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Were Obama, Romney on target on deficit, China?

Published October 16, 2012 10:55 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In their second debate Tuesday night at Hofstra University, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney took questions from an audience of undecided Long Island voters. Some of their responses deserve a deeper look:

Jobs

Claim • Romney said he will create 12 million new jobs in his first term.

Facts • Romney's pledge to create 12 million jobs has been hotly contested in large part because economic forecasters, including Moody's Analytics, predict roughly 12 million jobs will be created over the next four years — no matter who is elected president.

Romney's pledge means 250,000 jobs will have to be added every month for four years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth has averaged 139,000 month in 2012 and 153,000 month in 2011.

Romney's five-part jobs plan is shy on details but says jobs will be created by achieving North American energy independence by 2020, expanding U.S. trade efforts, training workers, cutting the deficit and promoting small businesses.

Oil on federal lands

Claim • Romney said drilling on federal lands is down 14 % under Obama.

Facts • By most measures, the federal land open to energy production is down. From 2008 to 2011, according to the Bureau of Land Management, active oil and gas leases are down 3 %, acres under lease are down 19 % and drilling permits are down 35 %. The widely cited 14 % figure — the amount of oil produced from federal lands — is reflects a one-year period following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration instituted a temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling after the incident.

One other reason for the decline may be market factors. An Obama administration official told Congress this year that one big reason for the decrease in drilling on federal lands is that new technology — a controversial process known as "fracking" — made it easier and cheaper to drill on private lands. "Much of the easy plays are located right now on private mineral estate," said Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey.

Anti-oil policies

Claim • The Obama administration brought criminal charges against North Dakota oil companies for killing a handful of birds.

Facts • The U.S. attorney in North Dakota last year charged seven oil companies with misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which carries a $15,000 fine, in connection with the death of 28 endangered birds.

The birds reportedly flew into open oil pits that they mistook for ponds, or were poisoned by oil that spilled into nearby wetlands.

Charges against three companies were dismissed in January.

Three other defendants reached plea agreements, and the charges against the final company were dropped by the government.

Education

Claim • In response to a question from a college student, Romney said, "I want to make sure we keep our Pell Grant program growing."

Facts • Romney's white paper on education, "A Chance for Every Child," suggests that a Romney administration would reverse the growth in Pell Grant funding. Indeed, he sharply criticizes Obama for doubling funding for Pell Grants.

The May 23 position paper said, "A Romney Administration will refocus Pell Grant dollars on the students that need them most and place the program on a responsible long-term path that avoids future funding cliffs and last-minute funding patches."

Deficit

Claim • Romney said Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half, but he doubled it instead.

Facts • This is partly true. Obama did make that commitment on the $1.3 trillion deficit when he took office, declaring in February 2009: "I am pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office." He didn't. But he didn't double it, either.

The Congressional Budget Office projected the 2012 fiscal year deficit, which ended Sept. 30, at $1.09 trillion. The deficit has fallen slightly on Obama's watch, but he fell far short of cutting it in half.

The deficit fell 16 % during the 2012 fiscal year, the Treasury Department said Oct. 16. The department said tax receipts rose as the economy grew, and spending to fight the recession and its aftermath declined.

China

Claim • Obama said Romney invested in a company that is helping Chinese authorities spy on its people.

Facts • In December 2011, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company, Uniview Technologies, according to a March report in The New York Times. Uniview is the largest supplier to the government's Safe Cities program, a controversial monitoring system that allows the Chinese authorities to watch over university campuses, places of worship and other gathering places through centralized command posts.

After The New York Times published its story, the Romney stressed that his investments were managed by a blind trust, underscoring that he didn't have direct control of where Bain invested after he left the private venture firm. "I don't make investments in Bain or anywhere else," Romney told reporters at the time. "That's done by a trustee who makes decisions that he thinks are correct."

In his unsuccessful 1994 Senate campaign against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Romney at the time criticized the senator for using a blind trust to manage his investments, calling it "an age-old ruse." He added, "You can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules."

Immigration

Claim • Obama said Romney called Arizona's controversial immigration law was a "model" for the rest of the nation.

Facts • Romney quickly corrected Obama on this one, saying he was referring only to the E-verify provision of the Arizona law.

"You know, I think you see a model in Arizona," Romney said during a Feb. 22 debate, adding: "They passed a law here that says — that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-verify. This E-verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who's here legally and who's not here legally."

But Romney has also said he would drop the federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona law "on Day One" — a position now mooted by a Supreme Court ruling overturning some provisions of the law and upholding others.

But at an event sponsored by Spanish-language Univision last month, Romney softened his stance. "My inclination would be to have them go with the rate of inflation."

Gas prices

Claim • Romney said a gallon of gasoline in Nassau County, N.Y., was $1.86 when Obama took office. It's now "4 bucks a gallon." He also said the cost of electricity is up.

Facts • Gas prices were going through a period of exceptional volatility when Obama took office — largely because, as Obama noted, gas prices plummeted as the recession took hold and people drove less. The day before Obama was sworn in, the national average for a gallon of regular gas was $1.83, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As of Monday, it was $3.71.

