FACT CHECK: GOP candidates veer from the truth in 1st debate

Scott Walker, Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker listens during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans seeking their party’s 2016 presidential nomination have the challenging task of trying to stand out among the 17 candidates in the race, and Thursday’s televised debate was the first opportunity for the party to start whittling down its choices. So it’s no surprise that the candidates had a vested interest in puffing up their own records as governors, senators and public figures. And some of them just got the facts wrong.

Some of the claims in the Cleveland debate and how they compare with the facts:

DONALD TRUMP: “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration.”

THE FACTS: Republicans have been talking about immigration for at least 30 years, including former President George W. Bush and the Republican field in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. In 2013, an immigration overhaul seeking to address illegal immigration passed the Senate with strong Republican support, although the House never took it up. And Republican debate about immigration has only intensified in the wake of President Barack Obama’s sweeping executive action shielding from deportation millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

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JEB BUSH, on his goal of 4 percent economic growth: “We can do this.”

THE FACTS: Most economists say the U.S. under any president is unlikely to grow consistently at even close to 4 percent, largely due to the difficulty of overcoming decades-long trends.

Current forecasts put growth averaging half the rate of Bush’s goal. To grow the economy faster, the country must either add more workers or increase their efficiency so their time on the job generates more income. The retirement of the baby boom generation will shrink the number of workers in the economy, making a huge increase of new employees unlikely.

Only four of the 16 presidential terms since World War II have experienced annual economic growth averaging more than 4 percent after inflation, according to research published last year by Princeton University economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson.

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BUSH: “You get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs.”

THE FACTS: According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in March 2010, when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. In June of this year, it had fallen to 5.3 percent. The economy has added more than 12 million jobs since March 2010.

While the health care law doesn’t seem to have had a major impact on jobs, some lesser consequences are likely. The Congressional Budget Office projected that having government subsidized health insurance will prompt some people to leave the labor market, since they can get coverage without a job.

And although Republicans may be able to repeal Obama’s law, it’s unclear if and how they would replace it. The party has yet to rally behind a plan of its own, partly because of internal ideological differences. Some Republicans say it would be the 2016 presidential nominee’s job to forge a consensus.

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TRUMP: “We’re giving them (Iran) $150 billion plus” in sanctions relief under the nuclear deal.

THE FACTS: That might be an exaggeration.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said Iran has $100 billion in foreign reserves that it’s been unable to access. After sanctions relief, Treasury estimates that Iran will be able to freely access about half of that $100 billion. He said more than $20 billion is inaccessible because it is committed to projects with China and tens of billions of other restricted funds are in non-performing loans to Iran’s energy and banking sector.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE: “We brought the budget into balance with no tax increases.”

THE FACTS: Not exactly.

As New Jersey’s governor, Christie in his first term cut the earned income tax credit, which largely benefits low-income workers, from 25 percent of the federal credit to 20 percent. He surprised Democrats this summer by proposing to bring it up to 30 percent. Democrats quickly approved the change.

Christie also repeatedly delayed implementing the Homestead credit program, which grants property tax relief, even as he capped property tax increases overall. He also extended the sales tax on online purchases to out-of-state retailers and pushed for higher taxes on e-cigarettes, but failed.

So while Christie indeed vetoed a number of proposed tax increases, his record isn’t free of hikes in taxes or their close cousin: fees.

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TRUMP: “I built a net worth of more than $10 billion.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s precise net worth has long been a moving target.

Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission put Trump’s wealth at $8.7 billion. But the form requires disclosures of value ranges, not precise sums. The FEC also doesn’t specify how to value real estate, leaving Trump free to assess many of his proprieties in the highest bracket — over $50 million.

Trump argues many of his properties are worth even more, a claim that cannot be verified without access to his private documents. He’s valued his personal brand and marketing deals at $3.3 billion.

Yet other assessments put his wealth at far less. Forbes Magazine valued his brand at just $125 million, and last month, Bloomberg News estimated his total worth at $2.9 billion.

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BUSH: “During my eight years in office, 1.3 million jobs were created, and we left the state better off.”

FACT CHECK: Yes, but by December 2009, 900,000 of those 1.3 million jobs had been eliminated.

During Bush’s tenure as governor, the state benefited from a huge housing bubble that then burst just as he left the governor’s mansion. Home prices jumped 160 percent in Florida from 1999 through 2006 — more than double the national increase of 74 percent —according to real estate data provider Zillow.

That growth fueled a 50 percent jump in construction jobs, and the boost to home values made many Floridians feel wealthier, leading them to spend more. Home prices started to fall in 2006, Bush’s last year in office.

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BEN CARSON: “Our Navy is at its smallest size since 1970, our Air Force since 1940.”

THE FACTS: Actually, the U.S. Air Force was created in 1947. Created initially as the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1907, the force went through a number of iterations before becoming a full-fledged branch of the military equal to the Army and the Navy in the wake of World War II.

A dearth of reliable public data makes it difficult to examine Carson’s broader argument that the military’s capacity is smaller now than in 1940. But it’s true that the number of U.S. military aircraft has diminished in recent decades.

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Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Deb Riechmann, Christopher S. Rugaber, Lisa Lerer and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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