FACT CHECK: Errant claims on auto bailout, taxes
WASHINGTON (AP) — Twenty Republican presidential debates later, the head-scratching claims kept coming.
Did Mitt Romney really cut taxes as Massachusetts governor, as he asserted yet again? Or did he raise them by hundreds of millions of dollars, as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum alleged? And how could Newt Gingrich have given the nation four balanced budgets when he was only in Congress for two of them?
There was something old, something new, in the misstatements of the candidates Wednesday in what was possibly the last GOP debate.
A look at some of the claims and how they compare with the facts:
ROMNEY to Santorum: "You voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without compensating cuts in spending."
THE FACTS: Maybe so, but increases in the debt ceiling were not politically charged in the past as they are now. They just allow the government to pay bills run up by previous Congresses. To not pay them would be like deciding to stop paying a car loan or mortgage. In fact, President Ronald Reagan, an icon to most conservatives, supported increases in the debt limit 12 times over his two terms. The idea of insisting on offsetting spending cuts when raising the debt ceiling is relatively new.
ROMNEY: "They finally realized I was right." — On the government ushering the auto industry into and out of bankruptcy.
THE FACTS: Romney did propose a bankruptcy process for the automakers before the government opted for that course. But there was a tremendous difference between the course he advocated and the one that was taken. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy on the strength of a massive bailout that Romney opposed. Neither Republican President George W. Bush nor Democratic President Barack Obama believed the automakers would have survived without that backup from taxpayers. Romney held out the possibility at the time of the government giving certain loan and warranty guarantees that would not have approached the nearly $85 billion bailout.
SANTORUM: "Gov. Romney even today suggested raising taxes on the top 1 percent."
THE FACTS: Romney's new proposal actually would lower tax rates across the board. The rate for the wealthiest Americans would drop to 28 percent from 35 percent. However, Romney's call for unspecified new limits on tax deductions for higher-income taxpayers makes it impossible, absent more details, to assess the impact on any individual.
NEWT GINGRICH: "When I was speaker ... we balanced the budget for four consecutive years."
THE FACTS: Gingrich has made this misstatement many times before. He was speaker from January 1995 to January 1999. During budget years 1996 and 1997, when Gingrich was House speaker, the government ran deficits totaling nearly $130 billion. In budget year 1998, which ended Sept. 30, 1998, there was a surplus of $69 billion. And in budget year 1999, during which Gingrich was speaker part of the time, there was a surplus of $126 billion. Thus, Gingrich can only claim credit for contributing to two years of a balanced budget, at most.
SANTORUM: "Gov. Romney raised $700 million in taxes and fees in Massachusetts."
ROMNEY: "We cut taxes 19 times."
THE FACTS: Romney largely held the line on tax increases but the record is mixed. Massachusetts raised business taxes by $140 million with measures mostly recommended by Romney. As well, the Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers raised hundreds of millions of dollars from higher fees and fines, another form of taxation. Romney himself proposed raising nearly $60 million by creating 33 new fees and increasing 57 others. Anti-tax advocates praised his support for income tax cuts while objecting to his course on business taxes and fees.
SANTORUM, on Syrian President Bashar Assad : "If (Syria) would have been any other country, given what was going on and the mass murders that we're seeing there, this president would have quickly joined the international community, which is calling for his ouster and the stop of this. But he's not. He's not, because he's afraid to stand up to Iran."
THE FACTS: Obama, in a statement Aug. 18, 2011, said: "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." Since then, Obama and officials throughout his administration have repeated dozens of times their call for Assad to leave power immediately. The U.S. also led efforts at the United Nations to win support for a resolution demanding Assad's resignation. It was vetoed by China and Russia, but the Obama administration is now working with European and Arab partners to use diplomatic and economic pressure to force Assad out of power.
ROMNEY: "I'm going to link the pay of government workers with the pay in the private sector. Government servants shouldn't get more than the people who are paying taxes."
THE FACTS: It's something of a myth that federal workers make out like gangbusters next to their private sector counterparts.
The latest Congressional Budget Office study found federal pay is, on average, only 2 percent higher than for comparable private sector workers. The discrepancy is larger among the least educated. Federal employees with just a high school diploma make 21 percent more than similar private workers. But federal workers tend to be more educated, older and concentrated in professional occupations — and they make 23 percent less, on average than private sector counterparts.
That advantage holds true when benefits are added to the mix: The federal professionals still lag, while federal employees with less education have a greater advantage over private sector workers.
GINGRICH: "If we're going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama, who as a state senator voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion."
THE FACTS: As an Illinois state senator, Obama voted against legislation promoted by anti-abortion activists that would have conferred protection to fetuses showing any signs of life after an abortion, even if doctors did not believe the fetus was viable. Obama pointed to an existing Illinois law requiring doctors to protect fetuses they believed were likely to survive after an abortion, and said he was concerned the proposed new law was so broad it could interfere with routine abortions. Obama said he would have supported federal legislation President George W. Bush signed in 2002 that would protect a viable fetus but reaffirmed a woman's right to an abortion.
GINGRICH: "It is utterly stupid to say that the United States government can't control the border. It is a failure of will. It's a failure of enforcement."
THE FACTS: A failure of will or enforcement is difficult to see in the statistics. Starting under the Bush administration, the ranks of the Border Patrol have risen to more than 21,400 agents, a force augmented by National Guard troops, unmanned aerial vehicles and fencing. A record 396,609 illegal immigrants were deported last year.
In the budget year that ended in September, border agents arrested the fewest number of illegal border crossers — 327,577 — in nearly four decades. That's considered a sign that fewer people are trying to cross, whether because doing so is riskier or because economic opportunity in the U.S. is less than before.
The debate presses on about whether the border is becoming secure enough, but there has been a measure of success and substantial effort.
Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell, Beth Fouhy and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.