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. scott

    Obama is a socialist. TRUE

    February 23, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • dabble53

      Do you even know what a socialist actually is?
      Do you automatically insist that all "socialist" activities are bad?
      Want to give up public paid-for fire and rescue? Give up public paid-for police? All public paid-for/subsidized medical facilities? While we're at it, better give up all tax advantages given to non-profits and religious organizations.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • garc

      Because the word 'socialist' has more than 1 syllable, you think you sound smart writing it. I dare you – look it up in the dictionary.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • maniacmudd

      thank you dabble... scott is but a fauxbot parrotting its masters...

      February 23, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Shane Botwin

      Yawn.... another FoxNews graduate.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • mac

      I'm agreeing with dabble53. If you knew what the word "socialist" meant you would know that it doesn't apply to Obama. Obama want's to save the Capitalist system from the incredible stupidity that comes from greed (Wall Street I'm looking at you). Obama saved the banks, or continued Bush's plan (as distasteful as that was for all of us) because he knew we needed to stabalize the banking system TO SAVE CAPITALISM. Obama saved Detroit auto industry...TO SAVE A KEY PART OF OUR CAPITALIST ECONOMY. And, as hard as it is to believe, the healthcare reform requires more people to get insurance from private insurers and they will make more money....HELPING OUR CAPITALIST SYSTEM.

      Please stop calling Obama a socialist...he's not.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Elizabeth

    The number crunching of Santorum is FALSE. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid do NOT come out of the general Federal budget, but are separate items that have nothing to do with the general funds. The trouble is, those funds have been raided. If you separate those funds (as they are supposed to be separated) from the rest of the budget, the increased military spending shows up. Before 1970, there was also much less pollution, including both chemical and radioactive fallout, and much less cancer which is very expensive to treat. But the bottom line is that many Americans are being squeezed every which way: if we get rid of programs under the GOP, then the businesses are not going to pay people more to make up for it. The cost of living (i.e., need for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) has been going up, but paychecks are the SAME as they were in 1980. That means that people can't afford to just pay the doctor out of pocket as people did in the 1960s. Just try it. If you are not one of the few hundred wealthiest Americans, you will die before you can get your medicine. Hospitals are straining, but people with serious illnesses will not be treated in the E.R.; nobody does chemo therapy in the E.R. And heart surgery is only done after being admitted. There is already a death panel in place, and it is called the GOP.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • maniacmudd

      Excellent post Elizabeth, thank you.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • TRH

      I agree in principle with the bulk of your post but I must take issue with one point:

      "Before 1970, there was also much less pollution"

      Actually it was in the 1970's that not only awareness of polluting the environment started to emerge but newer technologies started to be developed especially to treat power plant emissions. In fact the federal EPA opened its doors in December of 1970.

      When I was a kid I remember the river in my home town in central Pennsylvania could not support game fish because of mine acid waste. About three years ago I was watching a young lady fishing and as I watched she hooked and landed a beautiful large-mouth bass out of that river.

      Don't fall for the "Greenie propaganda".

      February 23, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Troy in Austin

      Yo TRH, if the Repubs get elected you can count on that river being polluted again! (No EPA!)

      February 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Antonio

    Kevin, the President has no power over gas prices only OPEC controls pricing. It's President Obama not just Obama and please capatilize the O in his name, give some respect to the President. were you complaining about paying for tax cuts of the rich when President Bush appproved those? at least this Presidents cuts are trying to help the middle class get on their feet and start spending to get America some revenue. Fact checked! enough for you.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Trickel

      When President Bush was in office.....the liberals said it was his fault for everything in the economy, foreign policy, etc. etc. While President Obama is in office....the liberals say it is Bush's fault for the bad economy, gas prices, debt, etc. etc. Wonder if Obama gets reelected for another four years, if the Liberals will still blame Bush?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • maniacmudd

      great post Antonio, someone needs to teach the conservative christians some manners, it sure seems their mother or god didn't do it!

      February 23, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • maniacmudd

      @larry, hmm, let me see, if you boyfriend "w" had not run for office and put this country in the shtr I do believe we would not blame him for the obvious...he will be blamed for being a fool and a murderer of his countrymen. You need to go change yer panties....

      February 23, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • OGR99

      Hey Mudd and Tony. Take a deep breath. This is a forum, not a classroom.

      That's it, deep breaths...there you go. Don't you feel better now?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      @mudd – Really? We'll remember Bush as a murderer of fellow countrymen? I believe Obama has carried that mantle much more efficiently. Authorizing the assassination of an American without trial and all.. or have we all forgotten that little incident already?

      February 23, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. TRH

    "as federal insurance programs grew to take up a much larger percentage of the budget."

    So Santorum is essentially correct. I would like to see his vision of what the country would have been be like without those programs. Being a classic neoconservative, I'm sure he would like to see the ratio between "defense" spending and social spending reversed, with people of modest means and the poor being relegated to help from their families and charity. Ricky has most likely not had to struggle for anything in his life.

