US Senate debate produces some questionable claims

Posted September 3, 2014
Updated September 4, 2014

— U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and state House Speaker Thom Tillis met for the first of two scheduled debates Wednesday, and both used some lines that rang bells with WRAL's fact-checking staff.

There were also a few claims that we heard in the context of this Senate campaign for the first time.

Some of the claims may have sounded surprising but hold up under scrutiny, while others fail even a cursory check for truthfulness.

Here are some of the claims from both Hagan and Tillis from the debate that stood out to us and where they rate on our fact-checking scale if we can make a call on the spot.

Fact Check GreenTillis to Hagan: "Since you've been in Washington, you've voted with President Obama 95 percent of the time." This is true, but as we found in previous posts, it leaves out a lot of context. Green light, but voters should know more.

Fact Check GreenHagan: "I am the most moderate senator in the nation." Hagan makes this claim based on a National Journal ranking. It's worth noting there are other scales that rate how conservative or liberal a senator is. Green light.


Fact Check GreenTillis: "Just months ago, this president was calling ISIS the JV." That's JV as in "junior varsity" or not that big of a threat. While the White House has tried to downplay that remark, The Washington Post has found that it holds up. Green light.


Fact Check Yellow Hagan on Tillis: "He supports a budget that would turn Medicare into a voucher program." We first looked at this claim before we put our fact-checking scale in effect, but today, it would merit a yellow light. Tillis hasn't articulated much of a health care platform one way or the other, but he has expressed support for a congressional budget that would have involved vouchers for private insurance.

Fact Check GreenHagan on Tillis: "Speaker Tillis has denied Medicaid expansion in North Carolina." Hagan went on to say that the move denied coverage to 500,000 North Carolinians. Tillis was indeed part of the Republican legislative leadership that pushed a bill that blocked Gov. Pat McCrory from expanding Medicaid without permission. There is pretty good evidence that "roughly 500,000 low-income people in North Carolina were expected to gain coverage through Medicaid expansion." Green light.

Fact Check RedTillis said that some 475,000 North Carolina households lost their existing insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act, what some people call "Obamacare." This was a widely reported number, but the Associated Press said it applied to "residents" not "households." Presumably, there is more than one resident in most households, and a Washington Post fact check points out that the 475,000 number was about double the number of canceled policies and added, "As it turns out, significantly more policies were purchased in North Carolina on the Obamacare exchange – 357,584 policies, according to the Web site That’s nearly double the number of 'cancellations,' even though North Carolina was a state that chose not to accept the provision of expanded Medicaid in the law." Red Light.

Fact Check Yellow Tillis: "We passed, this year, one of the largest pay increases for teachers." Politicians have to be very careful with regard to this claim. Was this year's pay raise "one of the biggest" in state history? Yes, because "one of" is poorly defined. Was it, as Tillis said later in the debate, "the single largest pay increase for teachers in 20 years?" Barely. In 1994, the General Assembly gave teachers with more than three years in the profession a 7 percent raise. Those with one to three years in got a 5 percent raise. Yellow light, and it's turning quick.

Fact Check GreenHagan, speaking about unemployment insurance, said Tillis "actually said 'no' to $780 million coming to North Carolina." Hagan was referencing a 2013 state bill that changed North Carolina's unemployment insurance system. Because that bill changed how benefits were paid, it triggered a federal law that cut off long-term unemployment insurance benefits to workers in the state. Hagan gets the $780 million number from a Department of Labor news release. Green light.

Fact Check GreenTillis said the national debt has risen $7 trillion while Hagan has been in office. That's true, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. When Hagan took office, the national debt was roughly $10 trillion. It has risen to roughly $17 trillion as of Labor Day. Green light.

Fact Check LogoTillis hit Hagan several times with the fact that, like President Obama, Hagan said that, if you liked your health insurance, you could keep it. The fact-checking website called that the "lie of the year" in 2013.

Tills also said, "Now I'm going to see my insurance rates go up 11 percent." Better fact-checkers than us have taken a run at the claim that premiums will rise steeply as a result of Obamacare. While there is certainly evidence that health insurance costs continue to rise, like The Washington Post, we're going to leave this one unsettled for the time being.

Fact Check Yellow Hagan accused Tillis of being callous toward teachers, accusing him of saying they only care about their pensions and paychecks. The actual quote, which comes from a 2011 News & Observer story, was, "They don't care about kids. They don't care about classrooms," Tillis said. "They only care about their jobs and their pensions." To be fair, Tillis was referring to the North Carolina Association of Educators, a group that lobbies for teachers at the General Assembly, rather than all teachers writ large. Yellow light.


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  • readme Sep 10, 2014

    Thanks. I am happy with this. People will pick apart every sentence looking for "fact check bias", but I think this is more or less a good job and helpful to viewers. Must more useful than actually watching a debate.

  • Doug Pawlak Sep 5, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    It wasn't the biggest increase in NC history. Not even close. It wasn't even 7% as McCrory has admitted as it took away longevity pay and then gave it back in order to make the raise seem larger. Why back in 2006-2007, teachers received a 8% raise w/ no strings attached. So sorry, the claim is bogus.

    Page 15/16

  • roadrider18 Sep 5, 2014

    If you want to be a FACT CHECKER, please be fair and do not interject bias into your "fact checking" comments in order to sway voters.

    For example..."the biggest teacher pay increase". IT WAS, as Fact Checkers admit. Then you add the word "BARELY".

    The FACT is... IT WAS. The degree to which it was is irrelevant.

    Please leave your biases at home if you are going to be a FACT CHECKER!

    Further, the AP is hardly a defining source on facts! Unless you want a heavy does of liberalism.

  • caronia49 Sep 5, 2014

    Check all the questionable claims you want, but the simple truth is Kay Hagan has been nothing but a puppet for Obama and Reid. We are 17 trillion$$$ in debt and still borrowing. Hagan and her record speakers the truth, It Is Time for Hagan to leave Washington....

  • Doug Pawlak Sep 5, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    The actual average net teacher raise is around 5 to 5.5%. Even McCrory admits this as they took out longevity pay in order to pad the raise. Let me help you out: 1996: 5.5% raise
    1997: 7.5%
    1998: 7.5%
    1999: 7.5%
    2000: 6.5%
    2006: 8%
    During the 2000's, raises were given EVERY year though it was only larger than the current raise twice. They made a long term commitment which resulted in NC teachers hitting the national avg. Nothing similar has come from the GOP. Source: (Page 15/16)

  • RandolphBloke Sep 4, 2014

    Things may be bad now; but, if we put a liar like Tillis in, we'll be in even worse shape. It's time to find people on both sides that aren't beholden to big money and special interests. Stop voting by party alone and look at the actual facts. Far too many vote by party or by what they believe from Facebook memes or chain emails from "friends."

  • archmaker Sep 4, 2014

    View quoted thread

    if you were a highly experienced teacher who just got a 1% raise, they would say just about any of the raises since 1994 were bigger to them.

  • js3a Sep 4, 2014

    [quote=13949647]Post by archmaker[/quote

    the statement was that this was the biggest raise in 20 years - what raise since the 1994 raise, which was 20 years ago, was bigger than this one?

  • archmaker Sep 4, 2014

    View quoted thread

    well...if you saw their lips move, then you should know they were lying!
    but to be serious, if you google "transcript of hagan tillis debate" you will get a CSPAN video with a transcript below.

  • Janet Clarke Sep 4, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Thank you for the phone number. I had the same concern that Sean Haugh wasn't allowed at the debate. How will we get to see the Libertarian response to these issues if he can't participate? People need to know that there are more options.