Washington Post Gives Schumer ‘Two Pinocchios’ for Misleading Claim About GOP Tax Plan

Chuck Schumer / Getty Images
Chuck Schumer / Getty Images
• November 16, 2017 9:56 am


The Washington Post fact checker gave Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) "two Pinocchios" for claiming Wednesday that the Senate Republican tax plan is "kicking 13 million people off health insurance to give tax cuts to the wealthy" by adding a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate to the most recent version of the bill.

The Post defines a "two-Pinocchio" claim as a statement with "significant omissions and/or exaggerations."

Schumer is not the only person using the 13-million figure to castigate the Republican tax plan; Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) echoed the claim in a tweet on Wednesday.

"Republicans now want to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy by taking health care away from 13 million Americans," Durbin wrote.

Schumer and Durbin's claim comes from the Congressional Budget Office's estimate on repealing Obamacare's individual mandate,which forces most Americans who do not have health care to pay a fine, according to the Post.

In 2019, CBO estimated, 1 million fewer people would be on Medicaid and 3 million fewer people than currently estimated participating in the Obamacare exchanges.

By 2025, there would be 5 million fewer people on Medicaid, 5 million fewer people in the exchanges, and 3 million fewer people getting health insurance coverage from their employers. That adds up to 13 million, but CBO says the action would be voluntary. In other words, people would not be forced to give up their insurance as Schumer claims.

Thomas A. Barthold, chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, responded Wednesday to a question about the "kicked out" language during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

"The result in terms of changes in the uninsured is a result of decisions made," he said. "There's nothing that mandates people give up insurance. It's an economic decision."

Without the mandate, the CBO predicts that younger, healthier Americans will choose not to buy health insurance, changing the risk pool to likely result in average premiums increasing 10 percent higher than currently estimated. The CBO also predicts that the 7 million participants in the individual market who do not qualify for subsidies will face premiums so high that they will have to stop buying health insurance.

"If premiums become unaffordable to the point that people forgo health insurance, we think it's more than fair to say this is the same as kicking people off health care," a Schumer aide said.

The Post‘s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, wrote that Schumer is "on more solid ground" with his claim that the tax plan will mostly help the wealthy. He said that wealthy Americans pay most of the income taxes, so it is natural to expect that they will get the benefits of the broad-based tax cut. While Republicans added some benefits that are attractive to the middle class, Kessler argued it does not shield them from criticism of the bill benefitting the wealthy.

As a result of the individual mandate being repealed, the child tax credit is doubled from the current $1,000 to $2,000 and individual tax rates are reduced from the current rate of 22.5 percent to 22 percent; 25 percent to 24 percent; and 32.5 to 32 percent.

"In other words, while the Republican bill devotes some health-care savings for tax changes that benefit middle-income Americans, those provisions expire," Kessler wrote. "Meanwhile, the tax changes with no expiration date—also funded by repealing the mandate—benefit mainly the wealthy."

Kessler concluded that the first part of Schumer's claim "remains problematic." He said that when the CBO estimates the impact of repealing the individual mandate, it is "describing a voluntary action of people choosing not to buy health insurance," which is not the same as "kicking off" 13 million people. He added that Senate Democrats need to be more specific when they describe the CBO report.