Paul Ryan’s prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention had delegates on their feet cheering and President Barack Obama’s campaign and independent fact checkers saying Ryan made as many as seven statements that were false or distorted.
The Republican vice presidential candidate, a Wisconsin congressman, in the Aug. 29 address assailed Obama’s policies on the economy, health care, the budget deficit and debt.
That Ryan was selective with his facts didn’t surprise Nathan L. Gonzales, the deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan publication that analyzes campaigns and presidential politics. “It’s usually done in a way that that there is enough of a truth that is difficult to completely refute,” he said yesterday.
Ryan accused Obama of raiding Medicare by taking $716 billion from the program. Ryan didn’t say he planned to remove the same amount, and didn’t acknowledge his proposal to change it to a voucher program in which seniors would be given a capped amount of money to buy private health insurance.
The Republican blamed Obama for ignoring an “urgent” deficit-reduction proposal from a bipartisan commission without mentioning that he led opposition to the plan on the commission, blocking its adoption.
Ryan praised Mitt Romney for not raising taxes as governor of Massachusetts, although independent analysts say he did.
Ryan criticized the fiscal stimulus program for leaving out “working men and women” despite billions of dollars in tax credits for them. He blamed Obama for a U.S. credit rating downgrade that was attributed to both political parties and appeared to blame Obama for a Wisconsin auto plant closing that occurred while President George W. Bush was in office.
Ryan’s most contentious accusation was about a General Motors Co. factory in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan said Obama promised to keep the plant open, a pledge Ryan said he broke and now it is “locked up and empty to this day.”
As GM struggled heading into the financial crisis, the company in June 2008 announced that it would stop production of some vehicles at the plant by the end of 2009. By December, more than 2,000 workers were laid off as GM halted production of sport utility vehicles, according to the Janesville Gazette newspaper. Obama wouldn’t take office until the following month. Politifact, the non-partisan fact-checking organization, rated Ryan’s statement as false.
“Ryan blaming the President for a GM auto plant that closed under President Bush -- thought he was smarter than that,” Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign adviser, posted on Twitter during Ryan’s speech.
While still a candidate, Obama commented on the plant being placed on “standby” by the company, saying in October 2008 that he would “retool” companies like the plant in Janesville. Ryan’s camp has used those words to push back against questions about the validity of the statement.
“The facts are clear: When the GM plant went on standby the President told the people of Wisconsin he would ‘lead an effort to retool’ it and restart production,” Brendan Buck, Ryan’s spokesman, said yesterday. “But when the bailout’s winners and losers were decided, Janesville ended up losing.”
Ryan took Obama to task for not supporting the findings of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission. The 18-member panel, which drafted a 10-year plan for trimming the U.S. debt, needed 14 votes to send the plan to Congress for a vote.
“He created the bipartisan debt commission,” Ryan said. “They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing.”
Unmentioned in Ryan’s speech: He was a member of the commission and voted against sending the proposal. Bowles-Simpson commission leaders couldn’t secure the votes for congressional consideration. Asked to explain the omission, his campaign declined to comment on the record.
Gonzales, the political analyst, said for Ryan’s purposes the attacks are a result of his role as Romney’s running mate.
“His goal with the speech and as a member of the ticket is to bring excitement and be an attack dog,” Gonzales said.
Ryan said Romney’s record as governor in Massachusetts was an example of where he “succeeded where others could not.”
“He was a Republican governor of a state where almost nine in 10 legislators are Democrats, and yet he balanced the budget without raising taxes,” Ryan said.
Facing a $650 million budget shortfall when he took office, Romney proposed an array of spending cuts and fees to close the gap. He ended about $375 million in tax breaks and added $375 million in fees used to balance the state budget --or $750 million in annual new revenue, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Boston.
State and local taxes rose 2.6 percent during Romney’s administration. Among the tax breaks Romney curtailed was a deduction for companies that transfer money between subsidiaries. He also ensured that financial institutions paid taxes on dividends from real estate investment trusts.
In 2005, Romney signed a law taxing profits that don’t come from everyday business operations, such as income from the sale of assets. Another provision stopped businesses from sheltering certain profits from taxation through holding companies.
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, called the 2009 stimulus package the “first troubling sign” for the administration’s economic policies. Ryan said the law was the “largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government” and that it “cut out” working Americans.
The $833 billion stimulus law included more than $200 billion in tax cuts and credits, including the Making Work Pay tax credit aimed at U.S. workers.
In his speech, Ryan said that when Obama took office the U.S. held a triple-A credit rating. While he didn’t explicitly blame Obama for the 2011 downgrade, he also didn’t mention that Standard and Poor’s, in its explanation for the downgrade, pinned the blame not on Obama but on the political dysfunction between the parties on Capitol Hill.
Ryan, in his speech, said “the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly” and that the Obama administration “funneled” $716 billion from Medicare to pay for the 2010 health law. It is a statement Politifact rated “mostly false.”
According to the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, there are no cuts to seniors’ Medicare benefits as part of Obama’s health care law, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The plan scales back payments to providers of Medicare Advantage plans, an alternative to Medicare. It also slows the growth of Medicare payments to hospitals and other health providers.
Republicans are assuming that Medicare Advantage providers will respond to reduced government payments by trimming seniors’ benefits. They also assume the same savings in the House plan crafted by Ryan. The current law plows the projected savings back into subsidies to help low-income individuals buy insurance, while Ryan’s plan counts the money toward deficit reduction.
Ryan said a Romney-Ryan administration will “protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.”
’Masquerades’ as Protector
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, took to Twitter on Aug. 29 to attack Ryan’s statement.
“Ryan, who wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program and tried to raid it to pay for tax cuts for wealthy, masquerades as it’s protector,” Axelrod posted.
Ryan’s proposal would probably lead to higher costs or reduced benefits for many seniors. The program currently has no limit on how much it spends with an annual budget determined by the services provided; Ryan proposes to cap spending. He would offer seniors a fixed amount of money to buy private insurance, which would transform Medicare into a program defined by its contributions, not its benefits.
“Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it,” Ryan said of Medicare. “Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.”