Paul Ryan's speech accepting his nomination for the vice presidency of the United States last night has already been widely hailed as a home run national debut by many sources. So it's no surprise that the Left, which views Ryan's ideas as the political equivalent of Typhoid Mary, has already pounced on the speech for its alleged inaccuracies, while simultaneously bringing up every conceivable nitpick they can.
Dave Weigel at Slate huffed, "So I was in the cheap seats, not on carpet, when Ryan plowed through one of the more impressive strings of whoppers we've seen at this level. Ryan's been doling out chunks of this speech for weeks, which made the fibs sound even stranger."
ThinkProgress, meanwhile, attacked the speech practically every minute in their liveblog, seizing on every rhetorical flourish of Ryan's, no matter how inconsequential, to blast him with some figure or quote that would make him seem to be a hypocrite or a liar. The piece de resistance has to be their final response to Ryan, in which they managed no less than two shots in response to an unfalsifiable bit of feel-good rhetoric:
Ryan reminds the convention of the need to protect the weakest among us. It’s too bad that his budget would drastically cut the programs they rely on. Religious leaders have described Ryan’s budget as a “immoral disaster” that “robs the poor.” At the same time, it gives the rich and corporations $3 trillion in tax breaks.
In short, according to the Left, Ryan's speech was a fundamentally, inescapably dishonest argument - a "string of whoppers" and disingenuous statements - made in bad faith for the sake of masking his allegedly plutocratic agenda.
But is this rather unflattering assessment accurate, those who are understandably reluctant to take their ideological opponents' word on anything must be asking. The answer is no - at least, not entirely. Avik Roy at Forbes, as well as Republican consultant Liz Mair, have already exploded some of the attacks on Ryan's speech, and we will turn to them for help in taking on some of the charges. You can find their full takes here and here.
The ThinkProgress list of charges is probably the most extensive, comprising no less than 12 different charges. Here is our assessment of each:
Charge #1: Ryan voted to add $6.8 trillion to the deficit, which means he's not a fiscal hawk.
Explanation: In a blog post written by a ThinkProgress intern, Ryan is accused of voting for bills that increase the budget deficit by $6.8 trillion. How do they get this number? By adding up the cumulative cost of all tax cuts that Paul Ryan voted for ($2.5 trillion), as well as "every bill that increased defense spending," which has supposedly increased the deficit by $1.9 trillion. This only comes to $4.4 trillion, but ThinkProgress explains the rest using this table:
So is it true? Barely. Yes, Ryan has voted to spend a lot of money. Outside of Dr. Ron Paul, so has practically every member of Congress. It's easy to quibble with the numbers here, but we're going to point out two things instead. Firstly, this chart is of total cost for these bills, not total cost minus revenue. In other words, this isn't what Ryan voted to add to the deficit. It's what Ryan voted to spend. So their statement that he added $6.8 trillion to the deficit is flat-out wrong. Secondly, this estimate covers 10 years. Ryan voted to spend $6.8 trillion over ten years. That comes out to roughly $680 billion per year.
Compare this with President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, which would spend $47 trillion over the next ten years, or $4.7 trillion/year, according to Forbes. Ryan's proposed budget shrinks that number to $40 trillion, or $4 trillion/year. Yes, that's right, even the supposedly draconian, nasty Ryan budget spends many times more money over ten years than Ryan has personally voted to spend.
So this charge is deceitfully worded and quite arguably irrelevant.
Charge #2: Paul Ryan talked about a General Motors plant that closed in his hometown, blaming President Obama even though that plant closed under Bush.
Explanation: Near the beginning of his speech, Ryan told this story:
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.
The Left wing of the blogosphere pounced, claiming the plant closed in December of 2008, when Bush was still President, so it's not Obama's fault and Ryan is lying.
So is it true? The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel describes the plant as having completely shut down in 2009. The decision to close it was made in 2008, but the plant itself didn't shutter until the next year, by which time the GM bailout had already passed. MRCTV's Stephen Gutowski pinpoints its moment of failure at April 23, 2009.
