US Senate debate produces some questionable claims
Posted September 3, 2014
Updated September 4, 2014
Research Triangle Park, N.C. — 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.
Tillis 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.
Hagan: "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.
Tillis: "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.
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.
Hagan 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.
Tillis 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 ACAsignups.net. 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.
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.
Hagan, 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.
Tillis 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.
Tillis 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 Politifact.com 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.
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.