Truth or consequences: Fact-checking the GOP debate

GOP candidates debate Social Security and medicare reform at third debate.

From chronic disease to Marco Rubio's mother, the GOP candidates outline their reasons and plans for much-needed social security and medicare reforms during the third presidential debate. The debate took place in Boulder, Colorado on October 28, 2
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From chronic disease to Marco Rubio's mother, the GOP candidates outline their reasons and plans for much-needed social security and medicare reforms during the third presidential debate. The debate took place in Boulder, Colorado on October 28, 2

Republican presidential contenders were back on the debate stage Wednesday largely looking to impress voters with their grasp of business and budget matters and other pressing issues of the day.

But during the course of the two-hour CNBC debate, the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls occasionally made a variety of claims and statements that deserved a closer look:

Marco Rubio’s Senate voting record

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has faced fiery criticism regarding his voting record in the Senate. In a recent Washington Post article a “longtime friend” of the politician testified that Rubio “hates his job.” An editorial this week in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper called for the senator to “resign, not rip us off.”

So how just high is the senator’s absentee rate? According to data compiled by GovTrack, Rubio has missed 99 of 291 votes since the beginning of the year, the most of any senator. Between the beginning of his career in January 2011 and October 2015, he’s missed 12.3 percent of votes, significantly more than the median of 1.6 percent. By comparison, fellow GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has missed 12 percent of roll call votes over the course of his career.

Rubio, however, cited previous presidential contenders who had worse voting records while campaigning for the White House. According to Politifact, President Barack Obama missed 64.3 percent of votes from 2007-2008. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a senator seeking the White House 2004, missed 72.3 percent of votes 2003-2004.

During the third 2015 GOP debate, Floridians Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio disagree over a Sun Sentinel editorial calling out Rubio on his poor congressional attendance record. (Natalie Fertig / McClatchy)

Ben Carson’s tax plan

Retired physician Ben Carson was pressed on how his tax plan, which he now says would be closer to a 15 percent flat tax instead of 10 percent, would work. Moderator Becky Quick said his numbers just didn’t add up and would substantially increase the deficit. Carson insisted that it wouldn’t. Here are some reasons this kind of flat tax wouldn’t work, according to research by Tax Justice.

Bush on Obama’s tax increase

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, “The biggest tax increase happened under the watch of Barack Obama.” He didn’t specify which tax increase he was talking about, but the president’s critics have laid this at the feet at the 2010 health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Most tax experts say the best yardstick to measure that is “the revenue effect as a percentage of GDP,” according to Factcheck.org.

The nonpartisan watchdog group found that “the revenue increases in the ACA are smaller than most of the increases enacted since 1968 – and less than one-quarter the size of the largest.”

Kasich and Lehman Brothers

Donald Trump said that Ohio Gov. John Kasich “is a man who was a managing general partner with Lehman Brothers when it went down the tube.” Trump also incorrectly called Kasich a board member and a managing general partner with Lehman Brothers when it filed for bankruptcy.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers has often been attributed as the reason behind the financial crisis of the country. While Kasich did serve as a managing director with the firm from 2001 until September 2008, it is hard to say how much of the losses can fairly be attributed to Kasich.

Rubio on businesses closing

Rubio claimed that “for the first time,” more businesses are closing than opening in the United States. A Brookings Institution study released in May 2014 examined business creation and destruction and found that more firms are now closing up shop than starting up, a trend that started in 2008. But PolitiFact noted that the study was from a 35-year period from 1978 to 2011, not all of American history.

Economists said the assertion is a stretch because the trend may have happened before, PolitiFact said, noting that “there are no dependable sources of information to prove this is the first time this has occurred.”

Christie and the Islamic State

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie charged that this was no time to talk about fantasy football when “we have ISIS and al Qaida attacking us.” In truth, both groups now are focused on the Syrian battlefield and have not carried out recent direct attacks on the United States. U.S. interests and citizens in the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields have been targets, but Christie’s sweeping statement is untrue.

Rubio and Benghazi

The Florida Republican attacked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her testimony at the Benghazi hearing last week, calling her a “a liar” for telling her daughter, Chelsea, in an email at the time of the attacks that they were undertaken by an “al Qaida-like group.”

Republicans said the email was at odds with an official statement that the State Department sent out the same night that referenced an anti-Islam video that had sparked protests elsewhere, and with what U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice later said on TV.

Clinton at the hearing attributed the changes to shifting intelligence assessments.

“There was a lot of conflicting information that we were trying to make sense of. The situation was very fluid. It was fast-moving,” she said.

Retirees and workers

Sen. Rand Paul said there are now three workers per one retiree. This is true, but the ratio has gone down around the world. The issue is not exclusive to the United States.

Christie and Social Security

Christie said Social Security is going to be out of money in seven to eight years.

What Christie likely meant is that in seven or eight years the trust fund that is supposed to hold incoming revenue from payroll taxes to pay the benefits of current retirees will begin to pay out more than it is taking in. If nothing changes, Social Security would become insolvent after the fund runs dry, sometime after 2033. At that point, incoming revenue would pay about 70 to 80 percent of the benefits promised to future retirees.

Sen. Lindsey Graham on Bernie Sanders’ trip to Russia

In the so-called undercard debate held earlier Wednesday, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., got a round of laughter when he charged that the Democratic Party’s “No. 2 two guy went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon, and I don’t think he ever came back.”

PolitiFact looked at the trip taken by the self-described democratic socialist and found that Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vt., and his wife, Jane, did travel to Yaroslavl, a city in the Soviet Union, after their wedding in 1988.

But the trip’s primary purpose was diplomacy, not leisure, as his city was launching a sister city relationship with Yaroslavl to promote exchanges. The campaign has said the trip was already planned by the time the couple got married. The couple has referred to the trip as a honeymoon, at times sarcastically, noting that 10 others were on the trip.

Cruz and the Fed

The Federal Reserve came under attack for its efforts to stimulate the economy amid slow growth. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said it should be getting out of the business of “juicing the economy.” He was criticizing the Fed’s purchase of trillions of dollars in government and mortgage bonds in order to stimulate the economy.

The Fed, however, has two mandates that call for juicing the economy: promoting full employment and preserving price stability. In stimulating the economy, the Fed has tried to stave off deflation, preventing prices from going backward and causing businesses and consumers to sit on their money hoping prices will go down further.

Fiorina and job losses among women

Carly Fiorina’s claim that 92 percent of lost jobs were women in Obama’s first term mirrors a claim from Mitt Romney’s press secretary in the 2012 presidnetial race when she tweeted: “FACT: Women account for 92.3% of the jobs lost under @BarackObama,” according to a Politifact article. This claim was also on Romney’s website, according to Politifact.

The website said the numbers for January 2009 and March 2012 were accurate but could be read as “misleading,” and that the analysis lacks context.

The math used to get 92.3 percent includes job losses the first month Obama was in office. Politifact said to not hold presidents entirely responsible for the job numbers that existed at the beginning of administration. Politifact said men’s jobs are the first to “take the hit” and women’s jobs follow during a recession.

Romney’s campaign contacted Politifact after the story published, asking for it to be reviewed. Politifact asked opinions from other economists and maintained its rating that the 92 percent claim was misleading and mostly false.

Lesley Clark, Kevin Hall, Maria Recio, Hannah Allam, Vera Bergengruen, Tori Whitley, Ali Montag, Eleanor Mueller, Iana Kozelsky and Javaria Khan contributed.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

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