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. BeverlyNC

    What is the point of "fact-checking" Republicans. They always lie and have been caught lying in every single debate on every single issue. Just assume they are lying, since they are, and don't waste the time. Republicans live on Planet of Lies and Hate.

    February 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ed galbraith

      Sorry folks. Republicans don't lie.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryM

      Ed, what planet are you living on? the republicans lie. Especially Newt.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • mikaman3000

      To each and every lemming out there that thinks the Republicans are the only problem w/our government. Either your !nsane or your an !diot. I'll let you decide. Oh wait a minute, who am I kidding. Any honest human being already knows you are devoid of independent thought. Here's the deal folks. The Democrats are every bit as corrupt as the GOP, the only difference is they have a bigger propaganda machine. Wake the frak up people. While you spend all your time pointing fingers at one side, the other side will inevitably screw you from behind

      February 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emmy Skaddittle

      well since ed it a republican, what did you expect him to say? the truth?

      February 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jordan

      uuuh....Did any of you libs actually read the article? I mean, sure– Gingrich's statement was "misleading" but are you going to deny that Iran is run by a mad man? And regarding Santorum, the article clearly states that his statements were accurate..

      Try reading.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indeeds

      It has more to do with the fact that they're politicians. Both parties are guilty of lying consistently. The key is to either put up with them, or find politicians that aren't lying (difficult but possible). It's why a lot of us gravitate towards Paul, as he has been more truthful more often, than any other. He may be out there on some of his ideas, but he isn't bold face lying to you (sorry but the current President, who I've previously supported, has done it on several occasions as well).

      February 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • kyle runle

      you must be ignoring ron paul just like cnn

      February 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnRJohnson

      There are many factors which make members of both parties complicit in the problems this country faces. No doubt about that. However, what we're seeing now is totally new. The last time we had a party that was this obstructive in Congress was right before the Civil War. For the last three years, Republicans have been employing a combination of disrespect, disinformation and demagoguery to de-legitimize this President. In Congress, they have been abusing every procedural rule to an unprecedented extent and, in particular, the filibuster. This has made it nearly impossible for the President to get anything he supports passed by Congress. Lying, either by omission or distortion of the truth, has become a routine tool of the GOP. It began with "death panels" and "socialism" and has expanded to question the President's birth place, religious beliefs, morality, and his patriotism. "This President is putting the free market on trial". Really? "This President is at war with the Catholic church". Really? "This President reminds me of that nice guy in Europe just before World War II." Really? These people disgust me.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Politico

      Hmm, "the republicans lie." Did any of you actually read the article?

      February 24, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |

    When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. If we reduced our military spending to just the average per capita spending of our NATO allies, we would save $242,611,117,262 a year. Of course, we would have to be a lot more careful about the fights we pick! Maybe the military should copy NASA’s faster, cheaper, smaller model. It certainly worked great for Mars exploration.

    February 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chicago Jim

      the sad thing is that long number you quote,wouldn't make a dent in the overall budget. $250 billion is nothing as trillion dollar laws have become the norm.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    When Santorum was born the minimum wage was enough to live on, so very few working people needed government assistance. Most jobs were full time and most employers provided health insurance. Thanks to Republican efforts to hold down the minimum wage and get rid of unions, the everyday American worker is now struggling while big corporations are able to achieve record profits. Reducing taxes for the wealthiest Americans has added to the federal deficit. So have federal subsidies and tax breaks for corporation that have been posting record profits. The shift from being a society where workers earn a decent living and the rich are merely rich to a society where workers struggle to make ends meet while the rich become super rich began with Reagan's trickle down policy, which made it easier for the rich to get richer and harder for workers to earn a living wage. Yes, these kinds of policies can stimulate economic growth. The problem is that the only Americans who benefit from this growth are the ones who are already rich and have a lot of money to invest. The economic growth is not spread around. Thanks to the government holding down wages and reducing taxes for the rich, any economic gains go straight into their pockets. Wages, once adjusted for inflation, continue to go down. Wage earners do not share in the newly created wealth of economic growth. We are regressing to the way things were before unions were legalized, minimum wage laws established and child labor outlawed. People like Romney now earn substantially more than they did in his father's day and pay less taxes on what they earn. All of these changes are the result of public policy changes made by Republicans, such as deregulation, tax breaks for corporations, corporate tax subsidies, government intervention to restrict union activities and a flat refusal to keep the minimum wage in step with inflation and economic growth. The Republicans realize that poor people are unhappy with the way things are going for them but think they are gullible enough to believe that taking away government assistance and lowering wages still further is going to help them, not hurt them. The good news is that a lot of the poor are not buying it. They've heard it all before. They don't need degrees in economics to realize that the American economy is getting worse, they've been living it. Each week the paycheck gets a little smaller. But they also know that the rich are doing better than they ever have, and that the rich Republican candidates want to make their tax cuts permanent and eliminate assistance to the working poor to make up for the shortfall. Most of the rich will vote for Romney or Santorum, maybe even Gingrich or Ron Paul, because it would make them better off financially than they will be if Obama succeeds in his efforts to let this country start taxing them again. But the poor know they stand to lose ground on all fronts if the Republicans regain control of the country, and most of them just want to be able to go to work every day and make a living. They don't want to join protest marches or strike or occupy or march on Washington. The overwhelming majority of people in this country want to work, but they don't want people like Romney to wind up with most of their earnings in their pocket while they go hungry. A lot of people who are now living on government assistance can't afford to work because they'd lose their food stamps and health care and the only jobs they can get don't pay enough to make up the difference. A lot of them are beginning to understand that they can no longer afford to vote for a Republican. I believe when election day rolls around they'll turn out in force.

