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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Fact Check: Trump and Biden’s Final Presidential Debate

The two candidates challenged each other on their tax plans, the environment, their business interests and the pandemic.

By: Bloomberg | October 23, 2020 3:04:46 pm
us elections 2020, donald trump coronavirus, joe biden, trump biden depression remark, US polls, US newsPresident Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Thursday. [AP]

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden met for the last time before the Nov. 3 election, with a debate more orderly but just as spirited as their first face-off last month. The two candidates challenged each other on their tax plans, the environment, their business interests and the pandemic. Bloomberg News is checking the facts behind their claims:

Trump Claims Biden Supports Green New Deal

TRUMP: “This is the craziest plan. This wasn’t done by smart people. This wasn’t done by anybody, frankly. They want to spend $100 trillion. That is their real number: $100 trillion. They want to knock down buildings and build new buildings with tiny small windows and many other things.”

BIDEN: “I don’t know where he comes up with these numbers. $100 trillion — give me a break.”

THE FACTS: Biden has never offered a full-throated endorsement of the far-reaching progressive climate plan known as the Green New Deal, but he has released a climate plan that aligns with many of its environmental goals.

His $2 trillion clean energy plan calls for achieving a carbon-free power sector by 2035 through renewable energy, cleaner cars and zero-emission mass transit systems. Other investments would boost sustainable home building, clean energy innovation and conservation.

By contrast, the sweeping Green New Deal, as proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, would do more than remake the energy sector. It calls for a “10-year national mobilization” to shift the nation to 100% “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” but also calls for tens of billions in spending on social programs.

Trump’s $100 trillion price tag comes from an estimate of the Ocasio-Cortez plan from the conservative Manhattan Institute, which is funded by energy interests. That figure would exceed the World Bank’s latest annual estimate of $87 trillion for the size of the entire global economy.

Biden Claims Trump Isn’t Dealing with Climate Change

TRUMP: “I do love the environment, but what I want is the cleanest water, the cleanest air. We have the best, lowest number in carbon emissions…. We have the best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years under this administration.”

BIDEN: “Global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it. And we are told by all the leading scientists in the world, we don’t have much time. We are going to pass the point of no return in eight to 10 years. Four more years of this man eliminating all the regulations that were put in by us to clean up the climate, to limit emissions, will put us in a position where we are in real trouble.”

THE FACTS: It’s true that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have declined — some 15% since 2005, a frequently used baseline. They have dipped even further this year as coronavirus lockdowns curbed air and road travel.

But the decrease has been driven mostly by market forces, as cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas has replaced coal-powered plants. And it’s come despite the Trump administration’s moves to relax rules throttling the release of greenhouse gases from power plants, automobiles and oil wells.

State renewable power targets also have propelled reductions.

Analysts caution against giving too much credit to the decrease since 2005, however. The Energy Information Administration has forecast that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would climb 4.8% in 2021 as the economy recovers and brings energy demand along with it.

Scientists have different projections of the “point of no return,” depending on temperature thresholds and their assumptions on mitigation measures currently in effect. The most pessimistic estimates say the planet has already reached the point of irreversible climate change. Others pin that point as late as 2045, so Biden’s estimate is on the early side of that range.

Trump Claims Biden Wants to Raise Taxes

TRUMP: “I am cutting taxes and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes and put new regulations on everything. If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you have never seen.”

THE FACTS: Biden’s planned tax increases would hit those earning at least $400,000 a year. Biden has proposed higher income tax rates, limits on tax breaks and additional payroll taxes on those earning at least $400,000 as well as higher capital gains taxes on those earning $1 million or more.

Economists have said that Biden’s proposals to raise corporate taxes could have slight indirect effects on middle-income earners, but that his plan won’t directly raise the tax bills of those earning below the $400,000 threshold.

Biden Claims Trump Will Gut Social Security

BIDEN: “This is the guy who, if in fact he continues to withhold the tax on Social Security, Social Security will be bankrupt by 2023 with no way to make up for it. This is the guy who has tried to cut Medicare. The idea that Donald Trump is lecturing me on Social Security and Medicare? Come on.”

TRUMP: “He tried to get rid of — he tried to hurt Social Security years ago. Years ago. Go back and look at the records.”

THE FACTS: When Congress failed to renew a Covid relief package over the summer, Trump signed an executive order to allow the Treasury Department to delay — but not eliminate — collection of payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare. As written, his order would have little impact on beneficiaries.

But then Trump made a series of confusing statements suggesting he wanted to eliminate the payroll taxes entirely and permanently, instead paying for the programs out of the government’s general fund.

Without an increase in income taxes, Trump’s plan would effectively finance the programs through deficit spending and eliminate the trust funds that have guaranteed their solvency.

So Biden is correct that the trust funds would run out of money by 2023 without new revenue, but Trump has never proposed eliminating them entirely.

