February 23rd, 2012
01:40 AM ET

Truth Squad: Fact checking Wednesday's debate

CNN examines statements made by Republican presidential candidates during Wednesday night's CNN/Republican Party of Arizona debate in Mesa, Arizona.

Newt Gingrich criticized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for characterizing Iran as a "rational actor" in international affairs and defending the possibility of preventing an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites

 The statement: "The fact is this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn't believe the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. This is a dictator who said he wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. I'm inclined to believe dictators ... If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons, and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons."

 The facts: Gingrich gives a fairly accurate summary of Ahmadinejad's greatest hits. The Iranian president, now in his second term, has indeed questioned the existence of the Holocaust, the genocidal Nazi campaign against European Jews, and talked about seeing the destruction of the state of Israel.

There's one catch, though: According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Ahmadinejad isn't the guy who would be making any decisions about whether to build nuclear weapons. They say that authority belongs to the Islamic republic's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee last week that any Iranian decision to build nuclear weapons "would be made by the supreme leader himself, and he would base that on a cost-benefit analysis."

Meanwhile, since winning a second term in Iran's hotly disputed 2009 presidential election, analysts say Ahmadinejad has been on the losing end of a power struggle with Khamenei's allies. And Iran's economy is being squeezed by international sanctions over its refusal to halt its nuclear fuel production and demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program.

Tehran insists that it is enriching nuclear fuel only for civilian reactors. But in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it believed Iran had carried out some weapons-related research, and the agency says it's up to Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

The verdict: Misleading. While Ahmadinejad's colorful public language has led to him being characterized as a "madman" in the West, as Gingrich put it, he's not believed to be the man who would make the critical decision about whether the Islamic republic would pursue the bomb.

Rick Santorum pointed out the growth of government benefits compared to defense spending

The statement: "When I was born, less than 10% of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60% of the budget. Some people suggest defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60% of the budget. It's now 17%. If you think defense spending is the problem, you need a remedial math class to go back to."

The facts: Santorum was born in 1958. At that time, two of the three major federal entitlement programs - Medicare or Medicaid - didn't exist, and Social Security had cut its first check only 18 years before.  The federal government spent $82 billion that year. Social Security cost $8.2 billion, 10% of that total.

By 2011, federal spending had grown to $3.6 trillion, and $2.1 trillion of it was "mandatory human resource programs," according to the White House budget office. That includes about $480 billion for Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors; $275 billion for Medicaid, which funds health care for the poor; and $725 billion for Social Security. With other programs such as disability payments, federal pensions and food aid included, those programs work out to 58.3 % of federal outlays.

Defense spending, meanwhile, went from about $47 billion in 1958, near the height of the Cold War, to nearly $706 billion in 2011, the 10th year of a "war on terror." But as a percentage of federal government outlays, it shrank from 57% to just under 20%.

The verdict: True, within a couple of percentage points, anyway. Santorum's statement accurately characterizes the changing ratio of U.S. spending over his lifetime, as federal insurance programs grew to take up a much larger percentage of the budget.

soundoff (246 Responses)
  1. John

    Romney – Couldn't give a straight answer to save his life. I don't trust a single thing that comes out of his mouth.

    Santorum – Is just as bad in that regard, plus he seems like a spineless weakling, who oddly enough resembles a weasel.

    Gingrich – Just no. Not a chance in h3ll. Obama would tear him apart.

    Paul – The only one who tells it like it is. The one with the least amount of baggage for Obama to use against him. The only one who has a chance of making America "for the people by the people" again. The only problem is that he's been labeled a wacko and gets little to no air time. It's pretty bad when he has to raise his hand like a school child to even be included in a debate discussion.

    Final summation – We’re scr3wed!

    February 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. comm0nsense

    The analysis on Santorum's comment is comical to say the least. Let's supposed country "A" is the world's greatest military and economy. Because of a new invention country A doubles its economy. Does that mean the military spending should double too? The answer is of course NO. Unless there is new threat from outer space, country A is already the most powerful country so what's the point of spending more money to build more weapons that will never be needed or used?

    That is where the US is today. Our current military budget is more than the rest of the world's combined. Even after reduction by almost 50% as Pres Obama suggested, we would still spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined.

    There is no reason to think military spending should be a percent of the country's economy. There is a maximum amount that is needed to guarantee military superiority over all other nations ... and we reached goal a few decades ago.

    February 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mac Qurashi

    All I can say is that the only intellectual in the crowd is Paul, but to accomplish what he wants is beyond reality. The rest are fit to get a job in a used car lot. Leaders are supposed to have principles and bring the people around to what the leaders think will serve the whole society at large. The three, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, say what a very minority of attendees want to hear. In the event any one of these clowns get elected (God forbid) how will they govern intelligently because this very activist audience wiil not let them forget about their statements. I pray that the majority of the eletrolate is intelligent to elect the right person.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ge

    sounds like everyone of these republicans exept one want another trillion dollar plus war

    February 24, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Deborah Evans

    I absolutely agree with that statement.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rishu

    Philip Carr:I loved it! The promo had me looking out for it on Showcase and when I caghut it over the weekend I was pleasantly surprised at the high grade production value and the stellar acting of the principal characters. The premise while done was given a new spin which made it exciting. I am looking forward to many more episodes and a run of many years. A big bonus for me was learning that it is a Canadian product. Well done, and thanks.

    July 12, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse | Reply
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