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Ryan's Speech Provides Fodder For Fact-Checkers


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Tonight, Mitt Romney accepts his party's nomination for president, as the Republican National Convention wraps up in Tampa. Last night, it was his running mate Paul Ryan's turn. And in his speech, Ryan made a number of statements that have made this a busy day for fact-checkers. Among them, Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column for The Washington Post.

Glenn, welcome to the program.

GLENN KESSLER: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And let's start with something that Paul Ryan said about a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. It's a plant that then-Senator Barack Obama visited in February of 2008.

PAUL RYAN: 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.

BLOCK: And Paul Ryan went on to say it's locked up and empty to this day. Glenn Kessler, there's a lot of contention about this claim since the plant was largely closed by December of 2008. That's before Barack Obama even took office.

KESSLER: That's right. This is a very interesting inquiry for fact checking because, technically, the words that Ryan said could be defensible as being entirely accurate. But he leaves the impression that somehow this was Obama's fault or somehow Obama broke a promise to these workers, when in fact the plant was announced to be shut down just four months after he left. The workers were largely gone, as you pointed out, by Christmas of 2008. There was a skeleton crew that continued with an Isuzu truck contract until April 2009.

But the real question as to whether Obama could have or should have been able to do anything about this plant. He did support the bailout that was introduced by the Bush administration, which Mitt Romney opposed. By the Bush administration's count, one million jobs were saved throughout the auto industry.

The other interesting fact is that Ryan very carefully says that the plant is locked up. He doesn't say it was shut down. That's because this plant is on standby status, which means it could be reopened if GM productions gets to the right level. And it hasn't gotten to that point, which is why the Ryan people say it's defensible to say that somehow Obama has some responsibility for the status of this plant.

BLOCK: But in terms of the plant closing in 2008, that took place under the previous administration.

KESSLER: Exactly and that's why this is the kind of thing where we'd give one or two Pinocchio's, because it's a politician kind of misleading listeners with what they choose to leave out, as opposed to what they say.

BLOCK: In his speech, Paul Ryan also repeated what's been a recurring theme from this campaign - that the Obama administration took money out of Medicare to pay for the healthcare overhaul. Let's take a listen.

RYAN: Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.


RYAN: An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for.

BLOCK: So, Glenn, we've been hearing this $716 billion number coming up again and again in the campaign, taking this money out of Medicare to pay for ObamaCare. What do you make of that?

KESSLER: Well, first of all, the federal budget is a very complex thing. And both parties use the federal budget to mislead people, particularly when they talk about cuts to Medicare. The fact is, is that under the Obama health care plan, Medicare spending goes up year after year. The so-called cuts are a trim in anticipated spending over a 10-year period.

In fact, Paul Ryan uses the same spending cuts to fund his reform of Medicare that Democrats oppose.

BLOCK: And, as you point out in your column, these cuts are cuts to providers. They're not cuts to the beneficiaries themselves.

KESSLER: That's right. So it's pretty misleading to say it's being funneled out of Medicare. It's government money. The government money is fungible. Obama would like to use it for the health care plan. Paul Ryan would like to use it for something else. But the fact is, it's not a cut to something that beneficiaries would get. In fact, the health care plan actually makes Medicare more generous, with respect to prescription drugs and preventive benefits.

BLOCK: Let's move on to another claim from Paul Ryan last night. The Twitterverse lit up when Paul Ryan said this.

RYAN: He created a new bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing.

BLOCK: And Paul Ryan is talking there about the Simpson-Bowles Commission. You've been looking at this. What did you find?

KESSLER: Well, Paul Ryan was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission and he voted no on that report. If he had voted yes and had worked with other members of the commission, it would've passed a report that would have had to go for an up or down vote in Congress.

BLOCK: Glenn Kessler, thanks much for talking with us.

KESSLER: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Glenn Kessler writes the Fact Checker column for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.