WASHINGTON -- Executing a classic Washington dodge, Newt Gingrich told Americans that Medicare and Medicaid could be kept solid merely by ending fraud in the system, a promise of gain without pain that ignores the aging population and other great forces pressing on the programs.
Mitt Romney told voters he's done the math supporting his claim that he created more than 100,000 jobs in the private sector, but didn't share it. And Ron Paul came up with a shocking figure on Fed "bailouts" that bears little resemblance to reality.
A look at some of the claims in a pair of weekend Republican presidential debates and how they compare with the facts:
GINGRICH: "The duty of the president is to find a way to manage the federal government so the primary pain is on changing the bureaucracy. On theft alone, we could save $100 billion a year in Medicaid and Medicare if the federal government were competent. That's a trillion dollars over 10 years. And the only people in pain would be crooks."
THE FACTS: Those who have crunched the numbers believe that squeezing every last penny of fraud from health care programs would not solve long-range problems that are at the heart of the federal government's budget woes and imperil Medicare and Medicaid.
Those problems are driven by an aging population, the cost of high-tech medicine and what some researchers see as a pattern of overtreatment – the widespread use of medical tests, procedures, drugs and devices that wind up being of little or no benefit to patients.
If policymakers once viewed health care fraud as akin to a cost of doing business, that hasn't been the case for years. President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law toughened penalties and gave law enforcement agencies new tools to combat fraud. That built on earlier efforts by the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Health care fraud investigations are a major source of money recovered for taxpayers by the Justice Department, surpassing fines and penalties collected from defense contracting fraud.
Although cracking down on fraud and abuse will help to maintain Medicare and Medicaid, the administration and lawmakers are convinced it is not a magic elixir to restore the financial health of the programs. Knowing that has not stopped a succession of presidents and lawmakers of both parties from ducking tough choices and promising painless dividends by going after "waste, fraud and abuse" in government.
PAUL: "I don't see how we can do well against Obama if we have any candidate that, you know, endorsed, you know, single-payer systems and TARP bailouts and don't challenge the Federal Reserve's $15 trillion of injection bailing out their friends."
THE FACTS: First, there are no fans of government-run, single-payer health insurance in the Republican field, despite Paul's suggestion otherwise Sunday. Newt Gingrich once endorsed the idea of requiring everyone to have health insurance, and Romney introduced a mandate for health coverage as Massachusetts governor. But that's a far cry from a Canadian-style health system that makes government the primary payer of people's medical bills.
TARP is the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that was proposed by President George W. Bush and passed by Congress in 2008 to help rescue imperiled financial institutions. Nearly all of the money has been paid back, with interest.
Paul's slam against the Fed ignores the fact that most of the $15 trillion he is talking about involved loans that were quickly repaid, sometimes the next day. And that's if these Fed transactions can even be considered loans in the conventional sense.
When the Fed lends money to banks, it creates the money out of thin air. When the banks pay it back, the money disappears from the system. If a bank borrows $5 billion from the Fed one day, then pays it back the next, and a week later borrows $5 billion more and quickly pays it back, the total would be listed as $10 billion, even though it's just the same money going back and forth and the treasury is in no sense being emptied.
That's how a federal report counted a running total of about $15 trillion in emergency Fed loans to domestic banks and their foreign subsidiaries between 2007 and 2010. The actual loan total, once paybacks are accounted for, is estimated at $1.1 trillion.
ROMNEY: "In the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.... I'm a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that."
THE FACTS: Romney has never substantiated his frequent claim that he was a creator of more than 100,000 jobs while leading the Bain Capital private equity company. His campaign merely cites success stories without laying out the other side of the ledger – jobs lost at Bain-acquired or Bain-supported firms that closed, trimmed their workforce or shifted employment overseas.
Moreover, his campaign bases its claims on recent employment figures at three companies – Staples, Domino's and Sports Authority – even though Romney's involvement with them ceased years ago.
By that sort of charitable math, President Barack Obama could be credited with creating over 1 million jobs even though employment overall is down about 2 million since he came to office. But Romney accuses Obama of destroying jobs while using a different standard to judge his own performance – cherry-picked examples that leave everything else out.
By its nature, venture capitalism often results in lost jobs because profitability and efficiency are key to investors, not how many people are on the payroll. Bain Capital profited in cases where employment went both up and down.
Staples, now with close to 90,000 employees, and Sports Authority, with about 15,000, were startups supported by Romney. The direct workforce at Domino's has grown by nearly 8,000 since Romney's intervention. But Romney got out of the game in 1999, which has not stopped his campaign from crediting him with jobs created at those companies since then.
Romney toned down the braggadocio in the Saturday debate, saying that of the Bain-supported companies that grew, "we're only a small part of that, by the way." But he mentioned a few more successful companies, again without giving voters a breakdown of his "net-net" calculations.
No one has been able to produce a full accounting of job gains and losses from the scores of companies Romney dealt with at Bain. But a Los Angeles Times review of Bain's 10 largest investments under Romney found that four of the big companies declared bankruptcy within a few years, costing thousands of jobs and often pension and severance benefits.
GINGRICH: "Under Obama, 2011 was the highest price of gasoline in history. It is a direct result of his policies, which kill jobs, raise the price of heating oil and gasoline, weaken the United States, increase our dependence on foreign countries and weaken our national security in the face of Iran trying to close the Straits of Hormuz."
FACT CHECK: It's true that the average price of gas last year was a record: $3.52 per gallon. Tying that completely to Obama is a stretch because some of the reasons for expensive fuel have nothing to do with him or the United States.
Oil and gas prices jumped early last year due to the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The revolt in Libya, for example, cut off about 1.5 million barrels of daily oil exports. While that's only a small part of what the world uses, global demand was rising at the same time as fast-growing economies in the developing world, such as China and India, needed more oil.
The Republican candidates almost uniformly blame Obama for hindering U.S. energy development, taking their cue from his moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a ban now lifted. Oil and gas companies have been ramping up extraction of oil and gas from shale rock deposits in states such as North Dakota and Texas.
All told, there is now a boom in oil drilling and extraction of natural gas in the U.S. Active U.S. oil rigs increased 22.5 percent in 2011, and the oil and gas extraction industry added 25,000 jobs, up 12 percent.
ROMNEY: "I cut programs, a whole series of programs. By the way, the number one to cut is Obamacare. That saves $95 billion a year."
THE FACTS: That math looks like it doesn't add up. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that House Republicans' legislation to repeal Obama's health care law would have actually increased federal deficits by $210 billion from 2012 to 2021.
Romney's statistic approximates how much the government expects to be spending annually once the law's provisions are fully rolling. But it appears to ignore the law's revenue-generating provisions, such as a tax on the most generous insurance plans and fees imposed on parts of the health care industry.
Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Tom Raum, Christopher S. Rugaber, Nancy Benac, Charles Babington and Jim Drinkard contributed to this report.
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