Debate Roundup: Fiscal FactChecking the Fourth GOP Debate

This blog is part of the “Fiscal FactCheck” series designated to examine the accuracy of budget-related statements made during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate featured some of the first real discussions on how candidates would tackle the growing national debt. As with the previous three debates, we ran fiscal claims through Fiscal FactCheck, and during the debate, we followed along live on Twitter at @FiscalFactCheck. (You can check out our summary from the last debate here.) Our Fiscal FactChecks from this debate are summarized below:

1. John Kasich Has a Plan to Balance the Budget in Ten Years.

Moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Ohio Governor John Kasich what his specific steps to balancing the budget would be if he were elected. Kasich responded by highlighting his balanced budget plan, claiming that he would balance the budget by the end of his second term. While Kasich's plan lacks important details on how he would specifically slow Medicare growth and pay for tax cuts, it appears to add up to on-budget balance. On-budget balance most importantly excludes Social Security, which is expected to run deep deficits over the next 10 years. So while Kasich's plan may reach on-budget balance, it fails to achieve complete balance as he suggests it would.

Our Ruling: It's Complicated

2. Cutting Spending by 1% Would Balance the Budget in Less Than Five Years.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul discussed balancing the budget by specifically supporting what is known as the "Penny Plan," a plan where the entire budget would face across-the-board cuts of 1 percent in order to achieve balance. This is very similar to Ben Carson's support of a spending freeze to balance the budget in three years. While both of these plans would balance the budget in theory, in reality, the kinds of cuts that would be required makes them almost politically impossible to achieve.

Our Ruling: Lacks Context

3. The Government Has Spent $2 Trillion on the Wars in the Middle East.

Donald Trump made the claim that we've spent $2 trillion on the wars in the Middle East, and he's mostly right. The account that is most clearly designated for wars, called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), has spent over $1.7 trillion alone since September 11, 2001. Once additional spending for the Defense Department is considered along with veterans benefits, the total climbs to $2 trillion if not larger.

Our Ruling: Largely True.

4. The U.S. Spends More on Its Military Than the Next 10 Countries Combined.

Paul made this claim during the debate, which was true a few years ago. According to the Peterson Foundation, military spending in the U.S. during 2014 exceeded the next 7 countries combined, with the U.S. spending $610 billion while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, India, and Germany spent a combined total of $601 billion. While the most recent number includes only 7 countries, the U.S. military did spend more than the next 10 countries combined as recently as 2012.

Our Ruling: Largely True

Additional Statements We've Previously Fact Checked:

During the undercard debate Governor Huckabee said that the FairTax would eliminates the IRS, and we have previously said it’s complicated. Huckabee said again that Medicare and Social Security are earned benefits and thus shouldn’t be touched, but we’ve previously explained that is largely false. Governor Christie offered a statistic that 71 cents of every dollar the government spends is on entitlements, and that is pretty much right—it is 68 cents currently but will grow to 71 cents by the time the next President takes office.

In the main debate, we pointed to our prior FactCheck that Kasich helped balance the budget when he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee. Governor Bush reiterated his plan for 4 percent growth but we remain skeptical that it's possible. Bush also said the first step to addressing the debt it by growing the economy but we’ve previously shown that you can’t grow your way out of debt. Carson again used his (mostly false) line that even if you tax all the money from the top 1 percent, it wouldn’t make a dent in the debt. Finally, Paul mentioned his shockingly true stat that on average we are borrowing a million dollars a minute.

For the next debate follow @FiscalFactCheck on Twitter for live fact checking of the debate.