Fact Checking the 2012 South Carolina Republican Debate

on January 17 2012 11:05 AM
Fact Checking the South Carolina Republican Debate
In a spirited debate last night in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Republican candidates went after both President Obama and their GOP rivals on issues ranging from U.S. trade relations and the federal income tax to misleading attack ads and America's relationship with Turkey. Reuters

In a spirited debate last night in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Republican candidates went after both incumbent President Barack Obama and their GOP rivals on issues ranging from U.S. trade relations and the history of the federal income tax to misleading attack ads and America's relationship with Turkey.

Five candidates remain in the Republican presidential primary: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

All five men pretty much stuck to the facts last night when debating foreign and domestic policy, but there were more than a few one-liners or arguments, encompassing everything from Obama as a food stamp president to whether Santorum has run a positive campaign, candidates began to skirt the truth, or give answers that were outright false.

Below, get a rundown of the Republican presidential candidates stack up in a GOP debate fact check. Did Santorum advocate voting rights for felons? Has Obama failed to produce a single jobs plan during his time in office? Scroll through to find out. 1. Voting Rights for Felons

During last night's debate, Rick Santorum slammed Mitt Romney for a misleading ad by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. It claimed Santorum voted to let felons vote, paired with an image of a man in an orange jumpsuit sporting an I voted sticker.

Santorum claimed the ad distorted his actual position on the issue, and claimed he voted instead for felons to be able to register only once they had completed their probation and parole. He also alleged that Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, allowed felons to vote almost from the moment they got out of prison.

True or False?

True. Massachusetts is one of only 13 states that allow people with felony convictions to vote upon their release from prison. These men and women are allowed to vote while still on probation or parole. Rick Santorum's attempt at 2012 amendment (it failed 63-31) would only allow felons to register after they'd completed both.

When Santorum asked Romney last night why he didn't try to change the felon voting law when he was governor, Romney argued that the state legislature was 85 percent Democrat at the time, effectively tying his hands on the issue.

2. No New Markets

In one of his many assaults on Obama's policies last night, Mitt Romney asserted that the president has opened up no new markets for American goods around the world in his three years.

True or False?

False. Obama signed trade deals in October 2011 with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Speaking with USA Today, Romney's spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said these deals were negotiated by the Bush administration and therefore can't count towards Obama. But the current administration had to fight through a stalemate to win support for and begin those three trade deals, something the Bush administration was unable to do before the Republican left office.

The New York Times has called Obama's accomplishment a rare moment of bipartisan accord achieved by Obama after a standoff that stretched multiple presidencies. While Romney might be technically correct in saying the deals themselves weren't new, the trade markets opened in South Korea, Colombia and Panama were achieved largely by Obama, and represent the most significant expansion of U.S. trade relations in nearly two decades.

3. Income Tax

During the first South Carolina debate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul claimed the United States had no income tax until 1913. We should have the lowest tax that we ever had, he said when moderator Bret Baier asked how high Paul would set the income tax rate if he were president. Up until 1913 it was zero percent. What's so bad about that?

True or False?

Both. Although a set federal income tax was not ratified and put into general practice until Feb. 3, 1913, the Library of Congress reports that in 1861, the Civil War Congress passed the Revenue Act, which included a tax on personal incomes. The tax was only repealed ten years later. In 1894, Congress brought back the federal income tax, keeping it at a flat rate, but it was ruled unconstitutional the following year.

4. Obama Has No Jobs Plan

Mitt Romney asserted that President Obama has never really tried to spur the economy or create jobs. Three years in office, he doesn't have a jobs plan, he said.

True or False?

False. Actually, President Obama has proposed several economic plans during his time in office, although whether Romney could get behind them is another question.

The most well-known plan he crafted was his stimulus plan in February 2009, which included $800 billion in tax cuts and spending. But at the end of 2010, Obama worked out a biparisen deal to cut the Social Security payroll tax, giving families an average of $1,000 a year in extra cash and extending unemployment benefits to provide 99 weeks of aid.

And just this September, Obama introduced his third major jobs plan, which included $450 billion in tax cuts and new spending and giving tax break and greater cuts to payroll taxes for companies willing to hire those who'd been out of work for six months or more. Obama also pushed for $50 billion in infrastructure spending like upgrading public schools. Almost none of the jobs plan has yet been allowed to pass into law.

5. The Taliban

Ron Paul asserted that while al Qaeda's goal was to come here and kill us, the Taliban's main concern was keeping foreigners out of their lands. We need to understand that, he said, or we can't resolve this problem in the Middle East.

