is owed to the federal government, with the largest single stake the Federal Reserve, as well as American investors and the Social Security Trust Fund.

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OBAMA: “Independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet Gov. Romney’s pledge of not … adding to the deficit is by burdening middle-class families. The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more.”

THE FACTS: That’s just one scenario. Obama’s claim relies on a study by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. The study, however, is more nuanced than Obama indicated.

The study concludes it would be impossible for Romney to meet all of his stated goals without shifting some of the tax burden from people who make more than $200,000 to people who make less.

In one scenario, the study says, Romney’s proposal could result in a $2,000 tax increase for families who make less than $200,000 and have children.

Romney says his plan wouldn’t raise taxes on anyone, and his campaign points to several studies by conservative think tanks that dispute the Tax Policy Center’s findings. Most of the conservative studies argue that Romney’s tax plan would stimulate economic growth, generating additional tax revenue without shifting any of the tax burden to the middle class. Congress, however, doesn’t use those kinds of projections when it estimates the effect of tax legislation.

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