Fact Checking the Debt Ceiling Debate

Friday, July 29, 2011


President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner presented dueling debt speeches this week in which each accused the opposing party of causing the debt ceiling impasse. Much of the press covered the speeches as political point and counterpoint and didn't spend much time fact checking what was said. Brooke spoke with FactCheck.org managing editor Lori Robertson who investigated the accuracy of speeches.

Comments [23]


I think that this bill will help the U.S. and it is good that both the Democrat and Republican party agreed to this bill

Aug. 04 2011 08:05 AM
Mort Moore from The Great Blogosphere

Okay, I guess we have no reason to take this "Charles" character seriously, once we see that he's given to phrases such as "left-wing harpie."

Charles, I'm sure FreeRepublic.com has plenty of denizens who will believe every word that you say.

Aug. 01 2011 09:00 AM


"I would certainly not suggest that policy decisions are usually this simple, nor do I think most issues are, but I think this is a good example of a time it is pretty straightforward."

The President (the then-campaigner Obama) vowed to take a "sharpie to the budget" and "a scalpel, not machete" and "make surgical changes".

Ok, we're 2 years and change from his taking office, and all he's done is uniformly grow government by 8% across the board during his first year in office.

Which begs the question: if not now, then when?

There always seems to be a really, really good reason to put off doing what's necessary... merely because it's difficult.

So assuming that the President was actually sincere in his promise to cut spending, and not merely pandering... when do you think the right moment to substantially cut spending would have been?

Aug. 01 2011 02:41 AM
Beth from San Diego, CA

@philipBZ, pardon the hyperbole but I do think that for this particular issue it really is a matter of understanding the impact of the policy decision. Even with the highly partisan rhetoric politicians are fond of, dealing with the debt ceiling is usually one of those basic functions that everyone acknowledges needs to get taken care of because of the catastrophic consequences for the economy if we fail in this most basic responsibility. I would certainly not suggest that policy decisions are usually this simple, nor do I think most issues are, but I think this is a good example of a time it is pretty straightforward.

Aug. 01 2011 12:43 AM


"What it comes down to is facts. Who bases their policy decisions on them and chooses to ignore them."

So it's that simple, is it? There are no competing interests, no paradoxes, no facts that need to be subjectively weighted... What's the name of this idyllic planet you live on?

Aug. 01 2011 12:18 AM

@Kathleen Newton:

"The Republicans have been successful in framing the narrative that the budget is more important than creating jobs."

Wow. Do you really think that the Republicans came up with that?

It's actually 1974 Nobel winning economist F.A. Hayek that described the notion that counter to Keynes' narrative of government as the stimulator of the economy, that it's actually the opposite: every dollar the government takes out of the free market is a dollar that doesn't create jobs or growth.

It was in his seminal 1931 lecture series at LSE called "Reflections on the pure theory of Mr. J. M. Keynes", and further expounded in his 1944 book criticizing Soviet collectivism called "Reflections on the pure theory of Mr. J. M. Keynes".

Please educate yourself.

Aug. 01 2011 12:14 AM
Beth from San Diego, CA

The way the debt ceiling debate has been presented in the media reminds me of how the media present the supposed debate over evolution. The two sides are not equally valid. The Tea Party is completely disconnected from reality and does not understand the costs and consequences of default. If the begging that McConnell and Boehner have been engaged in over the last several days is any indication, this is not really a partisan issue. It is an issue of basic governance, which is exactly what the Tea Party is opposed to. If they truly want to live in a society in which government plays the most minimal role, if any at all, they need to be willing to give up the benefits of a state-level, agricultural society that integrates millions and adopt a foraging or horticultural subsistence strategy, supporting a maximum of 1000 people or so and relying on reciprocity and informal authority.

I was very disappointed with the mealy-mouthed response from Robertson that suggests the media cannot comment on the validity of the argument because it comes down to opinion. What it comes down to is facts. Who bases their policy decisions on them and chooses to ignore them.

