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11, 2012, several claims were made by Congressman Paul Ryan. Particularly when discussing how Governor Mitt Romney might stimulate our economy and pull America out of debt, Ryan pointed to Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor. “He balanced the budget four times. He balanced the budget four times without raising taxes.” This outstanding statement of Romney’s record seems too good to be true. Similar to many claims made by politicians, this statement contains both truth and falsehood. Did Romney balance the budget four times? Did Romney balance the budget without raising taxes? Paul Ryan’s claim is, at first glance, correct. Undisputedly, Romney balanced the budget as governor of Massachusetts. In fact, it is one of his greatest accomplishments in government. However, according to state law, the governor of Massachusetts is required to balance the budget for each year they are in office. While it is true that personal income or sales taxes were never raised under Romney’s term as governor, Romney benefited from a 1.1 billion dollar tax increase passed by the Democratic legislature the year before he became governor. This tax increase cut roughly half of the deficit Romney faced during his first year in office. Romney’s policy actions to lower the deficit included raising government fees and cutting social programs. During his term, he worked together with the Massachusetts legislature to double fees on marriage licenses and professional registrations. He also quadrupled the fee for firearm licenses, doubled licenses to sell beer or wine, and raised the fee for season passes at the state golf course from $650 to $800. According to factcheck.org, “Romney also quintupled the per gallon delivery fee for gasoline. All told, the *government+ fees raised more than $400 million in their first year.” Romney made significant cuts to social programs; he cut more than $6 million from a program that benefited teenage parents and $7.5 million from programs which benefited poor families. Furthermore, while Romney did not raise sales tax or personal income tax, he did cut unrestricted aid to cities and towns by 15% and cut an additional 4% funding to local schools. The result of these cuts was highlighted in an article by the International Business Times. According to the state’s major newspaper, the Boston Globe, Romney’s approach to solving the debt was met with public criticism. One reason was the major cuts to unrestricted aid to towns. After Romney cut aid to these towns, they were forced to respond by raising property taxes on individuals. During Romney’s term, the average local property tax bill jumped by 24% for individuals. Romney also indirectly raised taxes on businesses in an effort to balance the budget. According to Politico, he forced businesses to pay $174 million more in corporate taxes per year. An investigation by the Washington Post (which citied articles by NY Times and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent watchdog group) discovered that Romney forced businesses to pay more by “closing loopholes” in the corporate tax structure. In total, during Romney’s term the combined state and local tax burden in Massachusetts rose from 10% to 10.6% of income. Verdict: Ryan’s claim that Romney balanced the budget four times during his term as Governor of Massachusetts is correct. However, his following claim, that Romney balanced the budget without raising taxes, is misleading. While Romney never raised income or sales taxes, he raised government fees, closed loopholes that benefit businesses, and – by cutting funding to cities – he indirectly forced localities to increase property taxes. Ryan’s claim, as we see it, is partly true.
Louis Joslyn and Jon Boss Is Romney’s 20 Percent Tax Cut Realistic? In the Vice Presidential Debate, Congressman Paul Ryan outlined a plan arguing that current U.S. revenues could be maintained with a 20% tax cut: “What we’re saying is here’s our framework: Lower tax rates 20 percent – we [currently] raise about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forgo about $ 1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is deny those loopholes and deductions to higher- income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation so we can lower tax rates across the board.” Is Romney and Ryan’s plan realistic, or is it a political gimmick in an effort to gain votes? When further questioned about the specifics of their plan, Ryan responded vaguely, stating: “We can agree on a framework; let’s work together *with the U.S. Congress+ to fill in the details.” On his website, Romney echoes Ryan’s statement, giving little detail on how exactly the framework can be achieved. However, the plan includes a revenue-neutral solution: they intend to eliminate deductions, exclusions and credits in the tax system to account for lost revenue from the tax cut. Ambiguity makes it somewhat difficult to definitively disprove (or prove) the validity their claim. However, several studies and investigations have examined the plan. The foremost study on Romney’s tax plan was jointly conducted by Tax Policy Center and Brookings Institution. According to a Brookings of the study, “A revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed [. . .] would provide large tax cuts to high income households and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.” However, Romney insists the middle class will not pay any additional taxes. During the first Presidential debate, Mitt Romney stated, “I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families.” The Joint Committee on Taxation, a bipartisan Congressional committee, investigated the possibility of creating revenue-neutral tax reform. The JCT attempted to create a policy which would not burden the middle-class. After excluding several tax credits (such as healthcare and retirement benefits), the JCT discovered a tax reform similar to Romney’s plan could only “permit a four-percent decrease in all ordinary income tax rates.” According to Josh Barro, lead economics writer for Bloomberg, Romney’s plan cannot stand without more taxation of the middle class. As Barro states, “The idea is intuitive, but wrong. And it’s wrong because of something people don’t realize: The tax preferences that exist today overwhelmingly benefit people with lower and middle incomes, not the wealthy.” An article by CBS concludes Romney’s plan is only possible assuming two things. The first assumption is that lower tax rates will create more jobs, more taxpayers, and thus a lower deficit. The second assumption is “that a deal to cut into the popular tax deductions can be reached with a divided Congress.” Despite the studies and investigations, Romney and Ryan counter with “six studies” that prove the validity of their plan. The six studies have been fact-checked multiple times, and have been shown unsound. Politifact.com, USnews.com, and Barro each list and individually discuss the six studies in great detail. Of the six studies, two come from a Romney advisor and three from conservative think tanks. Only one is an independent study. Harvey Rosen, of Princeton University, authored the lone independent study. Rosen asserts that critics of Romney’s proposal neglect potential gains in economic growth. In his model, Rosen assumes historically high GDP growth estimates of 3, 5, and 7 percentage points. Rosen relies on summary data
from IRS’s statistics of income for 2009. Multiple sources insist that 2009 was a flawed tax year. Politifact.com refers to Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California Berkeley. According to Auerbach, 2009 was the bottom year of the recession. As such, the cost of a tax cut in 2009 was less significant than it will be in 2013, so “2009 would be a relatively easy year to make the numbers work.” Verdict: The Romney/Ryan campaign claims a tax reform package which can ensure a 20% tax cut while maintaining current revenues. However, this vague plan is difficult to fact check. Most studies note that Romney’s plan is unrealistic. Experts believe that if the plan is to be effective, the 20% tax cut must be reduced and more deductions must be eliminated, or the middle-class will face the brunt of the burden. We rate Ryan’s claim as improbable because Romney’s plan is vague, his assumptions overly optimistic, and if elected, he faces a divided Congress.
Kat Vampola “Dear Daughter”: Women and Obama’s Economic Policies As a mother twirls her baby around, viewers may expect to see the newest Gerber or Johnson and Johnson commercial. The female narrator begins to speak and viewers realize that this is the latest Romney campaign ad addressing how Obama’s policies are affecting women. The ad states: “Dear Daughter, Welcome to America. Your share of Obama’s debt is over $50,000. And it grows every day. Obama’s policies are making it harder on women. The poverty rate for women — the highest in 17 years. More women are unemployed under President Obama. More than 5.5 million women can’t find work. That’s what Obama’s policies have done for women.” The first claim about Obama’s debt depends on how one defines his debt. By looking at just the national debt, it is well over $16 trillion. The national debt divided by the U.S. population equals a share over $51,000 per person, but the ad chose the words “Obama’s debt.” If one considers “Obama’s debt” to begin the day he entered office, then his debt equals $5.5 trillion. This means that each U.S. citizen holds a share around $17,600. However, for the first eight months of his presidency, the country was still using the 2009 Budget submitted to Congress by the then President George W. Bush. So “Obama’s debt” could be interpreted to begin the day of the fiscal year in which his first budget was implemented. This further reduces his debt to $4.2 trillion, or $13,500 per person. Verdict: Misleading— it is correct that each citizen does hold over $50,000 of the U.S. national debt. However, since the underlying theme of the ad is that Obama’s policies are failing women, his policies should be the litmus test used to calculate his contribution to the national debt. Without further complicating the measurement of Obama’s debt, the debt for Obama’s three years in office is $4.2 trillion, which means that each citizen’s share of “Obama’s debt” is only $13,500. The second claim is that the debt is growing every day. Using current law as the baseline, the Bush Tax cuts would expire, the Affordable Healthcare tax provisions would be enacted, and domestic programs would see a cut in spending. The Congressional Budget Office, using current law, calculates that the debt would begin declining in the next 25 years. Using current “policy” as a baseline, the Bush Tax Cuts would not expire, tax relief measures would be extended, and automatic spending reductions from the Budget Control Act of 2011 would not occur. In this scenario, the CBO calculates that the debt
drastically spirals out of control. An analysis of President Obama’s 2013 Budget by the CBO calculates that the debt would grow slower than current policy, but faster than current law. Verdict: True. Current policies are increasing the debt. Romney’s fiscal policy includes cutting and placing a cap on federal spending, reforming entitlements, and enacting a balanced budget amendment. However, Romney also supports a “20 percent cut in marginal [tax] rates” and reducing the corporate tax rate. As Romney states: “spending cuts of approximately $500 billion per year in 2016 assuming robust economic recovery with 4% annual growth, and reversal of irresponsible Obama-era defense cuts.” Without more details it is uncertain how the numbers will add up, but it’s certain that without serious reform of current policy the debt will continue to skyrocket. The third claim, that the poverty rate for women is the highest in 17 years, was analyzed using 2010 U.S. Census data. Both the Women’s National Law Center, which works to “defend and promote women’s rights at every stage of the legal process”, and Legal Momentum: The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, which promotes gender equality and challenges gender bias, say in their analyses the 2010 poverty rate for women was 14.5 percent and the highest in 17 years. The U.S. Census Bureau also tracks historical poverty rates. