The Democratic presidential contenders have some inconvenient truths to grapple with.
It’s not easy, for example, to summon foreboding words on the economy — accurately — when the U.S. has been having its longest expansion in history.
Health care for all raises questions of costs to average taxpayers that the candidates are loath to confront head on.
And in slamming President Donald Trump relentlessly for his treatment of migrants, the Democrats gloss over the record of President Barack Obama (and his vice president, Joe Biden), whose administration deported them by the millions and housed many children in the border “cages” they assail Trump for using now.
The candidates will be pressed on the economy, health care, immigration and much more in their second round of debates, this week in Detroit.
A sampling of the campaign rhetoric on a variety of subjects and how it compares with the facts:
KAMALA HARRIS: “You look at the fact that this is a president who has pushed policies that’s been about putting babies in cages at the border in the name of security when in fact what it is, is a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government.” — remarks at NAACP forum Wednesday in Detroit.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: “We should call out hypocrisy when we see it. For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages,” that party “has lost all claim to ever use religious language.” — June debate .
THE FACTS: There is hypocrisy to be called out here.
By Buttigieg’s standard, the Democratic Party has also lost its claim to invoke religion — because the “cages” were built and used by the Obama administration. Harris, a California senator, calls them a human rights abuse, but, like other Democrats, solely blames Trump.
The facilities are sectioned-off, chain-link indoor pens where children who come to the border without adults or who are separated from adults in detention are temporarily housed. The children are divided by age and sex.
A year ago, Associated Press photographs showing young people in such enclosures were misrepresented online as depicting child detentions by Trump and denounced by some Democrats and activists as illustrating Trump’s cruelty. In fact, the photos were taken in 2014 during the Obama administration.
Many Democrats continue to exploit the imagery of “babies in cages” — as Harris put it — without acknowledging Obama used the facilities, too. His administration built the McAllen, Texas, center with chain-link holding areas in 2014.
Under Trump, journalists have witnessed migrants crowded into fetid chain-link quarters. The maltreatment of migrants is the responsibility of the Trump administration — and arguably Congress, for not approving more money for better care.
But the facilities are standard fare through administrations and the caged-babies accusations stand as one of the most persistent distortions by the 2020 Democrats.
JOE BIDEN: “Under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages, tear-gassing asylum seekers, ripping children from their mothers’ arms.” — June 24 opinion piece in the Miami Herald about his Latin America policy.
THE FACTS: Again, the scenes of kids in cages go back to the administration Biden served.
He is correct that U.S. authorities have fired tear gas to repel migrants trying to get across the border. Biden and other Democrats are also correct in identifying widespread family separations as a consequence of Trump’s policy. His now-suspended zero-tolerance policy resulted in thousands of children being removed from their parents in holding centers, something the Obama administration did not do routinely.
Another form of family separation was seen, however, in the Obama years. The record deportation of 3 million migrants during Obama’s presidency drove many families apart as some members were forced out of the U.S. while loved ones weren’t.
BIDEN: “There’s 11 million undocumented (people), they’ve increased the solvency of the Social Security system by 12 years, because they’re all paying in.” — candidate forum in Iowa, July 16.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong that “all” people in the country illegally are paying into Social Security and that they’ve extended the program’s solvency by a dozen years.
He’s right, though, that they help the nation’s retirement program because millions do contribute to it and they are not permitted to draw benefits.
According to a 2013 Social Security Administration report , the most recent of its kind, roughly 3 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally were contributing to Social Security through their work. Others were not working or were employed in the underground economy.
Biden is correct in suggesting that illegal immigration has significantly boosted the program. His campaign clarified to The Associated Press that he misspoke when he said people in the country illegally increased Social Security’s solvency by 12 years. He meant to say they’ve added $12 billion to Social Security’s finances.
They’ve actually supported the Social Security system by even more than that. The agency’s 2013 report estimated the system gained $12 billion from immigrants and their employers over just one year, 2010. Employers and workers evenly split the 12.4 percent contribution to the system.
Another government estimate says “half of undocumented immigrants are working on the books” but that may be outdated; it’s from 2005.
BERNIE SANDERS: “‘Medicare for All’ would reduce overall health care spending in our country.” — July 17 speech on his health plan.
THE FACTS: That remains to be seen. Savings from Medicare for All are not a slam dunk.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report this year that total spending under a single-payer system, such as the one proposed by the Vermont senator, “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system.”
Those features involve payment rates for hospitals and doctors, which are not fully spelled out by Sanders, as well as the estimated cost of generous benefits that include long-term care services and no copays and deductibles.
Sanders’ figure of $5 trillion over 10 years in health cost savings comes from a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The lead author has been a Sanders political supporter.
Sanders also cites a savings estimate of $2 trillion over 10 years taken from a study from the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. But the author of that study says that Medicare for All advocates are mischaracterizing his conclusions.
A report this year by the nonprofit Rand think tank estimated that Medicare for All would do the opposite of what Sanders is promising, modestly raising national health spending.
Part of the reason is the generous benefits. Virtually free comprehensive medical care would lead to big increases in demand.
The Rand study modeled a hypothetical scenario in which a plan similar to Sanders’ legislation had taken effect this year.
SANDERS, on the effects of his health plan and other expensive proposals on the public: “Yes, they will pay more in taxes but less in health care.” — June debate.
THE FACTS: This is almost surely true.
