August 6th, 2020

The Fact Checker: The Truth Behind the Rhetoric

Caught yet again! In the Dem debate, some familiar embellishments

Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee

By Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee

Published Feb. 6, 2016

MSNBC aired the fifth Democratic presidential debate on Thursday night, a showdown between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Not every statement could be easily fact-checked, but following are some suspicious or interesting claims.

"[Americans are] worried about the future of their kids, and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent."

Bernie Sanders

The senator is relying on an outdated statistic. The numbers changed over the summer, as Sanders has sometimes acknowledged. But in this debate, he seems to have lapsed into using an old talking point.

Sanders is relying on the research of Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley who had once concluded that the top 1 percent accumulated 91 percent of all income gains from 2009 to 2012. But when the numbers were updated in June, they showed that the top 1 percent captured 58 percent of total real income growth. "The recovery from the Great Recession now looks less lopsided than in previous years," Saez said.

Moreover, there are limitations in Saez's numbers, which tally wages, taxable interest and dividends, rental income, and so forth. Social Security and unemployment benefits are not counted. Neither are government transfer payments such as food stamps or veterans benefits. The data also do not include non-cash items such as employer-provided health insurance.

And the impact of income and payroll taxes is not part of the calculations, even though the rich pay most of the taxes - and some lower-income workers actually receive payments such as the earned-income tax credit, offsetting all of their federal payroll and income taxes.

In other words, the statistics show part of the income picture - the wages, essentially. They do not necessarily show everything that Americans receive to help them obtain the things they consume, be it food stamps (for the poor) or company-provided health insurance.

"The idea that I would dismantle health care in America while we're waiting to pass Medicare for all is just not accurate. . . . I helped write that bill [the Affordable Care Act]."


Sanders exaggerates when he says he helped write the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He wrote only one amendment - after he had to withdraw a proposal to create a Medicare-for-all-type single-payer system.

The American Health Security Act of 2009, introduced by Sanders during the debate on the health-care bill, proposed a national health-insurance system that would be administered by states and follow guidelines set on a federal level.

Sanders's new health-care system would have eliminated existing federal health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, and would repeal state exchanges as set up through the ACA. It would create a whole new health insurance system with new quality-control methods, a new standards board and more. That is why critics say he had proposed to "dismantle" the ACA.

Sanders withdrew that bill after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, initiated a procedural move requiring the Senate clerk to read all 767 pages of the amendment - which would have taken eight to 10 hours.

Then, Sanders turned his attention to inserting a provision for community health centers into the ACA. This provision would vastly boost health-care access for low-income and underserved communities, increasing the number of patients receiving primary and dental care, mental-health counseling, and low-cost prescription drugs. It also would fund new centers and improvements to existing centers.

Sanders's push for community health centers helped convince some Democratic lawmakers who thought the ACA did not go far enough to help rural states, where such centers are vital health providers. In the end, Sanders voted in support of the ACA.

"I will look into it [releasing transcripts of her speeches]. I don't know the status, but I will certainly look into it."

Hillary Clinton

Clinton has certainly been looking into it a long time. The Washington Post has repeatedly asked the campaign to release copies of Clinton's paid speeches - most directly and pointedly for the past two weeks.

The Post specifically made the request on Jan. 23 and then again on Jan. 24. The request was renewed on Feb. 4, the morning of the MSNBC debate.

Other news organizations have asked for copies as well. The silence has been deafening.

"I went to Wall Street before the crash. I was the one saying you're going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages."


Clinton tends to overstate the significance of her visit to Wall Street some months before the crash. ProPublica obtained a video of the 28-minute speech and said she "steered a middle ground" in addressing the business executives gathered at the Nasdaq Stock Market on Dec. 5, 2007.

According to ProPublica, Clinton praised her "wonderful donors" in the audience, and she asked the bankers to voluntarily suspend foreclosures and freeze interest rates on adjustable subprime mortgages. She also said the economic turmoil was not mainly the fault of banks, "not by a long shot."

Clinton said she would consider legislation if the voluntary proposals were not adopted. But her ideas were not accepted, and neither were her five proposed bills. Only one bill was co-sponsored, and no Senate committee took action on them. She played a little role in a major housing bill that became law in 2008. And her bill to curb corporate compensation also went nowhere.

"Boeing and GE and other multinationals . . . pay zero taxes."


This is a complex issue, subject to fierce debate, because companies generally do not disclose their tax liabilities. But while some might escape paying federal income taxes, these companies do pay all sorts of other taxes, including property, sales and employment taxes. General Electric says that in 2012 it paid $3.2 billion in income taxes worldwide, including in the United States, and also paid more than $1 billion in other state, local and federal taxes.

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An award-winning journalism career spanning nearly three decades, Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street. He was The Washington Post's chief State Department reporter for nine years, traveling around the world with three different Secretaries of State. Before that, he covered tax and budget policy for The Washington Post and also served as the newspaper's national business editor. Kessler has long specialized in digging beyond the conventional wisdom, such as when he earned a "laurel" from the Columbia Journalism Review