FACT CHECK: Obama's incomplete history lesson
CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Few would quarrel with President Barack Obama's point that the Republican Party has drifted to the right in recent years, disavowing ideas it once embraced -- even created. But making that case in a major campaign speech, Obama ignored realities in his own Democratic ranks.
For one, it was opposition from coal-state Democrats that sank cap-and-trade legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions, not just from those arch-conservative Republicans.
For another, if Republicans have moved to the right on health care, it's also true that Obama has moved to the left. He strenuously opposed a mandate forcing people to obtain health insurance until he won office and changed his mind.
Obama's speech to news executives Tuesday at the annual meeting of The Associated Press was perhaps his most aggressive dressing down of the Republicans yet this campaign season. Mitt Romney, his likely GOP rival for the presidency, speaks to news leaders Wednesday.
Several points in Obama's address gave an incomplete accounting to his audience. Here are some of his statements and how they compare with the facts:
OBAMA: "You'd think they'd say: 'You know what? Maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders.'"
THE FACTS: As zealous as they sound on the subject, Republicans aren't proposing to throw out all regulations. Romney, for one, proposes changing, but not repealing, the Sarbanes-Oxley law that tightened accounting regulations in response to corporate scandals. He does want to repeal the Dodd-Frank law toughening financial-industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector, and he wants environmental rules loosened to spur energy production.
Even in the heat of GOP primaries, however, Romney wasn't talking about throwing out the federal rulebook. "We don't want to tell the world that Republicans are against all regulation," he said. "No, regulation is necessary to make a free market work. But it has to be updated and modern."
OBAMA: "Cap and trade was originally proposed by conservatives and Republicans as a market-based solution to solving environmental problems. The first president to talk about cap and trade was George H.W. Bush. Now you've got the other party essentially saying we shouldn't even be thinking about environmental protection; let's gut the EPA."
THE FACTS: Obama is right that cap and trade was a Republican idea -- first put in place to control sulfur dioxide emissions, or acid rain, under the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that passed overwhelmingly. The idea is to cap overall emissions of a certain pollutant while letting companies trade pollution allowances, essentially using a combination of the government and private market to make the environment cleaner.
But in recent years, cap and trade failed when Democrats controlled the Senate and the House. Moreover, Republicans argued the legislation was not a truly market-driven mechanism. It would have auctioned off pollution allowances to companies, raising money for the government to help offset higher energy bills and invest in cleaner energy technologies.
They wanted a system that would distribute the allowances for free, letting the private market determine their value. That's how it worked with acid rain.
Republicans have not abandoned the notion of environmental protection, although the presidential primary rhetoric -- all geared to more drilling and energy production -- could lead one to think so.
OBAMA: "There is a reason why there's a little bit of confusion in the Republican primary about health care and the individual mandate, since it originated as a conservative idea to preserve the private marketplace in health care while still assuring that everybody got coverage, in contrast to a single-payer plan. Now suddenly this is some socialist overreach."
THE FACTS: Again, true. But not the whole story.
Many Republicans into the 1990s, and in some cases beyond, supported the idea of requiring people to have health insurance, even if they disagreed with Democrats on how universal coverage should work. Now that idea is decidedly purged from the GOP mainstream.
But until he became president, Obama, too, thought a mandate was a bad idea. In the 2008 campaign, it was his "core belief" that everyone would get health insurance, without the coercion of a mandate, if only high-quality coverage were affordable.
He relentlessly criticized his primary opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton in debates, speeches, ads and mailers for proposing a mandate, taking it so far that she waved one of his mailers in the air and barked, "Shame on you, Barack Obama," slamming "your tactics and your behavior in this campaign."
OBAMA: "At the beginning of the last decade, the wealthiest Americans received a huge tax cut in 2001 and another huge tax cut in 2003. We were promised that these tax cuts would lead to faster job growth. They did not. The wealthy got wealthier. We would expect that. The income of the top 1 percent has grown by more than 275 percent over the last few decades to an average of $1.3 million a year. But prosperity sure didn't trickle down."
THE FACTS: You wouldn't know from his statement that taxes in 2001 and 2003 were cut across the board, not just for the wealthy. President George W. Bush's package trimmed rates for all taxable income levels, doubled the child tax credit and substantially raised the amount of money people can put in individual retirement accounts. The political fight these days is over whether to keep extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest. Obama supports keeping the lower rates for the rest and has pushed similar tax cuts of his own -- excluding the wealthiest, however.
Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello and Tom Raum contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)