The theme of this year's Republican National Convention is "We Built It." How fitting then that the vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, chose to build a veritable Jenga tower of outright lies and misleading statements in lieu of delivering the kind of vaguely inspirational fluff speech we've come to expect from the top ticket addresses in years past. A survey of his handiwork:
1. On the Stimulus:
"The first troubling sign came with the stimulus. It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under a one-party rule. It cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government …what did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn’t just spent and wasted – it was borrowed, spent, and wasted."
First off, the stimulus worked. This is empirically verifiable fact. Just ask economists. The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business polled 40 members of their Initiative on Global Markets' (IGM) Economic Experts Panel on the matter. 81% of them said unemployment was lower in 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus. 56% of them said that they believed that its benefits would exceed its costs in the long run. Additionally, as reported in the Washington Post last year, analysts from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Council of Economic Advisers, Columbia, Dartmouth, MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, the credit ratings agency Moody's, and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco have all published comprehensive studies detailing the stimulus' positive effects.
And what were those effects? The President's Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs were created from the bill's passage through the end of 2010. But you don't have to take their word for it. According to Politifact, independent analysis from agencies like Global Markets/IHS, Macroeconomics Advisers, and Moody's has produced estimates placing job numbers during that period at anywhere from 1.3 million to 2.45 million jobs saved or created.
We shouldn't be comfortable or indifferent towards wanton GOP attacks on the stimulus just because we've grown used to them. Paul Ryan wasn't mistaken; he was lying. He knows the facts. After all, he believed in the stimulus enough to request funds from it for his district. His excuse? It was an accident. You'd think that a "serious" and "substantive" so called "deficit-hawk" who's spent a lot of time telling America that the stimulus portends generational doom would be a bit more careful about these things - as would the one-hundred and twenty-eight Republican House members who also voted against the stimulus only to request stimulus funding for their districts.
At this point, I'd like to note to readers that I've only covered a single paragraph of Ryan's speech thus far. So, if you'd like to break for a snack or maybe a trip to the restroom, now might be a good time to do it; it's going to be a long read. Don't worry. I'll wait.
Ready? Ok. Next section.
"...Even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. 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."
"A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours."
First, the small businesses claim. It's unclear where Ryan is getting the "a million" from. The provisions for small businesses laid out in Obamacare on the other hand are very clear. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from new policies on employer responsibility.
Additionally, businesses with up to 25 employees that pay under $50,000 in annual wages qualify for a tax credit that can pay for up to 35% of the cost of providing insurance to employees. That upper bound will go up to 50% in 2014. Now it's true, as many conservative commentators and analysts have pointed out, that only about 170,000 small businesses actually claimed this credit in 2010, far short of the 4 million that the Obama administration had hoped for. But that credit was and still is being offered. It would be disingenuous to blame Obama for a lack of awareness about the provision, especially given that Republicans like Ryan have spent literally years at this point trying to convince small businesses that Obamacare would bring about the end times.
It is true that employers with more than 50 employees will face a penalty for not providing health insurance. But it is simply wrong to suggest, as Ryan does, that Obamacare's costs actually depend on these penalties in any meaningful way. Obviously, Obamacare will have largely succeeded in its goals if as few businesses pay those penalties as possible; most employers will be paying premiums to insurers, not taxes to the government.
Politifact has already rated the portion of Ryan's statement dealing with Obama's $716 billion in Medicare "cuts" as "Mostly False." And with good reason. That $716 billion number represents savings from limiting growth in Medicare spending, not tangible cuts to benefits. In fact, those so-called "cuts" are centered on insurance companies and hospitals that fail to meet performance benchmarks.
Plus, as many analysts have noted, Paul Ryan included the very same "cuts" to Medicare in his own budget. Even if you take Mitt Romney at his word and assume that Ryan's numbers won't be his (which contradicts previous statements by both Romney himself and at least one surrogate), getting rid of that $716 in savings would actually substantially increase premiums and co-pays by an average of $342 a year over the next decade in addition to making it extraordinarily difficult for Romney's overall budget math to work.
A graph from the Wall Street Journal illustrates this:
As the author of the Wall Street Journal piece says, the key difference between the two plans is a matter of "how" and not "what" funds will or won't be allocated. Obama would maintain Medicare's current structure while making cuts on the insurer and provider side. Ryan would create a "voucher" or "premium support" system that would fundamentally change Medicare through partial privatization.
