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Here Are 5 Econ Fact Checks From Wednesday's Debate


"We can't go backwards" vs. "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney squared off Wednesday night at the University of Denver in Colorado for the first of three highly anticipated presidential debates.

The topic of the evening? Domestic policy (i.e. the U.S. economy).

The debate was both lively and pointed, with a handful of memorable sound bites and "zingers," but there were also a few moments where both Gov. Romney and President Obama strayed into territory that was -- to put it politely -- less than accurate.

Here are the top five "untruths" and "fibs" from Wednesday night’s debate:

Romney Wants to Cut Taxes by $5 Trillion

President Barack Obama:

Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut - on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, that's another trillion dollars - and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign.

This isn’t entirely accurate.

"Obama's claim that Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion doesn't add up. Presumably, Obama was talking about the effect of Romney's tax plan over 10 years, which is common in Washington. But Obama's math doesn't take into account Romney's entire plan," the Associated Press notes.

Gov. Romney has proposed to cut taxes across the board by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. According to the Tax Policy Center, Gov. Romney's policy would "reduce federal tax revenues by $465 billion in 2015, which would add up to about $5 trillion over 10 years."

However, the GOP candidate also claims he will pay for tax cuts by a) reducing or eliminating tax credits, b) deductions, and c) exemptions. Basically, his idea calls for a simpler and more efficient tax code, and none of this is reflected in the president's claim.

The only problem here, which President Obama rightly notes, is the fact that Gov. Romney has been pretty vague on his tax polices (vague enough to incite criticism, that is).

America’s 'Two Wars'

President Barack Obama:

The President of the United States on Wednesday night said it's important "that we take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America."

Again, there’s something that should be corrected.

"This oft-repeated claim is based on a fiscal fiction. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were paid for mostly with borrowed money, so stopping them doesn't create a new pool of available cash that can be used for something else, like rebuilding America," the AP notes.

"It just slows down the government's borrowing," the report adds.

Gas has doubled and Electric rates are up

Gov. Mitt Romney:

At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up.

What about this claim needs to be corrected?

Well, first off, Romney's right that the average price has doubled, and a little more, since Obama was sworn in. But let's be fair: presidents don't have total over control gas prices.

"Gasoline prices are set on financial exchanges around the world and are based on a host of factors, most importantly the price of crude oil used to make gasoline, the amount of finished gasoline ready to be shipped and the capacity of refiners to make enough to meet market demand," the AP notes.

But as for electricity, well, that part is actually true, according to PolitiFact: "Under Obama, electricity, heating oil, propane and water-sewer-trash prices did rise, as Romney indicated."

Oh, also, and this is perhaps where Romney should've focused, the rise in electricity prices can also be blamed on the difficulty in acquiring natural gas, which is used to generate electricity.

I Love 'Big Bird'

Gov. Mitt Romney:

Obamacare's on my list ... I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS ... I'll make government more efficient.

This isn't so much an inaccurate claim as it is one that simply begs for more details.

Gov. Romney has pledged to decrease the government to 20 percent of the size of the economy, which would be a big difference from the 23 percent of GDP [gross domestic product] we're dealing with now, by the end of 2016.

"The Romney campaign estimates that would require cuts of $500 billion from the 2016 budget alone," the AP notes.

The report continues:

To fulfill his promise, then, Romney would require cuts to other programs so deep -- under one calculation requiring cutting many areas of the domestic budget by one-third within four years -- that they could never get through Congress. Cuts to domestic agencies would have to be particularly deep.

Bottom line: Romney has only mentioned a few programs he'd be wiling to cut, such as PBS and Amtrak, and that doesn't exactly give us a full picture of his plan. Again, not exactly inaccurate, but certainly begs for more details.

Romney's Plan Involves Making Middle Class Families Pay $2K+

President Barack Obama:

Independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet Gov. Romney's pledge of not ... adding to the deficit is by burdening middle-class families. The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more.

"Obama's claim relies on a study by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. The study, however, is more nuanced than Obama indicated," the AP admits.

"The study concludes it would be impossible for Romney to meet all of his stated goals without shifting some of the tax burden from people who make more than $200,000 to people who make less," the report adds.

In one scenario, Gov. Romney's idea could result in a $2,000 tax increase for families below the $200,000 line, according to the study.

But Romney's proposed plan will not raise income on all brackets, according to numerous other studies by the same organization.

"Most of the conservative studies argue that Romney's tax plan would stimulate economic growth, generating additional tax revenue without shifting any of the tax burden to the middle class," the Associated Press argued,

Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

The AP contributed to this article. All photos courtesy the AP. This story has been updated. An earlier version of this article claimed Gov. Romney was wrong in his electricity claim, but we've since updated this position to reflect it's accuracy.

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