    The framework for oligarchy is in place people...just waiting for the right mix of president and legislators plus a stacked SCOTUS. That's the plan. Deny it at your peril.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Don

    Scott has no idea what a socialist actually is. TRUE.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. garc

    Who needs facts? It's a REPUBLICAN debate.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tony

    @ Kevin: The President has no control over gas prices...go talk to Exxon

    @Scott: by today's definition of a socialist, Jesus would be one also...go ready your bible

    February 23, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. The Real Tom Paine

    Was gas really under $2per gallon 3 years ago, kevin? Check your math. I remember paying $2 a gallon for the first time 8 years ago. Its bounced back and forth due to forces beyond the POTUS control. Fact check that before you post. Socialist, really Scott? We live in a society that touts "free enterprise" yet government has been behind virtually every internal improvement in this country's history, from roads to the development of the internet. If Obama is a sociaist, than so was Reagan.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • TRH

      In my area, on July 4th, 2008 gas was $4.05 per gallon. I saved the receipt.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. Anothermuse

    Well, I guess as a pure fact check, these statements are true. However that manner in which they are used is probably misleading. For instance, the nut in Iran doesn't make any final decisions. Preemptive strikes based on him being crazy might sound great to a war hawk audience, but really aren't needed. As for the shift in spending, again, the percentages are accurate, however it fails to take several factors into account. Medicaid and Medicare, like it or not, are no longer optional programs. So it's great to say these numbers have changed, however there is no real way to reverse that, or that it should be done. Just an attempt to get people on the whole socialism is bad bandwagon. Some of which is correct, but again, it's just not the whole picture.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. kevin

    @antonio back in the bush yrs. that is all we heard EVIL BUSH AND CHENEY TELLING THERE RICH OIL BUDDIES FROM TEXAS RAISE THE PRICE. IF OBAMA O. K. THE KEYSTONE PIPELINE GAS WOULD GO DOWN, BUT HE DID NOT BECAUSE HE IS A GREEN ECON NUT.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • SeanNJ

      It's people like you that make me sad that "every vote counts." Can't we grade people on a curve?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Quint J

      Scott if the keystone pipeline was approved gas may go down but so would employment. Something that they aren't saying is that, while the pipeline would create jobs in the short run, it's ultimate goal is to eliminate jobs so that we can have cheaper fuel. Think about it. Jobs will be created while the pipeline is being built. but after it's built there will be no need for those who built the pipeline or for the truckers and shippers who move the fuel now and all that support them. Do you really think they would be building something that creates a bigger expense (jobs) for the oil companies?

      February 23, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Quint J

      I meant kevin not Scott.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  11. Teddytoy

    @Kevin.. that pipeline .. if you bothered to research it.. was to transport an oil product from Canada to a port to be shipped offshore to other counties.. NONE of the oil was for US consumption! The pipes are themselves being made in China. At best there would be a few thousand temp jobs to dig ditches and install pipes. Nothing more. The risks of leakage and other damages is also very high.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • SeanNJ

      To add to your point, the US is very close, if not already, a net exporter of gasoline. If we're not keeping the gasoline we make now, we're certainly not going to keep the extra refined gasoline from the oil sands.

      The only reason they want that pipeline is so that they can refine it in the Gulf of Mexico before shipping it overseas.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. TRH

    Just s a personal observation but with the way that Mitt ripped into the UAW and the auto bailout he just might have lost Michigan.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. kevin

    HEY TOM PAINE hey can you say g.m. and chysler should of let them go under and then come back better . we spend 75 billon to bail them out. that is about 275,000 per person. no one bail me out . now they are making the chevy volt nobody want's to buy . guess who told them to build that obama you do what i say beause i bailed you out and my union thug leader that my friend is aSOCIALIST. O BUY THE WAY CAN YOU SAY ALL THE SOLAR PANEL 526 MILLON ON AND ON THAT HAVE GONE UNDER.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • DeTamble

      The Auto bailouts started under Bush, and Obama continued them.
      If not, it would have put hundreds of thousands of workers out of a job,
      But you would have loved that, because you could scream
      about the unemployment rate that Obama caused.

      Kevin, you should see a doctor, but some people are beyond help.
      Too bad.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Teddytoy

      kevin before you start quoting fox facts.. try some research.. Solyndra financing began under GWB.. Mr Obama just allowed it to continue. BTW.. Socialism is much better than the alternative of Fascism

      February 23, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. DeTamble

    THE KEYSTONE PIPELINE GAS WOULD GO DOWN,
    --------------------------

    A few thousand temporary jobs would be created.
    The chance of an environmental disaster is high, none of the states
    this pipeline was to go thru wanted it.
    And the oil is sold on the open market.
    It will NOT affect our gas prices.
    But it will make the oil "owners" richer.
    Kevin, you are a fool.
    Keep drinking the republican kool aid.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. arale norimaki

    To the rick santorum War is good for business invest own your children! don't your children like American?

    February 23, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
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