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Presidential race blankets Virginia with partial truths

Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen September 25, 2012

The presidential ad wars continue in Virginia. PolitiFact National has been busy fact-checking the TV claims being made by President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Here’s a summary of the recent findings:

Romney claim: "Seven times Obama could have stopped China’s cheating. Seven times, he refused."

Romney backs the claim by pointing to the Obama administration’s decisions not to label China as a "currency manipulator" in seven biannual reports that the U.S. Treasury Department has submitted to Congress.

The Treasury Department must report to Congress on "the currency practices of America's major trading partners." If it says that a country has manipulated its currency -- say, keeping the value of its currency artificially low to boost its exports, as China’s been known to do -- that triggers a process to start "expedited" negotiations with the country, perhaps drawing in the International Monetary Fund. The legal designation also allows Congress to punish the offender.

When the U.S. last named China a currency manipulator in 1994, the designation did not stop the unfair trade practices or lead to productive negotiations.

Obama has taken other steps to pressure China to reform its trade policy. He filed seven complaints with the World Trade Association -- the same number registered by former President George W. Bush. Obama has also sought help through the U.S. International Trade Commission and created an Interagency Trade Enforcement Center.
The ad makes it sound like Obama has "refused" to contest China’s trade practices, which ignores some critical facts, so the claim was rated Half True.

Romney claim: "Under Obama, families have lost over $4,000 a year in income."

Romney’s statement is based on research by Sentier Research, a private group that uses U.S. Census Bureau data to track household income. In January 2009, the month Obama took office, median household income was $54,893. In June 2012, it was $50,881, a drop of almost $4,012.

The ad uses trustworthy figures but runs oversimplifies the issue by pinning all the blame for dropping middle-class income on Obama. The economy was falling before he took office and a president has limited control over those forces. PolitiFact rated the claim Half True.

Obama claim: Barack Obama says he "will protect your guaranteed benefits" in Medicare while "Mitt Romney would take away Medicare as guaranteed benefits."

This ad recites a favorite Democratic talking point -- that Medicare gives seniors "guaranteed benefits," which Mitt Romney could end if he’s elected. But Medicare doesn’t cover everything and there’s no guarantee that services covered now will be paid for in the future. Congress and the president can change the benefit rules.

For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will reduce reimbursements to certain health care providers, probably leading to the elimination or reduction of some benefits. Those reduced reimbursements allow Medicare Part A -- the part of the program that pays for hospital care -- to stay solvent a little longer, reaching to 2024 instead of 2016.

Romney has broadly endorsed reforms proposed by his running mate, Paul Ryan, that would change the tradition of Medicare paying health care providers for services. Under Ryan’s plan, people now younger than 55 would get a government subsidy they could use to purchase private insurance or a plan that acts more like traditional Medicare.

It‘s plausible that the Romney plan could provide less security than Medicare does now -- there is dissension among experts on this point. But Obama exaggerates when he talks about "guaranteed benefits." On balance, the claim was rated Half True.

Obama claim: Romney tax plan "could take away middle-class deductions for child care, mortgages and college tuition."

Romney’s tax plan would lower rates across the board and make up the lost revenues by closing deductions and loopholes. This is called broadening the tax base, because more income would be subject to levies. The major deductions are for interest paid on home mortgages, charitable donations, state and local taxes and employer-paid health insurance benefits. Romney hasn’t said which tax deductions he would curtail, other than to say he would preserve the mortgage deduction for the middle class.

Obama’s campaign backs its claim by citing to recent study by the Tax Policy Center that examined whether Romney could reform the tax code while meeting his pledge not to deepen budget deficits. The report concluded Romney's plan would result in higher overall tax bills being paid by middle-class filers because the lowered tax rates could not compensate them for their loss of deductions. Romney disputes the findings.

There are reasonable concerns that the numbers in Romney’s plan don’t add up. The Obama ad is very specific about which deductions might be at risk, but really know. The Romney plan is vague and Obama fills in the blanks. The ad was rated Mostly False.

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Our Sources

Mitt Romney, "Failing American Workers," (ad) Sept. 13, 2012.

PolitiFact, "Romney ad accuses Obama of refusing ‘seven times’ to stop ‘China’s cheating," Sept. 19, 2012.

Mitt Romney, "Failing American Families," (ad) Sept. 17, 2012.

PolitiFact, "Romney ad faults Obama for falling incomes," Sept. 19, 2012.

Obama for America, "Guide," (ad) Sept. 12, 2012.

PolitiFact, "Is Barack Obama right on ‘guaranteed benefits’ under Medicare?" Sept. 17, 2012.

Obama for America, "Pay the Bills," (ad), Sept. 18, 2012.

PolitiFact, "Obama says Romney could take away middle class tax deductions," Sept. 24, 2012.

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Presidential race blankets Virginia with partial truths