Fact-Checking the November Democratic Debate

Fact-Checking the November Democratic Debate


Ten candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took the debate stage Wednesday night in Los Angeles for the fifth round of debates.

Here is how the candidates’ remarks stacked up against the truth.

What they’re talking about

What Ms. Warren said:

“We can put $800 billion new federal dollars into all of our public schools. We can make college tuition-free for every kid. We can put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities. And we can cancel student loan debt for 95% of the folks who have got it.”

The revenue that Ms. Warren would raise from hear tax proposal is a subject of intense debate and it is not clear that her wealth tax could pay for the plans she listed. According to a New York Times analysis the total cost of Ms. Warren’s plans for universal child care, increased spending on public schools, student debt cancellation and free college would be about $2.9 trillion over a decade. The two Berkeley economists advising her campaign, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, estimate that her wealth tax would generate $2.75 trillion over that period of time. If that is correct, then Ms. Warren would be close to being able to pay for those proposals. (Ms. Warren has recently revised her wealth tax proposal and Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman have refined their calculations but the general conclusions are the same.)

But other economists disagree, arguing that a wealth tax would spur waves of new loopholes and tax evasion efforts. Lawrence H. Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Natasha Sarin, a law and finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania, estimated that Ms. Warren’s wealth tax would raise just 40 percent of what her campaign claims.

If Ms. Warren’s tax proposals raise less revenue than she projects, it will be difficult to pay for her grand plans without adding to the deficit.

What the Facts are

What Mr. Biden said:

“The fact is that right now the vast majority of Democrats do not support ‘Medicare for all.’ It couldn’t pass the United States Senate right now with Democrats. It couldn’t pass the House.”

This is exaggerated. Depending on how you measure, a majority of Democratic voters do support Medicare for all. Support among Democrats in Congress is weaker than that, but it is hard to find any measure that shows a vast majority who oppose the policy.

Public polling shows that a majority of Americans favor Medicare for all when they are asked about it. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey published Wednesday found that 53 percent of adults approve of the idea — including more than 75 percent of Democrats.

Among elected officials, support is softer. Mr. Biden is correct that a “Medicare for all” bill would be unlikely to pass in the current House of Representatives, despite Democratic control. A Medicare for all bill sponsored by Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington has more than 116 co-sponsors out of 233 Democrats currently serving in the House, almost half the party but far short of the votes necessary to pass the legislation. In the Senate, support is a bit weaker: 15 of 45 Senators who caucus with the party support Mr. Sanders’s Medicare for all bill.

What the facts are

What Mr. Buttigieg Said:

“The president had to confess in writing, in court, to illegally diverting charitable contributions that were supposed to go to veterans.”

This is misleading. In early November, President Trump was ordered by a New York state judge to pay $2 million in damages to nonprofit groups after he was found to have violated a law by using the now-defunct Donald J. Trump Foundation as an extension of his campaign. Mr. Buttigieg’s suggestion that the funds did not reach veterans groups, however, is wrong.

The foundation raised $2.8 million for veterans’ groups during an event in Iowa in January 2016, but allowed the Trump campaign to disperse those funds. Mr. Trump admitted that this was a campaign event, though the foundation, as a charity, was prohibited from supporting candidates for political office.

Justice Saliann Scarpulla, of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, noted in the ruling that “the funds did ultimately reach their intended destinations, i.e., charitable organizations supporting veterans” but ruled that the foundation’s officers, including Mr. Trump, breached their fiduciary responsibilities to the charity.

Fact checks provided by Alan Rappeport, Linda Qiu and Margot Sanger-Katz.



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