Politics & Government

Taxes, voting records, Social Security provoke questions in GOP debate

Ben Carson, center, makes a point as Donald Trump, left, and Carly Fiorina look on during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.
Ben Carson, center, makes a point as Donald Trump, left, and Carly Fiorina look on during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. AP

Republican presidential contenders were back on the debate stage Wednesday largely looking to impress voters with their grasp of business and budget matters and other pressing issues of the day.

But during the course of the two-hour CNBC debate, the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls occasionally made a variety of claims and statements that deserved a closer look:

Sen. Lindsey Graham on Bernie Sanders’ trip to Russia

In the so-called undercard debate held earlier Wednesday, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., got a round of laughter when he charged that the Democratic Party’s “No. 2 two guy went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon, and I don’t think he ever came back.”

PolitiFact looked at the trip taken by the self-described democratic socialist and found that Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vt., and his wife, Jane, did travel to Yaroslavl, a city in the Soviet Union, after their wedding in 1988.

But the trip’s primary purpose was diplomacy, not leisure, as his city was launching a sister city relationship with Yaroslavl to promote exchanges. The campaign has said the trip was already planned by the time the couple got married. The couple has referred to the trip as a honeymoon, at times sarcastically, noting that 10 others were on the trip.

Marco Rubio’s Senate voting record

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has faced fiery criticism regarding his voting record in the Senate. In a recent Washington Post article a “longtime friend” of the politician testified that Rubio “hates his job.” An editorial this week in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper called for the senator to “resign, not rip us off.”

So how just high is the senator’s absentee rate? According to data compiled by GovTrack, Rubio has missed 99 of 291 votes since the beginning of the year, the most of any senator. Between the beginning of his career in January 2011 and October 2015, he’s missed 12.3 percent of votes, significantly more than the median of 1.6 percent. By comparison, fellow GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has missed 12 percent of roll call votes over the course of his career.

However, neither of these figures comes even close to the worst absentee rate ever. According to PoltiFact, that honor belongs to Maryon Allen, D-Ala., who missed 43.5 percent of roll call votes during her five-month Senate career in 1978. President Barack Obama missed 24.2 percent of votes in his time in the Senate.

Ben Carson’s tax plan

Retired physician Ben Carson was pressed on how his tax plan, which he now says would be closer to a 15 percent flat tax instead of 10 percent, would work. Moderator Becky Quick said his numbers just didn’t add up and would substantially increase the deficit. Carson insisted that it wouldn’t. Here are some reasons this kind of flat tax wouldn’t work, according to research by Tax Justice.

Rubio on businesses closing

Rubio claimed that “for the first time,” more businesses are closing than opening in the United States. A Brookings Institution study released in May 2014 examined business creation and destruction and found that more firms are now closing up shop than starting up, a trend that started in 2008. But PolitiFact noted that the study was from a 35-year period from 1978 to 2011, not all of American history.

Economists said the assertion is a stretch because the trend may have happened before, PolitiFact said, noting that “there are no dependable sources of information to prove this is the first time this has occurred.”

Christie and Social Security

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Social Security is going to be out of money in seven to eight years.

What Christie likely meant is that in seven or eight years the trust fund that is supposed to hold incoming revenue from payroll taxes to pay the benefits of current retirees will begin to pay out more than it is taking in. If nothing changes, Social Security would become insolvent after the fund runs dry, sometime after 2033. At that point, incoming revenue would pay about 70 to 80 percent of the benefits promised to future retirees.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas