December 16th, 2011
03:51 AM ET

Truth Squad: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series

Truth Squad: Gingrich's claim on surplus off base

The statement: "I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt, pretty conservative." Newt Gingrich, during Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa.

The facts: Newt Gingrich served as speaker of the House from January 4, 1995 to January 3, 1999. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the nation ran a deficit in 1995 (-$164 billion), 1996 (-$107.4 billion) and 1997 (-$21.9 billion). It ran a surplus in 1998 ($69.3 billion) and 1999 ($125.6 billion).

If you don't count the deficit during his first year as speaker, when the budget was already set, and do count the surplus during the year after he stepped down, he can claim credit for a surplus in only two of four years. Those surpluses total $194.9 billion, which is less than half the $405 billion he says he paid off.

If you confine the view to the time he spent in office, Gingrich's assertion looks worse. The national debt on the day Gingrich was sworn in as speaker was $4.8 trillion. Four years later, it was $5.6 trillion, an increased debt of $800 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury website.

Also, Gingrich fails to acknowledge that the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton would take some credit for putting in place policies that resulted in the four consecutive years of surplus that occurred from 1998-2001.

Verdict: False.

Truth Squad: Is Iran "a few months" away from a nuclear weapon?

When Rep. Michele Bachmann said that a report by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency had described Iran as poised to join the world's elite club of nuclear powers, during Thursday's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas responded immediately that she was mistaken.

The statements:

"We have an IAEA report that just recently came out that said, literally, Iran is within just months of being able to obtain that weapon." - Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota

"There is no U.N. report that said that. It's totally wrong what you just said. That is not true. They produced the information that led you to believe that, but they have no evidence." - Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas

The facts: The IAEA Board of Governors released a 14-page report on November 8 that concluded that it had "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing."

The verdict: False. The IAEA report does not say that Iran is within months of being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. So Bachmann is wrong. But the report does cite "credible" information that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons, so Paul's blanket denial that "they have no evidence" may also be wrong, depending on whether he is referring to evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon or evidence that such a weapon could be ready within months.

Truth Squad: Did Bachmann prove Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac?

During Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, a moderator asked U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to produce hard evidence that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had peddled his influence with congressional Republicans on behalf of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Bachmann, who is among conservatives who say Freddie Mac and fellow federally backed mortgage group Fannie Mae had a role in the collapse of the U.S. housing market, has criticized Gingrich for his post-Congress work as a consultant for Freddie Mac and accused him of lobbying senior Republicans on Freddie Mac's behalf.

Bachmann was asked: "Given (Gingrich's) denial over time ... that he's ever lobbied, what is your evidence - hard evidence - that he engaged in influence peddling?"

The statement: "It's the fact that we know that he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac. That is the best evidence that you can have: over $1.6 million. ... The evidence is that Speaker Gingrich took $1.6 million. You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, D.C., to get them to do your bidding."

The facts:

CNN reported in November that the consulting company that Gingrich started after he left Congress, the Gingrich Group, was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for work done with Freddie Mac.

Gingrich has repeatedly said he and his firm consulted Freddie Mac and other groups, but did not lobby for anyone.

"Gingrich made a decision after resigning (from the House) that he would never be lobbyist so that nobody would ever question the genuine nature of his advice and perspectives," the Gingrich campaign website says, adding that Freddie Mac was one of many Gingrich Group clients, and that its fees were comparable to that of many consulting firms.

Freddie Mac has backed Gingrich's assertion, telling CNN last month that he was a consultant, and not a lobbyist.

A former official who worked for Freddie Mac during Gingrich's two stints with the group - 1999-2002 and 2006-2008 - told CNN that Gingrich's work included consulting about Freddie's efforts to become more transparent about "risk and capital management" procedures, risk information disclosure, and how those efforts would be received in Congress, specifically by Republicans.

In Gingrich's first turn, Freddie Mac worked with him on the group's desire to "bond" with Bush administration officials on the idea of creating a "home ownership society" - getting more Latinos and other minorities into home ownership, the source said. It's not clear how Gingrich worked with Freddie Mac on this.

