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The Presidential Debate: A Fact Check

Separating fact from fiction behind Wednesday night's presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama

A CNN poll of 430 registered voters -- 37 percent Democrats and 33 percent Republicans -- who watched Wednesday night's debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney showed that 67 percent said that Romney won and 25 percent said that Obama won.

Many of those watching the debate, including liberal MSNBC hosts Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews, remarked that Romney seemed more alert, assertive and better prepared for battle, while Obama seemed tired, passive and completely disarmed.

"We have our knives out," said Matthews about the debates on his show "Hardball with Chris Matthews.'" "We go after the people and the facts. What was [Obama] doing tonight? He went in there disarmed!”

However, according to a team of fact-checkers at the New York Times, Romney's facts were off in more than a few instances. And trying to debate someone whose arguments are blatant half-truths can be like trying to wrestle a squirrel-- quite a beleaguering task.

Here are ten big debate points fact-checked, as reported by The New York Times.

 

1. Medicare Cost Control Board
Romney said: “It puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people, ultimately, what kind of treatments they can have. I don’t like that idea.”

False: Under the 2010 law, the Affordable Care Act, the board cannot make recommendations to ”ration health care,” raise revenues or increase premiums, deductibles or co-payments for Medicare beneficiaries.

 

2. Financial Aid Funding
Romney said: “I’m not going to cut education funding,” including grants for college, as the Obama campaign has repeatedly charged.

False: Romney has not said explicitly that he would cut the program, but his campaign says Obama's expansion is unsustainable (Obama has more than doubled the size of the Pell Grant program, which provides aid to low- and middle-income students). The governor’s position paper on education says he would “refocus Pell Grants dollars on the students who need them most,” suggesting that fewer people would qualify. 

 

3. Massachusetts Schools Ranking
Romney said repeatedly that Massachusetts has the top-ranked schools in the country

True: Using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a large national standardized test, The Daily Beast ranked Massachusetts at the top. The American Legislative Exchange Council likewise gave Massachusetts the top spot. 

 

4. Half of the Companies in the Green Energy Stimulus Failed
Romney claimed that half the companies invested in under the president’s green energy stimulus have gone out of business, and that many of the companies that received such loans were supported by Obama campaign contributors.

False: Three companies out of three dozen are currently in bankruptcy. And only one that is failing was an Obama campaign contributor, while there are also Republican  campaign contributors who also invested in companies supported by the loan guarantee program

 

5. A $5 Trillion Cut
Obama repeatedly stated (and Romeny repeatedly denied) that Romney's tax plan proposes a $5 trillion tax cut.

True: Romney has proposed “revenue neutral” tax reform, meaning that he would not expand the deficit. However, he has proposed cutting all marginal tax rates by 20 percent — which would in and of itself cut tax revenue by $5 trillion. 

 

6. The Huge Rise in Food Stamps Use
Romney charged that the number of people on food stamps has risen to 47 million, up from 32 million since President Obama took office

True: This is accurate. However, the number of people applying for food stamps has always gone up during a recession. And food stamp eligibility was increased in a 2008 bill that Congress passed while Bush was in office. 

 

7. 23 Million People are Out of Work
Romney says 23 million people currently are out of work

True: This is true, but he is counting not only the unemployed, but also those who are working part-time to make extra money (for example, college students) and those who are "marginally attached," that is those who want a job, have looked in the past 12 months, but whose need is not urgent. 

 

8. Household Income Decline
Romney charged that household incomes have fallen by more than $4,000 since President Obama took office

True: According to an analysis by Sentier Research, a firm that specializes in demographic and income data. It issued a report last month which found that median household income has fallen by $4,520 since Mr. Obama took office — with the median household making $50,678 in August, down from $55,198 in January 2009. 

 

9. Savings From Drawing Down Wars
Obama just said he wanted to “take some of the money we’re saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America."

But the pledge has been derided by some fiscal analysts as something of a gimmick: The nation’s annual deficits have been much larger than its yearly war costs in recent years. So even without the expense of the wars, the nation is still expected to run deficits in the years to come — the savings from the wars will not be enough to yield a surplus to spend on things like infrastructure at home. 

 

10. Raising Taxes on the Middle Class
Romney insisted that his tax plan would not cut taxes for the wealthy nor raise taxes on the poor or middle class but instead effectively bolster economic growth.
 

False: According to the Tax Policy Center, if you cut tax rates by 20 percent, you give the wealthy a multibillion-dollar tax break. Even if you take away all of their credits and loopholes and preferential rates, as Romney asserted, the wealthy still do not owe the government as much as they did before. If the rich are paying less, then the poor and middle class will have to pay more in order to raise the same amount of money.

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