President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney made a number of assertions in their debate in Denver. How did they square with the facts?
Romney’s Tax Plan
The Claim » Romney’s tax plan can’t add up, Obama said during tonight’s debate. "It’s math," he said. "It’s arithmetic."
The Background » Romney has proposed reducing income tax rates by 20 percent and eliminating the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. He says his plan would boost growth, while avoiding an expansion of the federal budget deficit because he would curtail deductions, exemptions and credits. He also says there are enough tax breaks for top earners that he would eliminate to avoid shifting the burden to the middle class.
The Facts » Romney’s tax plan can’t add up under congressional budget-scoring rules that don’t let him assume that economic growth will generate higher tax revenue.
Obama’s argument rests on an August analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington. That group sought to see if it was simultaneously possible to meet all of Romney’s principles: Cut tax rates, avoid shifting the tax burden to the middle class, don’t increase the budget deficit, and keep tax benefits for savings and investment.
The study found that, in 2015, $86 billion of the tax burden would be shifted to the middle class to keep the plan from increasing the deficit.
Romney’s advisers contested that analysis. They maintain they would consider some changes that the Tax Policy Center kept off the table, such as the tax exemption for municipal bonds. Those changes make the plan more arithmetically possible, though still politically difficult. Romney’s campaign hasn’t provided enough detail about what he’s proposing for deductions and exemptions to be able to analyze it completely.
Romney said in the debate that his plan wouldn’t cut enough tax breaks to offset all of his tax cuts. Economic growth, he said, would be generated by his tax plan would make up the difference. He hasn’t specified how much.
Congressional budget-scoring rules are conservative about anticipated growth from tax cuts because economists disagree over how much they spur the economy. If Romney’s plan goes to Congress, he wouldn’t be allowed to assume higher revenue from growth and, in that sense, it wouldn’t add up.
Taxes for the wealthy
Claim » Romney says he wouldn’t cut taxes on the wealthy.
Facts » Romney wants to cut personal taxes by 20 percent for everyone, including the wealthy. He also wants to cut taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for Americans with adjusted gross income below $200,000. Obama, however, wants to return taxes to Clinton-era rates for individuals who make more than $200,000 in annual taxable income and families who make more than $250,000 in taxable income. So Romney wants to maintain tax cuts for the wealthy that Obama would eliminate.
Health-Care Cost Increases
The Claim » Romney said, "Health-care costs have gone up by $2,500 a family" under Obama.
The Background » During the legislative debate over the president’s health-care overhaul law, critics charged the measure wouldn’t do enough to control medical costs. Since enactment, insurance industry spokesmen and others have warned the law’s new requirements to, among other things, cover people with pre-existing medical conditions and allow young adults to stay on their parents’ policies will drive up insurance premiums. The $2,500 figure plays into these themes. The number appears to come from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey that shows average premiums for a four-person family rose $2,370 between 2009 and 2012.
The Facts » The number Romney cited is in the ballpark. The fact he didn’t mention is that the rate of increase has slowed under Obama. Kaiser calculated insurance rates over the past 10 years. They rose at an average annual rate of eight percent from 2002 through 2008, the year Obama was elected. Since he came to office, Kaiser said, the average annual rate has been 4.3 percent.
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