FACT CHECK: Presidential Debate Missteps

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Associated Press + More

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ROMNEY on the failure of Obama's economic policy: "And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is 1 out of 6 people in poverty. The proof of that is we've gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can't find work."

THE FACTS: The number of unemployed is 12.5 million, not 23 million. Romney was also counting 8 million people who are working part time but would like a full-time job and 2.6 million who have stopped looking for work, either because they are discouraged or because they are going back to school or for other reasons.

He got the figure closer to right earlier in the debate, leaving out only the part-timers when he said the U.S. has "23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work." But he was wrong in asserting that Obama came into office "facing 23 million people out of work." At the start of Obama's presidency, 12 million were out of work.

His claim that half of college graduates can't find work now also was problematic. A Northeastern University analysis for The Associated Press found that a one-fourth of recent graduates were probably unemployed and another quarter were underemployed, which means working in jobs that didn't make full use of their skills or experience.

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OBAMA: It's important "that we take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America."

THE FACTS: This oft-repeated claim is based on a fiscal fiction. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were paid for mostly with borrowed money, so stopping them doesn't create a new pool of available cash that can be used for something else, like rebuilding America. It just slows down the government's borrowing.

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ROMNEY: "At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up."

THE FACTS: He's right that the average price has doubled, and a little more, since Obama was sworn in. But presidents have almost no influence on gasoline prices, and certainly not in the near term. Gasoline prices are set on financial exchanges around the world and are based on a host of factors, most importantly the price of crude oil used to make gasoline, the amount of finished gasoline ready to be shipped and the capacity of refiners to make enough to meet market demand.

Retail electricity prices have risen since Obama took office — barely. They've grown by an average of less than 1 percent per year, less than the rate of inflation and slower than the historical growth in electricity prices. The unexpectedly modest rise in electricity prices is because of the plummeting cost of natural gas, which is used to generate electricity.

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OBAMA: "Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, that's another trillion dollars — and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign."

THE FACTS: Obama's claim that Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion doesn't add up. Presumably, Obama was talking about the effect of Romney's tax plan over 10 years, which is common in Washington. But Obama's math doesn't take into account Romney's entire plan.

Romney proposes to reduce income tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. The Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group, says that would reduce federal tax revenues by $465 billion in 2015, which would add up to about $5 trillion over 10 years.

However, Romney says he wants to pay for the tax cuts by reducing or eliminating tax credits, deductions and exemptions. The goal is a simpler tax code that raises the same amount of money as the current system but does it in a more efficient manner.

The knock on Romney's plan, which Obama accurately cited, is that Romney has refused to say which tax breaks he would eliminate to pay for the lower rates.