Biden, for his part, proposed cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits as part of a broader deficit-reduction plan in 1995, when he was a senator. He has since changed his position, saying that while Social Security and Medicare may need adjustments, Congress should raise taxes to pay for them.

Trump Claims He Pays Millions in Taxes

TRUMP: “I’m going to release my tax returns. It will show how great this country is, but more important than that, people were saying $750. I asked a week ago what I paid. They said, ‘Sir, you prepaid tens of millions of dollars.’”

BIDEN: “You have not released a single solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding?”

THE FACTS: The New York Times reported that Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and again in 2017.

Business owners like Trump pay estimated taxes quarterly, essentially prepaying taxes ahead of the April 15 tax filing deadline each year. However, it’s unclear if Trump was referring to federal income taxes. Any prepaid taxes would have been reported on his tax returns from those years.

Trump has declined to follow the tradition of every president since Gerald Ford in voluntarily releasing his tax returns, making his claims impossible to verify.

Trump is free to release his tax returns at any time. Every president’s tax returns are automatically audited every year. Previous presidents released their returns as soon as they were filed.

Trump Claims Biden Family Took Foreign Money

TRUMP: “I don’t make money from China. You do. I don’t make money from Ukraine. You do. I don’t make money from Russia. You made $3.5 million and your son gave your — they even had a statement that we have to give 10% to the ‘big man.’ You are the big man, I think. I don’t know, maybe not, but you are the big man, I think. What’s that all about? It’s terrible.”

BIDEN: “My son has not made money in terms of this thing about — were you talking about? China.”

THE FACTS: A man named Tony Bobulinski told reporters in Nashville before the debate that Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, recruited him to be the chief executive officer of a proposed partnership between a Chinese company and the Biden family. Bobulinski said the younger Biden wanted a stake in the company for “the big man,” who he said was the former vice president.

Bobulinski, who was invited by Trump to be his guest at the debate, offered no evidence and took no questions. Bloomberg News can’t verify that Bobulinski has any connection to Hunter Biden or his father.

Biden has released his tax returns from 1998 through last year, when he and his wife Jill reported taxable income of $944,737 and paying 31.7% of it in taxes. The Bidens earn money in a variety of ways, including fees for speeches, royalties from books and salaries from teaching roles.

Biden Claims Trump Has Secret Chinese Bank Account

BIDEN: “We learned this president does business in China, has a secret bank account in China, and he’s talking about me taking money?”

TRUMP: “I have many bank accounts, and they are all over the place. I’m a businessman doing business. The bank account you are referring to was in 2013. It was closed in 2015, I believe, and then I decided, because I was going to do — I was thinking about doing a deal in China like millions of other people, and I decided I’m not going to do it. I didn’t like it, decided not to do it. I had an account open, and I closed it.”

THE FACTS: A report in the New York Times this week revealed a Chinese bank account controlled by a Trump entity called Trump International Hotels Management LLC. The paper said tax records show it paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015.

A Trump Organization lawyer told the Times that the bank account is still open. The account isn’t listed in any of Trump’s legally required financial disclosure statements.

Trump Claims the U.S. Had Great Covid Response

TRUMP: “I have been congratulated by many countries on what we have been able to do…. It will go away. we are rounding the turn, we are rounding the corner.”

BIDEN: “220,000 Americans dead…. Anybody who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain president of United States of America.”

THE FACTS: By most measures, the U.S. pandemic response has been chaotic and the results catastrophic. The U.S. has had more than 222,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19, and more than 8.3 million cases. That’s more cases than any other nation, including India, which has a population four times that of the U.S. It is true that the U.S. hasn’t had the most deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University. Its death rate is behind Peru, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Spain, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico.

Missteps in handling the virus include advising the public initially not to wear masks, advising those who don’t exhibit symptoms to not get tested and continued shortages of supplies and testing backlogs. Seven months into the pandemic, the U.S. has still not streamlined its testing efforts, unlike countries praised for their virus response including South Korea and Germany.

Trump Claims a Covid Vaccine Is Close

TRUMP: “We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it will be delivered.”

BIDEN: “He has no clear plan and no prospect that there will be a vaccine available until the middle of next year.”

THE FACTS: Vaccines typically take many years to develop, in part because they must be proven to be safe because they’re given to healthy people. But around the world, governments, pharmaceutical companies and researchers have sought to expedite that process for the coronavirus. More than 190 experimental coronavirus vaccines are in development, according to the World Health Organization, 42 of which have entered human studies.

Experimental shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. are among the vanguard. Pfizer is looking to file an application by late November. Moderna expects interim results in November and, if positive, an emergency use authorization in December.

Once a vaccine is approved, it still has to be distributed — a considerable logistical challenge. Estimates from top health officials have ranged from the end of March to the end of 2021 before most Americans would have access to it. Trump contradicted the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, saying his timeline of late spring or summer of next year was “a mistake.”

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