Fact Checking The Sunday Shows - November 13, 2011

November 14, 2011 10:29 am ET

The Penn State sexual abuse scandal headlined the political talk shows on Sunday, but Republican leaders still found plenty of time to air dishonest talking points about conservative policies. GOP super committee members Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) misled viewers about the root of the debt problem the committee is trying to solve and what Republicans have proposed to address it. In particular, both lawmakers severely distorted the impact of the failed Bush tax cuts. Elsewhere, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus declared that Republicans want to "reduce taxes on every single American," ignoring the party leaders demanding that the poor pay higher taxes, and struggling presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that "what we need to win this war on terror" is the reinstatement of Bush-approved torture techniques.

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Erased Bush Tax Cuts From The "Drivers Of Our Debt"

REP. JEB HENSARLING: I think it is important to note that the committee has both a goal and a duty and in many respects the duty is more important than the goal. The duty is to put forth legislation that actually addresses our long-term structural debt. Now the president himself has said that the drivers of our debt are Medicare, Medicaid and health care. Nothing else comes close. [State of the Union, 11/13/11]

FACT: The Bush Tax Cuts Are The Main Driver Of America's Current Deficits

CBPP: Present "Huge Deficits" Due To Bush Tax Cuts, Wars, And Recession. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explains: "If not for the Bush tax cuts, the deficit-financed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression (including the cost of policymakers' actions to combat it), we would not be facing these huge deficits in the near term." [CBPP.org, 5/10/11]

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities prepared the following graphic showing that the Bush tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for nearly half of public debt by 2019:

Public Debt

[CPBB.org, 5/20/11]

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


[CBPP.org, 5/10/11]

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Claimed The Congressional Budget Office Determined The GOP Budget Would "Strengthen And Save Medicare"

REP. JEB HENSARLING: I mean Republicans put forth a plan in our House budget -- which by the way would have reduced the deficit by almost $5 trillion over what the president was proposing. Now Democrats have rejected that plan. But there is a plan with legislative language that the Congressional Budget Office says will actually strengthen and save Medicare. [State of the Union, 11/13/11]

FACT: GOP Medicare Overhaul Would Force Seniors To Pay More For Their Health Care

Wall Street Journal: GOP Plan "Would Essentially End Medicare." As reported by the Wall Street Journal: "The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills. Mr. Ryan and other conservatives say this is necessary because of the program's soaring costs. Medicare cost $396.5 billion in 2010 and is projected to rise to $502.8 billion in 2016. At that pace, spending on the program would have doubled between 2002 and 2016. Mr. Ryan's proposal would apply to those currently under the age of 55, and for those Americans would convert Medicare into a 'premium support' system." [Wall Street Journal4/4/11, emphasis added]

CBO: Under The GOP Budget, "Most Elderly People Would Pay More For Their Health Care Than They Would Pay Under The Current Medicare System." According to the Congressional Budget Office: "Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system. For a typical 65-year-old with average health spending enrolled in a plan with benefits similar to those currently provided by Medicare, CBO estimated the beneficiary's spending on premiums and out-of-pocket expenditures as a share of a benchmark: what total health care spending would be if a private insurer covered the beneficiary. By 2030, the beneficiary's spending would be 68 percent of that benchmark under the proposal, 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario, and 30 percent under the alternative fiscal scenario." [CBO.gov, 4/5/11]

Read more about the GOP plan to replace Medicare benefits with vouchers HERE.

CLAIM: Rep. Hensarling Exaggerated GOP Offer Of "Half A Trillion Dollars Of Revenues"

REP. JEB HENSARLING: So we put a half a trillion dollars of revenues on the table. Some of that fees, but 250 of it is what most people call static tax revenue. But that is in the context, Candy, of bringing down marginal rates of tax reform, fundamental tax reform to make the tax code fair, simpler, more competitive to create jobs. So whatever damage would be done by $250 billion of new taxes, we think would be offset by a system that would help create jobs. And as we're dealing with the debt crisis, we don't want to make the jobs crisis even worse. So that's what has been put on the table. [State of the Union, 11/14/11]

FACT: GOP Offer Included Permanent, Regressive Tax Cuts In Exchange For Modest Revenue Increase

CBPP: GOP Proposal "Adds Little Balance," Makes Bush Tax Cuts Permanent. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Senator Pat Toomey and other Republicans on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction ("Supercommittee") portray their new offer to raise close to $300 billion in revenues (under a plan to reduce deficits by about $1.5 trillion over ten years) as a significant concession, and some observers have suggested it represents a welcome first step toward a balanced deficit reduction plan to put the budget on a sustainable path.  But a closer examination of the proposal raises grave concerns and indicates that, in fact, it adds little balance. 