But gas prices are still 34 cents below their all-time high during the Bush administration. In the summer of 2008, the national average hit $4.05 a gallon.

The average retail price of electricity has also risen — but just barely. It's up 2.5 % from 2008 to 2011, according to the EIA. Abundant natural gas — thanks largely to new controversial new drilling methods known as "fracking" — has helped keep electricity costs below inflation.

DREAM Act veto

Claim • Obama said Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act, which would help young adults brought to the United States as illegal immigrants by their parents when they were children.

Facts • When asked by a voter in Le Mars, Iowa, on Dec. 31, 2011, if he would veto the DREAM Act if Congress passed it, Romney affirmed he would.

"The answer is yes," Romney said. "I'm delighted with the idea that people who come to this country and wish to serve in the military can be given a path to become permanent residents in this country. Those who serve in our military and fulfill those requirements, I respect and acknowledge that path. For those that come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state-tuition credits or other special benefits I find to be the contrary to the idea of a nation of law. If I'm the president of the United States, I want to end illegal immigration so that we can protect legal immigration. I like legal immigration."

The Romney campaign also said later in a statement that the former Massachusetts governor supports allowing "young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children ... the chance to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, by serving honorably in the United States military."

Tax breaks to ship jobs overseas

Claim • "You can ship overseas and get tax breaks for it," Obama said. "Now, Gov. Romney actually wants to expand those tax breaks."

The facts • A version of this claim came up in the first presidential debate, when Romney replied: "The idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case."

They're both right. There's no provision in the tax code that gives a company a specific deduction for moving jobs overseas — although they can take the same deduction for business expenses as they would for any other expense that comes off their bottom line. And once a subsidiary of an American company sets up shop overseas, federal tax collectors have no jurisdiction over those profits until they're sent back to the United States.

So no, there are no specific tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. But the effect of the tax code does allow companies to realize tax advantages for doing so. Obama wants to eliminate those tax incentives and create a new tax deduction for expenses incurred by companies that move foreign operations back to the United States. Romney has not supported that position.

Romney's 47 % comments

Claim • Romney said he cares about "100 % of the American people."

Facts • At a private May 17 fundraiser, Romney claimed that 47 % of Americans will support Obama "no matter what" because they are "dependent upon government" and "pay no income tax." Romney added: "My job is not to worry about those people." After the comments were made public by Mother Jones in September, Romney has had to shift course on the facts as well as the politics. According to a July 2011 study from the Tax Policy Center, about 46.4 %, or 76 million people, didn't pay federal income taxes in 2011. They projected that 46 % won't in 2012, and 44 % won't in 2013, under current tax law. However, those individuals do pay other taxes in the forms of payroll taxes, which help fund Social Security and Medicare, state and local taxes, and other forms of taxation, like property taxes.

People who do not pay federal income taxes include senior citizens and the working poor who have incomes so low that they can't afford to be taxed. Romney's claim that these Americans will support Obama is also false. According to recent Gallup polling, 37 % of low-income earners said they intended to vote for Romney, who has also led among those 65 and older. Many of the voters who Romney lumped in as Obama supporters fall clearly under his coalition.

Romney said in an interview on Fox News Channel earlier this month that those comments were a mistake.

Libya terror

Claim • Romney said Obama took two weeks to acknowledge the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack.

Facts • In a Rose Garden statement on Sept 12, Obama described the incident as "acts of terror."

Later, speaking on Late Night With David Letterman, a week after the attack, Obama said "terrorists and extremists" had attacked U.S. diplomatic installations in Libya and elsewhere, using a controversial video that portrayed the prophet Mohammed as a pedophile as a pretext. U.S. intelligence agencies, however, surmised by the day after the assault that the incident was indeed a terrorist attack and there was no protest prior to the incident, according to multiple news reports.

Other administration officials were slower to describe the incident as a terrorism.

The White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Sept. 20 that the incident was a terrorist attack. And U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, continued to describe the incident as part of a protest outside the U.S. diplomatic mission for several days after the incident.

5.4 % unemployment

Claim • Romney said Obama said unemployment would be 5.4 % by now.

Facts • Two economists who would soon join the Obama administration issued a report in early January 2009 â(euro) " before Obama's inauguration â(euro) " predicting that an economic stimulus plan would prevent unemployment from rising above 8 % and would push it down to about 5.4 % by the third quarter of 2012. However, the economists underestimated the severity of the recession. Even without the stimulus, they forecast in that report that the jobless rate would be 5.9 % by now.

Last year, the Commerce Department said the slump was far worse than it had estimated, with the economy contracting almost 9 % in the fourth quarter of 2008 and 5.3 % in the first quarter of 2009.

Bain Capital

Claim • Obama said Romney's business strategy is you can invest in a company, bankrupt it and still make money.

Facts • The Obama campaign and Democrats have repeatedly hit Romney on his connections to the private venture capital firm, Bain Capital, which it has claimed has loaded companies with debt to give investors dividends earlier.

The Wall Street Journal found that about 22 % of Bain's companies either filed for bankruptcy or liquidated within eight years after the private-equity firm acquired them. Four of the companies that produced Bain's 10 biggest gains ended up in bankruptcy court, according to the Journal.