Fact Check: Republican Debate

Health care, Social Security and job creation records were all part of Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif. Robert Siegel fact checks some of their statements with NPR's Tamara Keith, NPR's Julie Rovner and NPR's Richard Harris.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Last night, we heard about everything from jobs to Galileo from eight GOP presidential candidates. They gathered in California for a debate, the first of three this month alone. Between now and Election Day 2012, NPR's correspondents will be fact-checking the statements of the president and the presidential hopefuls. And we are joined now by three reporters to talk about last night's debate. First, to NPR's Tamara Keith. Hi.

TAMARA KEITH: Hi.

SIEGEL: And let's start with jobs, something that you know a lot about and the candidates Rick Perry, the current Texas governor, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, sparred over last night. Let's listen.

Governor RICK PERRY: Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt.

Governor MITT ROMNEY: Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.

PERRY: That's not correct.

SIEGEL: Tamara, who's being truthful here, either or both or neither?

KEITH: It turns out, essentially both of them are right on. Governor Dukakis did create jobs at a much faster clip than Governor Romney. Depending on how you slice it, either two or four times faster. And then, Governors Ann Richards and George W. Bush also created more jobs in their 10 years in office than Rick Perry has in his about 10 and a half years in office.

SIEGEL: Now, Social Security was another topic that came up last night, in particular, this claim from Rick Perry. Let's listen.

PERRY: It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that's gonna be there. Anybody that's for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids.

SIEGEL: All right, Tamara. Is it a monstrous lie? Is it a Ponzi scheme?

KEITH: I would say not exactly. It's worth noting that Rick Perry has actually toned down his criticism of Social Security recently, saying that the status quo is a monstrous lie rather than Social Security as a whole. But the reality is that Social Security will actually be there for those in their 20s and 30s right now, even though none of us believe it. Even if no changes are made, the latest report from the Social Security trustees says that Social Security will be able to keep paying its bills for the next 25 years and then beyond that it could actually keep paying about 75 percent of what retirees are expecting.

SIEGEL: Tamara, thanks for truth-squadding those claims, and on to NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner on the topic of healthcare. Hi, Julie.

JULIE ROVNER: Hi there.

SIEGEL: Here's something that we've heard quite a lot from GOP candidates, that last year's healthcare law is, quote, "killing jobs." Last night, the accusation came from, among others, Michele Bachmann.

MICHELE BACHMANN: I spent three weekends going to restaurants and I talked to a business owner who said, I have 60 people on my payroll. I have to let 10 go. At the same time, a 17-year-old girl came in and said, I'd like a job application for the summer. He said, I'm sorry, dear, I'm not hiring this summer. I'm actually letting people go. Obamacare is killing jobs. We know that from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, but I know it firsthand from speaking to people.

SIEGEL: Julie, let's assume that Michele Bachmann is hearing that from people. Is it true, though?

ROVNER: Well, not exactly. First, the Congressional Budget Office didn't say that the law would kill jobs. What it said is that people might drop out of the workforce because they'd no longer have to work in order to get health insurance. So there might be fewer people working, but that was only because a lot of people were working because that's the only way they could get covered. Second, the part about the restaurant owner who said he has 60 workers and has to let 10 go, he's probably referring to the fact that the law will require employers with more than 50 workers to either provide health insurance or else pay a fee.

Except that that requirement doesn't start until 2014 so it's a little bit odd that he's doing it this summer.

SIEGEL: And on another health issue, Julie, there was an argument over the vaccine to prevent HPV, the virus that's the leading cause of cervical cancer. Texas Governor Rick Perry, at one time, tried to require it for girls entering the sixth grade and that brought this from Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

RON PAUL: Just take the HPV, forcing 12-year-old girls to take an inoculation to prevent this sexually transmitted disease. This is not good medicine, I do not believe.

SIEGEL: And we should point out, Julie, that Ron Paul is a doctor.

ROVNER: Yes, he is. But in this case, he's in disagreement with the vast majority of the medical community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Taskforce that recommends which vaccines children and adults should get has recommended this vaccine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine, among others.

This vaccine has, I should mention, been quite a contentious issue. It's a vaccine that prevents cancer, but via a sexually transmitted disease, as Congressman Paul mentioned, so that does make some parents nervous. And it's recommended for preteen girls, not because they expect them to be having sex at that age, but because experts want them to be fully protected before they begin having sex. But that's often been misinterpreted, which has added to the controversy surrounding it.

SIEGEL: And we should note, Julie, that while there were several controversies surrounding this issue of the vaccine, in fact, the program never became law in Texas.

ROVNER: That's right. The governor tried to do it by executive order and he was overridden by his legislature, so this mandate for vaccination didn't actually happen.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Julie.

ROVNER: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: And finally, to NPR science correspondent Richard Harris. Richard, Governor Perry was asked about his claim that scientists, and I'm quoting, are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Here's what he had to say.

PERRY: The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just - it is nonsense. I mean, and I told somebody - I said, just because you have a group of scientists who've stood up and said, here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

SIEGEL: Richard, is that right? Is the science of global warming and the human role in it - is it settled science or not?

RICHARD HARRIS: Well, there are still open questions, such as whether sea level will rise eight inches or six feet in this century, but the basic concept of human-induced global warming is actually overwhelmingly accepted by climate scientists. You can look at the National Academy of Sciences, many of the world academies of sciences and many professional organizations.

And I'd like to read you a quote here. "Rising greenhouse gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems," close quote. That's from the Exxon Mobil website, so it's not just the scientific establishment that's here on this.

Now, many voters still believe that there is a deep division among scientists about climate. In fact, there was a poll this spring that showed the majority of Republicans actually think that, if the climate is changing, human beings are not the cause and the Tea Party numbers show even deeper skepticism than that.

SIEGEL: Okay. Let's move on, then, to Governor Perry's reference to Galileo, who was once, he said, outvoted.

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, Galileo did go against the prevailing science of the day when he presented evidence that the Earth actually orbits the sun, not the other way around. And I must say that astronomers of the day generally did agree with him, although there were some skeptics who didn't and his real conflict was, of course, with the Catholic church, which considered it a heresy that the Earth might not be the center of the universe.

And, by the way, when Perry was asked to name a single scientist who he trusts on climate issues, presumably his Galileo, he demurred.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Richard. That's NPR's Richard Harris. Our thanks also to NPR's Tamara Keith and Julie Rovner for that truth-squadding of last night's GOP presidential debate.

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