The Big Lies

October 9th, 2012 by Lee Eldridge

I don’t want to spend much time discussing the recent presidential debate. It’s been analyzed to death. Though the analysis has been entertaining. And mostly it’s been skewed by misconceptions. Before the debate, polls showed a large majority of voters believed that President Obama would win the debate. The theme had been that Romney is not a very good politician, and that Obama is bright and articulate. How could Obama not win the debate handily?

Obama gives a great speech, and he’s good on the stump. That doesn’t make him a great debater. Romney delivers a decent speech, and is not inspiring on the stump. That doesn’t make him a bad debater. Matter of fact, Romney is a smart debater. He navigated through the minefields of the republican debates intelligently. I agree that Obama was not at his best, and that Romney won the debate. I just think the analysis is tainted by pre-debate conceptions that Obama would win big. And when he didn’t, the press couldn’t help themselves by overreacting and over-analyzing the Romney win.

Overall, I thought the two candidates presented their different visions to the country effectively. They each had their share of misstatements and distortions. Most of them relatively minor. I’ve read through the fact checkers, and this piece from the AP does a pretty good job of breaking down the inaccurate statements. But there were two outright lies that bothered me the most.

Mitt RomneyThe Romney Lie
I have been a proponent for healthcare reform for 20 years. I have also been highly critical of Obamacare. I’m in agreement with repeal and replace. My problem is that Romney does not have a good plan to replace it. And during the debate, Romney claimed: “Pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.” When pressed on this by Obama, Romney went on to say, “In fact, I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions. That’s part of my health care plan.”

But his plan (from his website) only says people “should be guaranteed the ability to retain coverage” if they have “maintained continuous health insurance coverage.” This does not extend to people who do not currently have health insurance. PolitiFact details it here, and rates Romney’s claim as mostly false. I’d call it a lie.

To their credit, the Romney campaign came out right after the debate and clarified their plan. From CNN (read full story here):

Eric Fehrnstrom, a top aide to Mitt Romney, suggested in a Thursday interview with CNN that the GOP presidential candidate’s health plan may achieve his goal of covering individuals with pre-existing conditions through “state initiatives and money.”

At least they didn’t double down on the lie. Unlike the Obama campaign.

President ObamaThe Obama Lie
President Obama came into the debate with one central point to pin on Romney — that his tax reform plan will add $5 trillion to the deficit, and necessitate income tax increases on the middle class. Obama returned to this point repeatedly during the debate. But he’s wrong, and he knows it. Romney’s plan calls for lowering tax rates for everybody, and eliminating deductions and loopholes in the code. Romney claims that his plan is revenue neutral. There’s room to debate whether or not the plan is deficit neutral, but it’s a lie to say that it will add $5 trillion to the deficit.

Take this exchange as an example. This is between CNN’s Erin Burnett and Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager:

Erin Burnett, CNN host: So you’re saying if you lower them (tax rates) by 20% you get a $5 trillion tab, right?

Stephanie Cutter: It’s a $5 trillion tab.

Burnett: But then when you close deductions it’s not going to be anywhere near $5 trillion, that’s our analysis.

Cutter: Well, okay, stipulated. It won’t be near $5 trillion but it’s also not going to be the sum of $5 trillion in the loopholes that he’s going to close.

I added the bold for emphasis. Cutter has just openly admitted that their central point is a complete lie. It will not add $5 trillion to the deficit. But the President has continued with this line of attack all week in his stump speeches. And there’s ample evidence that it’s possible to reduce rates by 20%, eliminate deductions, and end up with deficit neutral tax policy, though it does require a small increase in GDP to get there. Princeton economics professor Harvey Rosen has written a paper detailing how it’s possible. I’ve read it. I’m guessing that Stephanie Cutter has not. From Rosen:

The main conclusion is that under plausible assumptions, a proposal along the lines suggested by Governor Romney can both be revenue neutral and keep the net tax burden on high-income individuals about the same. That is, an increase in the tax burden on lower and middle income individuals is not required in order to make the overall plan revenue neutral.

The Results
Polls are showing surges for Romney nationally and in the swing states. And yes, some polls are still oversampling democrats. Don’t live and die with the polls. And don’t read too much into articles that proclaim “if the election were hold today”. The election is not today. It’s in a month. The race is a marathon, and reminds me of the old story about the tortoise and the hare. And yes, Romeny is the tortoise who will win in the end.

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