National Review's Henry Payne twists the knife further:
His liberal media allies were quick to pounce on Ryan’s comments. “GM stopped production at its Janesville, Wisconsin production facility in 2008, when George W. Bush was still president,” barked the Daily Kos, filling in Ryan’s obvious blank (true enough, unfriendly-to-Detroit-truck mpg laws are also the legacy of George “We’re Addicted to Oil” Bush).
But the Left misses the point. Under Obamanomics, the government picks winners and losers. Obama promised Janesville would be a winner even as his economic policies guaranteed it would always be a loser. Indeed, Obama’s whole 2008 Janesville speech is a sobering road map for the job-killing policies he has put in place as president.
As a final note - plants have almost certainly closed while President Obama has been in office. Ryan just happened to pick one he had a personal connection to as a symbol. Romney adviser Eric Fernstrohm said precisely this when questioned about the GM Plant issue by John Berman of CNN:
And notice the Ryan said "candidate" Obama. That's because the president was campaigning in 2008 on saving the plant. He didn't, and it closed for good in 2009.
Charge #3: Ryan is wrong about the stimulus, which actually "created or saved 3.3 million jobs."
Explanation: From Ryan's speech: "What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn’t just spent and wasted – it was borrowed, spent, and wasted."
In response, ThinkProgress cites a study by the CBO saying that the stimulus "created or saved" 3.3 million jobs.
So is it true? Not unless you think the highest possible estimate is always the right one. The CBO estimated that the stimulus could have saved up to 3.3 million jobs. In other words, "creating or saving" 3.3 million jobs is the absolute upper limit on what the stimulus could have done. The lowest estimate is 500,000 jobs created or saved. Both numbers are probably inaccurate, but to accept the 3.3 million jobs number requires an extreme degree of optimism.
Charge #4: Paul Ryan supported the stimulus in 2002!
Explanation: ThinkProgress links to a video from the Chris Hayes show showing Paul Ryan speaking on behalf of a 2002 stimulus bill that President Bush signed into law. This is supposed to prove that Ryan is a hypocrite when it comes to stimulus spending.
So is it true? To begin with, it's irrelevant. Ryan was speaking against the Obama stimulus specifically in his speech. He didn't rail against the concept of stimulus spending, period. Moreover, there is a lot of daylight between supporting a $42 billion stimulus measure - most of which is in tax relief - and supporting an $831 billion bill that is loaded with giveaways for favored groups/industries. It's true that Ryan supports the idea of stimulus in principle, but when it comes to stimuli as big as the one Obama wrote? Not a chance.
Charge #5: Ryan's attacks on Obamacare also hit Romneycare.
Explanation: Ryan said in his speech, "Obamacare comes to more than two thousand pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees, and fines that have no place in a free country." ThinkProgress asks, "What about Massachusetts? The two laws are very similar."
So is it true? Yes, what about Massachusetts? And more to the point, what about what Ryan actually said? Romneycare isn't 2,000 pages. It doesn't include any new taxes. It doesn't include the infamous Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Romney vetoed large chunks of regulation that were originally in the bill. Yes, it has a mandate, but that mandate is a lot less expansive. In other words, Romneycare comes to less than two thousand pages, with very few rules, one mandate, no taxes, some fees and some fines. What about Massachusetts? ThinkProgress probably doesn't want an answer to that question.
Charge #6: Repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by $109 billion from 2013 to 2022 and take away coverage from more than 30 million Americans.
Explanation: This is a response to Ryan's promise to repeal Obamacare. Presumably, the idea is to claim that Obamacare is fiscally conservative and Ryan isn't.
So is it true? The claim that Obamacare will guarantee coverage for "more than 30 million Americans" is nonsense. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office actually says that Obamacare itself will leave 30 million people uninsured. This means that, at most, Obamacare will grant coverage to 23 million of the more than 50 million people who are presently uninsured, according to the CBO. There's quite a bit of daylight between that figure and "more than 30 million." Moreover, these estimates are historically unreliable. The CBO has revised its projects on the fiscal impact of Obamacare multiple times. Not to mention, $109 billion over ten years is a comparatively small number, and should be more than offset by other cuts proposed by Romney and Ryan.
