Fact Checking The Sunday Shows - August 22, 2010

August 23, 2010 9:15 am ET

Congress is still on recess as the summer comes to a close, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn't taking a vacation from spreading misinformation.  On Sunday's Meet the Press, Sen. McConnell unleashed a torrent of false claims.  After blaming President Obama for the uproar over the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, McConnell turned his attention to the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of this year.  McConnell argued that the public opposes higher taxes for the wealthy, that higher tax rates for the top two income brackets would affect 50 percent of small businesses, and that the Bush tax cuts are not to blame for soaring deficits; all of those claims are patently false.  Later in the program, New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio (R) smeared Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as "not peace-loving," implying that he sympathizes with terrorists.

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Blamed President Obama For Mosque Controversy

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, obviously this is not about freedom of religion in America.  Typically, these kinds of decisions are made by local officials.  What's been different about this one is you had the President of the United States weighing in on this issue, actually on each side of the issue, within 24 hours, which has helped stimulate a great national debate not about freedom of religion, but about the appropriateness of the location.  [Meet The Press, 8/22/10]

FACT: Top Conservatives Escalated The Controversy Before President Obama Addressed The Situation

President Obama Addressed Mosque Controversy On August 13.  According to the Associated Press:

President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed allowing a mosque near ground zero, saying the country's founding principles demanded no less.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York City and the nation.

"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," he said. "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

Obama made the comments at an annual dinner in the White House State Dining Room celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. [Associated Press, 8/13/10]

Sarah Palin Publicly "Refudiate[d]" The Islamic Center On July 19. As reported by CBS News:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin weighed in on Sunday on the controversy over a mosque planned near ground zero, but her remarks were met with a wave of criticism over her sentiment and her choice of words.

"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate," Palin said via Twitter.

She subsequently deleted her "tweet" and published a new message, which did not include the made-up word "refudiate": "Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real." [CBS News, 7/19/10]

Newt Gingrich Wrote A Column About The Mosque On July 28. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote a Human Events column on July 28 titled "No Mosque at Ground Zero." [Human Events, 7/28/10]

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl Came Out Against The Mosque On August 9. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) weighed in on the controversy in an August 9 op-ed in the Yuma Sun titled "A Mosque At Ground Zero?" [Yuma Sun, 8/9/10]

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Argued That The Public Opposes The Expiration Of The Bush Tax Cuts For The Wealthy

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: The president's been ignoring public opinion all year long on a variety of things.  People were not in favor of the stimulus bill, they were not in favor of the health care bill, they're certainly not in favor of the spending, the debt, the Washington takeovers, and they're not in favor of the tax increases that they have in mind in September. [Meet The Press, 8/22/10]

FACT: Nearly 70 Percent Of Americans Disagree With Sen. McConnell & The GOP

Poll: 69 Percent Of Americans Favor Higher Tax Rates For The Wealthy.  According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Poll:

[CNN/Opinion Research Poll, 8/20/10]

Political Correction Produced The Following Chart:

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Suggested That Expiration Of Bush Tax Cuts Will Affect 50 Percent Of Small Businesses

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: What the administration is proposing, and the majorities in the House and Senate, is to raise taxes on the top two brackets, which will affect 50 percent of small business income... [Meet The Press, 8/22/10]

FACT: Only 1.9 Percent Of Small Businesses Fall Under The Top Two Tax Brackets

CBPP: "98.1% Of Small-Business Filers Have Income Too Low To Be Subject To Either Of The Top Two Tax Brackets." According to Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: "First, critics charge that allowing the 2001 tax cut's reduction in the top two marginal income tax rates for individual taxpayers to expire as scheduled would affect a large proportion of small-business owners. In fact, only 1.9 percent of filers with any small-business income are projected to face either of the top two income tax rates in 2009... In other words, 98.1 percent of small-business filers have income too low to be subject to either of the top two tax rates. By contrast, a substantial percentage of filers with small business income are in the lowesttax brackets. According to Tax Policy Center data, 34 percent of filers with small-business income either are in the 10 percent bracket or are not subject to income taxes because their incomes are too low." [CBPP.org, 2/2/09, emphasis original]

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Attempted To Frame Scheduled Expiration Of Tax Cuts As Deliberate Tax Increase

DAVID GREGORY (HOST): Senator, my question is how do you pay for an extension of tax cuts? Because if you're concerned, as Republicans say they are, about cutting spending and the deficit, you have to acknowledge that tax cuts are not paid for. 