It uses savings from closing tax loopholes and narrowing other tax expenditures mainly to set tax rates permanently at levels well below those of President Bush's tax cuts, and to make permanent both the highly preferential treatment of capital gains and dividend income under the Bush tax cuts and the temporary hollowing out of the estate tax for estates of the wealthiest one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans that Congress enacted in late 2010.  Consequently, the proposal seems designed to make only a modest revenue contribution toward deficit reduction and then to take revenues off the table for the larger rounds of deficit reduction that must follow.  Moreover, even while yielding modest savings, the revenue component would make the package less balanced by conferring large new tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans while forcing low- and middle-income Americans to bear most of the plan's budget cuts as well as its tax increases.

By permanently locking in tax rates well below the Bush levels, the plan would remove the potential to secure $800 billion in deficit reduction by letting the Bush tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000 expire on schedule at the end of 2012, and it would remove the leverage that the scheduled expiration of these tax cuts provides to those who seek balanced deficit reduction with a substantial revenue contribution. [CBPP.org, 11/10/11, emphasis added]

CBPP: "The Republican Proposal Would Significantly Shift Tax Burden" From The Rich To Working Americans. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

[T]he Republican proposal would significantly shift tax burdens from high-income to lower- and middle-income taxpayers.  High-income taxpayers would benefit enormously from the proposed cut in tax rates, while lower- and middle-income taxpayers would suffer disproportionately from the proposed reductions in tax expenditures, since the plan shields the main tax expenditure for the highest-income Americans - the highly preferential treatment of capital gains and dividend income.  Preliminary estimates by the Joint Committee on Taxation of a plan similar to the Republican proposal indicate that taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 would get tax cuts significantly larger than the already-highly-lucrative tax cuts they will get if Congress extends all of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts   The new tax cuts would be the largest for people with the highest incomes - those with incomes above $1 million would get a new tax cut of more than $30,000 a year, on average, on top of the tax cuts they would get from making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent.  The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that those households are receiving an average tax cut of $129,000 this year from the existing Bush tax cuts; thus, the total tax cut for these very well-off households could exceed $150,000 a year, on average, under the Republican plan. [...]

In contrast, taxpayers with incomes below $200,000 would see their tax bills rise, on average, compared to current policies.  These additional taxes on lower- and middle-income Americans would come on top of the effects of the nearly $900 billion in spending cuts over ten years under the Republican plan, which would fall disproportionately on them because they are more dependent on Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs slated for cuts than are higher-income Americans. [CBPP.org, 11/10/11, emphasis added]

CLAIM: RNC Chairman Priebus Claimed The GOP Wants To "Reduce Taxes On Every Single American"

REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, here's the thing — first of all of, of course the party doesn't favor the rich, but what the party does favor is reducing taxes on every single American out there, everyone watching. We favor reducing taxes and making sure that Washington is focused in on job creation, on cutting spending, on reducing the size of government. These are things that will spur the economy, and these are things that are cornerstone to the Republican Party. [State of the Union, 11/13/11]

FACT: The GOP Wants To Raise Taxes On 47 Percent Of Americans

Republicans Want To "Raise Taxes On The Poor And Working Class." From a New York Times editorial:

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party's most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama's payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December. [New York Times, 8/30/11]

Although They Pay Other Taxes, 47 Percent Of Americans Don't Make Enough Money To Warrant Paying Federal Income Taxes. From Talking Points Memo:

[C]onservatives and Republican elected officials are citing recent data to create the impression that a small majority of people in the country pay all the taxes, and nearly half (a large minority) pay nothing at all. It's a false impression, and when you break down who comprises this now-famous "47 percent" - the poor, the disabled, and the elderly - it makes you wonder why anybody thought it was a good idea to pick a public fight with them.

What's really going on here is that about 47 percent of households paid no federal income tax in 2009. Either they owed nothing, or they got as much back from the federal government as they paid - or more.

This ignores payroll taxes, state and local taxes, gas taxes, excise taxes and much more. But to hear conservatives talk about it, you'd think these people's entire tax burden was $0.00. [Talking Points Memo, 10/14/11]

GOP Candidates Want To An Impose Income Tax Hike On Half Of Americans. From a New York Times editorial: "Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the 'injustice' that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax." [New York Times, 8/30/11]

Majority Leader Cantor Supports Making Poorest Americans Pay More In Taxes. During a speech at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said: "You speak about sort of the fairness issue in the tax code, and I agree that the tax code does not breed fair results. And we've got to look to see and make sure that it's a balanced approach, and right now, what you have is almost 46, 47 percent of the people in this country don't pay any income taxes. Now to me, I gotta ask, is that fair? I mean I think everybody should have some skin in the game, even if it's a dollar. We ought to have people willing to make sure, or making sure that they're a part of what we're trying to do." [Cantor Statement, 11/10/11, via Political Correction]

CLAIM: Sen. Toomey Claimed The Expiration Of The Bush Tax Cuts Would Be "Economy Destroying"

SEN. PAT TOOMEY: And, finally, Chris, the other reason to make a tough decision like this, is in the alternative, we are 13 months away from the biggest tax increase in American history. And that's written into law. That's going to happen.

CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You're talking about the Bush tax cuts expire.

TOOMEY: That's exactly right. And so, what we've suggested is, as an alternative to an economy destroying tax increase right around the corner, let's have a reform, let's simplify the code, let's lower rates, let's wipe out some of the loop holes and special interest, favors and deductions. Let's have the economic growth that would come with that. [Fox News Sunday, 11/13/11]

FACT: Democrats Want To Allow The Bush Tax Cuts For The Wealthy To Expire, Which Would Not Destroy The Economy

Reuters: "Two To Three Percent Of Americans" Are Affected By Democrats' Proposals. According to Reuters: "Lawmakers are mulling the renewal of tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under former president George W. Bush that expire at the end of this year. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress want to extend the lower rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples making less than $250,000. About two to three percent of Americans fit into the upper income categories." [Reuters7/21/10]

President Obama's FY 2011 Budget Called For Extending Bush Tax Cuts For Families Making Less Than $250,000 Per Year. As Market Watch reported in February 2010: "Facing a gaping deficit but aiming to spur job creation at the same time, President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget would hit top earners, oil companies and others while giving tax breaks to small businesses to help them hire new workers... Obama wants tax breaks proposed by President George W. Bush to expire this year. His budget would eliminate tax breaks on those making more than $250,000 a year, a move almost certain to be opposed by Republicans and perhaps some Democrats as the economy crawls out of the recession. 'We extend middle-class tax cuts in this budget,' Obama said Monday at the White House, but 'we will not continue costly tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can't afford it.'" [Market Watch2/1/10]

CBO: Extending Tax Cuts "Does Not Create Much Incentive ... To Hire More Workers." In a written testimony to the Joint Economic Committee, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf stated:

Deferring the scheduled increases in tax rates in 2011 would help some businesses as well as households. In particular, it would keep lower tax rates in place in that year for businesses that do not pay the corporate income tax (the pass-through entities such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations, and limited liability companies).

However, increasing the after-tax income of businesses typically does not create much incentive for them to hire more workers in order to produce more, because production depends principally on their ability to sell their products.

[Policies for Increasing Economic Growth and Employment in the Short TermFebruary 2010, emphasis added]

Bush Tax Cuts Followed By "The Slowest Average Annual Growth Since World War II." As the New York Times' David Leonhardt explains:

Those tax cuts passed in 2001 amid big promises about what they would do for the economy. What followed? The decade with the slowest average annual growth since World War II. Amazingly, that statement is true even if you forget about the Great Recession and simply look at 2001-7.

The competition for slowest growth is not even close, either. Growth from 2001 to 2007 averaged 2.39 percent a year (and growth from 2001 through the third quarter of 2010 averaged 1.66 percent). The decade with the second-worst showing for growth was 1971 to 1980 - the dreaded 1970s - but it still had 3.21 percent average growth.

The picture does not change if you instead look at five-year periods. Here's a chart ranking five-year periods over the past 50 years, in descending order of average annual growth:

New York Times


Is there good evidence the tax cuts persuaded more people to join the work force (because they would be able to keep more of their income)? Not really. The labor-force participation rate fell in the years after 2001 and has never again approached its record in the year 2000.

Is there evidence that the tax cuts led to a lot of entrepreneurship and innovation? Again, no. The rate at which start-up businesses created jobs fell during the past decade. [New York Times11/18/10]

Read more about the failure of the Bush tax cuts HERE.