    February 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chicago Jim

      How do you define progress? You may want to consider the narrowing differences in standard of living among the classes in the US. The reason for the much smaller difference today as compared to the past is market efficiencies. In the late 50's, you might argue that minimum wage was a living wage, but that is because expenses were mainly necessities amongst the poor. A person on minimum wage lived a very different life than a middle class person back then as opposed to today.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |

      Per capita GDP actually rose faster during the Republicans administrations of Regan – Bush Jr. than Kennedy-Obama; 6 .023% vs. 5.56%. Do voters vote their pocketbook? Absolutely Democrats and Republicans alike. Also, welfare should be a life line not a lifestyle!

      February 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryM

      @bobincal and chicago jim, READ Bobs post .

      February 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • kyle runle

      the reason the money is not "spread" around is not beacues the government needs to do more it is because it needs to do less look at history the wealth divide in ancient rome began when they minted a coin with only half the gold as the other coins this undermined there currendy sparked rapid inflation and pushed wealth away from the middle class that is what the fed is doing in america today JFK recognized that he signed an executive order that would have taken all monetary power from the fed to the treasury he died 6 months later the first thing his vp did was to repeal it i am not saying anything merely giving you the facts
      RON PAUL 2012!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      hey bob maybe some our all of the rich as you say, they might have worked 60 70 80 a week to get where they are now rich. what is wrong with that. plus you don't even no these people you are talking about . that my friend is very shallow.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Kevin, people like you are the reason this country is not doing so well. The top 1% are taking wages from workers, laying them off while they collect bonuses and continue getting raises that they don't deserve. And this wouldn't be SO bad, until people like you come along, and defend these people, and start making excuses for them. Did Romney ever work a 50 or 60 hour week? NO he was born rich, kept getting more rich as he got older, and continued making money by basically taking it from HARD WORKING AMERICANS. Romney said it himself, "I like firing people that provide services for me." So Kevin, please stop making excuses for these people, because they are NOT your friend and they will NEVER help you.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dave3000

    Dan...Bake sales don't count... I know how popular they are with Republicans for their neighbors that need a 350k heart transplant...That my ease their conscious ...But let's face it...Republicans are a pint short of compassion..In fact, I would be totally embarrassed if I had to say I was Republican,

    February 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • DP1549

      Really? then wy does study after study show Conservatives give MUCH more to charity than Liberals?

      February 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sf


    February 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sf

    Nancy Pelosi said it best...President Obama will not focus his energy on his opponent this year...his focus will be on the FUTURE OF AMERICA...our future is more important than some right wing nut job with extreme social and ideological views!

    February 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryM

      Thank you sf, well said.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      hey SF we did'nt bring it up first obama did with obamacare. we could care less if you o.d. on birth control pills.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Kevin, you really should educate yourself on something before you go saying silly things. But I'm also sure you think men take birth control pills...

      February 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ploomb

    I don't think social security should even be part of the calculation since we really fund it directly.

    February 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Democrat for life

      I agree Ploomb, every 2 weeks money is deducted from my paycheck for Social Security. I expect to at least get my money back after retirement. If Repubs want to destroy SS, than refund our money right now.

      February 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. brobin

    You do realize that is a hack piece with no proof by a group that wants more spending on healthcare.

    Would you like to hear the stories of Americans who have died due to lack of health care. How about those denied treatment by HMOs...

