Democrats Made Lots of Claims During the Second Debate. Here Are the Facts

The second Democratic debate kicked off Tuesday night with weighty policy discussions about health care, inequality and climate change––and the candidates were armed with a slew of statistics and figures to support their arguments.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the frontrunners in the race, is a particular fan of throwing out shocking statistics on inequality in the United States. But he has not always aligned with the fact-checkers.

The candidates also referred to their own records, another area ripe for fact-checking.

Here is a selection of claims made by candidates during the first night of Detroit’s 2020 Democratic primary debate, plus the facts.

Buttigieg: ‘Science tells us that we have 12 years before we reach the horizon of catastrophe when it comes to our climate’

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg referenced a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which focuses on a 1.5°C global temperature rise from preindustrial levels. The report says the Earth could hit the 1.5°C mark as early as 2030, thus the reference to 12 years (it’s actually less now).

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also seemingly referenced the report when he responded to a question on climate change, saying, “We don’t have more than 10 years to get this right.”

However, one of the report’s authors, Myles Allen, cautioned in April that the timeline “doesn’t mean we have 12 years to act: it means we have to act now, and even if we do, success is not guaranteed.”

According to the scientists behind the report, the 1.5°C temperature increase is a threshold the planet cannot cross without seeing the worst effects of climate change.

Allen adds: “My biggest concern is with the much-touted line that ‘the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we have 12 years’ before triggering an irreversible slide into climate chaos. Slogan writers are vague on whether they mean climate chaos will happen after 12 years, or if we have 12 years to avert it. But both are misleading.”

The Associated Press also reported that the scientific community is not unanimous in its view that humanity has only until 2030 to fix the problem of global warming.

Delaney: ‘If all the bills were paid at Medicare rate… then many hospitals in this country would close’

This is a toned-down version of a claim that former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was criticized for making in the June debates. Previously, Delaney said that “every hospital administrator” said they would close if every bill were paid at a Medicare rate.

Several outlets, including Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post, spoke to experts who noted that while some hospitals could suffer under Medicare-for-All––in which all healthcare payments would presumably be at the Medicare rate––the policy would not close hospitals across the country.

Delaney’s claim appears to be based on a New York Times report that Medicare pays hospitals 87 cents for every dollar of costs, while private insurance companies pay $1.45. But experts told the Post and other outlets that the detrimental effects were unlikely to produce closures, although the quality of care could decrease and staff could be cut because of smaller budgets.

Hickenlooper: ‘As governor of Colorado, we created the number one economy in the country’

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is running on his record leading a purple state that has experienced big growth on many fronts in recent years. But he may have exaggerated with this claim.

Colorado’s economy was arguably strong while Hickenlooper was the governor from 2011 to January 2019, but was it the strongest economy in the country? It depends who you ask.

U.S. News and World Report ranked Colorado the number one state economically over the last few years, using a scale that weighs each state’s business environment, employment and economic growth.

However, Colorado ranked behind several states on other lists.

It was the eleventh-fastest-growing economy in 2016; fourth in 2017 and seventh in 2018, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Colorado also wasn’t the state with the lowest unemployment, ranking fourteenth in 2018; second in 2017, and sixth in 2016.

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Sanders: ‘You’ve got three people who own more wealth than the bottom 90%’

This is one of Sanders’ favorite statistics. It comes from a left-leaning policy institute’s study. But Sanders didn’t get the numbers right on Tuesday.

A 2017 report from the Institute for Policy Studies found that the three wealthiest Americans on the Forbes 400 list had accumulated a collective wealth of $248.5 billion. At the time those figures were Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and investor Warren Buffett. Bezos has since become the richest person in the world. The combined net worth of the three men, according to Forbes, is $310 billion––$131 billion for Bezos, $96.5 billion for Gates and $82.5 billion for Buffett.

By contrast, a former Sanders aide who now works for the Institute for Policy Studies told Politifact that the wealth of the bottom half of America was $245 billion distributed across 160 million people (or 63 million households.)

Sanders: ‘Tonight, half of the American people are living paycheck to paycheck’

While the data on exactly how many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck isn’t exact, a 2018 Federal Reserve report found that four in 10 adults said would not be able to cover a surprise expense of $400 without going into debt or selling something. And a 2017 poll of more than 5,800 workers, hiring managers and human resources professionals from Career Builder found that 78% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. This included 9% of people who reported making more than $100,000 a year and 28% of those who make $50,000 to $100,000.

Sanders: ‘Companies like Amazon that made billions in profits did not pay one nickel in federal income tax’

Amazon paid $0 in federal income tax in the U.S. in 2018 after making over $11 billion in profits, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. What’s more, the analysis found that Amazon reported a federal income tax rebate of $129 million. Amazon has paid federal taxes in previous years, the Wall Street Journal reported in June. According to the Journal, Amazon’s overall tax rate from 2012 to 2018 was 8%.

Amazon has commented on this, in the past, tweeting after the June debates: “We’ve paid $2.6B in corporate taxes since 2016. We pay every penny we owe. Congress designed tax laws to encourage companies to reinvest in the American economy. We have. $200B in investments since 2011 & 300K US jobs.”