EDITOR’S NOTE — An occasional look at claims made in political campaigns and how they adhere to the facts.
WASHINGTON — The Republican National Convention is drawing to a close with some factually slippery statements from its presidential ticket.
On the eve of presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s speech closing the convention Thursday night, running mate Paul Ryan ignored conspicuous parts of his own record on budget cuts, the stimulus and Medicare in his haste to accuse President Barack Obama of taking the economy off the rails.
In a brief fundraising email before taking the stage himself, Romney made the unemployment picture even grimmer than it is, and his campaign unveiled a new website with selective descriptions about only some of his work at Bain Capital, the venture capital firm where Romney earned millions of dollars in profits.
A closer look at some of Romney’s campaign statements and Ryan’s remarks at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.:
ROMNEY: “We believe in America, even though President Obama’s failed policies have left us with record high unemployment, lower take-home pay and the weakest economy since the Great Depression.”
THE FACTS: It’s fair game to tangle over who’s to blame for an economy that went into deep recession under President George W. Bush, officially climbed out of it six months into Obama’s term and has continued to be plagued with high unemployment and anemic growth since.
But the unemployment rate, 8.3 percent in July, is not a record. The jobless rate reached 9 percent in 1975, and 10.8 percent in 1982, topping the rate of 10 percent in October 2009. During the worst years of the Depression, more than 20 percent of the labor force was idle.
No one disputes that this was the worst economic crisis since the Depression and that this recovery has been the longest to take hold.
The July 1981-Nov. 1982 recession, the previous worst post-World War II downturn, lasted 16 months. The most recent recession lasted 18 months and, a full 38 months later, unemployment remains above 8 percent.
ROMNEY’S NEW WEBSITE: “Governor Romney’s time at Bain Capital was spent fixing struggling businesses and giving new businesses a shot at success. From 1984, when Romney co-founded the firm, to February 1999, when he left to lead the Olympics, Romney helped save thousands of jobs at companies that were in trouble. And the businesses Romney helped start while at Bain Capital employ more than 100,000 people today.”
THE FACTS: Bain Capital undoubtedly turned around failing companies and made profits in the process. But Bain’s record during Romney’s tenure is more complicated than Romney’s new website, SterlingBusinessCareer.com, makes it out to be. The website lists only a handful of firms that he helped build, fix or grow to profit, including household names like Staples office supplies and the Brookstone gadgets store. Yet notably absent are references to other companies that laid off workers or foundered on his watch — which Democrats have repeatedly underscored in their attacks on Romney.
Georgetown, S.C.,-based GS Industries was one such company that Bain bought in the mid-1990s. In 2001, the steel mill filed for bankruptcy and was tied up in lawsuits from local residents alleging the plant polluted their historic town. Romney blamed the bankruptcy on Chinese dumping cheap steel into the U.S. market, although Bain ultimately realized more than $30 million on its investment, according to financial documents.
At another Bain-owned South Carolina company, the Holson Burnes Group, Inc. in Gaffney, about 150 workers lost their jobs as some plant operations were sent up north — and later overseas. By 2004, a prospectus showed Bain saw a $33.8 million valuation on its initial investment.
The new website’s name is a hat-tip to former President Bill Clinton, who in May told CNN that Romney’s business record at Bain was “sterling.” Indeed, Clinton said this in May, to the chagrin of the Obama campaign.
RYAN: Obama “created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing.”
THE FACTS: It’s true that Obama hasn’t heeded his commission’s recommendations, but Ryan’s not the best one to complain. He was a member of the commission and voted against its final report.
RYAN: “And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. … So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”
THE FACTS: Ryan’s claim ignores the fact that Ryan himself incorporated the same cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee, using the money for deficit reduction. The cuts, used in part to expand health insurance to more people, do not affect Medicare recipients directly but ultimately could by cutting into the profits of hospitals, health insurance plans and other service providers. Even so, the cuts are part of an overhaul that extends the solvency of Medicare’s giant trust fund by eight years.
RYAN: “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.”
THE FACTS: Ryan himself asked for stimulus money shortly after Congress approved the $800 billion plan, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ryan’s pleas to federal agencies included letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grant money for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies.
One of them, the nonprofit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., received $20.3 million from the Energy Department to help homes and businesses improve energy efficiency, according to federal records. That company, he said in his letter, would build “sustainable demand for green jobs.” Another eventual recipient, the Energy Center of Wisconsin, received about $365,000.
RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”
THE FACTS: Although Obama did not explicitly promise to save the plant, Ryan is right that Obama implied that he had the backs of its workers when he spoke at the factory early in 2008 and issued a statement about its closure later. The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.