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Obama, Mitt: Sorting out the facts on Medicare, abortion, taxes

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WASHINGTON -- A jab at President Barack Obama from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday -- on his sixth day on the job as Mitt Romney's running mate -- was premised on a debatable presumption:

"The problem is," Ryan said at a Springfield, Va., rally, "too many politicians in Washington, like President Obama, have been more worried and concerned about their next election than they have about the next generation."

Ryan, a budget expert, not a mind reader who can discern Obama's motivations, swaddled himself with charged political rhetoric in drawing his conclusion -- but in the end on that one, he's entitled to his opinion.

What's far more problematic in the battle between Obama and Mitt Romney has been what the folks at call a "cavalier disregard for facts on both sides," so much so that "the campaign has become bitter and trivial."

It has been another tough week in the presidential campaign, so this seemed like a good time to go through some of the claims each side has been making and sort out the facts to bring some clarity, with the help of two independent fact-checking operations: the Tampa Bay Times and, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Here goes:

Q. Has Romney paid income taxes?

A. On Thursday, Romney said he paid federal income taxes at the rate of at least 13 percent for 10 years, but offered no document for backup.

The Obama team has challenged Romney to "prove it," intent on getting him to disclose more -- or keep the issue alive.

Romney has disclosed his 2010 return and said he would release his 2011 taxes once he gets them done. Ann Romney said in an interview broadcast Thursday that is all they will release.

Romney's tax rate is proper political grist -- but without proof, innuendo of wrongdoing is disingenuous.

FactCheck concluded that an ad by the Obama campaign was "badly misleading" because it suggested that Romney may have paid "zero" tax -- a charge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made from the Senate floor.

The ad was crafted to leave the impression Romney was doing something wrong to reduce his taxes, but as FactCheck notes there is "an important distinction between legal avoidance and illegal fraud or tax evasion" and "there is no evidence Romney broke any law."

Q.Has Obama broken a promise not to raise taxes on households making below $250,000?

A. That was a claim in an ad by the pro-Romney SuperPAC, Crossroads GPS. It was branded "largely false" by FactCheck. Since 2011, under Obama, all salaried workers got to keep more of their own money because Social Security payroll taxes were reduced.

Q.Does Romney want to "get rid" of Planned Parenthood funding? Do Romney and Ryan back "proposals to outlaw abortion . . . even in case of rape and incest?"

A. That's a claim that has been in several Obama ads, revived and retooled in a spot titled "The Same" released Friday, pegged to the addition of Ryan to the ticket. The ad will run in the battleground states of Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Iowa -- and is part of a heavy pitch from the Obama campaign for women's votes.

Romney wants to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood -- he has said so in several interviews. Ryan has voted against Planned Parenthood funding.

The spot out Friday goes too far when it says Romney and Ryan "backed proposals to outlaw abortion . . . even in cases of rape and incest."

The Obama campaign has made that incorrect assertion about Romney before.

PolitiFact gave the claim a "Pants on Fire" rating because "Romney has made clear he supported exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother."

PolitiFact said Ryan, who is anti-abortion, backs an exception to save the life of the mother.

Q.Does the Obama health-care law -- Obamacare -- cut $716 billion from Medicare?

A. Medicare became a front-burner campaign issue this week after Romney tapped Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, as his running mate. Ryan is the author of a Medicare overhaul plan.

There are many, many moving parts to the Medicare debate; I'm just taking on a bite-size chunk -- regarding the $716 billion "cut" Romney and Ryan talked about last week.

"The president raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obamacare program," Ryan said Saturday while stumping with his mom, Betty Ryan Douglas, at The Villages in central Florida, a massive retirement community.

The sign on his podium read "Protect and Strengthen Medicare."

Using a white board Thursday, Romney said Obama's "plan cuts Medicare by $716 billion. In a "60 Minutes" interview last week, Romney said, "There's only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion, to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare."

At issue are not actual cuts in Medicare -- but curbs on future growth of the health insurance system for the nation's seniors. Most of the changes under discussion have to do with the Medicare Advantage Plan -- in which members get benefits through a private company that contracts with Medicare.

Because Medicare costs are projected to increase in the future, Obamacare seeks to limit the costs.

PolitiFact concludes that any claim of a cut in Medicare needs "more explanation to be fully accurate."

Under Obama, most changes to Medicare would be made through the Obamacare law.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that between 2013 and 2022 Obamacare would curb $716 billion in spending growth.

The $716 billion CBO figure was in a July 24 report for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), estimating the fiscal impact of repealing Obamacare.

In an attempt to curb growing Medicare costs that threaten the viability of the program, the Obama­care law includes reductions of Medicare payment rates for, among other items, doctors, hospitals and nursing and hospice services.

If those reductions in payment were repealed, higher costs would kick back in, so the CBO concluded an impact of repealing Obamacare would mean -- put another way -- "Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over that 2013-2022 period."

Politifact put it this way in another analysis: "While the health-care law reduces the amount of future spending growth in Medicare, the law doesn't actually cut Medicare. Savings come from reducing money that goes to private insurers who provide Medicare Advantage programs."

The Romney camp backs up its "raiding" claim by arguing that there are consequences to slashing payment rates. That point was made again Saturday in a memo from Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen.

Cutting provider payments "means that Medicare will reduce the amount that it pays to doctors and hospitals for the services they provide to seniors. In an imaginary world where government simply controls everything and everyone, this might sound like an effective way to control cost. In the real world, the result will be fewer providers accepting Medicare payments, and worse care for today's seniors," Chen wrote.

And on another point: PolitiFact said Romney's claim that Obama is the only president to curb Medicare spending is "mostly false": President Ronald Reagan cut Medicare payments to hospitals and raised deductibles; President George H.W. Bush cut drug and catastrophic illness coverage, and President Bill Clinton revamped payments to doctors and other providers.

Ryan also has proposed limited Medicare growth in his "Roadmap for America's Future" budget blueprint -- and, PolitiFact notes, he "relies" on the same $716 billion that Romney has been attacking.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 20, 2012 11:57 PM.

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