Monday, September 22nd, 2014

GOP convention: Fact checking the Ryan speech

Paul Ryan gestures to GOP delegates after his address as the party's vice presidential nominee
Paul Ryan gestures to GOP delegates after his address as the party's vice presidential nominee

Paul Ryan won high marks from three national political analysts Thursday for a well-delivered, energetic and highly personal introduction to America that they said could calm some voter’s concerns about austerity plans and show the GOP’s "maturity" in attacking the nation’s fiscal problems.

But fact-checks of the speech at the Republican national convention showed that the vice presidential nominee from Wisconsin took significant liberties with the facts or misled through omission on Medicare, the GM plant closing in Janesville and other topics.

"I think he came across well," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "He is smart and articulate. But he opened himself up to criticism by saying things that are not true." Four years ago, West praised Sarah Palin’s speech as smart and funny with appropriately pointed criticism of the Obama-Biden ticket.

Ryan’s campaign and conservative backers pushed back Thursday and defended the Janesville congressman’s words and intent.

"Last night was just an introductory chapter and an attempt to outline where the president has gone wrong in his philosophy," Mike Franc, vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation, told PolitiFact Wisconsin. "I thought he did a good job."

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said Ryan came across as likable and moderate, but tangled his message of being a responsible truth-teller on the budget by overreaching on some facts.

Here is a look at the accuracy of various statements Ryan made Wednesday night, based on past PolitiFact rulings and other sources as noted:

Closed GM plant: PolitiFact Wisconsin evaluated Ryan’s statement — made both before the convention and in his speech — that Obama broke his promise to keep the Janesville auto factory from closing.

The claim was rated False due to the lack of evidence Obama explicitly made such a promise and the fact the Janesville plant shut down before he took office.

On Thursday, Ryan told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: "I’m not saying it was his decision. I’m saying he came and made these promises, makes these commitments, sells people on the notion that he’s going to do all these great achievements, and then none of them occur."

"I’m sure they want to undermine Obama’s message that he saved the auto industry" in key swing states, West said of Ryan bringing up the episode in his home congressional district.

National debt commission: Ryan said Obama "created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing. Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing — nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue."
He concluded: "So here we are, $16 trillion in debt and still he does nothing."

PolitiFact reviewed Ryan’s speech claims about the commission and noted that Ryan was on the commission and provided a key vote against its recommendations, preventing it from going to Congress for a vote.

Earlier, PolitiFact National evaluated a Jon Huntsman claim that the commission’s deficit reduction plan went from President Barack Obama’s desk "to the garbage can."

In rating the claim False, the story concluded that while the president didn’t embrace the entire document, some of its ideas emerged in Obama’s budget proposals released more than a month later.

Medicare reform: Ryan said Obama’s health care reform law "funneled out" $716 billion from Medicare "at the expense of the elderly."

PolitiFact National said the statement gives a very misleading impression. "In fact, the law limits payments to health care providers and insurers to try to reduce the rapid growth of future Medicare spending. Lawmakers said they hoped the measures would improve care and efficiency. Those savings, spread out over the next 10 years, 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."

The story concluded: "Ryan’s statement is exaggerated and we rate it Mostly False."

Debt increase under Obama: Ryan said Obama "has added more debt than any other president before him...One president, one term, $5 trillion in new debt."

That figure, and claim, was on target. PolitiFact Ohio confirmed the numbers in a June 2012 fact check on a statement by Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, though the statement was rated Half True.

"Lost in that is the impact of the faltering economy, decisions made before Obama took office and the fact that others, such as Congress, also have had a role in increasing the debt," the story concluded.

Romney economic record in Massachusetts: Ryan said that when Romney was governor there from 2003-2007, "unemployment went down, household incomes went up," and the state "saw its credit rating upgraded."

PolitiFact Wisconsin evaluated that claim on Wednesday and rated it Half True. That story found that Ryan’s claim was well grounded mathematically on the unemployment and credit-rating claims. The income claim comes with a significant footnote: That increase turned to a decrease when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, the story found.

It added that "no governor can take major credit for economic trends in his or her state. Many other facts are at work than just a governor’s actions."