In the first presidential debate Wednesday night, President Obama andRepublican nominee Mitt Romney packed their responses with accusationsabout each other's policies and defenses of their own.
Here are a few claims that deserve a deeper look:
Private-sector job gains
Claim: Obama said the U.S. economy has created 5 million private-sector jobs the past 30 months.
Facts:After the economy plummeted in late 2007 and throughout 2009, theUnited States has gained 4.6 million private-sector jobs since the labormarket bottomed in February 2010 - or 5.1 million under preliminaryrevisions released last week that are not part of the official tally bythe Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still,that's weak by historical standards. Under President George W. Bush,the private sector also added 5 million jobs in the 30 months afteremployment hit bottom following the 2001 downturn, and the pace ofprivate-sector gains in the previous two recoveries was far stronger.
Claim: Obama says Romney's tax plan would cut taxes by $5 trillion over 10 years, inflating the deficit.
Facts:Romney has proposed cutting tax rates by 20% in each bracket, which,the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says would cost $4.9trillion over 10 years. Romney said his plan will be paid for bycurtailing tax deductions, so middle-class people pay less overall andupper-income people don't see lower taxes. Last month in Ohio, Romneysaid middle-class people would see little change in their taxes underhis plan.
Romney has declined to say what tax deductions he wouldend. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center has contended that middle-classfamilies would see taxes rise about $2,000 a year under Romney's plan ifhe keeps his promise to make the tax reform revenue-neutral, arguingthat it can't be done without ending popular middle-class deductions onmortgage interest and charitable contributions.
The AmericanEnterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, has said thatthe gap can be closed by ending tax breaks targeting the wealthy,including tax exemptions for interest on municipal bonds.
Romneysaid he would not raise taxes and would not approve any tax cut thatwould expand the deficit. He argued that tax cuts will increaseinvestment, putting more people to work and increasing the taxpayingpopulation.
The middle class
Claim: Romney said middle-class families' income is down $4,300 since Obama took office.
Facts:According to a March 2012 analysis by Maryland-based economicconsulting firm Sentier Research, Romney was correct. According to theiranalysis, based on February 2012 Current Population Data compiled bythe U.S. Census, the median household income was $50,065 in February,compared to $54,481 in December 2007 - right before the recessionstarted, and nearly 11 months before Obama was elected.
The current median household income is $50,678.
WhatRomney didn't say is that the decline in real median household incomehas been occurring over the course of the past decade, well before Obamatook office. The trend has continued under the Obama administration,but it did not start there.
Taxes for the wealthy
Claim: Romney says he wouldn't cut taxes on the wealthy.
Facts:Romney wants to cut personal taxes by 20% for everyone, including thewealthy. He also wants to cut taxes on interest, dividends and capitalgains for Americans with adjusted gross income below $200,000.
Obama,however, wants to return taxes to Clinton-era rates for individuals whomake more than $200,000 in annual taxable income and families who makemore than $250,000 in taxable income. So Romney wants to maintain taxcuts for the wealthy that Obama would eliminate.
Claim: North America can become energy independent under Romney's plan, creating 4 million jobs.
Facts:This is likely to happen anyway, possibly as soon as the end of thedecade, Citigroup said in a book-length report earlier this year.
Thekey factor is not changes in policy, but changes in drilling technologythat have let America increase oil production faster than any othernation in the world in the past four years, Citigroup said.
Decliningcrude oil imports, and more exports of natural gas and refined oilproducts, could reduce the trade deficit by as much as 40%, adding 1% ayear to economic growth, Moody's Analytics estimates. Citgroup estimatedthat the emergence of the United States and Canada as a "new MiddleEast" could add 3.6 million jobs.
Claim: Romney said Obama's health care law cuts $716 billion from Medicare which will hurt current beneficiaries.
Facts:This has been one of Romney's favorite lines of attack, but his claimthat Obama's health care law cuts $716 billion in benefits for currentMedicare beneficiaries is not true. The health care law will limitpayments to health care providers and insurers - not senior citizens'benefits - as part of an effort to rein in costs over the course of thenext decade. Romney and other opponents of the law, however, contendthat the payment cuts would affect seniors' benefits as an unintendedconsequence because they assert doctors will stop accepting Medicarepatients and it could force some health care facilities to close.