    Stop falling prey to anecdotes. No health care system is perfect or without problems. Here are some more myths about Canada you can stop believing in...
    1. Doctors are assigned by the government – no. doctors are in private practice. The government is like an HMO.
    2. The government needs to approve your treatment – no. doctors are free to order any test or treatment they feel is necessary. No forms or pre-approval is required.
    3. We have government run health care – no. We have government paid for health care.

    I would rather have an electable government act as my HMO then my boss deciding what I can get and a for profit insurance company making the call.

    And don't tell me you can choose your coverage. The rich can. The majority of Americans are stuck with what they employer offers as that is all they can afford.

    February 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mac

      Good luck, brobin, trying to convince those on the right about how healthcare reform actually does, or, moe importantly, what it doesn't do. The healthcare reform is actully giving more customers to private health insurers and they will make more profit.

      Also, thanks for bringing up the "choose your health plan" fantasy. Another one of Romney's "out-of-touch rich guy" comments a few weeks back. Most Americans who are on the one plan their employer uses can't "fire" that plan. If they do they have to buy insurance by themselves and that would be 3 times the cost what their employer's plan is. You're right, rich people (like Romney) can do this, but not the average American.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sirned

      Good post.. Please repost as often as you can. People in this country have been lied to about Canada's healthcare for far to long....

      February 24, 2012 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Politico

      The gov't has absolutely NO right to force themselves into my health-care chain. If they want an option to do it, fine. You morons can select that route. No government run health-care in this country? No? What about the veterans? Ever read about the abuse there? I watched my father in law wither away and die because they wouldn't treat him properly.

      The government cannot run what they have – national parks, congress, SS, Medicare, Medicaid – they suck at it. Don't give them more chances unless they can clean up their current messes.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dave3000

    Let's face it Republicans tell so many lies and half-truths who knows what to believe when they speak...Perhaps a solution would be to legislate a law that somehow allows the probing of their brains before they say anything... just like they want to probe women before a woman exercises her freedom to have a choice.

    February 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Richard

    Newt lies every time he says he balanced the budget 4 years in a row. He was not even in Congress the last 2 years, and it was Clinton's budget.

    February 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rick

    last night the republican contenders were in Arizona for a debate, today we have unseasonably hot air and strong winds coming out of the southwest. Coincidence ? ... I think not!

    February 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MC

    So Ahmadinejad's a madman, eh? He knows exactly what to say to fire up his base (holocaust, Israel, etc). He's never started a war (in fact, Iran has never instigated a war or invaded a neighbor on modern times). For all his bluster, he has limited power in a country that wants to be a world player while retaining their religion and culture. But all you sheep who believed Iraq was a "threat" to the US and supported the war (which left thousands of US kids dead, took trillions of dollars, and is yet another war the US LOST), go ahead and push for yet ANOTHER mideast war. I'm sure we can afford it. And Boeing, Lockheed, et al will thank you.

    February 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cathy

    Where was the "truth squad" in the 2088 debates when Obama was making pinochios all over the place and the media just ignored it, now we suffer. The media is truly laughable and dishonest.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logic

      CNN has always had a "fact-checking" article for the Debates as far back as they have had a website, I think. Just say "I hate Obama" next time, because that seems to be your only point.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Cathy, I want whatever you're smoking because it seems like some good stuff. Maybe in 2088 CNN will do fact checking, but until that future date, we'll just have to deal with the current fact checking policy. And if "the media" is truly "laughable" and "dishonest", then stop reading and watching "the media". I bet theres a Jersey Shore marathon you could be watching.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JDinTexas

    Newt is irrational. First, if you assume as Newt does, that the Iranian leadership is irrational then there is NOTHING the US can do to influence their behavior. The only options are to let the Iranians do as they will or invade the country, defeat their military, and install a new regime. Secondly, to say they are evil or even that they are pursuing goals we don't think they should is not the same thing as saying they are "irrational." I think the Iranian regime is dangerous, that we cannot let them build a nuclear weapon, and they we need to take increasingly punitive actions until they come to the conclusion that having a nuclear capability is not in their own interest. Newt, Santorium, and Romney seem to all in favor of war as the first option. Of course, since they have never served in the military and their children certainly won't be the ones being blown up on an Iranian battlefield, I guess its easy for them to come to that conclusion.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |

    Since 1958, the Republicans have held the White House for 28 years and the Democrats 25. It hardly sounds like the Republicans were in a position to roll back the social programs OF FDR and Johnson.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
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