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Fact Combing The Presidential Debate


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Renee Montagne is on an assignment in New Mexico. The presidential candidates made many claims in last night's debate, claims that we are covering throughout this morning. Now is the moment when we check some of their facts. We've done this after many nationally broadcast debates and speeches. A team of NPR correspondents was listening in to the debate last night and they join us this morning and we begin with the biggest subject of the evening - the economy. The candidates started with the financial crisis. Here's a statement by Senator McCain.

SHAPIRO: Fannie and Freddie were the catalysts, the match that started this forest fire. There were some of us - there were some of us that stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.

INSKEEP: OK. So Senator McCain says Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-founded institutions started this. Let's bring in NPR's Jim Zarroli who covers the economy and Jim, were Fannie and Freddie, the match that lit the fire?

JIM ZARROLI: You know, I think most people would say that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were one of the reasons the mortgage business spun out of control. But I think they were really only one factor. A bigger factor was the system in which mortgages were sold and then bundled together and converted into securities. These were very profitable for a long time. Wall Street loved them and that was one of the reasons why the mortgage business grew so much.

INSKEEP: OK. So having given a perhaps two simple explanations for the credit crisis, Senator McCain goes on to say that his opponent, Barack Obama, is quote the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history. Is he?

ZARROLIL: He is second biggest recipient after Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. Obama got $126,000 dollars from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. John McCain got approximately $21,500. John McCain also has another connection to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, his lobbying firm was paid up to $15,000 a month by Freddie Mac. Until recently, the McCain campaign says he himself was actually not involved with any of the lobbying efforts.

INSKEEP: Something McCain did not mention. Now, here's another claim that Senator Obama makes over and over about his opponent including last night.

SHAPIRO: Senator McCain and I have some fundamental disagreements on the economy, starting with Senator McCain's statement earlier that he thought the fundamentals of the economy were sound.

INSKEEP: Fundamentally sound. That is an accurate quote, but not a complete quote. We went back to tape of what John McCain actually said three weeks ago and found a more nuance statement about the economy.

SHAPIRO: There's been a tremendous turmoil in our financial markets in Wall Street. And people are frightened by these events. Our economy, I think, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times.

INSKEEP: The full quote there from John McCain several weeks ago. Let's move on now to another subject that was debated. Taxes. There was a lot of back and forth including this claim by Senator McCain.

SHAPIRO: Senator Obama's secret that you don't know is that his tax increases will increase taxes on 50 percent of small business revenue. Small businesses across America will have to cut jobs and will have their taxes increase and won't be able to hire because of Senator Obama's tax policies.

INSKEEP: David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal, a regular on this program, was listening in, and David, is Obama planning to raise taxes on 50 percent of small businesses?

DAVID WESSEL: Well, it depends what your definition of small is. Senator Obama is planning to raise taxes on the top income tax brackets and it is true that many small businesses pay taxes at ordinary income tax rates. But the majority of small businesses simply don't make enough money to be covered by Senator Obama's proposed tax increases.

INSKEEP: So most won't be affected?

WESSEL: Correct.

INSKEEP: That's David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal. Let's move on now to health policy, another subject in the debate. And a claim here made by Senator McCain.

SHAPIRO: If you're a small business person and you don't insure your employees, Senator Obama will fine you, will fine you. That's remarkable.

INSKEEP: That's remarkable but is it true? NPR's Julie Rovner, who covers health policy.

JULIE ROVNER: In a word, no. Senator Obama's plan would require most employers to either cover their employees with health insurance or else pay a fee to the government to help provide coverage. But the smallest employers would not be covered by this mandate. And the rest of the small employers would be given a rather generous tax credit to help them pay for that.

INSKEEP: So McCain's claim about Obama not so true. Let's look at an Obama claim about McCain. He says McCain is basically going to increase your taxes.

SHAPIRO: He says that he's going to give you a $5,000 tax credit. What he doesn't tell you is that he is going to tax your employer-based health care benefits for the first time ever. So what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away.

INSKEEP: Really?

ROVNER: Not really. It's a little bit of an exaggeration. For the vast majority of people, the tax credit that Senator McCain would offer would be larger, at least starting out than the taxes that they would owe on that employer provided tax benefits. Over time however Senator Obama may be right if that tax credit doesn't go up as fast as health care premiums go up then a lot of people could find themselves paying taxes on the value of their health benefits.

INSKEEP: Julie Rovner, let's move on to another subject now, energy. Senator Obama spoke of setting a goal to free the United States from dependence on Middle Eastern oil within 10 years. NPR's Richard Harris was listening. Is that possible, Richard?

RICHARD HARRIS: It's a noble goal, but it is not realistic. The Middle East gives us about 20 percent of our oil imports that's a pretty big chunk to replace. Drilling offshore will not get it to a certainly not in 10 years, probably not ever. Alternative fuels are a possibility on the horizon but they are on the distant horizon, maybe 20 -30 they could start really weighing in, but as a short-term goal it doesn't seem to be realistic.

INSKEEP: Thanks, Richard. And since we were talking about the Middle East and oil from the Middle East, let's stay with foreign policy because the candidates talked about Pakistan last night. Here's a statement by Senator McCain.

SHAPIRO: Senator Obama likes to talk loudly in fact he said he wants to announce that he is going to attack Pakistan.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen covers the state department for us and Michele, did Obama really say he quote "wants to announce" an attack?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Not exactly. I mean, last night he was basically in line with what he's been saying. He said that if we know where Osama bin Laden is, we know he's in Pakistan, Pakistan won't or is unwilling to act - we will. McCain's line of attack is that, you know, Obama shouldn't be talking about any of this publicly, but no one's really talking about announcing an attack.

INSKEEP: Is McCain talking publicly about attacking Pakistan if Osama bin Laden were found there?

KELEMEN: Oh, in fact he has essentially said the same exact thing on the campaign trail. And last night he wouldn't answer what the question was which was whether or not he would respect Pakistan sovereignty. Also neither candidate address the fact that President Bush's already authorized these sorts of actions.

INSKEEP: We're checking the facts of the presidential candidates in last nights debate and we have one more fact to go into, it's one that McCain raised early in the debate. He criticized Senator Obama for voting for billions in pork barrel spending.

SHAPIRO: Including by the way three million dollars for an overhead projector at a Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

INSKEEP: We've gone to NPR's David Schaper who covers Chicago, Illinois. David, OK, did Obama actually asked for three million dollars for an overhead projector?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well, he did make the request along with the bipartisan membership of the Illinois Congressional delegation, but this is not your typical third grade teacher's overhead projector in the classroom. What we're talking about here is the projector for the sky theater at the Adler Planetarium. And this is what the planetarium calls an experience of exploration of the wonders of the clear night sky projector on the dome of the historic planetarium theater. It's one if not the most popular attraction or teaching tool at the Adler Planetarium.

INSKEEP: OK, so did the planetarium get the overhead projector?

SCHAPER: Nope. The earmark request has not yet been funded.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Schaper helping us to explore the wonders of checking the candidate's facts from last night's presidential debate. We also heard this morning from NPR's Michele Kelemen, Richard Harris, Julie Rovner, and Jim Zarolli, and our regular guest David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal. You can download last night's debate and NPR's analysis, and you can also read more fact checking from our reporters by going to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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