May 21, 2011
WASHINGTON — When Michele Bachmann accused Newt Gingrich in the latest Republican debate of once supporting a cap-and-trade program to curb global warming, he huffily denied it and told her she should get her facts straight.
Actually, she did.
As recently as 2007, Gingrich “strongly supported” the idea.
Viewers did not always get the straight goods Saturday night from other presidential hopefuls, either.
Mitt Romney erred in saying Barack Obama was the only president to cut Medicare. If Rick Perry had been a betting man, he probably would have lost the $10,000 wager Romney wanted to make with him to settle competing assertions.
A look at how some of the claims from the Saturday night debate and Sunday talk show aftermath compare with the facts:
BACHMANN: “If you look at Newt-Romney, they were for cap-and-trade.”
GINGRICH: “Well, Michele, a lot of what you say just isn’t true, period. I have never — I oppose cap-and-trade. I testified against it the same day that Al Gore testified for it. I helped defeat it in the Senate through American Solutions. It is simply untrue. … You know, I think it’s important for you, and this is a fair game and everybody gets to pick fights. It’s important that you be accurate when you say these things. Those are not true.”
THE FACTS: Bachmann’s suggestion that Gingrich and Romney are in lockstep was oversimplified. But she was right that Gingrich once backed the idea of capping carbon emissions and letting polluters trade emission allowances.
Asked in a 2007 PBS “Frontline” interview about President George W. Bush’s endorsement of mandatory carbon caps in his 2000 campaign, Gingrich said: “I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.”
To be sure, Gingrich opposed a Democratic version of cap-and-trade when it was adopted by the House. It died in the Senate. Many Republicans considered it a market-distorting cap-and-tax plan instead.
Although most candidates disavow the idea now, cap-and-trade once enjoyed substantial Republican support because it sought to use market mechanisms, not the heavy hand of government, to control pollution. Congress in 1990 passed a law with overwhelming bipartisan support that set up a trading system for sulfur dioxide, the main culprit behind acid rain.
ROMNEY: “Let’s not forget, only one president has ever cut Medicare for seniors in this country and it’s Barack Obama. We’re going to remind him of that time and time again.”
THE FACTS: Obama is at least the third president to sign cuts in Medicare that were passed by Congress.
The 1990 budget law signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush raised premiums paid by Medicare beneficiaries and cut payments to hospitals, doctors and other providers.
The 1997 balanced budget law signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton scaled back Medicare payments to hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes and other providers, as well as raising monthly premiums paid by older people. It reduced projected payment rates for doctors, putting in place automatic cuts that Congress routinely has waived ever since.
The law signed by Obama strengthens traditional Medicare by improving preventive care and increasing payments to primary care doctors and nurses serving as medical coordinators, but reduces subsidies to private insurance plans that have become a popular alternative to Medicare.
Obama is cutting about 6 percent of spending from Medicare over 10 years. Clinton and a Republican Congress came up with cuts of 12 percent.
PERRY: “I’m listening to you, Mitt, and I’m hearing you say all the right things. But I read your first book, and it said in there that your mandate in Massachusetts — which should be the model for the country — and I know it came out of the reprint of the book, but, you know, I’m just saying, you were for individual mandates, my friend.”
ROMNEY: “You know what, you’ve raised that before, Rick. And you’re simply wrong. … $10,000 bet?”
PERRY: “I’m not in the betting business but … I’ll show you the book.”
ROMNEY: “I’ve got the book and I wrote the book.”
THE FACTS: At issue is a modification Romney made to his 2010 book, “No Apology,” when it came out in paperback this year. Perry has several times accused the former Massachusetts governor of cutting a passage that proposed making the health insurance mandate in his state national, as Obama has done with his health care law.
The Texas governor did so again on “Fox News Sunday” when he contended Romney’s hardcover edition “clearly stated that individual mandates should be the model for this country and then he took that out of the book in the paperback.”
There is little question Romney altered the words to dissociate himself more clearly from Obama’s plan. But the book and its excised passage did not call for Romney’s plan to go national. At most, it held out the Massachusetts plan as a possible model for some states, not the federal government, while emphasizing that states should find their own solutions.
The book pitched what Romney called his state’s achievement, affordable insurance that covers everyone, and said, “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.” That came out.
RON PAUL: “We have dumped the debt on the American people through TARP funding as well as the Federal Reserve. So the debt is dumped onto people. And what did we do? We bailed out the people that were benefiting during the formation of the bubble. So as long as we do that, we’re not going to have economic growth.”
THE FACTS: The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program was proposed by President George W. Bush and passed by Congress in 2008 to help rescue banks and other imperiled financial institutions. Nearly all of the money has been paid back, with interest.
Most economists credit the program with keeping the financial system from freezing up and helping to prevent the worst recession in 30 years from becoming another Great Depression. The Federal Reserve does not operate on taxpayer money and does not receive any operating funds from the Treasury. In fact, it makes money every year from its banking operations, and turns over profits to the Treasury.
GINGRICH: “In 1993, in fighting Hillarycare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do. … After Hillarycare disappeared, it became more and more obvious that mandates have all sorts of problems built into them. People gradually tried to find other techniques. I, frankly, was floundering, trying to find a way to make sure that people who could afford it were paying their hospital bills, while still leaving it out for libertarians to not buy insurance. And that’s what we were wrestling with. It’s now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional.”
THE FACTS: Gingrich is right that some conservatives, himself included, once supported the idea of requiring everyone to have health insurance, and that they held this view when Hillary Rodham Clinton was leading the White House effort to overhaul the health care system even more broadly.
But his suggestion that he dropped the idea after the Clinton health care overhaul failed is misleading. In recent years, including in his 2008 book, Gingrich endorsed the idea of making people buy health insurance or posting a bond if they wanted to go without coverage, and he contended this year that “all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care.”
ROMNEY: “One, make sure that our employer tax rates are competitive with other nations. They’re not now. We’re the highest in the world.”
THE FACTS: Japan’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. The U.S. top rate of 35 percent would be second, except that few companies pay the full rate because of a variety of loopholes and tax breaks not available in many other countries.
GINGRICH: “It starts very simply, taxes — lower taxes, less regulation, an American energy plan and actually be positive about people who create jobs. The opposite of the Obama plan, which is higher taxes, more regulation, no American energy and attack people who create jobs with class warfare.”
THE FACTS: By “no American energy,” Gingrich really meant Obama has not exploited enough American energy in his opinion, but that’s how the former House speaker talks, shorn of nuance and often overreaching.
On taxes, the record is more complex than Gingrich suggests in asserting that Obama plots merely to raise them. He is not the only GOP candidate to ignore the hefty tax cuts that Obama has pushed for and achieved, as well as some tax increases.
Overall, as a share of the nation’s economy, federal tax revenues are the lowest they’ve been since 1950.
For the third straight year, U.S. families will pay less in federal taxes than they did under Bush. Much of this is due both to recent tax breaks and the weak economy. Obama has called for extending Bush-era tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans, and for extending and expanding the 2011 tax cut in the federal payroll tax, which finances Social Security and Medicare.