FACT CHECK: Mangled facts in Manchester

Candidates fumble some claims hours before they'll face off again

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, center, answers a question as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, left, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, listen during a Republican presidential candidate debate in Concord, N.H.

Charles Krupa/AP

Truth took a punch or two at the first of two GOP debates before New Hampshire’s critical presidential primary.

  • Romney, talking about taxes, said federal, state and local government consume 37 percent of the economy today compared with only 27 percent when John F. Kennedy was president. In fact, taxes now consume only 27.4 percent of GDP.
  • Paul blasted Gingrich for avoiding the draft during Vietnam, and Gingrich said Paul had a “long history” of inaccuracies. The truth is Gingrich was both a student and a father at the time, and probably would have failed the physical anyway, according to his stepfather, an Army man.
  • Santorum said the term “middle class” implies class warfare and is one “I don’t think we should be using as Republicans.” The fact is his own campaign used it in an Iowa flyer, and he has used it in the past himself.
  • Paul attacked Santorum as a “high-powered lobbyist.” Santorum was never registered as a lobbyist, though he earned more than $200,000 working as a consultant for a lobbying firm and an energy company.

Candidates also recycled some false or doubtful claims we’ve gone over before. Romney repeated his misleading claim that his firm Bain Capital invested in businesses that “have now added over 100,000 jobs.” Huntsman again claimed Utah was “No. 1” in job creation while he was governor, which isn’t true according to the standard statistical measure for employment. And Santorum again put words in President Obama’s mouth by claiming that the president “supported” the results of a disputed election in Iran.

And finally, Gingrich, Santorum and Romney were all a bit confused about which sports teams were playing an important game on another network. Perhaps they had more important matters on their minds.

The six remaining major GOP candidates debated the evening of Jan. 7 at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. The debate was sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo! News and WMUR. The candidates were scheduled to slug it out again 12 hours later on a special edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Jan. 8.

Romney’s Fast Shuffle on Tax Figures

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gave some inaccurate and misleading figures to support his view that “taxes are too high.”

Romney: "Taxes are too high. Government at all levels during the days of John F. Kennedy consumed 27 percent of our economy, about a quarter. Today it consumes 37 percent of our economy. We’re only inches away from no longer being a free economy. And our Democrat friends want us to just keep raising taxes ‘just a little more; just give us a little more.’ "

But the fact is that federal, state and local government taxes are only slightly higher now than they were during Kennedy’s time in office.

In 1961, 1962 and the first three quarters of 1963, total government receipts were never higher than 26.4 percent of gross domestic product, according to historical figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. And today, the figure is 27.4 percent, as of the most recent quarter on record, which ended Sept. 30.

A Romney spokesman said he was actually giving figures for spending. If so, Romney still was misleading his audience. He used the word “consumes.” And he sandwiched the figures between references to taxes, never making clear that he had switched from talking about taxes to giving figures on spending and back to talking about taxes again.

Furthermore, total government expenditures never exceeded 24.7 percent of GDP in any quarter while Kennedy was president, and never were as high as Romney’s 27 percent figure. Also, during the July to September quarter last year, spending was 35.7 percent, lower than Romney’s 37 percent figure. (The figure did reach 36.5 percent in the second quarter of 2009, when the economy was shrinking. But that was then, not “today,” as Romney claimed.)

Dodgy Draft Claims

Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tussled over Paul calling Gingrich a “chicken hawk” for not serving in the military during the war in Vietnam. Paul boasted that “I went when they called me up.” Gingrich suggested Paul was not telling the truth about Gingrich’s draft deferments.

The truth is, however, that Paul was an Air Force flight surgeon — not exactly front-line duty. And Gingrich’s stepfather, an Army man, has said his stepson’s flat feet and nearsightedness probably would have disqualified him from military service even if he had not been deferred as a student and father.

“I think people who don’t serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments, they have no right to send our kids off to war,” Paul said, adding that “at least I went when they called me up.”