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau determined the female poverty rate is 16.3 percent. The last time the poverty rate for women exceeded 16.3 percent was 1993. Verdict: True. This leads to the final claim that “more than 5.5 million *women+ can’t find work”. Looking at unemployed jobseekers’ data from March 1, 2012, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of women actively looking for work was 5.6 million. Verdict: True. To sum up, the overall theme of the ad that Obama’s policies are failing women is not easily assessed from an objective standpoint. Economists of both parties agree the president does not exert direct control over the economy. He can promote policies that affect the economy, but his power only extends so far. Congress controls the appropriations process, which ultimately can undermine the goals and intentions of the president’s budget. Because current economic problems have been developing for several years due to poor policies, spending increases, new tax cuts, entitlement expansions, and other decisions, there are no quick solutions to fuel an economic recovery. Overall verdict: True, but misleading. The statistics are accurate, but slanted in a way that places the blame for women’s current economic difficulties on Obama’s policies. There’s no definitive method to conclude that Obama’s policies brought these hardships on women.
Molly Monk Is Obama Receiving Millions in Illegal Foreign Donations? On October 8, 2012, co-host of Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy, interviewed the founders of the Government Accountability Institue (GAI), a nonpartisan group that had recently released a report entitled “America the Vulnerable: Are Foreign and Fradulent Online Campaign Contributions Influencing U.S. Elections?” This eight month study found that illegal and foreign campaign donations were highly probable due to the fact that campaigns are not using the highest credit card security possible. The authors noted that intensive spidering software revealed that many Obama campaign website hits came from foreign countries. In trying to summarize the report, Doocy said that Obama could be receiving “tens of millions of dollars” in illegal campaign donations. However, there was no evidence in the GAI’s report linking the Obama campaign to “tens of millions of dollars” in foreign money. The majority of the 108 page report by the GAI is not very friendly toward the Obama campaign. In fact, after the report was released, the Obama campaign responded by calling the group right wing activists. However, while a majority of the board members of the GAI have a conservative bias in the work that they have done or books they have published, the work of the institute is mainly nonpartisan. The GAI has gone after both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on campaign finances. In the campaign fraud report, they call out other politicians from both parties. Also, the GAI has done research on why Wall Street titans weren’t prosecuted, how corporations exploit and benefit from food stamps, and corruption in the DOD budget. While ABC News may call them a conservative political watchdog groupt, the work done by the GAI has hit targets on both sides of the political aisle. As of October 18, Obama and the Democratic National Committee had raised just $50 million shy of $1 billion for his reelection campaign. This money comes in large part from 1.1 million average American citizens who donate in small amounts. Most of these donations were made online through Obama’s website. This is where the controversy arises. One issue raised in the GAI report about security is the use (or more accurately, lack of use) of a card verification value (CVV) number. A CVV number is a three or four digit number on a credit card. The number is a valuable tool for preventing fraud because “providing your CVV number to an online merchant proves that you actually have the physical credit or debit card.” Having to provide a CVV number is standard practice among campaigns, and among most online businesses. The Obama website does not require a CVV number. Mitt Romney’s website does require a CVV number to donate. This difference feeds a controversy about campaign finance. Obama looks like he is engaging in shady practices, and Romney looks like he’s got control of his money. But there is no way to accurately track if fraudulent foreign donations were made due to differences in online security. The GAI report says, “It is impossible to know how much bad money is actually flowing to political candidates.” This is due in part to lax Federal Election Commission regulations. Campaigns are not required to report donations under $200. The average donation this year has been $58, so it is easy for details about donations to slip through the cracks. Verdict: Campaign finances are a hot topic for the press this year with all the controversy around “Super PAC” donations and issues outlined in the GAI report. House Democrats have even tried again to introduce a bill on campaign reform. Democrats claim Romney is trying to buy the election. But the GAI report does not say Obama is receiving campaign donations from foreign countries. While there is the concern about security due to lax donation rules, there is not enough evidence to substantiate a claim that Obama is receiving campaign donations from foreigners. In conclusion, the claim that Obama is receiving tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations is unsubstantiated, but there is reasonable concern about credit card security and online contributions.
