• Mon. Nov 30th, 2020

Fact-Checking the Democratic National Convention

WASHINGTON — This week’s virtual Democratic National Convention was largely devoted to character, with testimonials to the decency and empathy of Joseph R. Biden Jr. and criticisms of President Trump’s temperament.

Few words were spent on policy discussions or fact-based claims.

When they did cite statistics, many speakers spoke grimly about the scale of the coronavirus epidemic and its human and economic toll — numbers that needed no exaggeration. The substance of the remarks coupled with the scripted, vetted and, in some cases, prerecorded nature of the convention left little to fact check.

But at times, the Democrats veered from what facts they tried to marshal while castigating Mr. Trump and extolling Mr. Biden.

What Was Said

“He’s proposing to eliminate a tax that pays for almost half of Social Security without any way of making up for that lost revenue, resulting in cuts.”
— Mr. Biden on Thursday

“Trump concocted fraudulent executive orders that do virtually nothing to address the crisis, while threatening the very future of Social Security and Medicare.”
— Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Monday

This is exaggerated. Earlier this month, Mr. Trump temporarily deferred payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, for the rest of the year to give economic relief to workers making under $100,000 annually. But he and his aides have issued conflicting and imprecise statements about what his actual proposal is for the future of the tax.

On several occasions, Mr. Trump has said that he will “make permanent cuts to the payroll tax” or will “be terminating that tax” if he wins re-election. Aides, however, have said that he was referring to “permanent forgiveness” of the four-months’ worth of taxes, rather than eliminating payroll taxes altogether.

Asked about the impact that such actions would have on the Social Security Trust Fund, Mr. Trump said last week that the revenue would be reimbursed through the government’s general fund.

Such an idea is plausible if Mr. Trump was referring to permanent forgiveness of taxes for four months, but it would need approval from Congress. The general fund has been used to reimburse the Social Security Trust Fund $102.7 billion and $114.3 billion during the payroll tax holiday in 2011 and 2012, while the lost revenue from a four-month holiday is estimated to be about $100 billion.

Exaggerating threats to Social Security is a tried and true Democratic campaign theme. But it would be highly destabilizing to Social Security if Mr. Trump did try to eliminate payroll taxes altogether. Payroll taxes generated $1.2 trillion in revenue last year, or about a third of all federal revenue. Over a 10-year period, eliminating the taxes would lead to a loss of $16 trillion.

What Was SAID

“Social Security beneficiaries count on the post office to get their checks.”
— The actress Eva Longoria on Monday

This is exaggerated. Most Social Security beneficiaries do not receive their checks through the mail. In August, 549,818 people received their checks through the mail, while more than 63 million people — or about 99.1 percent — received their benefits through direct deposits.

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Credit…Democratic National Convention, via Associated Press

What Was SAID

“Autoworkers in this union and across our state could have lost their jobs if not for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
— Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan on Monday

“They saved the automobile industry and a whole lot of good union jobs with it.”
— former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on Wednesday

This is exaggerated. The Obama administration certainly played a role in rescuing Detroit automakers during the financial recession, but its actions were not the sole reason carmakers survived and recovered.

In a paper examining government intervention in the auto sector, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University of Ohio also pointed to former President George W. Bush’s executive order permitting the Treasury Department to use funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to assist carmakers.

At the time, President-elect Obama praised Mr. Bush’s efforts as “necessary to avoid a collapse.”

Steven Rattner, who led Mr. Obama’s auto task force, later wrote in his book that “the loans bought time, not just until January 20, Inauguration Day, but until at least March 31, giving us a little breathing room.” He commended Mr. Bush’s team for laying the structural groundwork for the rescue plan.

What Was SAID

“In fact, while Biden helped save one million auto industry jobs, Trump has lost 250,000 manufacturing jobs.”
— former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York on Thursday

This is misleading. Mr. Bloomberg is comparing apples to oranges, crediting Mr. Biden by using a projection while docking Mr. Trump with material data.

A study from the Center for Automotive Research estimated that the government auto bailout prevented the loss of between 1.2 million and 2.6 million jobs in 2009. Nonetheless, the auto sector still lost over 112,000 jobs that year, before bouncing back during the Obama administration.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does show that the manufacturing sector has lost 257,000 jobs since January 2017. The number of manufacturing jobs had been steadily increasing for a decade before the coronavirus pandemic, when the economy at large began shedding jobs.

But a similar study showed that the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided loans to small businesses, also helped save 2.3 million jobs through the first week of June. David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-author of the report, said that follow-up research will examine employment impact by sector, but “it’s likely that P.P.P. prevented some manufacturing jobs from being eliminated, at least temporarily.”

Credit…Democratic National Convention

What Was SAID

“The European virus infected the Northeast while the White House was still fixated on China. The virus had been attacking us for months before they even knew it was here. We saw the failure of a government that tried to deny the virus, then tried to ignore it, and then tried to politicize it.”
— Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York on Monday

This is exaggerated. Mr. Cuomo was likely referring to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the limited impact of Mr. Trump’s travel restrictions on the virus in New York City.

The C.D.C. noted that Mr. Trump had limited travel from China on Feb. 2 and from Europe on March 13, but the coronavirus was already widespread in New York by March 15, largely from Europe: “Importation and community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 had already occurred in NYC.”

The New York Times has reported on the federal government’s many failures in handling the pandemic, but Mr. Cuomo is shirking some responsibility for the severity of New York’s outbreak. For example, the state was late to adopt social distancing measures.

Nursing home workers and residents’ families have also pointed to the Cuomo administration’s directive effectively ordering nursing homes to accept residents who had been discharged from the hospital if they were deemed “medically stable.” A report by the State Department of Health, however, asserted that the directive did not cause the virus’s spread in nursing homes.

Curious about the accuracy of a claim? Email factcheck@nytimes.com.