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Truth Test: Romanoff as balancer of budgets

The Democratic challenger to Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) went on air this week with his first TV ad.

KUSA-- The Democratic challenger to Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) went on air this week with his first TV ad.

In it, former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff makes a lot of claims about controlling government spending.

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Romanoff, a name you may recognize as a former Democratic commentator for 9NEWS, is trying to connect with fiscal conservatives inthis ad.

It's a demographic he needs in the competitive district occupied by Coffman, which encompasses Aurora and surrounding areas.

It starts with arguments that sound like something you might expect to hear over a kitchen table.

CLAIM: "It's really pretty simple. You don't buy things you can't pay for. But that's what Congress does all the time."


This is a bit of spin. Like congress, everyday people take on debt "all the time" as well to buy things they can't afford.

At some point you've probably used a credit card, mortgage, car loan, or student loan.

According to a 2009 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, total outstanding household debt in the U.S. reached $13.9 trillion in 2008.

That means the nation's consumers held more debt than their government did. The national debt was $10 trillion in 2008.

This ad is all about the premise that debt is bad, which is really an opinion.

It's an opinion that happens to be popular.

Obviously some amount of debt can help people purchase items they otherwise wouldn't be able to buy, but too much can cause problems.

CLAIM: Congress is creating a deficit by "spending our tax dollars on perks and privileges."


Sure congress has perks for itself, and you are free to be upset about that.

Members of congress have been scrutinized for everything from first-class flights to insider trading.

A very small, but colorful, example is this recent examinationof the US Senate barbershop. (Really, there is one!)

All that said, this ad shows a chart of the national deficit while discussing the topic, which is meant to connect the two. And that is really just spin.

It may be icing on the cake, but the really big things the government spends on are things like social programs and the military.

If you want to see where your taxes go, the White House has a handy way for you to see this with a website that generates a taxpayer receipt.

CLAIM: Congress is "racking up a mountain of debt." (Shown with a graph depicting the deficit.)


We're just going to stay on the spin cycle here.

While Romanoff says "debt," the ad-makers show the deficit.

Debt is the total we owe. Deficit is how much more we spend each year than we bring in.

There's a reason to show it this way. The deficit chart makes it look like a recent explosion, with this "mountain" of debt beginning in 2007.

However, the truth is we've had substantial debt for some time, and yes, it is still growing.

A chart of the total debt looks more like a gradual hill by comparison.

[insert debt v deficit chart (attached as jpg) – w/ credits-à Data: US Treasury, Chart: 9NEWS)

CLAIM: "When I [Romanoff] was speaker of the Colorado house, we balanced the budget every year."


This is True. We would tell you that it needs context and it's no surprise to have a balanced budget in Colorado, but to the ad's credit, it gives you that context in the very next line.

CLAIM: "It's not like we had a choice, either [whether to balance the budget.] Out here, balancing the budget is the law."


Colorado's state constitution requires a balanced budget.

A balanced budget is also required by law in most other state governments.

CLAIM: "[A balanced budget] ought to be the law in Washington."

VERDICT: Opinion

The Romanoff campaign says what the candidate means by this is that he supports a balanced budget amendment, not that he would vote down spending bills in the meantime which continue to add to the debt.

The balanced budget requirement should be gradually phased in, the Romanoff campaign told 9NEWS, so as to not disrupt the workings of the government.

Incumbent Mike Coffman says he supports a balanced budget amendment too. In fact, he's voted for them before.

BOTTOM LINE: This ad is meant to plant Romanoff's flag on the debt issue. It just happens he's planting it right next to his opponent.

Whether either candidate could actually make a balanced budget amendment happen is something to consider, the idea's never gotten the two-thirds vote it needs to be sent to states to be ratified.