Jessalyn Holdcraft Does Steve King (R-IA) Support Animal Cruelty? Iowa’s 5th congressional district election for the house is a heated race between Representative Steve King and Christine Vilsack. The fur hit the fan when the Humane Society Legislative Fund attacked King with in the ad “Facts.” The ad claims: “Politician Steve King says one thing and does another. Steve King says he’s against animal cruelty, but his record, disappointing. The facts: King voted against including pets in disaster plans, he voted against strengthening the penalties for interstate dogfighting, King even voted against a federal ban on bringing children to dogfights. Steve King says he’s against animal cruelty, he just doesn’t vote that way.” According to House voting records, all of the claims regarding his voting record are true. King voted against closing the loophole in the agriculture committee bill related to spectators at animal fighting. He voted against the “Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act” and the “Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act.” The overarching claim by the Humane Society is that King is indifferent to animal cruelty. Following this ad, King clarified his position. In the Des Moines Register, King recently said, “I’m saying the states do a good job of regulating and enforcing animal fighting. They’re not coming to me saying that they need the help. It’s a province of the states. The concept of federalism is for the states to regulate these things, not for the federal government to do so.” He points to federalism as his reason to voting against the aforementioned bills. Continuing his clarification in the Des Moines Register, he said, “There’s no federal nexus in what goes on in an animal fight, if they actually take place anymore — I’m not hearing that they do. Can anyone give me a list of animal fights that have taken place in Iowa? No, they’re against the law.” This reiterates his point that animal fights are already against state law. According to the ASPCA website, “Although there are no official statistics, the ASPCA estimates that there are tens of thousands of people involved in dog fighting in the United States. Dog fighting is a federal crime, as well as a felony offense in all 50 U.S. states.” Locally, the latest news article involving Iowans and dogfighting rings was published in 2009. Reports from the FBI and KCRG stated that the FBI busted a dogfighting ring in Missouri that resulted in raids in Iowa. Although the dogfights did not occur in Iowa, some Iowans raised and trained the dogs in Iowa. King attempted to quash the animal fighting issue in a tele-townhall meeting. He said, “When the legislation that passed in the Farm Bill that says it is a federal crime to watch animals fight or to induce someone else to watch an animal fight, but it’s not a federal crime to induce somebody to watch people fighting, there’s something wrong with the priorities of people who think like that.” A few days later another YouTube video by King clarified his position on human versus animal respect. He said: “We need to respect humans more than we do animals. Whenever we start elevating to animals to above that of humans, we’ve crossed a moral line. For example, if there’s a sexual predator out there who has impregnated a young girl, say a 13-year-old girl—and it happens more time in America than you and I would like to think— that sexual predator could pick that girl up off the playground at the middle school and haul her across the state line and force her to get an abortion to eradicate the evidence of his crime and bring her back and drop her off at the swing
set and that’s not against the law in the United States of America. I have told Wayne Pacelle and the people who believe that we should focus all of our efforts on anything they bring that limits activities around animals that we need to respect and revere human life first and animal life second. That is my stand.” In the YouTube video, he combatted the insinuation that he supports dogfights or is indifferent to them. King explained, “It is a moral stand, and it’s certainly not a stand in favor of animal fighting and there is no record that would say that either.” According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, eight Iowa TV stations—including KTIV, KCAU, KMEG, KPTH, and WOI—won’t run the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s “Stop the King of Cruelty” ad because its insinuations are believed to be “patently false.” Verdict: An ad uses graphic images of beaten animals and strong rhetoric to imply Steve King won’t stop animal cruelty. While most claims in the ad are true, the assertion that King is indifferent to animal cruelty has not been proven. King has never stated that he is for animal cruelty; he says animal fighting is an issue best handled as the state level, not federally.
