AP FACT CHECK: Gunslingers on Amtrak trains?

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2016 12:29 PM
AP FACT CHECK: Gunslingers on Amtrak trains?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton bungled statistics when giving President Barack Obama's health care law credit for driving down the nation's health costs and picked through her rival's gun control record for just the parts that make him look like a buddy of the gun lobby.

Sen. Bernie Sanders also was selective with his facts, playing up the gun votes he most wants Democrats to know about. And he glossed over the complexities of the brand-new health care reinvention he's proposing for a country still grappling with the last one.

The latest Democratic presidential debate was a feisty one, by that party's standards, and even statements that were accurate on their face may have left the wrong impression for viewers as the contenders scrambled to score points. For example, Clinton was right that Sanders "voted to let guns go on to the Amtrak." But that doesn't mean gunslingers roaming the trains — rather, unloaded firearms can go in checked baggage in a secured section, with 24 hours' notice and other conditions.

A look at some of the claims and how they compare with the facts:

CLINTON on effects of Obama's health care law: "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years."

THE FACTS: Not so. Health care spending is far higher than a half century ago. What she must have meant is that the rate of growth of health care spending year to year is lower than it's been in 50 years — closer to the truth, but still not right.

The government reported in December that health care spending in 2014 grew at the fastest pace since Obama took office, driven by expanded coverage under his law and rising drug prices. Not only that, but health care spending grew faster than the economy as a whole, reaching 17.5 percent of GDP. That means health care was claiming a growing share of national resources.

This was after five years of historically low growth in health spending — the decline Clinton was trying to address. But the lull in health care inflation was attributed in large measure to the recession that Obama inherited and its aftermath, not his law. And part of the reason health spending increased after that was because of the economic recovery.

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CLINTON on Sanders' proposal for a taxpayer-paid health care system: "I don't want to see us start over again with a contentious debate."

SANDERS: "We're not going to tear up the Affordable Care Act," but "move on top of that."

THE FACTS: As Clinton suggests, Sanders' plan would indeed mean a radical change in direction — one that makes the government the payer of health care for everyone, not just for the elderly or the poorest Americans or members of the military.

Whether that means building on Obama's law or ripping it up may be a semantic argument. But at the core, Sanders would switch the country away from a private health insurance system. Employees, employers and others would pay higher taxes in return for health care with no premiums or deductibles, a striking departure from the subsidies and conditions that Obama's law has overlaid on the existing system.

Clinton did not exaggerate in describing the huge political battle that it took just to achieve "Obamacare" and the inability to sell Congress on a taxpayer-paid system even when Democrats were in control. (She ran into her own buzz saw on the issue when she proposed an overhaul of health care as first lady.)

Clinton's team and her supporters have persisted in a dubious, if not bogus, argument that Sanders would wreck Medicare and other health-care entitlements with his proposed overhaul. It would do so only in the course of establishing a health care system in which traditional Medicare, Medicaid and more would no longer be needed — because the government would be insuring everyone.

She made that argument herself in an earlier debate but did not repeat it Sunday night.

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SANDERS: "I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA." ''I have supported from Day 1 an instant background check," as well as a ban on assault-type weapons.

CLINTON: "He voted to let guns go on to the Amtrak. "He voted against the Brady bill five times" as well as for allowing guns in national parks and for shielding the gun industry from most lawsuits.

THE FACTS: Both are singling out aspects of Sanders' record that suit them, but that record is nuanced.

Sanders indeed supported an instant background check, and at certain points a three-day waiting period. But he opposed longer waiting periods — of five to 10 days — which gun control advocates see as a more effective way to flag people who should not be getting a gun.

Clinton is right that he opposed various versions of the Brady bill with longer waiting periods. But his poor marks from the National Rifle Association reflect record that does lean toward stronger gun controls. Sanders now says he would support exposing gun makers to lawsuits. Since 2010, people who are entitled to carry guns by state and federal law have been allowed to carry those weapons in national parks, except for certain buildings, under a law Sanders supported.

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CLINTON: "One out of three African-American men may well end up going to prison. That's the statistic."

THE FACTS: That's a stale statistic, and Clinton isn't the only person to use it. Sanders has said nearly the same thing. Both drew on 13-year-old data that stated this as a projection, not a fact.

A 2003 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics said, "About 1 in 3 black males, 1 in 6 Hispanic males, and 1 in 17 white males are expected to go to prison during their lifetime, if current incarceration rates remain unchanged." But it went on to say that at the time, 16.6 percent of adult black males had actually ever gone to prison, or 1 in 6. The incarceration rate for black men has gone down since then, according to the Sentencing Project.

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SANDERS: "Whenever anybody in this country is killed while in police custody, it should automatically trigger a U.S. attorney general's investigation."

THE FACTS: The Justice Department already investigates some such deaths, but focuses only on those in which a federal civil rights violation appears possible, such as if there's an indication that an officer knowingly used unreasonable force.

A blanket trigger such as what Sanders proposes would strain resources, because hundreds of Americans are killed annually in confrontations with police, and it might be at odds with the department's emphasis on enforcing federal rather than local laws.

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Associated Press writers Christopher S. Rugaber, Eric Tucker and Jesse Holland contributed to this report.