Jul. 31 2011 09:38 PM
Kathleen Newton from Brooklyn, NY

Paul Krugman is right. The media gives the message that both parties are to blame for the debt ceiling impasse. Only if you think that the Tea Party Republicans are right: that we can't raise taxes and we have to make government smaller. The Republicans have been successful in framing the narrative that the budget is more important than creating jobs.

Jul. 31 2011 06:29 PM

@Perry Logan:

"You can have an impasse if one side refuses to bargain in good faith. Given the recent history of the Republican Party (breaking all records for filibustering and obstructionism), this is almost certainly the case."

Many of the House Republicans that you're accusing of "bad faith" are doing exactly what they promised on the campaign trail, and the very platform they were elected upon. And that their constituents very sincerely expect them to uphold.

They avowed certain principles, and they are sticking to them. How by any stretch is that "bad faith", other than it being something that you disagree with?

Jul. 31 2011 06:14 PM

GLADSTONE: Is it true, though, that most of the compromise has been made by the President.

Ignoring for a moment that this question is leading your interviewee, it's an unknowable answer. The President has fallen far short of his promise to have a "transparent Whitehouse" (anyone remember that? you can find campaign speeches on Youtube where he says it if you've already forgotten)... and the televised Whitehouse meetings never happened.

In that respect, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss", replete with the same backroom deals as before.

It's hard to know exactly who is compromising more without access to those meetings.

All we have is what Carney tells us; which may be untrue but uncontested (for maneuvering reasons) by the GOP leadership. They may be giving the President a face-saving deal by allowing him to look flexible in public, in exchange for concessions.

Come on, Gladstone! Are you really that naive, or really that partisan that you're willing to paint an adoring picture based on supposition?

ROBERTSON: [...] We're not going to take a position one way or another.

Wow. What a refreshingly uncommon notion! Maybe OTM could give it a whirl.

Jul. 31 2011 06:14 PM

@Perry Logan:

"I think Lori Robertson tries a bit too hard to be even-handed. She says it takes two sides to create an impasse, but this is simply not true."

That's true. The Democrats managed to create an impasse when they had a trifecta of both chambers and the Whitehouse.

Jul. 31 2011 06:11 PM
raul from san francisco

I have to say that I was disappointed with the comments made by FactCheck.org’s editor Lori Robertson.

I would be satisfied if the press just reported factually, the history of the debt ceiling and the routine raising of the ceiling with what makes this moment a problem. Connecting the current tactics to the overall GOP strategy is too much to ask, I know.

The fact that then Senator Obama (or any other Senator) has voted against the raising the debt ceiling or that this is the largest increase of the debt ceiling (as was the last debt ceiling increase under Bush,) or the fact that Harry Reid delayed the debt ceiling vote until now are all immaterial, gotchas and evasions.

To say that it is easier to cover a he said, she said story is true. The fact that the “media” takes the easy way out says a lot about the fifth estate.

Once again, it is up to a few brave reporters and an alert public to hold politicians to account at election time. Nothing new.

Jul. 31 2011 04:07 PM
mike from phila

Ms. Robertson confuses 2 uses of the term "blank check" during the months long debt ceiling discussions. Early on Obama wanted a stand alone debt ceiling increase which is the way it had been done in the past. Conservatives, possible including Boehner but possible not, called that a blank check and opposed it. But in his nationally televised speech Boehner made clear what his use of "blank check" now referred to. He used the term to refer to verbal commitments of x trillions in future spending cuts without any current specific details. It was used in the same way that "I'll pay you back" is not the same as "I'll sign an agreement to pay you $50 a week until you are paid back". How Ms Robertson could miss the clear, explained meaning of Boehner's remarks and compare them to the months ago Democratic desire for a "clean" debt ceiling increase is unfathomable.

