'Just One Vote,' PolitiFact Defends Dem Senator's Spending Record

March 14th, 2024 1:21 PM

GOP Senate hopeful Eric Hovde has run afoul of the nitpickers at PolitiFact for correctly stating Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin's record on the national debt. The Thursday fact-check from Hope Karnopp defended Baldwin by claiming his statistics are unfair because the economy is larger than it has been historically and Baldwin is “just one vote in Congress.”

Hovde’s exact attack line, which was given a “half-true” rating, is "Since the end of the 2020 fiscal year, President Biden and Senator Baldwin have added over $7.3 trillion of debt, more than the first 228 years of our nation’s history combined."

You might think numbers are numbers and a simple math question could provide clarity to the question, but Karnopp warns, “The national debt is a complicated subject, so we called in two economics experts to explain it as Hovde’s campaign kicks into gear.”

In big, bold type, Karnopp concedes, “Numbers are correct, but size of the economy has grown dramatically over history.”

Karnopp also notes, “The 2020 fiscal year ended in September 2020, which means the numbers include the last few months of former President Donald Trump’s time in office.”

Yes, four out of forty months is obviously not what Hovde was alluding to. Instead, he was referring to the Biden-Baldwin record, but Karnopp was not ready to get to that yet. What Karnoff was ready for was economics Prof. Menzie Chinn, who told her “the basic point is that the numbers are meaningless." Another economics professor, Kundan Kishor, agreed, “It's not a fair comparison."

Chinn and Kishor’s main argument was that because the economy is so much larger now than it was in 1776, government spending and the debt are much larger as well. Instead, the duo recommended looking at the debt-to-GDP ratio. 

Karnoff then asks how much Biden and Baldwin are responsible for the rise in that ratio. She also cites “Ben Voelkel, Hovde’s campaign spokesperson, pointed to policies such as the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Baldwin voted for and Biden signed into law.”

If Karnoff wasn’t spinning already, she was definitely doing so when she added, “The second bill, known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was also supported by 32 Republicans — and Baldwin is just one vote in Congress. The American Rescue Plan Act’s goal was to stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Yes, Baldwin is just one vote, but every member of Congress is just one vote. Why does that matter? Why does it matter that 32 Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill? Hovde isn’t running against them. Baldwin voted for the spending, no amounts of digressions about 1776 can change that.

Karnoff also tried to suggest that the spending was worth it “When 'something unanticipated' like the pandemic happens, Kishor said, 'the government has to step in, and that leads to a temporary increase.' The same thing happened during the 2008 financial crisis.”

Still, Karnoff was forced to concede, “Hovde is correct that pandemic-era spending packages supported by Baldwin and Biden led to a spike,” although she immediately hedged, “Although the ratio has since cooled off, the deficit — which is related but different to the national debt — remains above pre-pandemic levels, PolitiFact National found.”

Wrapping up, Kishor warned "What people usually lose track of is the fact that this is a long-run problem. One particular president or one particular party is not responsible for it." 

This wasn’t the first time PolitiFact has tried to defend Baldwin against Hovde. On March 8, they gave Hovde a “mostly false” rating for claiming the Iran Nuclear Deal came with a cash payment to Tehran that Politact claimed was “separate from the deal,” but of course that transfer would not have happened with the deal, so PolitiFact’s attempts to be nuanced only appear to go one way.