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Fact Check Whac-a-Mole: Be your own debate truth-checker

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Romney’s vow to "get us to a balanced budget" is notably short of specifics and complicated by proposals in his agenda that conflict with that goal. He promises, at once, to cut taxes, restore Medicare cuts, spend more on the armed forces — and balance the budget by 2020. He’s laid out an ambitious goal of bringing federal spending below 20 percent of the economy, but he’s provided only a few modest examples of the massive cuts that would be needed. He’s steering clear of proposals to touch the huge entitlement programs in the short run, leaving only a limited portion of the federal budget to trim. Nor will he say which of the big, popular and expensive deductions and exemptions he’d pull back in the tax code.

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The campaign rhetoric has been marked by sins of omission on both sides. But some of them look like mere jaywalking offenses next to this one.

• Romney continually portrays Obamacare as a budget-buster although the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has consistently said the law actually will reduce the deficit. This is more than an unsupported slam on the health care law itself. It also goes to Romney’s promise to balance the budget. He suggests that repealing the law will help him get to black ink. "Obamacare adds trillions to our deficits," he said earlier in the campaign. He was a bit more circumspect in the first presidential debate, saying, "Obamacare’s on my list" of things to roll back to make government more efficient.

Romney’s claim is further complicated because he would negate one big money-saver in the law, the $716 billion in Medicare spending cuts he promises to restore.

He’s also made selective use of forecasts about how many people will continue to have job-based health insurance. The Congressional Budget office "says up to 20 million people will lose their insurance as Obamacare goes into effect," he stated in the last debate.

If he makes that claim again, consider that he was citing the worst-case scenario among four sketched by the budget office. Its best-case scenario was that 3 million people actually might gain coverage at work. And the estimates concern employer-provided insurance, not how many people are insured overall. Those who might lose their plans at work have other options under the law, although employer coverage would remain the mainstay for Americans age 64 and younger.

• "Unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class." Obama actually has a substantial record of cutting middle-class taxes. He’s raised the federal cigarette tax, and his health care law imposes fines for not getting health insurance, which the Supreme Court ruled constitutes a tax. On the other hand, he’s reduced taxes for many more middle-income families. The 2009 stimulus package included a series of tax cuts for middle- and low-income people, including a tax credit worth up to $800 that year and again in 2010. A temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax for 2011 and 2012 was worth $1,000 a year to a worker earning $50,000.

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• "I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military." Romney often pins sole blame on Obama for "arbitrary" defense spending cuts but they actually come from a White House deal with congressional Republicans, including his GOP vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.

The first round of cuts in projected defense spending is the result of a bipartisan deal in August 2011 between Congress and the White House to wrestle down the deficit. Unless a new budget deal is reached in time, additional spending cuts will begin in January across government, and the cost to the Pentagon would be $500 billion over a decade. Lawmakers are working to avoid that. Separately, Obama wants to slow the growth of military spending, now that the war in Iraq is ended and the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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