AP FACT CHECK: Biden on autos, virus; Trump on drug prices
DETROIT (AP) — President Donald Trump exaggerated his administration’s efforts to lower prescription drug prices while Democratic rival Joe Biden claimed too much credit for reviving the U.S. auto industry and misstated the number of military deaths from COVID-19.
A look at some of their claims in the 2020 campaign Wednesday and how they stack up with the facts:
BIDEN: “President Obama and I rescued the auto industry and helped Michigan’s economy come roaring back. Donald Trump squandered it — and hardworking Michiganders are paying the price every day.” — tweet.
THE FACTS: He’s assigning too much credit to the Obama administration for saving the auto industry and overstating it when asserting that Trump “squandered” Michigan’s economy.
As an initial matter, what Obama did was an expansion of the initial, pivotal steps taken by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
In December 2008, General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of financial collapse. The U.S. was in a deep recession and U.S. auto sales were falling sharply, in part because the 2008-2009 financial crisis made it harder for would-be auto buyers to get a car loan. GM, Chrysler and Ford requested government aid, but Congress voted it down.
With barely a month left in office, Bush authorized $25 billion in loans to GM and Chrysler from the $700 billion bailout fund that was initially intended to save the largest U.S. banks. Ford decided against taking any money. After Obama was inaugurated, he appointed a task force to oversee GM and Chrysler, both of which eventually declared bankruptcy, took an additional roughly $55 billion in aid, and were forced to close many factories and overhaul their operations. All three companies recovered and eventually started adding jobs again.
Trump did not squander Michigan’s economy, although the number of auto and parts manufacturing jobs in the state fell slightly between his inauguration and February of this year, before the coronavirus took hold. When Trump took office there were 174,200 jobs, and that dropped to 171,800 in February, according to Labor Department statistics. While most plants shuttered for about eight weeks after the coronavirus pandemic hit, many are back running near capacity again, at least for now. In July, the most recent figures available, there were 154,400 auto and parts manufacturing jobs in Michigan.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, recently said the state’s economy was operating now at 87% of what it was since March, citing figures from Moody’s Analytics and CNN.
BIDEN: “Troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan: 6,922. ... Military COVID deaths: 6,114. Folks, every one of these lives mattered.” — remarks in Warren, Michigan.
THE FACTS: He’s way off on the number of coronavirus deaths among the U.S. military.
According to the Defense Department, just 7 members of the military have died from COVID, including reservists and those in the National Guard.
Asked to explain the discrepancy, the Biden campaign immediately acknowledged the former vice president had misspoken, accidentally citing numbers in his notes for Michigan deaths.
TRUMP: “We will be substantially LOWERING Medicare Premiums and Prescription Drug Prices, bringing them down to levels that were not thought possible!” — tweet.
THE FACTS: To be clear, no massive, across-the-board cuts are in the offing for drug prices.
Efforts announced in July by the president — such as allowing importation of medicines from countries where prices are lower — take time to roll out. It remains to be seen how much they’ll move the needle on prices.
Drug importation, for example, requires regulatory actions to be taken and supply chains to be established, a tall order when the election is just two months away.
Trump has taken actions to reduce patient costs for some drugs, such as insulin, but the steps have been less ambitious than those in a bill from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the House passed last year. Her proposal would authorize Medicare to negotiate prices for expensive medications and use savings from lower drug costs to establish Medicare coverage for dental care, hearing and vision.
She would cap Medicare recipients’ out-of-pocket costs for medicines at $2,000 a year. No limit exists on those annual costs now. The vast majority of Medicare recipients have low drug costs, but the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that in 2017, about 1 million Medicare recipients paid much more, averaging $3,200 in a year.
White House actions, while not insignificant, don’t amount to the massive changes Trump brags about. One major initiative would give people on Medicare the option of limiting their out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $35 a month starting next year, by picking an “enhanced” prescription drug plan for a slightly higher premium.
Democratic attacks on Republicans efforts on the issue of health care proved successful in the 2018 midterms, when Democrats won back control of the House.
Yen and LaPorta reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe in Warren, Michigan, and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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