Ryan Stumbo Iowa Divided: Boswell (D-IA) and FEMA Funding On October 11, 2012, Tom Latham (R) and Leonard Boswell (D) engaged in debate for Iowa’s third congressional district. In the midst of their discussion, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) was brought up by Latham. Latham’s claim was that Boswell voted against funding for FEMA twice during the 2011 Missouri River flooding crisis. Latham stated in the debate that “I would like to mention last year we had the FEMA disaster bill on the floor and I quite honestly was very surprised Congressman Boswell twice voted against funding for FEMA in favor of electric car and that has been such a disaster, but twice voted against funding when we had this disaster going on last year (disaster referring to the Missouri River flooding of 2011).” In response to this attack, Representative Boswell made a claim of his own. In trying to explain his decision, Boswell stated that “FEMA was never without money.” Three basic claims need to be evaluated. First, did Boswell twice voted against FEMA funding in the 2011 Missouri River flooding crisis? Second, instead of voting for FEMA funding, did Boswell support the electric car? Third, was FEMA “never without money”? According to the voting records of House Bills 2017 and 2608, the first claim is true. Boswell did initially vote against H.R. 2017, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act. The act stated in section 125 that specific amounts of money for operations would be given to FEMA for disaster relief. Section 125 also required “the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide a full accounting of disaster relief funding requirements for FY2012 and FY2013, including specified estimates.” H.R. 2017 passed the House on June 2, 2011, despite Boswell’s vote. At this time, flooding had already occurred in lowland areas of Nebraska and Iowa. Reporters anticipated more water soon. Three days later, Hamburg, Iowa was severely flooded, and hundreds were forced to evacuate. Although this
first claim is true, there is no simple answer. Some flooding had taken place prior to Boswell’s vote, but it is important to note the Hamburg incident happened afterwards. Boswell may have been informed about the anticipation of more flooding before he voted, but that is speculative. Also, in fairness to Boswell, H.R. 2017 addresses many issues other than just FEMA. This bill provided disaster funding for those in need, but in order to collect the money, it suggested cuts in areas such as firefighting grants, environmental meetings, and the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program (electric car funding). Many Democrats opposed these cuts and voted against the bill for this reason. On July 21, 2011, H.R. 2608 was introduced in the House. The bill passed and went to the Senate days later. The Senate amended the bill and sent it back to the House for a vote on September 21, 2011. The amended bill did not pass the House. One hundred and eighty two Democrats voted against the bill, while only six Democrats voted for it. Exactly 189 Republicans voted for the bill, but 48 Republicans did not, Iowa Representative Steve King being one of them. At this point, the Missouri River flooding was well known and had devastated some Iowa communities. H.R. 2608 did include disaster relief funding, but Boswell voted against the bill. Again, disaster relief was just one component of H.R. 2608. The cut to the electric car loan program was still in place when H.R. 2608 was introduced. Many Democrats were still unhappy about the electric car loan program cuts, so to draw attention to the issue, many voted against H.R. 2608 to try to force Republicans to lift these cuts. Ultimately, Boswell technically did vote against FEMA funding, but to say he opposed any funding is a stretch; he had a problem with this specific version, as did Republican Rep. Steve King. The second claim (that Boswell favored electric cars over FEMA) is unfair, according to Kevin McTigue, Boswell’s campaign manager: “That was a false choice because we can do both -- support alternative energy and flood relief -- without sacrificing the other. We shouldn't be using people's pain and suffering as an excuse to attack alternative energy.” During the Missouri River flooding, a debate arose between Democrats and Republicans on whether or not Fisker Automotive funds should be cut. Republicans wanted to cut the program funds for this luxury electric car line. Democrats did not agree with cutting funding. Just because Boswell voted against H.R. 2017 and H.R. 2608, it does not mean he did not support extra funding for FEMA. He just did not want the tradeoff to be cuts to other programs. Ultimately, this claim is complex because it involves multiple issues wrapped up in legislation. Overall, the context is more important than the claim itself. The final claim was that FEMA was never without money. Technically, this claim is true. FEMA did not run out of money during the flooding and hurricane crises of 2011. However, it is true that the agency was starting to run out of funds. Action needed to be taken, or the entire agency would have been forced to close. Expert estimates on funding needs varied, but reliable sources agreed FEMA was on pace to run out of money; the debate was about when this would occur. In 2011, FEMA asked for $10.5 billion in funding. By September 23, only $175 million remained in the disaster relief fund, the lowest amount ever recorded. On September 30, H.R. 2017 passed, replenishing FEMA’s funds. Verdict: Two claims are technically true and one remains inconclusive. Boswell did vote twice against funding FEMA during the Missouri River flooding in Iowa, but the bills he opposed included cuts to other programs to pay for FEMA funding. We cannot conclude Boswell’s votes on H.R. 2017 and H.R. 2608 were based solely on his support for the electric car. Finally, FEMA was not without money in 2011. However, they were in desperate need of funding. If H.R. 2017 or a similar funding bill was not passed, the agency would have run out of money very soon.
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