In the second stint, Freddie Mac officials tried to get Gingrich, known for intricate policy ideas, to write "white papers" on how good the "model" was for government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie because free-market Republicans didn't like that model, the official said. Freddie Mac officials were frustrated with Gingrich, the source said, because they had a hard time getting him to write anything.

The verdict: Misleading. While Freddie Mac was a Gingrich Group client, Bachmann did not offer hard evidence that Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac.

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Filed under: Politics • Republican Party • U.S.
soundoff (236 Responses)
  1. James

    Clinton ran a deficit in all years of his administration......

    December 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • solex

      First off -That is a lie. From 1998-2001, Clinton ran a surplus

      Second, what does something that happend over 10 years and two presidents ago have to do with the GOP debates?

      This endless need to assign blame to somehow absolve bad behavior is child think.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • solex

      What is up with this endless "well Clinton did this and Obama did that" from the repubs? Almost all of it are bald faced lies and simply shows that you have NO credible arguments for the greed and bad behavior of your candidates.

      And why is that when dems complain about republicans it is "whining" and when repubs complain about dems it is "protesting".

      To me, repubs are a bunch of sixth grade children having conversations like:

      "You're not the boss of me"

      Grow up repubs or take a seat at the kiddie table and let the adults work.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • polite centrist

      You're wrong. They were under budget four years in a row.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Clinton deserves some credit for running a tighter ship financially than any recent presidents, including repubs. But he had no input on the internet growth years and bubble that had people walking home with hundreds k/millions in stock options and bonuses. The gov made a lot of extra revenue off the bubble those years, I would hope there would have been a surplus. You could be sure that in today's climate, they would have figured out a way to spend all the excess and then some.

      December 16, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenneth Brown

      Did you read the article and the fact check data? It just said that during 1998 and 1999 the government ran a SURPLUS. And yes, President Clinton was running the country not Newt Gingrich. Remember, his own party drove him out of his Speakership due to his own unethical actions.

      December 16, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hawk 1

      James quit listening glenn beck and his lies. get away from faux news and deprogram. you will be a better informed person.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • rpguy

      Hey CNN, why doesn't your "Truth Squad" do some fact checks on Obama? No-o-o-o, you couldn't handle that truth, like the fact the he is a radical socialist, based on all his past associations and actions.

      December 19, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • rpguy

      It's interesting, CNN and all you libnuts doing a truth check? LOL!!!

      December 19, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. Enzo

    "But the report does cite "credible" information that Iran MAY BE developing nuclear weapons, so Paul's blanket denial that "they have no evidence" may also be wrong,... "

    Err, THERE'S no proof that Iran has a nuclear weapons program PERIOD, it's ALL CONJECTURE: "maybe, may, could in the future". I read most of the report and it is full of conjectures, NOTHING CONCRETE.

    CNN had to admit that Bachmann was wrong but would have never admitted that Paul was right (which he is, there's no proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons program). Seems like the new burden of proof is on the accused instead of the accuser: guilty until proven innocent! <<<< That is what happens in dictatorships and police states...

    December 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      You might call it Government Hypocrisy, and teh War Machine Hypocrisy. Pick on the little guys and go to war, while we don't bother the guys with Nukes (dozens of nations). Why wouldn't a little guy want a nuke, then?

      It's child logic. They get candy and support, and they have nukes, that means if we get a nuke, maybe we'll get candy too.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • kingoftexas

      Your kidding me right. No evidence of a nuclear program. You must have not seen Iran's prime minister bragging about it while holding enriched uranium. You must also know that enriched uranium, enriched the way that do so is not for nuclear reactors but for weapons. For reactors you enrich U238, for weapons you enrich U235. No evidence. I guess Ron Paul is still smoking that weed that he thinks should be legalized. Or he's just ignorant.

