Rubio, Obama win Whopper for fiscal cliff debate performance

The fiscal cliff debate has been a gift that keeps on giving — at least to fact checkers. And before it fades to a distant, bitter memory, we thought it useful to sort out a couple of bigger claims made by political leaders.

President Barack Obama has crowed about the deal passed on New Year’s Day, boasting it spared middle class taxpayers about $2,000 a year in taxes and reduced the deficit. Both claims stretch the facts.

While it is true that the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for those making less than $400,000 a year saved an average middle class taxpayer about $2,000 in income taxes, the deal ended a second taxbreak on payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security. About 77 percent of Americans are facing a higher tax bill in 2013 because of that change.

For families earning between $75,000 to $100,000 the new impact is estimated around $1,200 in 2013, while those in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, the new tax is about $600, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Obama makes no mention of that tax hike in his rosier assessments.

And as for the deficit claim, Obama is on even shakier factual ground. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office this week concluded that the fiscal cliff deal increases deficits by $4.6 trillion over 10 years, compared to if the Bush tax cuts were simply allowed to expire. It’s hard to call that deficit reduction, though White House aides say they believe the president deserves credit for the deficit effect of eliminating the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest sliver of Americans.

On the other side of the political aisle, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., viewed by many as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, raised some political eyebrows when he cast one of the few votes against the bipartisan fiscal cliff deal in the Senate.

It turns out, a tweet he blasted out a few hours before the vote managed to furl the eyebrows of more than a few political truthwatchers, too. Here’s the tweet:

“Report that #GOP insisting on changes to Social Security as part of #fiscalcliff false. BTW those changes are supported by @barackobama.”

Well, it turns out that claim is a bit too absolute for the facts.

During the early negotiations, Republicans did in fact request a concession called the “chained CPI,” a formula that would have slowed the growth of future Social Security payments to seniors. But it was dropped as the final deal was struck.

And it is true that at various times in both the 2011 and 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations, Obama’s negotiators embraced the “chained CPI” as a possible concession to Republican, but they too dropped the idea in the final negotiations.

So what Rubio did in his tweet is absolve Republicans of any blame for an idea they had supported and dropped during fiscal cliff negotiations, while trying to make Obama own the idea even though his team had considered but also dropped the idea. And that deserve a penalty flag on the football field of political truth.

Marco Rubio and Barack Obama are unlikely to share many of the same sentiments going forward. But for their efforts of fostering half truths to mislead the public during the fiscal cliff debate, they get to share a rare bipartisan award of the Whopper of the Week.

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