In their first of three debates, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney "traded barbs" and stretched some facts, say the nonpartisan watchdogs at PolitiFact.com.
Similarly, the researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org found examples of truth-stretching by both men.
Overall, it was a debate packed with facts, a wonk's delight. From the very first remarks, with President Obama saying 5 million jobs have been created in the private sector over the last 30 months, the debate was very number focused. So there were some things to check. And because Romney made more factual assertions, he's getting dinged more — at least in the early hours after the debate — by the fact checkers.
Here is a sample of what's being reported about the truthiness of what Obama and Romney had to say Wednesday night on stage at the University of Denver:
— One of the biggest disputes was over tax cuts. Obama argued that Romney's plan to stimulate the economy includes a tax cut totaling $5 trillion that, Obama said, isn't possible because the Republican nominee is also promising to spend money in other places.
Romney flatly disputed that number. "First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut," he said.
Who's right? The Washington Post's Fact Checker says the facts on this one are on Obama's side. The New York Times notes that Romney "has proposed cutting all marginal tax rates by 20 percent — which would in and of itself cut tax revenue by $5 trillion."
FactCheck.org has weighed in too, tweeting during the debate that "Romney says he will pay for $5T tax cut without raising deficit or raising taxes on middle class. Experts say that's not possible."
PolitiFact has given a "mostly true" rating to the charge that "Romney is proposing a tax plan "that would give millionaires another tax break and raise taxes on middle class families by up to $2,000 a year."
— Has the president put in place a plan that would cut Medicare benefits by $716 billion? Romney says yes. The president says no. According to PolitiFact, Romney's charge is "half true."
"That amount — $716 billion — refers to Obamacare's reductions in Medicare spending over 10 years, primarily paid to insurers and hospitals," says PolitiFact. So there is a basis for the number. But, it adds, "the statement gives the impression that the law takes money already allocated to Medicare away from current recipients," which is why it gets only a "half true" rating.
The New York Times writes that Obama "did not cut benefits by $716 billion over 10 years as part of his 2010 health care law; rather, he reduced Medicare reimbursements to health care providers, chiefly insurance companies and drug manufacturers. And the law gave Medicare recipients more generous benefits for prescription drugs and free preventive care like mammograms."
Still, as NPR's Julie Rovner has reported, "some of the money does indeed reduce future Medical spending, and the fact is, you can't reduce health care spending and preserve Medicare for 78 million baby boomers without slowing its growth."
— In listing his objections to the Affordable Care Act, Romney said it "puts in place an unelected board that's going to tell people, ultimately, what kind of treatments they can have. I don't like that idea."
But the Times and National Journal have reported that the board in question wouldn't make treatment decisions, a point Obama made during the debate. National Journal called Romney's characterization of what this board would do "one of the biggest whoppers of the night." PolitiFact gave Romney's claim a "mostly false" rating.
Under the law, the board's job would be to keep Medicare spending within a particular target (not a dollar figure, but as a factor of GDP) but the board is prohibited from choosing the benefits to be restricted to achieve savings, so it cannot make treatment decisions.
FactCheck.org, which has likened the charge about this panel to the earlier claim from Republicans that Obama would create "death panels," writes that "the board, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, cannot, by law, 'ration' care or determine which treatments Medicare covers. In fact, the IPAB is limited in what it can do to curb the growth of Medicare spending."
— On cutting the federal deficit, PolitiFact writes, "Romney claimed that Obama had said he would 'cut the deficit in half.' That's the case. ... Obama said he put forward 'a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan.' That's true if you combine the 10-year impact of his budget with the 10-year impact of cuts already approved. (For that reason, we've previously found his claim that his budget plan would 'cut our deficits by $4 trillion' Half True.)"
— As for Obama's claim that under his watch the economy has created 5 million jobs in the past 30 months, NPR's John Ydstie says that's true. But it also ignores an inconvenient truth (for the president), that about the same number of jobs were lost during Obama's first year in office.
— And on a lighter note, the debate opened with a tender moment and a fact that soon was disputed on Twitter. In acknowledging his wedding anniversary, Obama said that "20 years ago I became the luckiest man on Earth because Michelle Obama agreed to marry me." An astute tweeter noted that 20 years ago, the first lady's last name was Robinson.