< Fact Checking the Debt Ceiling Debate

Transcript

Friday, July 29, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Yes, the clock is ticking down to Tuesday, when apparently the U.S. Government may default on the interest it owes to U.S. bondholders, if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling.

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner engaged in dueling debt speeches last Monday night, each asserting that the other guy's party was to blame for putting the country in peril.

Much of the coverage gave the speeches equal weight, suggesting both arguments were of equal veracity. But were they? I asked Lori Robertson, the managing editor of FactCheck.org that question. She said it was matter of opinion.  Then I asked her what she saw as the most egregious misstatement of the evening.

LORI ROBERTSON:

Maybe I would say Boehner said that Obama wants a blank check today—

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Mm-hmm [AFFIRMATIVE]?

LORI ROBERTSON:

— just as he did six months ago. You know, it's true, six months ago Obama did want to raise the debt ceiling without cutting spending, but the President has now offered spending cuts. His press secretary had said somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 1.7 trillion over ten years. So that's not seeking a blank check.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Obama said that that raising the debt ceiling was routine. You didn't challenge that, but —

LORI ROBERTSON:

Yeah, he's right. Since the 1950s Congress has always passed it, every President has signed it. That's true. But this debt ceiling increase is the largest in history. So that may not be seen as routine.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That's kind of along the lines of Boehner saying that last week the House that passed a plan with the bipartisan support.

LORI ROBERTSON:

Technically true, but misleading. Both Republicans and Democrats voted for the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act in the House, but only 5 out of a 193 Democrats voted in favor of it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Who's to blame for the crisis?

LORI ROBERTSON:

It takes two to create an impasse. So both parties are to blame here for failing to come to an agreement.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Is it true, though, that most of the compromise has been made by the President?

LORI ROBERTSON:

Well, I mean, I think that's a matter of opinion. And —

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Explain to me how that's a matter of opinion. Obama has been willing to cut a huge chunk of the money going out for a smaller percentage of money coming in. The only thing that the Republicans have supported is cutting the money going out, right?

LORI ROBERTSON:

Yeah, I guess — I guess that that's [LAUGHS] correct. You know, it's hard for us to say, oh somebody's blocking this more than the other. We're — you know, we're really — we're not privy to these meetings, either.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I didn't mean to back you against the wall but I have to say if you guys aren't going to be un-mealymouthed about this, then who will be?

LORI ROBERTSON:

Well, it's not that we're being mealy-mouthed. [LAUGHS] I mean, we just say constantly in our stories that we don't take an opinion one way or the other.

You know, a lot of people, particularly during the presidential campaigns will ask us, well, who lies more and can't you give me a ranking on — you know, who's the most truthful politician.  And first off, we don't want to look like we're endorsing someone, so we don't wanna do that. So we're gonna tell you what we found, and if we found it to be horribly misleading, maybe you didn't, but we're gonna lay it there and — readers are gonna have to make those decisions for themselves.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Lori, thank you very much.

LORI ROBERTSON:

Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Lori Robertson is managing editor at FaceCheck.org.