Fact checking frauds

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on October 8, 2013

To say I'm disgusted by the media's so-called "fact-checkers" would be an understatement. Though they purport to hold themselves to some higher-standard for truthfulness than their "unbiased" colleagues, the truth is that they're just peddling the same crap product in a slightly different package.

Over the past week, a couple of "fact checks" from Politifraud have caught my eye.

The first was this one by Rep. Jeb Hensarling that earned a "Pants on Fire"—the rating Politifact gives to Republicans it doesn't like, but is not necessarily an indicator of actual truthfulness.

"Mr. Speaker," Hensarling said, "we are debating should members of Congress get a better deal than every other American in Obamacare? House Republicans say, ‘No, that’s not fair. That’s not equal protection under the law.’ Yet, our friends on the other side of the aisle (Democrats) are now saying, ‘No, no, no.’ They’re going to protect this sweetheart deal. ...

"Now members of Congress, thanks to the Obama administration, are going to be the only people in America to get subsidies in the Obamacare exchanges. Is this fair, Mr. Speaker? I think not. Clearly, the other side of the aisle wants to preserve this special deal for Members of Congress granted by the President of the United States."

It's pretty obvious to anyone who's closely followed Obamacare's implementation vis a vis Congress what Hensarling was referring to, a fact that Politifact later acknowledges.

The problem arose in the drafting of the law. For most Americans who have employer-based insurance, the employer pays a majority of the cost of insurance. But the version of the health care bill signed into law doesn’t include an explicit mechanism to allow the federal government to pay its employer share of congressional employees’ health insurance if they use the exchanges, now called marketplaces. (Here’s a rundown of how this drafting error occurred.)

Without a fix, congressional employees would have to foot the entire cost of their health insurance when buying insurance on the exchange -- a financial hit that could go well into the thousands of dollars. To fix this problem, the Office of Personnel Management, which serves as the federal government’s human resources office, issued a ruling that allowed the same money that would have been spent on the employer’s old health insurance to instead be spent on whatever they purchased on the Obamacare marketplaces.

Obamacare critics have portrayed this as a special exemption to protect politically connected lawmakers and staff, one that was unavailable to the public at large. So some lawmakers backed an effort by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to revoke the employer’s premium cost-sharing for members of Congress, aides and other political appointees. As the House and Senate debated how to proceed to end the shutdown, passage of a funding bill with the Vitter Amendment attached was floated as a possibility.

Politifraud's hand-waving then begins:

Will members of Congress be "the only people in America to get subsidies in the Obamacare exchanges"? Hardly -- the tax credits commonly known as subsidies under Obamacare were being put into place starting Oct. 1, the same day the shutdown began. Anyone within a specified income range who purchases insurance on the Obamacare marketplace will be eligible for subsidies in the form of tax credits. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by 2017, about 24 million Americans will be buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces, many of them with federal subsidies. Only time will tell how many Americans eventually sign up, but it’s almost certainly going to be more than the roughly 30,000 people who work in the legislative branch.

The point Hensarling was making, which is obvious to anyone with half a brain (which explains Politifraud's problem), was not that no one was getting subisides, but that Congressional staffers, many of whom make north of $100,000 a year, would be the only ones at that income level who get subsidies from the federal government. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful calculator that proves the point.

Will Members of Congress even get "subsidies"? Not really. All lawmakers and many staffers won’t qualify for the subsidies we discussed above because their income is too high. Instead, what lawmakers and staff will qualify for is better described as employer cost-sharing -- an allotment of money that works exactly the same way as it does for the majority of Americans who get employer-based health care, and that long predated the beginning of the Obamacare exchanges. For Americans who have employer-sponsored health insurance, the employer pays a share of the premiums. In this case, that "employer" is the federal government.

So, with the second sentence in bullet point two, Politifraud announces bullet point one to be a crock. Let's take the rest of this at face value and ignore the word games Politifraud is playing. Let's call this "employer cost-sharing" and substitute Politifraud's preferred wording back into Hensarling's original statement. Does the statement become true? Why, yes it does. These are the only people in the exchanges that will have their employer "cost-sharing" their premiums.

Is this a "sweetheart deal"? Quite the opposite. Under the law as enacted, lawmakers and congressional aides are actually treated more harshly than any other American.

Tell that to the millions of Americans experiencing Obamacare sticker shock.

Is this "thanks to the Obama administration"? The Obama administration isn’t entirely blameless -- in the rush to sign Obamacare into law, the president overlooked or ignored the problem looming in the legislative language, and his administration did approve the "fix."

Yes, it's three years later and Politifraud ignores the fact that the language in the law is what it is because that's the only way it could pass Congress after the election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts after he pledged to vote against Obamacare. Politifraud also glosses over the fact that there's no statutory (read: "legal") basis for the Obama administration to "fix" the law as he has.

Then this week, Politifact went from fraud to farce.

Did Obama shut down the ocean as part of the shutdown?

We dove in to search for answers. Has Obama shut down the ocean as part of the federal government shutdown? The key to the answer was close to home for PolitiFact Florida: the Florida Keys.

And what did these self-important hacks discover?

Our ruling

Claims about the federal government shutdown include this one circulating on Twitter: "Obama has jumped the shark and ordered the ocean closed!"

The tweet linked to an article in Breitbart that explains that the shutdown means that the Dry Tortugas and the Florida Bay are closed as a result of the shutdown. That means that 1,100 square miles of prime fishing is off limits -- a blow to fishing charter companies and others that benefit from that access. Biscayne National Park is also off limits.

But it’s an exaggeration to state that Obama has tried to shut down the entire ocean -- or even to suggest that he has shuttered the Atlantic Ocean or all of the waters in the Keys. Tourists and locals can continue to fish, swim and play in the ocean, even in the Keys.

We throw a big ol’ bucket of ocean water from the Keys on this claim and rate this claim False.

In their effort to protect their lord and savior, Barack Obama, from himself, Politifarce conveniently disregarded two of  their own rules on what statements deserve their attention:

In deciding which statements to check, we ask ourselves these questions:

  • Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.
  • Would a typical person hear or read the statement and wonder: Is that true?

But hey, at least they issued a ruling. It was just last month that they conspicuously declined to issue a ruling on whether President Obama had ever set a "red line" on Syria, instead attempting to put a laughably "Pants on Fire" statement "in context" (a tack taken by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler as well).

They aren't unbiased arbiters of truth; they're political hacks.


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October 2013



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