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, what, what, what are you talking about, "paid for"? This is existing tax policy.  It's been in place for ten years.  What they're talking about is raising taxes, impacting 50 percent of small business income, in the middle of what most Americans think is a recession.  That is not a responsible thing to do.  [Meet The Press, 8/22/10]

FACT: The Bush Tax Cuts Are Set To Expire Because Republicans Wrote The Law That Way To Hide Their True Cost

Time: Congress Wrote Tax Law To Expire After 2010 Because It Made Cuts Appear Cheaper. As Time reported in 2001:

Topping the list of odd features is the "sunset" provision that repeals the entire bill at the end of 2010. Budget rules require Congress to include a sunset clause in all major tax legislation, but this sunset arrives a year early--after 10 years instead of the 11 years covered by the current budget resolution. That year was shaved off to keep the total cost of the bill under $1.35 trillion. By repealing the legislation in the 10th year, Congress saved billions of dollars. Without the repeal and a few other tricks, the cost of the full 11-year plan would balloon to more than $1.8 trillion by the end of 2011, far exceeding anything the Democrats would vote for. And the cost in the second decade would reach as much as $4 trillion. Even some conservatives on Capitol Hill are dismayed by the apparent dishonesty of the early sunset. After both parties agreed to a smaller tax cut, the conference committee pulled a fast one. [Time6/3/01, emphasis added]

American Enterprise Institute: Reconciliation "Ploy" To Pass Bush Tax Cuts Means They Expire After 10 Years. According to Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at AEI:

It is worth repeating why we are in this particular car heading toward the cliff. When the Bush tax cuts were on the agenda at the very beginning of his presidency, Republicans in Congress and the White House made a tactical choice to avoid giving Senate Democrats the leverage that a 60-vote hurdle can provide by employing reconciliation (yes, the same tool that those who applied it then condemned roundly when it was used for health care reform this year). It was tricky to use reconciliation for tax cuts, which increased deficits when reconciliation was specifically supposed to be used for revenue-neutral or deficit-reducing programs. But the decision was made to use it for this purpose--but not to violate the proviso that the plan would increase deficits outside the budget window of 10 years.

That meant a ploy of declaring that all the tax cuts would expire entirely after 10 years, including the absurd-on-its-face provision that estate taxes would gradually decline to zero in 2010--and then be fully restored in 2011. From the day after the tax cuts were signed into law, Republicans were campaigning to extend them, in effect admitting that the policy was built around a "never mind" ruse. To be fair, there were plenty of ruses in the health care reform reconciliation, so it is not as if one party is clean--this is legislative politics. But the charges now emanating from Republicans that the Democrats are going to be responsible for a huge tax hike is, shall we say, bemusing. [AEI.org, 7/21/10, emphasis added]

Ezra Klein: Reconciliation Maneuver Meant "Twisting A Budget Process Meant To Reduce The Deficit." According to the Washington Post's Ezra Klein:

In order to maximize the size of the cuts, Republicans had to minimize the influence of minority Democrats on the package. So they chose to run the bill through the reconciliation process. But that posed some challenges. Budget reconciliation had never been used to increase the deficit. In fact, it specifically existed to decrease the deficit. That's why one of its rules was that you couldn't use it to increase the deficit outside the budget window. Republicans realized they could take that very literally: The budget window was 10 years. So if the tax cuts expired after 10 years, they wouldn't increase the deficit outside the budget window. They'd also have the added benefit of appearing less costly in the Congressional Budget Office's estimates, as the CBO duly scored them as expiring after 10 years, which kept the long-range budget picture from exploding.

