There’s been a lot of chatter after Paul Ryan’s speech last night that it was filled to the brim with lies. David Weigel has a pretty typical list of them for Slate, which you can read through at your pleasure if you’re interested.
Problem is, most of what people are labeling lies or falsehoods or whoppers or whatever term you prefer, aren’t. This isn’t fact-checking so much as disagreement-checking dressed up as such. I’m going to take Weigel’s list item by item. I’ll start with what Ryan actually said, then Weigel’s argument as to why it’s a lie or misrepresentation.
1. Closed GM Plant in Janesville
Here’s what Ryan said:
When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you. this plant will be here for another hundred years.”
That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.
The GM plant in Janesville. Ryan mentioned it in a pretty effective section on the Obama-induced pangs of his hometown. But as Matthew DeLuca explained two weeks ago, GM announced the closure during the Bush presidency. Ryan hustled to save it. He voted for the GM bailout, in another attempt to save it. You can call that proof of government’s failure, sure, but Obama didn’t force it on the city.
Ryan didn’t say, though, that Obama caused the plant to close, so the “Well, GM decided to close it during the Bush administration” line of reasoning is a non-sequiter. He’s saying that the recovery Obama promised, the help that he promised to give, never came for Janesville. As Conn Carroll points out, that wasn’t the only comment Obama made about Janesville during the election; in October, Obama said he would lead an effort to retool “plants like the GM facility in Janesville” to build fuel-efficient cars. That never happened.
Ryan’s arguing two things. First, this is an example of promises Obama made and never fulfilled; there’s nothing factually inaccurate about that. Second, he’s using his hometown as a microcosm for the rest of the U.S. where the promised recovery never happened, and where people are still out of work. You can disagree with whether it matters, or whether Obama’s really responsible, but that isn’t “fact-checking.”
2. Medicare cuts
And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.
You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.
So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the Left isn’t going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.
“$716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.” Not really true, either. The Medicare spending “cuts” are of the sort that Ryan defended when he was rising through the House—reductions in future reimbursement rates.
Weigel’s link goes to an article by Kevin Drum which attempts to explain why Romney and Ryan’s claim that ACA uses cuts to Medicare to fund its own new spending is wrong. Drum argues that this isn’t true since, because taxes for Medicare are put into Medicare trust funds, the only way to take money out of Medicare is to reduce taxes being paid into it or increase money paid out. Therefore, Romney and Ryan are wrong.
Unfortunately for Drum (and Weigel), that’s nonsense. Romney and Ryan’s claim is that ACA used cuts to Medicare spending to allow for the reform’s new spending, which Drum even acknowledges as true. In other words, Obama took Medicare, a program whose rising costs are one of the central drivers of our budget mess, used up important cuts for it, and then replaced that reduced spending with new entitlement spending under his healthcare reform.
It’s not at all inaccurate, let alone a “lie,” to call this funneling funds from Medicare to another entitlement. It is, and worse, it’s irresponsible. It’s not irresponsible because it cuts Medicare spending, but rather because it significantly cuts Medicare spending with one hand and replaces it with new entitlement spending with the other.
Democrats have also alleged here that Ryan is being dishonest because his own plans call for these cuts to Medicare as well. But as Ryan said in his speech, there’s a big difference between making cuts to fund new spending (as Obama did), and making cuts as part of a plan to make Medicare solvent.
Again: agree, disagree, that’s all fine—but there’s no fact-checking involved here.
3. Credit Downgrade
It [Obama's presidency] began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America.
“A downgraded America.” S&P’s rationale for downgrading the United States from AAA to AA+ “assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place.” This was “because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.” Ryan’s promised to keep those tax cuts for now, then try and flatten the code into two low rates, and we don’t know what the S&P Tiki Gods think of that.
I agree with Weigel here—it’s a very misleading statement, because it implies our credit rating was downgraded due to the administration, when the reality is there’s quite a bit of blame to go around, but most of it falls on the Republicans for their embarrassing handling of the debt ceiling crisis. This line, in my view, would qualify as bullshit.
4. Voting against the Simpson-Bowles Commission
He 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.
The “bipartisan debt commission” Ryan referred to was Simpson-Bowles. He served on it, and voted against the report, because it didn’t tackle Medicare costs—which sort of brings us back to the “$716 billion funneling” issue.
Weigel’s suggestion here is that Ryan is hypocritical to vote against Simpson-Bowles and then criticize Obama for ignoring it. Again, this has to do with disagreement and not with the facts, but there’s nothing hypocritical about criticizing the President for ignoring his own commission and proposing no serious solution of his own to replace it. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Moreover, Ryan voted against the commission for not reforming Medicare, and then released his own plans.
I don’t do these kinds of political posts very often because I tend not to find them very interesting, but in this case, I think it’s worth wading into the weeds a bit, because most of these claimed “fibs” are nothing of the sort, and it’s become very widespread across the web. If there’s a similar reaction to Biden or Obama next week, and their statements aren’t at all lies, I’ll do the same then. The echo chamber both sides envelope themselves in is terribly annoying, and so it’s good every once in a while to poke holes in it.