FACT CHECK: Romney, Obama gloss over realities
WASHINGTON—Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of inflicting a "government takeover of health care" on Americans, even though Obama's law is closely modeled on the plan Romney achieved in Massachusetts.
Romney's speech to news leaders, like Obama's the day before, was a roll out of the head-to-head rhetoric that will increasingly define the campaign until November. Each aggressively criticized the other side and, in doing so, warped some realities.
Obama ignored divisiveness in Democratic ranks and his own political drifts when he accused Republicans of disavowing anti-pollution legislation and health care changes they once supported. Romney again portrayed Obama as a leader who apologizes for America even though the president has no history of saying "sorry" on behalf of the nation.
A look at some of their statements and how they compare with the facts:
ROMNEY: "The president's attention, it was elsewhere, like a government takeover of health care and apologizing for America abroad."
THE FACTS: Obama's law keeps the private insurance industry at the heart of the health care system and avoids a single-payer government system like Canada's. It seeks to achieve universal coverage by requiring insurers to accept people regardless of medical history, subsidizing costs for many in the middle class as well as the poor, establishing new markets for those who don't get insurance at work and requiring most Americans to obtain coverage, with penalties if they don't.
That's precisely what Romney did, first, as Massachusetts governor.
Romney argues that states have the right to establish an individual insurance mandate and Washington doesn't -- a question the Supreme Court is deciding. But whether the federal law is found constitutional or not, it does not add up to a government takeover.
Even when fully implemented, if the court allows that, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 58 percent of working-age Americans and their families will be covered through employer plans -- about the same as now.
In his world travels, Obama has said at times that the U.S. acted "contrary to our traditions and ideals" in its treatment of terrorist suspects, that "America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy," that the U.S. "certainly shares blame" for international economic turmoil and has sometimes shown arrogance toward allies.
Obama's statements that America is not beyond reproach in its history usually come balanced with praise, and he is hardly alone among presidents in acknowledging the nation's past imperfections.
But these were not apologies, formal or informal.
OBAMA: "There is a reason why there's a little bit of confusion in the Republican primary about health care and the individual mandate, since it originated as a conservative idea to preserve the private marketplace in health care while still assuring that everybody got coverage, in contrast to a single-payer plan. Now suddenly this is some socialist overreach."
THE FACTS: True, but not the whole story.
Many Republicans into the 1990s, and in some cases beyond, supported the idea of requiring people to have health insurance, even if they disagreed with Democrats on how universal coverage should work. Now that idea is decidedly purged from the GOP mainstream.
But until he became president, Obama, too, thought a mandate was a bad idea. In the 2008 campaign, it was his "core belief" that everyone would get health insurance, without the coercion of a mandate, if only high-quality coverage were affordable.
He relentlessly criticized his primary opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton in debates, speeches, ads and mailers for proposing a mandate, taking it so far that she waved one of his mailers in the air and barked, "Shame on you, Barack Obama," slamming "your tactics and your behavior in this campaign."
ROMNEY: "The administration pledged that their stimulus would keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent. It has been above 8 percent every month since."
THE FACTS: Obama never said that he would hold unemployment below 8 percent if Congress adopted his stimulus package. The 8 percent figure cited by Romney, and many other Republicans, comes from a transition staff-written projection written by economists Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein that was issued weeks before Obama was sworn in and long before there even was a stimulus plan before Congress.
Romer, who went on to head Obama's White House Office of Economic Advisers, said after she left the White House in 2010 that the projection was so far off because she -- like nearly every other economic forecaster -- had failed to anticipate how deep the recession was and the extent to which conditions would continue to worsen. Their report was never an official Obama administration assessment or projection.
That stimulus plan, with a price tag of $787 billion at the time, wound up costing $825 billon. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that the stimulus increased the number of people employed by 1.4 million to 3.3 million and cut the unemployment rate between 0.7 and 1.8 percentage points. Economists continue to debate whether the stimulus lived up to its promise or was worth the cost, but few seriously argue that it failed to create jobs and many believe it helped to end the recession.
OBAMA: "You'd think they'd say: `You know what? Maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders.'"
THE FACTS: As zealous as they sound on the subject, Republicans aren't proposing to throw out all regulations. Romney, for one, proposes changing, but not repealing, the Sarbanes-Oxley law that tightened accounting regulations in response to corporate scandals. He does want to repeal the Dodd-Frank law toughening financial-industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector, and he wants environmental rules loosened to spur energy production.
Even in the heat of GOP primaries, however, Romney wasn't talking about throwing out the federal rulebook. "We don't want to tell the world that Republicans are against all regulation," he said. "No, regulation is necessary to make a free market work. But it has to be updated and modern." He said as much Tuesday night, that "we, of course, understand in a free market that regulations are necessary and critical."
ROMNEY: Obama "is destroying the Medicare Advantage program, eliminating the coverage that millions of seniors depend on and reducing choice by two-thirds."
THE FACTS: The Medicare Advantage program seems to be doing quite well. Premiums, on average, are down 7 percent while enrollment is up nearly 10 percent this year. About one-fourth of Medicare beneficiaries currently get their coverage through private health insurance plans available under Medicare Advantage. The program provides a choice of private plans that usually offer lower out-of-pocket costs than traditional Medicare.
Under the George W. Bush administration, the plans had been overpaid when compared with the cost of care in traditional Medicare. Obama's health care law scaled that back, cutting more than $130 billion over 10 years. Critics warned of an exodus from the program, but that hasn't happened, partly because the health care law staggered Medicare Advantage cuts to make them more manageable.
The Obama administration has also worked to soften the impact in the initial years, for example, by pumping in $6.7 billion in quality bonuses, most of which will be awarded to plans rated merely average.
There are fewer Medicare Advantage plans now than when the health care law passed, giving rise to Romney's complaint about less choice. But administration officials say seniors have an average of 26 plans to choose from in nearly every county.
OBAMA: "Cap and trade was originally proposed by conservatives and Republicans as a market-based solution to solving environmental problems. The first president to talk about cap and trade was George H.W. Bush. Now you've got the other party essentially saying we shouldn't even be thinking about environmental protection; let's gut the EPA."
THE FACTS: Obama is right that cap and trade was a Republican idea -- first put in place to control sulfur dioxide emissions, or acid rain, under the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that passed overwhelmingly. The idea is to cap overall emissions of a certain pollutant while letting companies trade pollution allowances, essentially using a combination of the government and private market to make the environment cleaner.
But in recent years, cap and trade failed when Democrats controlled the Senate and the House. Moreover, Republicans argued the legislation was not a truly market-driven mechanism. It would have auctioned off pollution allowances to companies, raising money for the government to help offset higher energy bills and invest in cleaner energy technologies.
Republicans wanted a system that would distribute the allowances for free, letting the private market determine their value. That's how it worked with acid rain.
Republicans have not abandoned the notion of environmental protection, although the presidential primary rhetoric -- all geared to more drilling and energy production -- could lead one to think so.
Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Dina Cappiello and Tom Raum contributed to this report.