PoliGraph: Kline debt ad scores

In his latest television ad, 2nd Congressional District Republican Rep. John Kline uses a familiar Minnesota landmark to emphasize how dire the nation’s debt problems are.

With the Metrodome as his backdrop, Kline said, “America’s national debt is $16 trillion. It’s the equivalent of selling every seat in the Metrodome, every single day, for 9,000 years. This debt is weakening America. To cut spending, I led the successful fight to ban wasteful earmarks.”

Kline’s numbers are right, but his ad deserves some context.

The Evidence

This week, the nation’s total debt is about $16 trillion. That includes intergovernmental debt, such as the Medicare and Social Security trust funds. Debt held by the public, meaning federal debt held by individuals, corporations and governments, is about $11.3 trillion.

The Kline camp assumes that Vikings tickets cost an average of $76, which is a reasonable assumption given tickets for games this season currently costs somewhere between $15 and $143 each. The stadium can seat 64,111 people.

Assuming the stadium is full every day, all year, at $76 a pop, Kline is right that it would take about 9,000 years to reach $16 trillion.

For several years, Kline has eschewed earmarks, the practice of requesting money for pet projects at home in annual appropriations bills, but he wasn’t always such a purist.

In 2004, the Star Tribune reported that Kline received $3 million for projects in his district in a highway funding bill.

In 2008, Kline was among 20 House and Senate lawmakers who dumped the practice, along with Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has long crusaded against earmarks as the hallmark of wasteful spending.

“There’s a growing awareness that the system is broken and we aren’t going to fix it unless some of us start taking a stand,” Kline told the Associated Press in 2008.

Earmarking is currently banned in the U.S. House. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from finding other ways to send cash home to their districts. And budget experts say that earmarks are such a tiny sliver of the federal budget that banning them does little to ameliorate the nation’s debt woes.

The Verdict

Kline accurately uses the Metrodome to describe the size of the nation’s debt.

And while PoliGraph questions Kline’s characterization of how effective banning earmarks is in lowering spending, he largely gets it right in this ad.

SOURCES

Rep. John Kline, Forcing Washington to Be Responsible, accessed Oct. 25, 2012

The U.S. Treasury, Debt to the Penny, accessed Oct. 25, 2012

The Vikings, Single Game Tickets, accessed Oct. 25, 2012

Forbes, Minnesota Vikings, accessed Oct. 25, 2012

Minnesota Vikings, Mall of America Field at the H.H.H. Metrodome Information, accessed Oct. 25, 2012

Associated Press, Lawmakers who forgot funding for pet projects risk angering voters back home, by Sam Hananel, Jan. 22, 2008 (subscription only)

The Star Tribune, Kline’s spurning of earmarks has cost, by David Peterson, Jan. 8, 2008

The Star Tribune, The funding increase that really isn’t earmarked projects cut into state highway allocation, by Kevin Diaz, June 1, 2004 (subscription only)

The Brookings Institution, Put Earmarks in Perspective, by Thomas Mann, March 6, 2009

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Earmarks are just a state, Nov. 16, 2010

The New York Times, Earmark Ban Exposes Rifts Within Both Parties, by David Herszenhorn, Nov. 16, 2010