PoliGraph: 1st District debate examined

In their first debate, 1st District DFL Congressman Tim Walz and his Republican opponent Allen Quist went head-to-head on a range of topics, from health care to the economy.

This week, PoliGraph looked at five of Walz and Quist’s claims.

Health Care

Both candidates feel strongly about the new health care law, but fundamentally disagree on whether it will be effective or not. Walz said health care spending is out of control and that the new law would actually save the government money. Quist disagreed.

“This nation spends 17.9 percent of its GDP on health care, far outstripping any other in the world.” – Walz

Walz says making health care more efficient will save money. To underscore his argument, Walz pointed out that the nation spends 17.9 percent of its gross domestic product on health services, which is true according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services. By 2021, those costs will be 20 percent of the nation’s GDP.

That’s a larger share than any other nation, according to data from the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“The Affordable Care Act will save $109 billion in health care costs.” – Walz

Walz is talking about how much it would cost the government to repeal the new health care law, not health care savings built into the new law.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), taking the bill off the books would cost the government a net $109 billion over 9 years; spending would go down, but the repeal would also eliminate a mix of new revenue.

Walz doesn’t mention that the health care law is still costing the government, something Quist was quick to point out.

“Tim Walz says the affordable care act is going to save us money? Give me a break! I hope he looked at the last CBO estimates on the added costs – $1.7 trillion in added costs over the next 10 years.” – Quist

The most recent CBO estimate pegged the gross cost of the health care law at about $1.7 trillion over 10 years, up from about $938 billion in 2010.

There’s good reason for the increase: much of the new law doesn’t kick in until 2014, so newer estimates will account for the fact that more of the health care law is in place. The law is not unexpectedly more expensive, as Quist implies.

Quist is also cherry picking his numbers. The latest cost estimate is the law’s gross cost. In fact, CBO relies on the law’s net cost, which is about $1.25 trillion. The lower figure accounts for new revenue built into the bill.

The Economy

Both candidates agree that dealing with the nation’s debt is critical. Quist said an unbalanced budget is a threat to the nation’s domestic programs and national security, but that Walz hasn’t done much to deal with the problem.

“This country has always had a balance of 19 percent revenue 19 percent spending, and what that allows us to do is invest in things that grow our economy.” – Walz

Walz defended his position by saying the nation is in the midst of an unprecedented recession. He pointed out that historically, federal spending and revenues as a percent of gross domestic product were steady and were balanced.

And he’s right. According to historical tables compiled by the Office of Management and Budget, for many decades before the recession, federal revenue and spending as a percent of GDP averaged about 19 percent.

Quist quickly shot back at Walz, saying that the federal spending is much higher than that now.

“Right now, our federal government is spending 24% of our GDP.” – Quist

Quist is correct: In 2011, the federal spending exceeded 24 percent of GDP. That’s the third-highest level in 40 years, according to the CBO.

The Verdict

On some points, both Walz and Quist’s claims are supported by the facts.

But on two claims about the cost of the new health care law, both candidates leave out important context that make their statements somewhat misleading.


Bloomberg News, Health-Care Spending to Reach 20% of U.S. Economy by 2021, by Alex Wayne, June 12, 2012

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, National Health Expenditure Projections 2011-2021, accessed Sept. 27, 2012

The World Health Organization, World Health Statistics 2011, accessed Sept. 27, 2012

OECD Health Data 2012, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, accessed Sept. 27, 2012

CBS, CBO: Health care repeal would cost $109 billion, July 24, 2012

The Congressional Budget Office, Letter to the Honorable John Boehner providing an estimate for H.R. 6079, the Repeal of Obamacare Act, July 24, 2012

Minnesota Public Radio, PoliGraph: Bills health care law claim leaves out key details, by Catharine Richert, May 23, 2012

The Congressional Budget Office, Inforgraphic: The U.S. Federal Government, accessed Sept. 27, 2012

The White House, Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables: Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits (-) as Percentages of GDP: 1930-2017, accessed Sept. 27, 2012

  • Catharine,

    THANKS for your analysis … I read the Rochester Post-Bulletin and was disappointed in that lack of detail reporting … and the televison report that I saw focused on personal character attacks rather than the policy discussion.

    I hope that you will have the time to do the same analysis on the Kline-Obermueller debate … oh, by the way, could you print the date and place of the Kline-Obermueller debate.

    Mac Hall