Friday, October 24th, 2014

Fact-checking the Arizona presidential debate

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney attacked each other at the Republican debate in Arizona.
Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney attacked each other at the Republican debate in Arizona.

Updated Feb. 23, 2012,  7:40 p.m.

Wednesday night's Republican debate in Arizona was a welcome return of our favorite show, but it ended with something of a cliffhanger.

It was Episode 20, but because no more Republican debates are scheduled, it's possible it was the last of the season.

The debate covered some familiar ground and had plenty of interesting new claims. We'll be updating this story as we post new Truth-O-Meter items.

Mitt Romney repeated a couple of claims on the Democratic health care law that we've checked before. He said he opposed the law because, "I don't believe the federal government should cut Medicare by some $500 billion."

That's a claim we've heard many times from Republicans, particularly in the 2010 campaign. We've rated it Half True or Mostly False, depending on the wording. It is true that much of the money to fund the health care plan comes from reductions in Medicare spending, but we have found it is misleading to senior citizens to suggest they are cuts.

Romney also said that the federal government will raise taxes by $500 billion for the new health care law. We rated that claim Half True when it was made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Much of the debate focused on issues about government spending. Many readers asked us on Twitter to check Rick Santorum's claim that, "When I was born" — which was 1958 — "less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget. Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent."

First we looked at his comments on defense spending. There are different ways to measure defense spending, but using the measure Santorum chose, he was close to correct — though slightly off on the numbers. We rated it Mostly True

Next we looked at his claim that entitlement spending had grown from "less than 10 percent of the federal budget" to 60 percent. In 1958, spending for entitlements was 25.4 percent of the federal budget -- more than double what Santorum said. In 2011, it was 65.1 percent, which was in the ballpark. We rated that claim Half True.

We also checked Romney's claim that Obama "could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran. He did not." We talked to experts who said the administration had probably gotten the toughest sanctions from the United Nations that it could, given opposition from China and Russia. We also found that Obama has coordinated with the E.U. and other nations on sanctions that have been extremely damaging to the Iranian economy. We rated Romney's statement Mostly False.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul claimed that gas prices "hit $6 a gallon in Florida." Our colleagues at PolitiFact Florida (who were naturally suspicious, since they weren't paying nearly that much) found just two stations out of more than 7,000 in the state charging anywhere close to that price — near the airport in theme park mecca Orlando. Gas in the state actually averages $3.69 a gallon. We rated Paul's claim Pants on Fire.