Would Ryan's proposals be better for the program and beneficiaries? Well, we at least know that the CBO has said that Ryan's most recent proposal very well could increase costs for seniors, and that his last proposal definitely did by as much as $6,150 out of pocket.
Additionally, there are inherent risks for Medicare involved with switching to a premium support system as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out. Among them are a less healthy pool of Medicare enrollees, which might overburden the program, and the shifting of additional costs to beneficiaries.
3. On the Debt Ceiling Mess:
"[Obama's first term] began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America."
Look, everyone knows who really deserves blame for the downgrade. From Standard & Poor's:
"The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently."
Among the participants in that brinksmanship? Paul Ryan.
4. On the debt in general:
"...By his own decisions, President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined. One president, one term, $5 trillion in new debt."
"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."
The $5 trillion number is true. It's also true that this debt, Obama-originated debt, accounts for a minority of our current total debt, the number you'll find on the debt clock in the convention center.
Another helpful graph, this time for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It is large because it is important.
As the graph makes evident, the majority of our current debt can be attributed to either expenditures and foregone revenues inherited from the Bush administration or revenue lost during the economic recovery. As Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post, without these, our current debt would be only about 20-30% of our GDP rather than nearly 100% as it is now.
Ryan's insinuation that the Obama administration has done little to nothing to address the debt situation is ludicrous. Was Obama supposed to pass the Simpson-Bowles plan he mentions into law without Congress? Ryan himself said he wouldn't vote for the Commission's plan.
I'll say that again: Paul Ryan is criticizing the president for not passing the plan he said himself he couldn't vote for.
And the claim that Obama's done nothing since then? Ladies and gentlemen, I have a document to present you. It should be printed out, read, highlighted, passed along to family, friends, and foes, kept by the bedside and/or worn around the neck of literally every single politically engaged person in America. It is the president's latest official debt and deficit reduction plan. In a month, it will be a year old. You can disagree with it and you can doubt its "seriousness," but you should at least recognize that whenever Republicans claim or suggest that the president hasn't acted on the debt or that he hasn't presented a concrete plan, they are lying.
What'll the plan do? All told, it's expected to reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion over the course of the decade, yield a primary surplus by 2017, and reduce the debt as a percentage of GDP
5. On Mitt Romney:
"... Some people can’t be dragged down by the usual cheap tactics, because their ability, character, and plain decency are so obvious – and ladies and gentlemen, that is Mitt Romney."
"He was the Republican governor of a state where almost nine in ten legislators are Democrats, and yet he balanced the budget without raising taxes."
You can't really quantify decency or even "cheap tactic" usage. You can, however, analyze Politifact scores. And on that front the numbers are clear. I added the percentage of statements made by Obama and Romney that were rated "Half True," "Mostly False," "False," and "Pants-on-Fire.” The results? 53% of Obama's rated statements skewed towards the dishonest side of the ratings. Nothing to be proud of, to be sure. But 71% of Romney's statements did.
Now, Romney was required to balance the budget as Governor; it's part of the Massachusetts constitution. And to say he did so without raising taxes is simply false. Not only did he increase corporate taxes and close various loopholes, he also increased a number of fairly common fees, including marriage licensing fees, firearm registration fees, and fees for the transportation of gasoline. All told, Romney's tax and revenue increases totaled anywhere from $260 million a year according to Massachusetts' Department of Administration and Finance to about $750 million a year according to the Massachusetts' Taxpayer's Foundation.
Lies and distortions are, and have always been, part and parcel of American politics and politics in general. There is absolutely nothing inherently new about dishonesty even on a regular basis. This year however, the Republican campaign for the presidency has introduced arrogance, abandons, and total indifference to the truth that is unquestionably new in presidential politics. In a sane world, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would have lost this election last night solely on the basis of their claims. The world, of course, is not sane. At best, we, the politically engaged in America and the media that pretends to serve us, have collectively lost our ability to be scandalized. At worst we've completely lost our senses. Either way, a country in which someone hoping to be a heartbeat away from the presidency can utter obvious falsehoods and disingenuities with as much confidence, poise, and resolve as Paul Ryan was able to last night is in dire straits indeed.