Thelaw has not yet been fully implemented, so the cuts' effects onbeneficiaries are uncertain. But the law as written does not cutbenefits for senior citizens. It is also worth noting that Romney'srunning mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., included the same spending cuts inhis own 2012 budget blueprint that House Republicans supported withnear unanimity.
Claim: Romneysaid clean energy interests got $90 billion in tax breaks under Obama,and that half of those companies receiving breaks went out of business.
Facts:The president's 2009 stimulus bill included a combination of over $90billion in spending, financing and tax breaks for clean energyinvestments, but it's false that half of the companies went broke. Someof the Energy Department's loans went to firms that failed, most notablythe solar energy company Solyndra, which cost taxpayers $535 million,but Romney's claim that half of the companies went broke is inaccurate.In a 2011 story, USA TODAY reported that the stocks of many of 45publicly traded companies receiving stimulus funds had outperformed thestock market, despite Solyndra and other, smaller failures. The money,mostly in loans and loan guarantees, are helping build factories forcompanies such as Ford, Nissan and Tesla Motor. One beneficiary ishealth care technology company Athenahealth, whose shares have more thandoubled. Its CEO, Jonathan Bush, is a first cousin of President GeorgeW. Bush.
Size of government
Claim: Romney said Spain spends 42% of its economy on government and the United States does, too.
Facts:Romney's claim appears to be based on the "Index of Economic Freedom," acompilation of economic statistics put together by the conservativeHeritage Foundation in conjunction with the Wall Street Journal. Giventhat source, Romney's numbers are off, but in the ballpark.
Accordingto the index, Spain spends 45.8% of its gross domestic product ongovernment. That's before severe austerity measures were announced lastweek in a "crisis" budget that cuts government ministries by 9% acrossthe board. The comparable figure for the United States, according to theindex, is 42.2%. But it should be noted that federal spending accountsfor only about 24% of the economy, according to the Office of Managementand Budget. The remainder, which comes from state and local spending,roughly squares with estimates of government spending by the U.S. CensusBureau.
Rising health care costs
Claim: Health care costs have risen $2,500 per family per year under Obama.
Facts:Partly true, but health care inflation has slowed notably under Obama.Health insurance costs rose 4% last year, according to the Kaiser FamilyFoundation. That rate is far below the 10% to 13% seen in 2003 and2004. Kaiser says the average employer-sponsored family health insurancepolicy costs $15,745, compared with $12,680 in 2008. The portion paidby workers, after employers' contributions, rose to $4,316 from $3,354.
"Ratesof increase in total health spending have been holding at 4%-6% peryear recently," Kaiser CEO Drew Altman wrote Sept. 12. "Per capitaspending - which is most analogous to premiums - has been rising about apercentage point below that. These are strikingly low numbers to thoseof us who have been studying health costs for a long time. A 4% increasein health premiums is good news.''
Claim: Obama's health care law is "essentially the identical model" of Romney's Massachusetts health care law.
Facts:Romney's Massachusetts health care law served as the policy basis forObama's health care law, and the two laws include many of the samefoundations, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions. An NBC Newsanalysis of White House records show that senior White House officialshad at least a dozen meetings in 2009 with health care advisers who alsohelped shape Romney's 2006 law. Romney's law received significantbipartisan support from Democrats, unlike Obama's which was largelyopposed by Republicans. "Like Obamacare, the Massachusetts law includes amandate that individuals buy private health insurance, and offerssubsidies to those who need them."
Tax hikes for the wealthy
Claim:Romney said raising the personal tax rates for the wealthy would killjobs because many small businesses pay taxes as individuals.
Facts:About 3% of small businesses earn sufficient income to be impacted byhigher individual taxes, though many of those are among the mostsuccessful who do a lot of hiring and investing, according to Moody'sAnalytics. Still, Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi says it's stretchto argue that raising the rate would significantly impact small businesshiring.
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said Silicon Valleyentrepreneurs rarely consider tax policy in deciding where to begincompanies, saying it's "ridiculous" to assert that changes in capitalgains taxes and top tax rates will have a meaningful impact of formationof high-growth start-ups.