PolitiFact parses truth from fiction in Denver debate

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands after their first debate in Denver.
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands after their first debate in Denver.

The debate is done, and the fact-checking has begun.

PolitiFact and PolitiFact Georgia are checking statements made by Mitt Romney and President Obama during Wednesday’s Denver face-to-face showdown.

We will be updating our online site -- http://www.politifact.com/georgia/ -- throughout the day as fact-checks are completed. Readers can comment on our Truth-O-Meter rulings at our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/politifact.georgia?fref=ts. And they can follow on Twitter at: PolitiFactGA.

Below are some initial (abbreviated versions of) fact-checks on actual statements by the candidates or major themes they broached during Wednesday’s debate. Look for the complete fact-checks at the PolitiFact online sites.

Mitt Romney: Under Obama, middle-income American have seen their incomes come down by $4,300 [a year]

Romney’s claim during the debate was similar to a claim the Republican presidential challenger made during a campaign ad last month.

Romney says President Barack Obama is failing American families with policies that have led to less income and more debt.

"Under Obama, families have lost over $4,000 a year in income, said the narrator of one Romney campaign ad. "And the national debt is now $16 trillion and growing."

The economy was on a downward track before he took office, and a president has limited control over those forces. To the extent he should be held responsible, experts told us, the slow recovery has all been on his watch.

Romney’s ad cited trustworthy figures but oversimplified the issue by assigning blame to Obama. We rated it Half True.



Mitt Romney: "Fifty percent of kids coming out of school can't get a job."


Mitt Romney has made similar remarks on the campaign trail before, and his campaign has pointed us to articles by the Associated Press and Time.com that each address the bleak job market for 2012 college graduates.

The key piece of evidence is from the Associated Press article, "In Weak Job Market, One In Two College Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed." It’s based on research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, which in turn is based on data from the federal Current Population Survey, as well as Labor Department measures of what level of education is required to perform each of some 900 jobs.

Romney told campaign donors that "50 percent of kids coming out of school can't get a job." He missed a key qualifier -- according to the research, about a quarter of recent college grads literally can’t find a job, while another quarter have found a job, but one that doesn’t require a college degree. Still, the research shows the employment picture for college grads is grimmer than at any time in more than a decade. We rate the claim Mostly True.

We rated the claim Mostly True.


President Barack Obama: "I’ve cut taxes for … middle-class families, small  businesses."


President Barack Obama reiterated his claim during the debate that he had cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses.

This has become a tenet of the president’s campaign and a claim that PolitiFact has checked before. In his speech at the Democratic National Committee in Charlotte, N.C., Obama mocked Republicans for turning to tax cuts as the solution to every problem.

"Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!" Obama said.

"Now, I’ve cut taxes for those who need it – middle-class families and small businesses.  But I don’t believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires will bring good jobs to our shores, or pay down our deficit," Obama said.

Obama has raised some taxes during his presidency, but he’s also pursued broad-based tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses. We particularly give weight here to the tax cuts that were part of the stimulus and the payroll tax holiday, which reduced taxes for broad swaths of the workforce. Some small businesses may have been hit by new taxes that were part of Obama’s health law..

Obama said he has "cut taxes for those who need it – middle-class families, small businesses." He has, but he also has raised some taxes. So while his statement was accurate, it lacked that additional context.

We rated his claim Mostly True.


President Barack Obama:  Taxes on small businesses have been cut 18 times under his administration

President Barack Obama repeated his claim about helping small businesses during the debate. Politifact previously examined a similar statement made by the President  during a Twitter town hall meeting in July.

At that time Obama was asked -- in a tweet by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio -- "After embarking on a record spending binge that left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?"

Part of Obama’s answer was that his administration has worked to aid small businesses in job creation.

"We have provided at least 16 tax cuts to small businesses who have needed a lot of help and have been struggling...," Obama said then.

We think there's room for critics to note that in addition to the 17 tax cuts enumerated by the White House, there are also some tax increases in the health care law that will fall on some of the same small business owners that got tax cuts. Some health care law tax increases won't go into effect for a couple years. And with some, like the excise taxes on tanning beds, one could argue it is a tax on the customer, not the small business.

We rated his comment Mostly True.


Mitt Romney: "Under the president's plan, he cuts Medicare by $716 billion, takes that money out of the Medicare trust fund and uses it to pay for Obamacare."

One of Mitt Romney’s attack lines is President Barack Obama took $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. He repeated it during Wednesday’s debate.

"Under the president's plan, he cuts Medicare by $716 billion, takes that money out of the Medicare trust fund and uses it to pay for Obamacare," Romney said in one television interview in August. "I think this is something that people are just now focused on and find it very, very difficult to understand why he would cut Medicare for our current seniors."

Neither Obama nor his health care law literally cut funding from the Medicare program’s budget. Rather, the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program.

Romney’s claim gives the impression that the law takes money that was already allocated to Medicare and funds the new health care law with it.
In fact, the law uses a number of measures to try to reduce the rapid growth of future Medicare spending. Those savings are then used to offset costs created by the law -- especially coverage for the uninsured -- so that the overall law doesn't add to the deficit.

We rate his statement Half True.



President Obama says his budget plan "would cut our deficits by $4 trillion."

Republicans have used the government’s growing deficits as a cudgel to drive Democrats out of office. The strategy worked well in 2010 and, with the nation’s total debt having hit $16 trillion, they are using it again.
Democrats say they, too, are working to reduce the deficits. In his speech at the Democratic convention, President Barack Obama said he will put the country on a path to better fiscal health. He spoke of the choice this election offers voters during the debate.

He made the same claim in a television ad: "You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without wrecking our middle class.  Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion," the president said in the ad.
On its own, Obama’s plan does not produce the full $4 trillion. Both the source cited by the Obama campaign and a separate group, one that puts a premium on deficit reduction, say the president’s plan will shrink the cumulative gap between spending and revenues by well over $2 trillion over ten years.
The remainder comes from the 10-year impact of cuts already approved.
To the extent that long term predictions hold up, the president’s big number is accurate, but he takes credit for changes that took place outside of his budget proposal.

We rated the statement Half True.