PoliGraph: Fact-checking the GOP presidential debate

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Rep. Michele Bachmann was among the Republican presidential hopefuls who participated in the Washington Post/Bloomberg News debate on Oct. 11.

PoliGraph looked at five statement she made during the discussion, which focused on the economy.

Claim: The federal government caused the economic collapse.

The Facts: It’s true that the government played a role in the economic collapse, but the situation is more complicated than Bachmann makes it seem.

In the early 2000s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was trying to put more low-income Americans in homes. News reports at the time of the economic downturn show that HUD urged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase loans made to borrowers who couldn’t afford them.

In 2008, the Washington Post reported on the subject, writing

“The agency neglected to examine whether borrowers could make the payments on the loans that Freddie and Fannie classified as affordable. From 2004 to 2006, the two purchased $434 billion in securities backed by subprime loans, creating a market for more such lending. Subprime loans are targeted toward borrowers with poor credit, and they generally carry higher interest rates than conventional loans.”

Still, it’s not just the government that’s culpable.

FactCheck.org addressed the issue back in 2008 and came up with this long list of actors in the crisis, which includes the Federal Reserve (“which slashed interest rates after the dot-com bubble burst, making credit cheap”), homebuyers (“who took advantage of easy credit to bid up the prices of homes excessively”) and Wall Street (“who paid too little attention to the quality of the risky loans that they bundled into Mortgage Backed Securities [MBS], and issued bonds using those securities as collateral”).

The Claim: Nine years from now, Medicare Part B will be “dead, flat broke.”

The Facts: It’s Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient care, that could soon be suffering financially. But not in nine years, as Bachmann said. Rather, this year’s Medicare trustees’ report pegs the insolvency date at 2024.The same report says that Medicare Part B, which pays for outpatient care, will be fine for the foreseeable future.

The Claim: The U.S. just eliminated a tax in 2006 that was meant to help pay for the Spanish-American War.

The Facts: Bachmann made this claim to support her case against new taxes, and she’s correct. Back in 1898, the federal government imposed a tax on long-distance calls. The levy was initially meant to target the wealthy, who were more likely to have the new technology in their homes. The IRS stopped collecting the 3 percent tax on long-distance calls in 2006.

The Claim: Texas Gov. Rick Perry increased spending by 50 percent during his tenure.

The Facts: Bachmann’s in range with this one. PolitiFact Texas looked at the issue recently, and found that spending of state general revenue went up 44 percent during Perry’s tenure. That figure drops by 6 percentage points when population growth and inflation are taken into account.

The Claim: The new health care law is the “number one reason” why employers aren’t hiring.

The Facts: During the last debate, Bachmann made a similar claim and PoliGraph rated it misleading for several reasons. First, it cites a report that says the new health care law is “arguably” the primary reason employers aren’t hiring; it doesn’t rely on any sort of formal survey of businesses, and lists 10 other reasons, ranging from the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts to environmental regulation, that are preventing employers from bringing on new workers.

We also talked to economists – both conservative and liberal – who said that new coverage rules in the health care law may be a top reason why some businesses aren’t hiring, but that lagging consumer demand and general economic uncertainty are far more prominent reasons for most businesses.

Further reading: Check out the Washington Post’s FactChecker. Their team covered a few of Bachmann’s debate claims that we didn’t, including her assertion that the U.S. spends 40 percent more than we take in, and that Obama has a secret plan to end Medicare.

The New York Times also fact-checked the debate in real time. Check out their work here.

  • Don McPhail

    I stand to be corrected, but I do believe that the tax on phone service which was initiated to pay for the Spanish-American War, was never officially repealed. Rather, the IRS had made a decision not to collect it anymore. Just fact checking. Now go check my statement.

  • Sue

    There’s a lot more reason to blame Congress than “the government” in general for the financial crisis. Repeal of Steagall Glass, which allowed financial institutions to merge regular and investment banking is a more likely culprit. Deregulation like this is what keeps the 1 percent and the 99 apart. Republicans keep calling for more deregulation – look where that’s gotten us!

  • Derek Wain

    MPR comments on Bachmann are politically tendentious and dishonest,as usual.

    “Claim: The federal government caused the economic collapse.

    Still, it’s not just the government that’s culpable.”

    Bachmann never claimed that “it’s just the government” that is responsible for the financial collapse. She never made any such sweeping claim. That is a fabrication by MPR and typical of the dishonest “interpretations” used by the NYT and MPR to smear their political opponents.

    MPR used the “straw man” rhetorical trick: attributing to a political opponent a claim not made and then knocking it down.

  • John P II

    Statements can be so incomplete as to be untrue or misleading Derek – you’re just playing semantics and not very well either. But I encourage you to continue supporting Milt, er, I mean Michele.

  • Catharine Richert

    @Don McPhail – You’re right, not the best word choice. Have updated to reflect that.