Gingrich, who referred to himself as an “army brat” whose father served in that branch of the military for 27 years, said that Paul had a “long history” of saying inaccurate things. “The fact is, I never asked for a deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question.”

Paul retorted: “When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids. And I went.” Gingrich counted: “I wasn’t eligible for the draft. I wasn’t eligible for the draft.”

At the time, Gingrich was in college and had a child. And though Gingrich didn’t mention it, he most likely would have been refused even if he had reported for a physical. A 1996 PBS “Frontline” documentary quoted Gingrich’s stepfather, Bob Gingrich — the Army veteran Gingrich talked about — saying: “He is very nearsighted. … He has two of the flattest feet that there ever was. He was never physically capable or qualified to be military.”

Gingrich attended Tulane University from 1966 to 1970, working on a Ph.D. in history. Gingrich said at the debate and earlier this week in New Hampshire that he got the deferment because he was a father. “I had two children during that period, I never asked for a deferment because during the period I was a father, and it was automatic,” Gingrich said, according to the Concord Monitor.

Paul said that he “was married and had two kids” when he was drafted, and he served.

Indeed, fathers, unless they were doctors, like Paul, had a much smaller chance of being drafted during Vietnam than men without children. According to a March 16, 1963, United Press International report, “President Kennedy … ordered the Selective Service deferment of all fathers except doctors, dentists and veterinarians.”

Paul’s website includes a bio written by his wife, Carol. She says they were married in 1957 and had two kids while Paul was attending medical school at Duke University. Paul later became a flight surgeon in the Air Force when he was called to duty.

Santorum’s ‘Middle Class’ Inconsistency

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum chastised Romney for using the term “middle class,” even though Santorum’s own campaign uses it currently and he has used it himself not so long ago.

Here’s what Santorum said during the debate:

Santorum, Jan. 7: "The Governor [Mitt Romney] used a term earlier that I shrink from, and it’s one that I don’t think we should be using as Republicans: “Middle class.” There are no classes in America. We’re a country that don’t allow for titles. We don’t put people in classes. Maybe middle income people. But the idea, somehow or another, that we’re going to buy into the class warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon. That’s their job. Divide. Separate. Put one group against another. That’s not the language I’ll use as president. I’ll use the language of bringing people together."

Someone in Santorum’s campaign apparently did not get the memo. A flyer circulated by the campaign in Iowa boasts that “Rick Santorum has called for significant tax rate cuts for middle-class Americans and will cut wasteful spending to pay for it.”

We couldn’t find any recent instances of Santorum uttering the term “middle class,” but he used it at least three times in public statements in 2005 and 2006. (See herehere and here.) And while Santorum says “middle class” is a phrase that ought to be wiped from the Republican lexicon, it has been used repeatedly during the Republican debates by Romney, Gingrich and Michele Bachmann.

Paul’s Inaccurate ‘Lobbyist’ Claim

Paul called Santorum a “high-powered lobbyist” — which is not technically correct.

Paul: "And also where did he get — make his living afterwards? I mean, he became a high-powered lobbyist on — in Washington, D.C. And he has done quite well."

After leaving the Senate in 2007, Santorum became a consultant — not a registered lobbyist — for several firms. One of those companies was the lobbying firm American Continental Group. Thepersonal financial disclosure statement Santorum filed as a presidential candidate shows that Santorum earned $65,000 in 2010 as a consultant for the American Continental Group, which reported earning about $6.6 million in lobbying fees that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Santorum last year also earned $142,500 as a consultant for CONSOL Energy. But he is not and never has been registered as a Washington lobbyist.

Romney’s Dubious Jobs Claim, Again

Romney repeated the claim that he created over 100,000 jobs through his work at the private equity firm Bain Capital. That’s an unproven and questionable claim, as we wrote earlier this week.

