Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Mail call: Readers react strongly to Warner, Janis Truth-O-Meters

"I'd like to think politicians are being more honest with you looking over their shoulders," one reader told us.
"I'd like to think politicians are being more honest with you looking over their shoulders," one reader told us.

There are a few things a PolitiFact Virginia reporter can count on: strained eyes from poring over spreadsheets; new-found expertise in arcane policy; and ideological confusion as readers accuse us of radical conservatism and bleeding-heart liberalism.

We got a lot of response on our Feb. 1 Truth-O-Meter item on U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s claim that Uncles Sam "spends more" on tax breaks than he receives in income tax revenues. We rated his claim True, citing Office of Management and Budget reports showing the U.S. collected $1.85 trillion in personal income tax over the last two fiscal years and allowed $2.17 trillion in breaks.

Warner, a Democrat, is planning on introducing a bill that would lower the national debt by cutting spending and reining in tax breaks. Warner acknowledges his legislation will be unpopular and, judging by the reaction we got, he’s right.

Some readers took exception to our True rating.

"By this analysis, you must also believe that all personal income belongs to the Fed and a person is mercifully allowed to keep a portion," wrote Al Potter of Boydton. "None of the personal or corporate income is the federal government’s to take at will or leave for the earner."

Potter added, "The U.S. cannot lose money it is not entitled to. If you have $100 to lose it is not the same as the government looking at your $100, collecting $25 in tax and thinking it lost the remaining $75. Sen. Warner’s statement is incorrect to the point of Pants on Fire."

Data from OMB and Joint Committee on Taxation identified three of the largest individual breaks as exclusions from paying taxes on employer-provided health care, pension contributions and most mortgage interest.

That didn’t sit well with Michael Redd of Mechanisville. "The government does not want to admit what its real problem is: spending," he wrote. "They need to learn to operate within a budget instead of looking for new ways of paying for their over spending. I am taxed enough on my present take-home pay. Keep your hands off my future pension!"

On Feb. 2, we evaluated a claim by Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico, that the U.S. Senate approved the new START treaty despite significant concerns among U.S. diplomats and military leaders. We rated the statement Barely True, noting that all nine living people who have served as secretary of state have endorsed the nuclear pact with Russia as well as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the joint chiefs of staff.

We acknowledged opposition from former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and a group of retired ambassadors and military brass. We described their combined stature as "a far cry from the roster of every living secretary of state."

That bought a protest from Joel McKean, who was executive secretary of the U.S. Salt II delegation in the late 1970s. He sent an email saying the new treaty will put the U.S. at a disadvantage.

He wrote, "The list of those of lesser stature, as you refer to them, are people who were close to the gears of the negotiating process whereas the secretaries of state were responsible for establishing the policies under which the negotiations took place. The importance of their opinions should not be rejected out  of hand because of their `stature.’"

McKean added, "I believe the grade of Barely True was given without due consideration of all the facts and that Del. Janis’ statement should have earned a True grade."