But the plan was never to have the tax cuts expire. Instead, the idea was that people would get used to the new tax rates, and no future Congress would want to allow a big tax increase, so when the time came, either Republicans in office would extend the cuts or Republicans in the minority would hammer Democrats until they extended them. And that's where we are now: Democrats control the government, so Republicans are screaming about tax increases as a way to get Democrats to extend tax cuts.

It's really hard to know where to start with this one. It's not a tax increase passed into law by Democrats. It's a reversion to old tax rates passed into law by Republicans. It's not how law is supposed to work. It's the result of twisting a budget process meant to reduce the deficit so you could use it to massively increase the deficit. [Washington Post7/19/10, emphasis added]

  • Sen. McConnell Voted For The Reconciliation Bill That Required Tax Cuts To Expire. Sen. McConnell voted "yea" on the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. [H.R. 1836, Vote #170, 5/26/01]

CLAIM: Sen. McConnell Suggested That Bush Tax Cuts Aren't Responsible For Deficits

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: We're going to have the third year in a row under this administration of an annual deficit of more than a trillion dollars.  That is not because we're taxing too little, David, it is because we're spending too much. [Meet The Press, 8/22/10]

FACT:  Bush Tax Cuts Helped Create Massive Deficits

CBPP, 2005: Tax Cuts Are Half Of The $539 Billion Increase In Deficits Since 2001. Below is a chart from the Center on Budget Policy Priorities (CBPP) using Congressional Budget Office numbers to trace the origins of the deficit:

[CBPP.org, 1/31/05]

The Bush Tax Cuts Are The Primary Driver Of Federal Budget Deficits Over The Next Decade. Below is a chart from CBPP showing the deficit impacts of war spending, financial recovery spending, the recession itself, and the Bush tax cuts:

[CBPP.org, 6/28/10]

CLAIM: Rick Lazio Declared That Imam Rauf Is Not A "Peace-Loving" Muslim

FORMER REP. RICK LAZIO: There are millions of peace-loving, good Muslims in America.  This Imam Rauf is not one of them. 

FACT: Rauf Has Denounced Terrorism And Has A Long Record Of Promoting Tolerance And Interfaith Dialogue

Rauf: "We Condemn Terrorists. We Recognize It Exists In Our Faith, But We Are Committed To Eradicate It."  According to the New York Daily News: "The Imam planning an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero says his critics are bigots and the project will stamp out terrorism - not fan the flames.  'We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it,' said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is leading the charge to build the Cordoba House.  'We want to rebuild this community,' he said. 'This is about moderate Muslims who intend to be and want to be part of the solution.'" [New York Daily News, 5/21/10]

Rauf Believes "American Democracy Is The Embodiment Of Islam's Ideal Society." According to Time: "The Kuwaiti-born Rauf, 52, is the imam of a mosque in New York City's Tribeca district, has written extensively on Islam and its place in modern society and often argues that American democracy is the embodiment of Islam's ideal society. (One of his books is titled What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America.) He is a contributor to the Washington Post's On Faith blog, and the stated aim of his organization, the Cordoba Initiative, is 'to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions.' His Indian-born wife is an architect and a recipient of the Interfaith Center Award for Promoting Peace and Interfaith Understanding." [Time, 8/3/10, parentheses original]

Rauf Preaches "Tolerance And Interfaith Understanding."  According to the New York Times: "Those who have worked with him say if anyone could pull off what many regard to be a delicate project, it would be Imam Feisal, whom they described as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding.  'He subscribes to my credo: 'Live and let live,'' said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, spiritual leader of Park East Synagogue on East 67th Street.  As a Sufi, Imam Feisal follows a path of Islam focused more on spiritual wisdom than on strict ritual, and as a bridge builder, he is sometimes focused more on cultivating relations with those outside his faith than within it." [New York Times, 12/8/09]