Romney said that 100,000 jobs was a “net-net” figure that included jobs gained and lost at more than 100 businesses in which Bain invested. When moderator George Stephanopoulos questioned that, saying analysts had said Romney hadn’t subtracted jobs lost, Romney responded, “no, it’s not accurate.” He said he was “a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.” But this week, the Romney campaign sent us as support for the claim a thin list of jobs gained at just three companies: Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s. No other companies were included in the list, and no jobs lost were mentioned, either. We have asked the campaign again for the detailed count that Romney said exists.

As for the three companies the campaign has cited, it’s true that they have added more than 100,000 jobs since Bain invested in them. But does Romney deserve credit for all of those jobs? He admitted at the debate tonight that the total includes jobs up until the present day, long after Bain’s initial involvement, and that other firms had invested in them as well. As we reported earlier, The Sports Authority was started with help from Bain, William Blair Venture PartnersPhillips-Smith andMarquette Venture Partners. William Blair and Bessemer Venture Partners invested in Staples. And both companies, of course, had founders and CEOs spearheading their launches.

Huntsman’s Dubious ‘No. 1′ Claim, Again

Jon Huntsman repeated his claim that when he was governor, Utah was No. 1 in job creation, better even than Texas, where Rick Perry was governor at the same time. Huntsman’s statistic is true according to data based on household surveys by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But according to the most commonly used yardstick for job growth, payroll data, Utah was actually No. 4, behind Texas.

As we pointed out when he made similar claims in previous debates, Huntsman is citing a ranking based on BLS data from surveys of 60,000 American households. Using that data, jobs in Utah grew by 5.9 percent, tops in the country. Most economists, however, cite BLS statistics derived from payroll data to assess job growth. According to the BLS payroll data, the number of employed people in Utah went from 1,124,900 to 1,178,800 during Huntsman’s term. That’s a 4.8 percent increase. That’s much better than the national average, which saw jobs decline by 1.8 percent over that same period. But it’s not best in the nation. Using that data, Utah ranked fourth, behind Wyoming, North Dakota and  — notably — Texas.

And, we should note, Huntsman frequently points out that Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation during Romney’s term as governor. That’s a ranking based on payroll data numbers.

Santorum Misquotes Obama on Iran, Again

Santorum repeated his misrepresentation of President Obama’s response to the 2009 reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying in an ABC/Yahoo! News debate that Obama “tacitly supported” the results of the election and immediately afterward called it a “legitimate” election. Actually, Obama said he could not “state definitively one way or another” whether the election was legitimate, because the U.S. did not have election monitors in Iran.

Iran’s presidential election was June 12, 2009, and President Ahmadinejad declared victory — triggering protests in Tehran. On June 15, Obama said at a press conference: “We weren’t on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not have international observers on hand, so I can’t state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election. But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed.  And I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views.”

Obama issued a statement five days later again condemning Iran’s post-election “violent and unjust actions against its own people” and asserting that the U.S. “stands with all who … exercise” the “universal rights to assembly and free speech.” It was one of many such statements.

Obama was criticized in some circles for being too cautious with his statements about the election results, but as we noted when Santorum made a similar claim about Obama’s response on “Meet the Press,” Obama never said it appeared to be a legitimate election.

America’s Favorite Pastime: Foot(in mouth)ball

Even in lighthearted moments the candidates struggled with the facts. In one of those softball questions designed to humanize the candidates, debate moderator Stephanopoulos asked what they would be doing this evening if not debating.

Gingrich fumbled the answer. Santorum booted it. And Romney followed along.

Gingrich: "I’d be watching the college championship basketball game."

Santorum (correcting Gingrich): "Football game."

Gingrich: "I mean, football game. Thank you."

Santorum: "I’d be doing the same thing with my family. We’d be huddled around, and we’d be watching the championship game."

Romney: "I’m afraid it’s football. I love it."

Stephanopoulos: "Football?"

Romney: "Yeah. I love it."

Certainly, there was no college basketball championship — as Santorum was quick to point out in “correcting” Gingrich. That would be in March (hence the term “March Madness”). But Santorum, too, was wrong. As every red-blooded American knows, the college football championship wasn’t played last night. LSU plays Alabama for the national championship on Monday night.

