Rick Santorum’s Math Problem

The press doesn’t fall for his incorrect Obamacare answer

Now really, Rick—every American will get government help after Obamacare takes effect? Surely you jest! Thankfully my press brethren had the good sense not to run with your remark the other night:

What we will go to in a very short period of time—the next two years—a little less than 50 percent of the people in this country depend on some form of federal payments, some form of government benefit, to help provide for them. After Obamacare, it will not be less than 50 percent. It will be 100 percent.

Do you really mean that every American will get a handout from the Affordable Care Act? If you do, you’re dead wrong. I applaud Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s accuracy-in-media guru, for setting the record straight here. Kessler said your comment failed WaPo’s Pinocchio test. You got four Pinocchios. That’s not good. PolitiFact couldn’t resist this one either, rating your remark “false.”

Kessler dissected your claim and found it “simply absurd.” During the debate on health reform, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that about 32 million people now without coverage would be able to buy insurance. Yes, many would receive government subsidies, and I guess according to your thinking that does qualify as government help. But many observers, including the CBO, have said that millions would still be uninsured after Obamacare takes full effect. The CBO says that about 23 million people—one-third of them illegal immigrants barred from benefits under the law anyway—won’t be insured. Furthermore, most of the people who will be insured will be getting coverage from their employers and most likely sharing the cost of the premiums with them. Under most circumstances those Americans with employer-provided coverage are also barred from receiving government subsidies to help buy coverage. That means they would not be included in your 100 percent figure.

If you had intended for your remark to circulate through the MSM, it did not, thankfully. But it piqued the interest of bloggers of both the conservative and liberal persuasion. The Weekly Standard’s blog posted all of your remarks, contrasting them to the brief comment made by your opponent, Mitt Romney, who simply said on Super Tuesday “He (President Obama) passed Obamacare. I’ll repeal Obamacare.” I guess they were making a political comment. Joan McCarter at Daily Kos was a bit more transparent. She flat out called your claim “a lie, motivated either by delusional paranoia or calculated fear-mongering from a rabid ideologue.”

Your comments no doubt will live on, and I do expect that the 100 percent figure will surface again. Here’s my takeaway: They serve as a reminder to all of us journos that campaign talk is just that, and we must be careful of politicians bearing gifts—or, shall I say, titillating or outrageous comments—that make good copy but mislead the public.

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: , , , ,