Although he had to be pressed on the question, Sanders is almost alone among the candidates who support Medicare for All in acknowledging that broadly higher taxes would be needed to pay for it. He would consider — and probably not be able to avoid — a tax increase on the middle class in exchange for health care without copayments, deductibles and the like. It’s a given that consumers will pay less for health care if the government is picking up the bills.
Several of Sanders’ rivals have dodged the tough financing questions, speaking only of taxing rich people and “Wall Street.” Analysts say that’s not going to cover the costs of government-financed universal care.
ELIZABETH WARREN: “When I look at the economy today, I see a lot to worry about. … I see a manufacturing sector in recession. … A generation of stagnant wages and rising costs for basics like housing, child care, and education (has) forced American families to take on more debt than ever before…. Whether it’s this year or next year, the odds of another economic downturn are high — and growing.” — Medium blog Monday.
THE FACTS: The Massachusetts senator is exaggerating some of these threats. It’s true that U.S. manufacturers are struggling as a result of slower overseas growth and the Trump administration’s trade wars, which have meant that many U.S. goods face retaliatory tariffs overseas. But U.S. factories have faced rough spots before during the current expansion, particularly in late 2015 and 2016, when their output actually declined. Yet economic growth continued. Manufacturing is no longer large enough to necessarily pull the rest of the economy into recession.
And Americans are in better financial shape than Warren suggests. While household debt has risen 6.8% in the past decade, that figure isn’t adjusted for population growth or inflation. On a per capita basis, household debt levels have actually fallen.
Economists typically compare debt with income as a way of gauging Americans’ ability to pay off their loans. Currently such household debt is equivalent to 101% of disposable income. While that number may seem high, it actually peaked at 136% in the fourth quarter of 2007, just as the recession began, and has fallen steadily since.
Also, interest rates are at historically low levels, making it easier for borrowers to manage their debts. Currently, households are devoting less than 10% of their incomes to debt service, down from roughly 13% a decade ago.
As for what she calls a manufacturing recession, that’s a judgment call, not a clearly defined standard. Factory output actually has risen slightly over the past year. She defines a manufacturing recession as two straight declines in quarterly production as measured by the Federal Reserve, and that’s what happened in the first half of this year.
HARRIS: “People are working, they’re working two and three jobs. In our America people should only have to work one job to have a roof over their head and be able to put food on their table.” — July 12 radio interview.
THE FACTS: Most Americans, by far, only work one job, and the numbers who juggle more than one have declined over a quarter century.
In the mid-1990s, the percentage of workers holding multiple jobs peaked at 6.5%. The rate dropped significantly , even through the Great Recession, and has been hovering for a nearly a decade at about 5% or a little lower. In the latest monthly figures , from June, 5.2% of workers were holding more than one job.
Hispanic and Asian workers are consistently less likely than white and black workers to be holding multiple jobs. Women are more likely to be doing so than men, though the gap narrowed slightly during Trump’s first year.
Multiple jobholding rates in June 2019 : women, 5.6%; men, 4.6%; black, 5.1%; white, 5.2%; Hispanic, 3.7%; Asian, 3.0%.
Kirsten Allen, speaking for the Harris campaign, said the senator often hears from people who have to work more than one job to make ends meet, “teachers specifically,” and has a plan for teachers to be paid more. But in her rhetoric about Americans “working two and three jobs,” Harris does not make that distinction.
BUTTIGIEG: “When I took office, we had no recognizable promotion or accountability system for promotions in the department. We couldn’t even find and publish numbers on cases involving use of force. So we started doing that.”— at the NAACP forum Wednesday in Detroit.
THE FACTS: Those changes at the South Bend, Indiana, Police Department, which Buttigieg oversees as the mayor, didn’t happen swiftly or without prompting.
Buttigieg fired his police chief shortly after he became mayor in 2012 and installed a new one.
But it wasn’t until September 2018 that the city established a promotion policy, following a 2015 complaint from a female officer who said she was passed over for a promotion and complaints in 2016 from two black officers who said they were held back from promotions at the police agency, according to local news reports.
The city didn’t begin publishing use of force data — which shows how many times an officer used force on a civilian — until 2017, five years after Buttigieg got into office and after complaints about police brutality, including a federal lawsuit that was settled in 2018. The use of force data include the time, date, and type of force.
HARRIS: “Some estimate that as many as 700,000 autoworkers are going to lose their job before the end of the year.” — remarks in July 12 radio interview.
THE FACTS: This isn’t happening. Harris mischaracterized the findings of a study that is also outdated.
In July 2018 the Center for Automotive Research laid out a variety of scenarios for potential job losses across all U.S. industries touched by the auto business — not just autoworkers — if a number of new tariffs and policies that Trump threatened were enacted. The worst case was 750,000. But those hypothetical losses went well beyond autoworkers, to include workers at restaurants, retail stores and any business that benefits from the auto industry.
In any event, the center revised its study in February 2019, with a worst-case scenario down to 367,000 job losses across all industries. And since then, the administration lifted tariffs on steel and aluminum products coming from Canada and Mexico, further minimizing the impact on the auto industry.
The auto industry has grown under Obama and Trump both. Although it’s facing a leveling off in demand, it still posts strong numbers. It is not at risk of the catastrophe Harris raises as a possibility — the loss of 3 in 4 autoworkers in the remainder of this year.