CLAIM: Rep. Bachmann Suggested That Without Using Torture, American Interrogators Cannot Effectively Deal With Terrorists

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: What we need to win this war on terror is interrogation. This is where my comment about the ACLU comes in because today the CIA is no longer able to go through the interrogation that yielded such profitable information that saved American lives. That's what I'm interested in, David. [...] The, the, the only thing that we have available to us today is the Army field manual. That's online. So terrorists can go ahead and read ahead of time what will happen to them when we capture them, and it's really, effectively, when we capture them today, it's a slap on the wrist. [...] Because, I, again, what we're looking at is what will save American lives. And that's what the most important thing is. We've got, we've got to decide that we want to defeat the terrorists. And when we make that decision, we need to, we need to employ the methods that will best help us to defeat them. And President Obama is not doing that. [Meet the Press, 11/13/11]

FACT: Torture Techniques Like Waterboarding Do Not Produce Good Intelligence, According To Experts

SERE Instructor: "Waterboarding Is A Torture Technique - Without A Doubt." Malcolm Nance, former master instructor and chief training officer at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Training School (SERE), wrote: "I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques employed by the Army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What is less frequently reported is that our training was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. Having been subjected to this technique, I can say: It is risky but not entirely dangerous when applied in training for a very short period. However, when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique - without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it. In the media, waterboarding is called 'simulated drowning,' but that's a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning." [New York Daily News, 10/31/07, emphasis added]

Torture "Failed To Generate Significant And Actionable Intelligence." In a December 2008 Vanity Fair article, David Rose wrote: "I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts." [Vanity Fair, 12/16/08, emphasis added]

Gen. David Petraeus Supported Ending Waterboarding, Closing Guantanamo. As reported by the Huffington Post:

General David Petraeus said this past weekend that President Obama's decision to close down Gitmo and end harsh interrogation techniques would benefit the United States in the broader war on terror.

In an appearance on Radio Free Europe on Sunday, the man hailed by conservatives as the preeminent military figure of his generation left little room for doubt about where he stands on some of Obama's most contentious policies.

"I think, on balance, that those moves help [us]," said the chief of U.S. Central Command. "In fact, I have long been on record as having testified and also in helping write doctrine for interrogation techniques that are completely in line with the Geneva Convention. And as a division commander in Iraq in the early days, we put out guidance very early on to make sure that our soldiers, in fact, knew that we needed to stay within those guidelines.

"With respect to Guantanamo," Petraeus added, "I think that the closure in a responsible manner, obviously one that is certainly being worked out now by the Department of Justice -- I talked to the Attorney General the other day [and] they have a very intensive effort ongoing to determine, indeed, what to do with the detainees who are left, how to deal with them in a legal way, and if continued incarceration is necessary -- again, how to take that forward. But doing that in a responsible manner, I think, sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees." [Huffington Post, 5/26/09]

Former FBI Interrogator: Harsh Interrogation Techniques Are "Ineffective, Slow And Unreliable, And As A Result Harmful To Our Efforts To Defeat Al-Qaida." From Salon: "In the first congressional hearing on torture since the release of Bush administration memos that provided the legal justification for torture, [former FBI interrogator Ali] Soufan told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the CIA's abusive techniques were 'ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida.' According to Soufan, his own nonviolent interrogation of an al-Qaida suspect was quickly yielding valuable, actionable intelligence - until the CIA intervened." [Salon, 5/14/09, emphasis added]

Torture Responsible For "Directly And Swiftly Recruiting Fighters For Al-Qaeda." According to Matthew Alexander, Iraq War veteran and author of How To Break A Terrorist: "Torture and abuse cost American lives. I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq...The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans." [Washington Post11/30/08]

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham: "Idea That We Caught Bin Laden Because Of Waterboarding...Is A Misstatement." As reported by Talking Points Memo: "Not all Republicans are claiming that bin Laden's killing vindicates torture. At a Capitol press conference Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stood apart from his colleagues in the GOP. 'This idea we caught bin Laden because of waterboarding I think is a misstatement,' he said. 'This whole concept of how we caught bin Laden is a lot of work over time by different people and putting the puzzle together. I do not believe this is a time to celebrate waterboarding, I believe this is a time to celebrate hard work.'" [Talking Points Memo5/3/11, emphasis added]

  • Individuals Who Were Subjected To Waterboarding Actually Lied To Interrogators About Names Of Bin Laden Couriers.From the New York Times: "But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden's trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment - including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times - repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier's identity. [...] In 2002 and 2003, interrogators first heard about a Qaeda courier who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, but his name was just one tidbit in heaps of uncorroborated claims. [...] According to an American official familiar with his interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was first asked about Mr. Kuwaiti in the fall of 2003, months after the waterboarding. He acknowledged having known him but said the courier was 'retired' and of little significance." [New York Times5/3/11, emphasis added]

  • Chair Of Senate Intelligence Committee: "To The Best Of Our Knowledge...None Of It Came As A Result Of Harsh Interrogation Practices."As reported byTalking Points Memo: "More and more evidence suggests a key piece of intelligence -- the first link in the chain of information that led U.S. intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden -- wasn't tortured out of its source. And, indeed, that torture actuallyfailedto produce it. 'To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices,' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a wide-ranging press conference." [Talking Points Memo5/3/11]