Jul. 31 2011 12:37 PM
emily mercier from philadelphia, pa

Your guest from FactCheck.org was undeniably
mealy-mouthed. I was simultaneously amused and depressed by her weak explanation of their philosophy about the organizations role. It goes without saying that facts speak for themselves and given that reality, FactCheck should not use the excuse that facts incriminating one party automatically signal support of the other. The whole point is that facts are NOT a matter of opinion... that's why that mother was not convicted of killing her daughter. Facts are relied on in a court of law, business decisions and, dare I say it....reporting the FACTS of the news. I hope FactCheck can find someone better than this woman to represent them. If I were her boss, I'd be mortified. Thanks to Brook for calling her out.

Jul. 31 2011 11:42 AM
TobySaunders from metro Atlanta

The lady at Fact Check said they don't want to come across as supporting a candidate & thus don't rank politicians in terms of falsehoods vs truths told. BUT, the alternative is the protection of politicians who do bad things, ergo, it's better to come across as having an ethical-bias rather than allowing bad behavior to go unchecked!

Jul. 31 2011 11:41 AM

factcheck.org appears to be a total waste of time and energy if the issue of raising the debt ceiling is really simply a matter of opinion as the Fact Check spokes woman contends.

Jul. 31 2011 11:32 AM

Is it true that the "debt ceiling impasse" and crisis could have been avoided if the Democrat controlled Congress simply voted to raise the debt ceiling last year on their terms? If it is so urgent than why delay it?

Jul. 31 2011 10:48 AM

Thank you Brooke for not letting that "both parties are to blame" comment slide. Not only did the Managing Editor of Factcheck.org get it wrong, but that "balanced" view has become so automatic she didn't even think before making the comment. It would be great if more in the media could just go back to reporting accurately.

Jul. 31 2011 10:47 AM
Perry Logan from Austin, TX

I think Lori Robertson tries a bit too hard to be even-handed. She says it takes two sides to create an impasse, but this is simply not true.

You can have an impasse if one side refuses to bargain in good faith. Given the recent history of the Republican Party (breaking all records for filibustering and obstructionism), this is almost certainly the case.

Jul. 31 2011 08:36 AM
mogl from RI

Lori Robertson:
"I think that's a matter of opinion" and "We don't take an opinion one way or the other" are VERY DIFFERENT statements. And, you cannot use the latter to excuse the former.

Kudos to Brooke for not letting it slide.

Jul. 31 2011 07:40 AM

Jamaes Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com webpage, exposing the journalistic fetish that often calls itself "Fact Checking":


Brooke, did you give Republicans "three Pinocchios"? Or did it go to the 3/4 mark on your "Pants on Fire" meter?

Jul. 30 2011 11:03 PM
Phillip from Washington, DC

Brooke, you *had* to back Ms. Robertson against the wall. I was wondering if you would and I was impressed that you did.

Ms. Robertson states, "It takes two to create an impasse so both parties are to blame..." LOL. Well, by that standard, any two parties in disagreement about anything are to blame. So her statement is really very unhelpful.

The sad thing, though: No significant number of people pay attention to the facts. Your program has shown this in the past.

Jul. 30 2011 08:02 AM

"The President offered spending cuts.. the Press Secretary said between 1.5 and 1.7 trillion over ten years".
Considering there are no specifics details on that large number and perhaps some accounting tricks, how about a fact check on those spending cuts?

"It takes two to create an impasse, so both parties are to blame here".
Isn't that technically true but misleading? Have not the Republican majority in eight months submitted a budget and at least two economic plans to deal with the debt and the President and US Senate have submitted no serious and acceptable budget or economic plan in over two years that can be reviewed so these trillion dollar cuts can be fact checked? Wasn't the unacceptable budget the President offered this year soundly defeated in the Democrat controlled US Senate 97-0 with the Senate Democrat leadership not submitting a budget in over 800 days?
Just because there is an impasse, does it necessarily mean both sides are equally to blame?
To be fair, it is difficult to fact check where there is no specificity. As the director of the CBO said recently regarding the President, "“we don’t estimate speeches.”

Jul. 29 2011 09:32 PM

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