Now, there was an NFL wild card game last night. The Saints beat the Lions. Is that what Romney meant? His answer was sufficiently vague on this issue of national importance.

— by Brooks Jackson, Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley, Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore

Correction, Jan. 10: We used figures based on BEA’s “current expenditures” and “current receipts.” (Lines 1 and 15 of BEA’s Table 3.1.) Our original story incorrectly referred to “total” receipts and expenditures, and we have corrected it.

Update, Jan. 10: After our original story was published, a Romney spokesman pointed us to two different measures: BEA’s “total” expenditure figures and the historical tables published annually by the Office of Management and Budget. Each uses somewhat different accounting, but both still tell essentially the same story as the figures we cited.

BEA’s “total” figures show federal, state and local expenditures averaged 27.5 percent of GDP during Kennedy’s time in office, and had risen to 37.2 percent in the most recent quarter on record. Those are roughly the figures Romney used. But again, spending figures are not the most relevant when discussing taxes.

BEA’s “total receipts” figure (a bit broader than the “current” receipts figure) averaged 26.3 percent of GDP under Kennedy. But it was 27.5 percent in the most recent quarter on record. So even BEA’s broadest measure shows only a small rise in taxes, fees and other receipts, and not a dramatic jump.

One of the most widely used measures comes from the historical tables published annually by the Office of Management and Budget. These are less up to date, and cover fiscal years which don’t exactly match presidential terms of office. But they lend even less support to Romney’s argument for lowering taxes.

OMB’s historical figures show that all federal, state and local revenues ranged from 25.4 percent to 25.8 percent of GDP during the fiscal years that fall wholly or partially within Kennedy’s time in office. (See OMB Table 15.1; in those days fiscal years ran from July 1 to June 30.)

But the figure was actually lower than that — 24.7 percent — in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010, which is the most recent fiscal year covered by OMB’s historical tables. No wonder Romney didn’t use tax figures to argue for further tax cuts.

As for OMB’s measure of total government spending, during the four fiscal years when Kennedy was in office, it did indeed amount to more than 27 percent of GDP. But in fiscal 2010, it was 35 percent, somewhat lower than fiscal 2009′s 36.5 percent — (see OMB Table 15.3) — and also below Romney’s 37 percent figure.

Sources

Rick Santorum campaign flyer. “An Unmatched RecordFighting for Conservative Values.”

Press Office of Sen. Rick Santorum. Press release: “Santorum Holds Town Hall Meeting with Doctors, Nurses and Administrators at Reading Hospital and Medical Center.” 20 Apr 2006.

Project Vote Smart. Transcript: Santorum statement on Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act of 2005. 13 Feb 2006.

Project Vote Smart. Transcript: Santorum statement on Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. 07 Mar 2005.

White House website. Remarks by President Obama. 15 Jun 2009.

White House website. Statement from the President on Iran. 20 Jun 2009.

U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Executive Branch Public Disclosure Financial Report. Filed by Rick Santorum on 2 Aug 2011.

Annual Lobbying by American Continental Group. Citizens for Responsible Politics. Accessed 7 Jan 2012.

Kercheval, Nancy. “New Orleans Saints Beat Detroit Lions 45-28 in NFC Wild-Card Playoff Game.” Bloomberg News. 7 Jan 2012.

United Press International. “Kennedy Gives Fathers Draft Exempt Status.” Lodi News-Sentinel. 16 Mar 1963.

Connors, Molly A.K. “Gingrich: ‘I never asked for a deferment’ during Vietnam.” Concord Monitor. 4 Jan 2012.

Moody, Chris. “PBS releases 1996 documentary ‘The Long March of Newt Gingrich’ for the Web.” Yahoo! News. 19 Dec 2011.

Paul, Carol. “The American Dream.” Ronpaulforcongress.com. accessed 8 Jan 2012.

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, “National Income and Product Accounts Tables” Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product; Table 3.1. Government Current Receipts and Expenditures. Accessed 8 Jan 2011.

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