      December 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. James

    Time and time again, anyone reading the mainstream news or reading articles on the Internet will read the claim that President Clinton not only balanced the budget, but had a surplus. This is then used as an argument to further highlight the fiscal irresponsibility of the federal government under the Bush administration. The claim is generally made that Clinton had a surplus of $69 billion in FY1998, $123 billion in FY1999 and $230 billion in FY2000 . In that same link, Clinton claimed that the national debt had been reduced by $360 billion in the last three years, presumably FY1998, FY1999, and FY2000–though, interestingly, $360 billion is not the sum of the alleged surpluses of the three years in question ($69B + $123B + $230B = $422B, not $360B).While not defending the increase of the federal debt under President Bush, it's curious to see Clinton's record promoted as having generated a surplus. It never happened. There was never a surplus and the facts support that position. In fact, far from a $360 billion reduction in the national debt in FY1998-FY2000, there was an increase of $281 billion.Verifying this is as simple as accessing the U.S. Treasury (see note about this link below) website where the national debt is updated daily and a history of the debt since January 1993 can be obtained. Considering the government's fiscal year ends on the last day of September each year, and considering Clinton's budget proposal in 1993 took effect in October 1993 and concluded September 1994 (FY1994), here's the national debt at the end of each year of Clinton Budgets:FiscalYear YearEnding National Debt Deficit
    FY1993 09/30/1993 $4.411488 trillion
    FY1994 09/30/1994 $4.692749 trillion $281.26 billion
    FY1995 09/29/1995 $4.973982 trillion $281.23 billion
    FY1996 09/30/1996 $5.224810 trillion $250.83 billion
    FY1997 09/30/1997 $5.413146 trillion $188.34 billion
    FY1998 09/30/1998 $5.526193 trillion $113.05 billion
    FY1999 09/30/1999 $5.656270 trillion $130.08 billion
    FY2000 09/29/2000 $5.674178 trillion $17.91 billion
    FY2001 09/28/2001 $5.807463 trillion $133.29 billion
    As can clearly be seen, in no year did the national debt go down, nor did Clinton leave President Bush with a surplus that Bush subsequently turned into a deficit. Yes, the deficit was almost eliminated in FY2000 (ending in September 2000 with a deficit of "only" $17.9 billion), but it never reached zero–let alone a positive surplus number. And Clinton's last budget proposal for FY2001, which ended in September 2001, generated a $133.29 billion deficit. The growing deficits started in the year of the last Clinton budget, not in the first year of the Bush administration.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteveX

      So it's only a small "inaccuracy", unlike the $405 Billion that Newt claims he removed from the deficit during his "time" in office. Must have been busy racking up his 84 counts of unethical behavior to offset the gain. 🙂

      December 16, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hawk 1

      James your arithmitic dosen't add up to the facts that clinton did have a surplus. bush blew it and then added more debt than any president before him.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. Pete/Ark

    We learned one other very important thing...fact checking a GOP debate has never yeilded a flat-out "TRUE".

    December 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      That's hilarious. I love all these "fact-checking" sites. Cherry pick the statements that make your favorite look good/bad and only choose those few statements.

      Why doesn't a company just take every single statement and fact-check it? With a sample size this small there is always going to be a bias.

      December 18, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • rpguy

      If they did a Truth check on Obama, it would make all these candidates look like rank amateurs at lying!! Now THAT'S a TRUTH for you libnuts

      December 19, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dontbow

    We learned another thing that cnn fact checking is often FALSE and biased to the left. lol

    December 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • charlotte

      So just because you don't like the facts since they don't support whoever is the rightie you have chosen, you're going to just blithely attack the reporting as having a "left bias." That just proves that you and your ilk simply don't care about facts, all you want is rhetoric and verbiage that supports non-factually-based, preconceived right-wing propaganda. And if the facts DON'T support your baseless beliefs then you accuse them of being false. You don't seem to be capable of independent thought, independent research, or critical analysis. You just call anything you dislike a lie. Real intelligent.

