Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Fact-checking the Sunday Dec. 22 news shows

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., debated the NSA surveillance program Sunday on NBC's “Meet the Press."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., debated the NSA surveillance program Sunday on NBC's “Meet the Press."

Renewed talk about the NSA’s spying programs gave pundits and politicians the opportunity to revisit history on the Sunday talk shows.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., argued on NBC’s Meet the Press that the NSA collection of phone records might have foiled the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks if the program had been in place sooner.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted on Fox News Sunday that new spying techniques may be appropriate because "the threat has changed."

And over on ABC’s This Week, conservative pundit Bill Kristol attempted to use President Barack Obama as an example of how knee-jerk reactions against the NSA surveillance program could be misguided.

He said Obama "came into office very concerned about" wiretappings but "then he became president of the United States, he got all the briefings … (and) he decided … the balance is probably pretty appropriately struck."

Kristol for the most part gets his history correct, PunditFact found.

Obama was a reliable critic of the post-Sept. 11 surveillance efforts launched by President George W. Bush during Obama’s early years in the U.S. Senate. And those concerns certainly dwindled when Obama moved into the White House.

But Obama’s opinions shifted, at least to some extent, even before becoming president. In 2008, Obama voted for a bill in the Senate that essentially approved warrantless wiretapping. The shift was so notable that his presidential rival at the time called him a flip-flopper, a claim PolitiFact rated True.

Because of that caveat, we rate Kristol’s claim Mostly True.

Of course, like most Sundays, there also was talk about the health care law.

On Fox News Sunday, conservative pundit George Will discussed last week’s announcement that people who had their health insurance canceled can now purchase a bare bones plan that only covers major medical expenses without facing the threat of a fine.

It’s another change in the rollout of the law, Will said.

"At this point, it’s very hard to quantify, (but) perhaps most of the law has already in some sense been waived or otherwise suspended," Will said. "The president said this week that the suspensions of the employer mandate, the individual mandate, etc., etc., etc., do not go to the core of the law. If not that, what is the core of the law?"

Will took it a bit too far, PunditFact found.

There have been a number of modest administrative changes to the law , including giving people an extra week to sign up for coverage to begin in January and giving insurance companies an extra month at the end of next year to set premiums.

In addition to the major change Will mentions, Obama also delayed a requirement that all companies with 50 or more employees provide their workers health care coverage.

While precise data are missing, the combined impact of the two major revisions could affect about 1 million Americans.

On the other side of the ledger, 3.1 million young adults have gained access to coverage through the law, another 18 million people are subject to the individual mandate and tens of millions more have benefited from requirements that health insurance companies spend premiums on care. Plus, there’s the people who have enrolled for health care coverage through the expansion of Medicaid or on the federal marketplace.

That tipped the balances away from Will. We rate his claim Mostly False.

Times staff writers JonIn Greenberg and Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is the editor of PunditFact.com.