Published January 23, 2012
WASHINGTON – Newt Gingrich called rival Mitt Romney a "terrible historian" but flubbed his own history in Congress on Monday night when he claimed the nation ran four consecutive budget surpluses during his time as House speaker. Romney attacked Gingrich's financial links to Freddie Mac while ignoring his own.
The accusations were fast out of the gate in the latest Republican presidential debate, and reality got tromped in the process.
A look at some of claims and how they compare with the facts:
GINGRICH: "When I was speaker, we had four consecutive balanced budgets."
THE FACTS: Actually, two.
The four straight years of budget surpluses were 1998 through 2001. Gingrich left Congress in 1999, so he only had a hand in surpluses for his last two years. The budget ran deficits for his first two years as speaker.
The highest surplus of that four-year string came in budget year 2000, after Gingrich was out of office.
Overall, the national debt went up during the four years Gingrich was speaker. In January 1995, when he assumed the leadership position, the gross national debt was $4.8 trillion. When he left four years later, it was $5.6 trillion, an increase of $800 billion.
ROMNEY: "I don't think we can possibly retake the White House if the person who's leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich $1.6 million at the same time Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions upon millions of dollars."
THE FACTS: While going after Gingrich forcefully on the issue, Romney did not mention his own earnings from the government-backed lender and its sister entity, Fannie Mae, which came to light in his most recent financial disclosure report.
The report shows he has as much as $500,000 invested in the two lenders. GOP presidential hopefuls almost across the board have blamed the two institutions for contributing to the housing crisis that helped to drag the nation into recession. Among Romney's ties: a mutual fund worth up to $500,000 that includes assets from both lenders among other government income, and separate investments in each of the lenders in Romney's individual retirement account, each worth between $100,000 and $250,000.
Romney campaign officials said Monday the investments were handled by a trustee with no direction by the candidate.
GINGRICH: "I left the speakership after the 1998 election because I took responsibility for the fact that our results weren't as good as they should be. I think that's what a leader should do. I took responsibility. And I didn't want to stay around, as Nancy Pelosi has. I wanted to get out and do other things."
ROMNEY: "He had to resign in disgrace."
RON PAUL: "I think the reason he didn't...run for speaker, you know, two years later — he didn't have the votes. That was what the problem was. So this idea that he voluntarily reneged and he was going to punish himself because we didn't do well in the election, that's just not the way it was."
THE FACTS: Gingrich didn't exactly resign in disgrace after he became the first speaker reprimanded and fined for ethics violations, slapped with a $300,000 penalty, in January 1997. He limped to re-election as speaker after that. But his number was soon up.
Within months, he was fending off a revolt from fellow Republicans weary of his antics and mercurial ways.
As Paul suggested in the debate, unexpected GOP losses in the 1998 elections were the last straw for Gingrich in the eyes of House Republicans. Three days later Gingrich announced he was stepping down as speaker and giving up his seat in Congress.
Paul's recollection now is supported by some of Gingrich's words back then. He told Republicans, "I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals," sounding less like a man interested in a career change than one intent on escaping a boiling pot.
ROMNEY: "Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917. And the president is building roughly nine ships a year. We ought to raise that to 15 ships a year. Under this president, under prior presidents, we keep on shrinking our Navy."
The FACTS: Romney is correct about the size of the Navy, but the numbers alone don't tell the story.
At 285 ships the Navy is small by its own historical standards but still larger than the navies of the next several nations combined. These days, it's not how many ships but what they can do. There is a longstanding trend toward smaller numbers of more complex and expensive vessels.
Still, the Navy has noted the smaller size of the current fleet and plans to add 28 ships over several years. The shrinking of the fleet size has spanned Republican and Democratic administrations, as the Navy restructures and plans for the addition of new platforms.
RICK SANTORUM: "One of (my proposals) would be to be able to deduct losses from the sale of your home. Right now you can't do that. You have to pay gains, depending on the amount, but you can't deduct the losses, as other capital losses can be."
THE FACTS: For a brief description, it was accurate. What Santorum did not explain, in appealing to Floridians who have one of the worst housing markets in the country, is that the tax code is already stacked in favor of home ownership.
Homeowners get many tax breaks from the government, most notably mortgage interest and property tax deductions. Under federal law, when you sell your private residence, you can make up to $250,000 in profit — $500,000 if you are married — and not owe any capital gains taxes. That's a large tax break. There's no such break if you have such a profit in selling stocks or works of art.
But there is a trade-off: You can't claim a loss when you sell your private residence.
ROMNEY: President Barack Obama's $814 billion economic stimulus program "didn't create private-sector jobs."
THE FACTS: There is no support for that assertion. Between 1.2 million and 3.7 million full-time-equivalent jobs were created last year because of the stimulus, according to an August 2011 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Meanwhile, another government report found the stimulus program has paid $34.5 billion in tax incentives to businesses, including $260 million to hire younger, unemployed war veterans.
Economists debate whether the stimulus lived up to its promise or was worth the cost, but no one seriously argues that it created no jobs. Many believe it helped to end the recession even while falling short of its employment goals.
Associated Press writers Tom Raum, Jim Drinkard, Anne Gearan and Jack Gillum contributed to this report.