Charge #7: Paul Ryan is a hypocrite on Medicare.
Explanation: This is actually three separate charges in one. ThinkProgress alleges, firstly, that Ryan supported the $716 billion in Medicare cuts that he slams Obama for in the speech; secondly, that Ryan bragged about cutting Medicare spending more than Obama, and thirdly, that under Romney and Ryan, Medicare would actually become insolvent by 2016, instead of 2024, precisely because Romney wouldn't cut $716 from Medicare.
So is it true? Avik Roy takes apart the "Ryan supported cutting $716 billion from Medicare," too, talking point this way:
Here are the facts. It’s true that Ryan’s budgets in 2011 and 2012 preserved Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare. However, there is a huge difference between cutting Medicare by $716 billion to fund $1.9 trillion in new health spending, as Obamacare did, and cutting Medicare by $716 billion to shore up the solvency of the Medicare program itself, as the Ryan budget sought to do.
Secondly, the Romney Medicare plan fully repeals Obamacare, including the $716 billion in Medicare cuts.
We will deal with Ryan's bragging about cutting Medicare spending faster than Obama in a moment. For now, consider the final attack - that Ryan and Romney's plan will make the program run out of money faster. Why? Well, because they restore the $716 in cuts. Or to be more specific, they would repeal cost-saving provisions in Obamacare that will make the budget of the program shrink naturally. In other words, they implicitly concede that reducing the Medicare budget by eliminating inefficiency is a good thing.
And that is precisely what Ryan was trying to do with the Path to Prosperity. As established above, Ryan's original budget cut $716 billion now in order to shore up Medicare for the future. According to his own budget, the other cuts would have also been directed toward establishing Medicare's long term solvency. ThinkProgress is free to dispute whether his method would work, but if you follow the internal logic of these charges, they end up attacking Romney for being too friendly to Medicare, relative to Obama and Ryan. That's a talking point the Romney campaign would probably love, with some adjustments.
Charge #8: Ryan's Medicare plan only cuts Medicare spending because it makes seniors pay more.
Explanation: ThinkProgress links to one of their own studies showing that the Romney-Ryan plan on Medicare would force seniors to pay more out of pocket, making up for the savings to the government.
But is it true? The ThinkProgress study isn't talking about current seniors, but about people who will be seniors in 2023. Which is strange, because they also think Medicare will end in 2016 under Romney-Ryan. So which is it? Will the Romney-Ryan plan end Medicare in four years, or will it keep it solvent while making people who are currently under 55 pay more down the line? Moreover, the actual study relies entirely on estimates of what would happen after Romney and Ryan repeal Obamacare to make its case that seniors would be hurt, suggesting that when Romney and Ryan replace Obamacare, they could easily put in other cost control mechanisms that keep their promise true. In fact, even the left-leaning Politifact agrees this is a possibility.
Charge #9: The credit downgrade is Republicans' fault.
Explanation: ThinkProgress says this: "Ryan just brought up a 'downgraded America.' It was his party that held the debt ceiling hostage, causing America’s creditors to lose faith and downgrade the country. In fact, the ratings agency repeatedly blamed Republicans for refusing to raise taxes."
But is it true? From Liz Mair (Warning! Language):
If we go back to S&P's original statement explaining its decision to downgrade, we see that it says this:
We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.
Our lowering of the rating was prompted by our view on the rising public debt burden and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty, consistent with our criteria...
This is S&P essentially saying the downgrade occurred because of four things:
1) It wasn't clear until the last possible minute that the debt ceiling would definitely be raised (OK, blame the Tea Party on this one, though I'd also note Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling as a senator and if we give him a pass on that, he ONLY gets a pass because his position was so minority then as to not matter-- so he was fringe AND irrelevant);
2) Washington-- constituted by two relatively intransigent political parties-- can't and won't get its s**t together to a) cut spending-- and especially entitlements and/or b) raise revenue at an adequate level for S&P's tastes (Democrats and Republicans get equal blame here, as Democrats won't accept significant cuts to entitlement spending, which S&P calls out by name, and many Republicans won't accept any tax increases);
3) The deal cut in order to allow the debt ceiling to be raised sucked and didn't do enough (again, both parties get blame here); and
4) Our debt burden is getting too big and setting aside that Democrats and Republicans in Washington haven't been able to get their shit together to deal with it, S&P thinks they won't, in the near future, get their s**t together, either (again, both parties get blame here).
