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Friday, August 31, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Fact check: Ryan ignores parts of his own record

By MICHAEL COOPER
The New York Times

Editor's note: An occasional look at the rhetoric and claims made by political campaigns and whether they adhere to the facts.

Rep. Paul Ryan used his convention speech Wednesday night to fault President Obama for failing to act on a deficit-reduction plan that he himself had helped kill. He chided Democrats for seeking $716 billion in Medicare cuts that he, too, had sought. And he lamented the nation's credit rating, which was downgraded after a debt-ceiling standoff that he and other House Republicans helped instigate.

Ryan's speech — peppered with statements that were incorrect, incomplete or incompatible with his own record in Congress — seemed to signal the arrival of a new kind of presidential campaign, one in which concerns about fact-checking have been largely set aside.

The Obama campaign, for its part, ran a deceptive ad saying Mitt Romney had "backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even in case of rape and incest," although he currently supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

The growing number of misrepresentations appears to reflect a calculation in both parties that shame is overrated, and that no independent arbiters command the stature or the platform to hold the campaigns to account in the increasingly polarized and Balkanized media firmament. Any unmasking of the lies or distortions, the thinking goes, rarely seeps into the broader public consciousness.

Here are some of the problems with Ryan's speech:

Deficit commission

One of Ryan's most pointed attacks on Obama was on the deficit.

"He created a new bipartisan debt commission," Ryan noted. "They came back with an urgent report. He thanks them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing."

Left unsaid: Ryan served on that commission, and his opposition to its final proposals helped to seal its fate. The 18-member panel, known as the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, made a number of recommendations that Ryan ultimately opposed on the grounds that they would have raised some taxes while failing to cut enough from health programs.

The report needed to be approved by a supermajority of 14 on the panel to be taken up by Congress. Eleven panelists voted for the report. Seven, including Ryan, voted against it.

Credit rating

In his attack on the president's time in office, Ryan said: "It began with a perfect AAA credit rating for the United States. It ends with the downgraded America."

When Standard & Poor's lowered the nation's credit rating, it was in large part because of the standoff last year over the debt ceiling, which needed to be raised so the government could borrow money to pay for spending that Congress had already approved. The Obama administration had asked Congress to simply raise the debt ceiling; Ryan and House Republicans balked at doing so without a deal on significant spending cuts, leading to a prolonged standoff that took the nation to the brink of default.

In its statement explaining the downgrade, Standard & Poor's wrote: "The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed."

Medicare

Ryan spoke out forcefully against the "$716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama" without noting that his own past budget plans had counted on the same savings, and he pledged to protect Medicare without explaining how the Romney-Ryan plan would change it. Ryan also failed to acknowledge his proposal to change Medicare to a voucher program in which seniors would be given a capped amount of money to buy private health insurance.

The $716 billion cut to Medicare that Obama made would reduce payments to health-maintenance organizations, hospitals and many other health-care providers.

The GM plant

Ryan appeared to criticize Obama for the closing of a General Motors plant in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wis., a decision made before Obama was elected, and before his bailout of the auto industry, which was credited with saving a number of other auto plants. Ryan noted in his speech that Obama had visited the plant in 2008 and told people that "I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years."

"Well, as it turned out," Ryan said, "that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day."

As a candidate, Obama did give an economic-policy speech at the Janesville plant in February 2008. The decision to close the plant was made several months later, as seen by a June 2008 letter from Ryan urging GM to reconsider.

It took some time for the plant to shut down, and some work continued there after Obama was sworn in as president.

The Ryan campaign said Thursday that the issue was not when the plant stopped production, but the fact that it has not restarted — and pointed to accounts of an Obama campaign statement from fall 2008 in which he said, "I will lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility in Janesville so we can build the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow and create good-paying jobs in Wisconsin and all across America."

While Obama bailed out the auto industry, saving jobs, and included money in the stimulus for "green" energy jobs, the Janesville plant did not benefit from his moves.

The stimulus

"What did taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus?" he asked. "More debt."

Unmentioned: the fact that roughly one-third of the stimulus came in the form of tax cuts.

Health care

Ryan referred to "government-controlled health care," although the new health-care law relies heavily on private insurance, did not nationalize the health-care system as other countries have done, and did not include the "public option" that many Democrats wanted.

The Romney record

When Ryan spoke of Romney's tenure as the governor of Massachusetts, he said: "He was the Republican governor of a state where almost 9 in 10 legislators are Democrats and yet he balanced the budget without raising taxes." Romney did raise revenue to balance those budgets: He closed a number of tax loopholes in ways that required business to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more in taxes.

Material from McClatchy Newspapers and Bloomberg News is included in this report.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company


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