      December 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • rpguy

      Please Charlotte, a libnut telling the truth? the simple fact you support Obama is truth-telling enough for anyone

      December 19, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Accountant

    James, I think you may be neglecting the contribution of interest to the DEBT. The deficit reflects the difference between spending and revenue in a given year, not taking into account interest on the debt. I believe that, once you take into account interest, you will find the Clinton's last few years do indeed represent surpluses, but not enough to cover the interest. Bush definitely turned this surplus to a huge deficit, primarily by spending on the two wars and reducing revenue by tax cuts primarily targeted to upper income Americans

    December 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Adjusting the National Debt for Inflation or as % of GDPA common tactic used by those that cling to the myth of the Clinton surplus seems to be showing a bar graph of the total national debt adjusted for inflation, or depicted as a percentage of GDP. When you adjust for inflation or show the debt as a percentage of GDP, it looks like the national debt went down for a year or two under Clinton. However, that does not mean Clinton had a surplus, it simply means inflation was increasing faster than the national debt or the economy was expanding faster than the national debt. That doesnot change the fact that Clinton never had a surplus. Explained another way, adjusting the national debt for inflation is valid for comparing the debt load of the federal government but it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the federal government had a surplus a given year. If you spend more than you take in in a given year, you have a deficit even if your relative debt load went down because of inflation. Explained numerically, let's say you owe $50,000, earn $30,000, and spend $31,000 (debt load=50,000/30,000=167%)–that leaves you with a deficit of $1000 so that the following year you owe $51,000. The next year inflation is 5% so you now earn $31,500 and spend $32,550 with a deficit of $1,050. $31,500 in earnings with a $51,000 debt is a 162% debt load–so your relative debt load went down thanks entirely to inflation but you still had a deficit of $1,050 that year and your debt continued to grow.It wouldn't be accurate to claim that you had a surplus because your debt load went down even though you spent more than you earned. That's what people are saying when they try to adjust the national debt for inflation to claim a surplus. The bottom line is that the national debt going down as adjusted for inflation or as a percentage of GDP is a valid metric for evaluating the debt load of the government but it saysnothing about whether or not there was a surplus. If the total national debt went up, there was a deficit. Those that think a decrease in the debt load of the federal government as a percentage of GDP or adjusted for inflation is equivalent to a same-year surplus don't understand the definitions and purposes of each of these terms.

      December 16, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MIke T

    America needs Ron Paul!!!!!

    December 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron Paul

      No, I look to much like Jerry Sandusky...who you need is...

      RU PAUL 2012

      December 16, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. drp146

    All the Republican candidates are a bunch of losers, has been's and Want to Be's and none of them is fit to be President. If any of them were to become President, there is one thing for sure: They wont represent the middle class.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jerry

    lets fact check the past three years...and the fact that both houses were controlled by the dems in p\the previous two years Bush was in. Lets fact check where does the federal spending of the entiltlemet programs whom?

    December 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Scott

    This COuntry's War Machine's policies for half a century have caused a lot of headache.

    I am not willing to let my children and garndchildren continue to live teh cold-war and aftermath, and ruin the financial future and freedoms they might have had.

    We are a selfish country. It is painfully obvious we learned NOTHING from Iraq, and the PEOPLE want WAR, and the government will give it. I thought about calling myself a Republican, but I can't call myself a Democrat.

    This Republican party and a fraction of Democrats are in danger of losing a HECK of a lot of support for anything. You all neo-whatevers ought to be prepared for a third party very soon (The Peace, Prosperity and Balanced Party).

    December 16, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve

    Vote for someone honest – Ron Paul 2012

    December 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron Paul

      No Im not honest, plus I look too much like Jerry Sandusky

      RU PAUL 2012!!

      December 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • kingoftexas

      I have no problem voting for someone honest. I do have a problem voting for Ron Paul since he is completely out of touch with reality.

      December 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cassandra Chu

    I'm smarter than most if not all of them. therefore, i extrapolate that i can run this country amok too.

    December 17, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. ForeignPolicy

    December 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ray E. Georgia

    Let's get to the real facts here. Because of Democrat Liberal/Social Policies over the last 75 Plus years we have a 15 Plus Trillion Dollar Debt, 9 to 16 Percent Unemployment, 46 Million people on Food Stamps, Millions of Morgages under water, the fault of the people that thought they could buy a houst with nothing down, 15 percent under the Poverty level. Do you want to continue down that path? Those are facts you cannot ignore.

    December 19, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  15. remove hard water build up

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    April 5, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
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