True or False?

Largely false. Although the U.S. did not consider the Taliban to be a threat to America before the 9-11 attacks, a point Paul stated at the beginning of the debate, the Taliban has been known to harbor members of al Qaeda in their lands, something the Obama administration fears will happen again if the Taliban take back Kabul. Although the candidate is right to differentiate between the two, his assertion that all the Taliban wants is to be left alone is undercut by these terrorist ties.

6. Obama is 'Food Stamp President'

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich called President Obama the best food stamp president America had ever seen, and argued that his policies emphasized dependence rather than economic growth. More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history, he claimed.

True or False?

Technically true, but misleading. It has gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade, according to The Times, but the ease is due to measures taken before Obama became president. In fact, the Bush administration greatly relaxed eligibility rules for receiving food stamps in both 2002 and 2008.

And while the number of people on food stamps is at a record high, it's due mainly to the ailing economy, and the upward trend began before Obama became president.

The past three years have seen a 44 percent increase in the number of those applying for food stamps, nearly half are minors, and only 15 percent of households getting food stamps have an income above the poverty lie ($18,500 a year for a family of three).

7. Regarding Chile...

Gingrich argued that Chile's system of private retirement accounts was the way to go, and asserted that the program was totally voluntary.

If you want to stay in the current system, stay in it, he said. If you are younger and you want to go and take a personal savings account, which would be a Social Security savings account, you can take it.

True or False?

False. The Chilean system is actually not voluntary at all, and hasn't been since 1981. The plan requires worker to give 10 percent of $33,360 in wages every year, as well as taking out extra fees for insuring the program.

Herman Cain was also a fan of bringing up the Chile model when talking Social Security. He, like Gingrich, mistakenly viewed the program as optional.

8. Raising, Reducing Taxes

Gingrich claims Romney raised taxes when he was the governor of Massachusetts. Romney claims he reduced taxes 19 times.

True or False?

Both are basically true, with some serious caveats.

For much of his governorship, Romney resisted raising taxes and cut income tax whenever he could. But there were quite notable exceptions to that rule. In one year, Massachusetts raised business taxes by $140 million, and Romney himself pushed for raising nearly $60 million by creating 33 new fees and increasing 57 already in place.

As a result, Romney is rightly praised by those who favor income tax cuts, and rightly criticized by those who favor lower business taxes and fees.

9. Santorum's Positive Campaign

My ads have been positive, Rick Santorum asserted last night. The only ad that I've ever put up has contrasted myself with the other candidates, and does so in a way talking about issues.

True or False?

About to be false. Santorum has stayed largely positive on the campaign trail so far, avoiding outright attacks like those of Gingrich or Rick Perry over Bain Capital. But in South Carolina this week, Santorum has released a new virulently anti-Romney ad.

The TV spot accuses Romney of being just like Obama and claims the governor once bragged that he was more liberal than Teddy Kennedy. Those claims go a lot farther than simply talking about the issues.

10. The U.N. Program

During last night's debate, Newt Gingrich called out Mitt Romney's super PAC for distorting his record on a bill he co-sponsored with Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

The PAC asserted that Gingrich's bill would have given $60 million a year to a United Nation program supporting China's one-child policy, effectively encouraging infanticide.

True of False?

False. According to PolitiFact, the bill in question was actually aimed at addressing climate change, and was co-sponsored by a third of the House of Representatives.

Although the bill did propose money for the United Nation Population Fund, it specifically barred any use of the money for involuntary sterilization or abortion, or to coerce any person to accept family planning.

11. Turkey

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked if Turkey should remain in NATO, with moderators noting its increasingly oppressive regime.

Perry responded by saying the country should immediately be ejected for its policies against women and its hard tack to the right... but defended his belief by saying the country was ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists. He went on to put Turkey is the same category as Syria and Iran, warning that the U.S. needs to show the country that we're going to have to be dealt with.

True or False?

As far as the U.S. and Turkish government are concerned, completely false. Turkey is not ruled by Islamic terrorists, but by a party with Islamic roots, the AKP.

CNN asserts that the party was formed in an effort to create a more centrist force in Turkish society, and has been a powerful and prominent U.S. ally for years, including leading four NATO peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan since 2001. The AKP has even called for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Iran's leading ally, to step down in the face of his country's revolt.

In the hours after last night's debate was televised, Turkey's Foreign Ministry released a statement slamming the candidate's statements as baseless and inappropriate. It urged the U.S. not to waste its time on candidates who do not even know their allies.

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