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Obama and Biden's trip in the spin machine

September 08, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Convention.
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan took a particularly stiff beating from fact checkers for his speech at the Republican National Convention last week. His Democratic opponents fared a bit better in the accuracy department during their convention in Charlotte, N.C., but also contributed heartily to the national veracity deficit.

President Obama's Thursday night acceptance speech got a few things wrong, starting with just how much his budget plan would trim the U.S. deficit. Obama said he would shave $4 trillion off the deficit over 10 years. noted, however, that $1 trillion of that savings is supposed to come from scaling down U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem with that calculation is that the wars are financed by deficit spending and cutting back does not produce new revenue to reduce the deficit. That point was made by, among others, the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The $4-trillion debt reduction figure also includes $1 trillion already "baked-in" to federal finances anticipated when Obama and Congress came to a compromise to raise the debt ceiling. So the $1-trillion in additional savings the president counts has already been factored in to the bottom line, according to FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. The organization has shown consistently it plays no favorites in overseeing the two sides' claims.

Obama’s claims were imprecise, at best, in a few other spots during his Thursday address to the convention. He said his tax plan would restore the income tax rates in effect when Bill Clinton was president, which is true — the top marginal rate would go back to 39.6% from the current 35%. But upper-income earners would also see their payroll taxes go up under Obama’s healthcare act, so their actual tax increase would likely be bigger.

The president also misrepresented GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s position on ending the U.S. war in Iraq. Obama said Romney had called the end of the American involvement there “tragic,” but the Republican’s criticism was over the pace of troop withdrawals, not a call to maintain the status quo, noted, another veracity outfit, run by the Tampa Bay Times of Florida.

Not to do all the heavy lifting himself, the president got some help from his running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, in misconstruing some of Romney’s positions. In his Thursday night address in Charlotte, Biden made it sound like the Republican nominee had not supported the U.S. mission that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden.

While Obama’s order to get the Al Qaeda leader has become a major selling point for the Democrats (“Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive,” Biden says repeatedly on the stump), Romney in 2007 did say it was “not worth moving heaven and earth” to catch the terrorist mastermind.

The full context of his remarks made it clear that Romney wanted Bid Laden removed, but along with many other Al Qaeda leaders. Most leaders in the mainstream of both parties, including Obama himself, agree with that position. But the Democrats are pretending like Romney is some lily-livered outlier.

Biden also said “the experts” found that the Republicans’ corporate tax structure would create 800,000 jobs — not in the U.S., but in other countries. That was actually the finding of one academic and it has been hotly contested, as has the suggestion that the tax plan would preclude the creation of jobs in the U.S., as also noted.

Perhaps the most confusing issue for voters to parse this cycle is the consequences for Medicare from the two candidates’ proposals. Biden’s claim this week that the Romney-Ryan ticket is “not for preserving Medicare at all” is (surprise!) a sharply partisan spin.

The proposal by the Republicans would keep Medicare in place for those 55 and older. It would create a new “premium-support” system — sometimes called a voucher — for those under 55, providing the money so patients could buy insurance on the private market. But younger Americans would also have the option of remaining in the traditional Medicare pool.

Some experts say that the shift of many people to the voucher system would leave the oldest and sickest in the traditional Medicare system and quickly force up rates in order to keep the system solvent. There is also considerable doubt about whether the vouchers would keep pace with the high rate of inflation for medical care. So, the Republican plan comes with risks, but it's still not the outright termination of Medicare that the vice president claimed.

Those were the biggest discrepancies picked out by the truth-squadders watching the Democratic ticket this week. With two months to go in the race, fact-checking — of both sides — appears to be a strong growth sector for the U.S. economy.


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