In short, no, this isn't all the Republicans' fault.
Claim #10: Ryan is wrong that Obama has racked up more debt than all previous presidents combined.
Explanation: Ryan claimed, "President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined. One president, one term, $5 trillion in new debt." ThinkProgress responds, "Obama hasn’t amassed more debt than all past presidents combined, as Ryan claimed. The New York Times beaks down the math: 'The national debt stood at $10.626 trillion on the day that President Obama took office. It now stands slightly above $15 trillion.'"
But is it true? Only if you assume Ryan said something he didn't say. Ryan's numbers match up with ThinkProgress' numbers. He simply said that President Obama has added more debt than any other single president before him - not the more expansive line that President Obama added more than all of them combined, which they are correct to call deceitful. However, President Obama did add more debt than every President from Washington up until Reagan combined, according to CNSNews.
Claim #11: Paul Ryan supports austerity, which has pushed European countries into second recessions.
Explanation: Unlike the United States, which has spent a large amount of money to try and offset the recession, European countries have embraced a more fiscally conservative route by trying to get their budgets to balance. This approach hasn't gone well in some countries. Ryan is a fiscal conservative, therefore ThinkProgress concludes that he supports the same approach.
But is it true? Not remotely. To begin with, the word "austerity" appears nowhere in Ryan's speech. Secondly, European austerity is loathed among American conservative economic thinkers for a very simple reason - it doesn't actually cut spending. It just raises taxes:
In France, for example, the so-called austerity largely consisted of raising taxes. There was a 3 percent surtax on incomes above €500,000, an increase of one percentage point in the top marginal tax rate (from 40 to 41 percent), and an end to the automatic indexation of tax brackets for inheritance, wealth, and income taxes. There was also a 5 percent hike in the corporate income tax on businesses with revenue of more than €250 million, as well as a hike in the capital-gains tax, and closure of several corporate tax breaks. And even though most of these tax hikes were aimed at the wealthy, the middle class did not get off free. There was an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) and the excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
That’s an agenda that should gladden the heart of any tax-increase zealot — or even Paul Krugman.
There is a candidate in this election with that agenda, and it's not Paul Ryan.
Claim #12: Paul Ryan claims to support protecting the weak, but his budget attacks them.
Explanation: Ryan said, "And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves."
ThinkProgress responds to this by citing "religious leaders" who called Ryan's budget an "immoral disaster" and claiming he wants to cut the government benefits that help the weak.
But is it true? ThinkProgress' idea of quoting religious leaders is quoting a group that includes Jim Wallis - in other words, the religious Left doesn't like Ryan's budget. They also quote one priest who's a constituent of Ryan's (hardly a religious leader), and one single Catholic bishop. This is a far cry from the entire Vatican rising up in arms against Ryan's budget plan. However, the idea that Ryan's budget ideas rob the poor is unfalsifiable, since it doesn't attack specific policies. Another ThinkProgress post (mercifully shorter) references Ryan's support for tax cuts as evidence that he doesn't care about the weak. It's probably news to John F. Kennedy that Catholics can't support tax cuts in good conscience. Isn't there a Deadly Sin like this someplace...?
Bonus: Even Fox News is attacking Ryan's speech?
Explanation: Fox News published an article today describing Ryan's speech as "deceitful." The Left has jumped on it as evidence that Ryan's gone too far even for the supposedly right-leaning Fox.
But is it true? Not at all. The author of the article is one of Fox News' token liberal contributors. And it gets things wrong. It regurgitates three of the arguments covered here, as well as a thoroughly unfalsifiable semantic claim about President Obama's "You Didn't Build That" gaffe. Not to mention, every article published by a Fox News contributor does not represent the entire voice of the company.