President Joe Biden spent three days this week campaigning in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania. He littered his remarks with false and misleading claims on subjects ranging from his annual earnings to his cap on seniors’ prescription drug spending to the demographics of China to the frequency of his past travel to Iraq and Afghanistan.

And in Biden’s most eyebrow-raising remarks of the campaign swing, he told and then retold a story in which he strongly suggested his late uncle, Ambrose Finnegan, was eaten by cannibals after his plane was shot down while he fought in World War II. Biden’s dramatic details don’t match the Defense Department’s official account of the plane crash.

Here is a fact check of eight of Biden’s Pennsylvania remarks.

In the same Tuesday speech in Scranton, Biden repeated his regular promise that nobody making less than $400,000 per year will pay even a cent more in taxes under his proposals. He then added, “I hope you’re all able to make $400,000. I never did.”

Facts First: Biden’s “I never did” claim is false. In fact, his presidential salary is $400,000 per year; the joint tax filings of President Biden and first lady Jill Biden showed $619,976 in income last year, $579,514 in 2022 and $610,702 in 2021. In addition, Biden earned millions in 2017 and 2018, when, during his time as a private citizen following his vice presidency, he and Jill Biden signed a lucrative book deal and he delivered paid speeches. The Bidens’ joint tax filings showed a total of about $11 million in 2017 income and about $4.6 million in 2018 income.

Biden, who was a US senator for 36 years prior to his vice presidency, did regularly earn less than $400,000 per year before 2017. As PolitiFact has previously noted, the Bidens’ joint filings reported less than $400,000 in income in each year from 1998 through 2016 except for 2013, when they were just over $407,000.

In the same speech in Scranton, Biden touted provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act he signed in 2022. He said: “For example, seniors, beginning in 2024, no matter how much their prescription drug costs are, they’ll never have to pay more than $2,000 a year, no matter what.”

Facts FirstBiden’s claim is false in two ways. First, the $2,000 cap on Medicare Part D enrollees’ out-of-pocket prescription drug spending takes effect in 2025, not 2024; there is a higher cap, more than $3,000, in place this year. (The White House corrected the official transcript of Biden’s speech to make clear Biden should have said 2025 instead of 2024.) Second, it’s not true that seniors will “never” have to spend more than $2,000 per year on prescription drugs “no matter what.” The cap is indexed to annual inflation in Part D costs, so it is highly likely to be set higher than $2,000 in future years. Also, the cap doesn’t apply to out-of-pocket spending on Medicare Part B drugs like those administered at doctors’ offices.

Biden has correctly said on various previous occasions that the $2,000 cap takes effect in 2025, but he has also previously incorrectly said that the cap took effect in 2023 or 2024.

– CNN’s Tami Luhby contributed to this item. 

In a Wednesday speech in Pittsburgh that was focused on US steel competition with China, Biden said, “I always say to my colleagues — when I meet other world leaders, I say, ‘Would you trade places with China? Would you trade places with their problems?’ They’ve got a population that is more people in retirement than working.”

Facts FirstThe claim that China has more retired people than working people is false. Fuxian Yi, a University of Wisconsin-Madison senior scientist who is an expert on Chinese demographics, called Biden’s claim “overstated and premature.”

China reported having more than 740 million employed people at the end of 2023, while it also reported having just shy of 297 million people age 60 or above that year. (Sixty is the normal retirement-benefits age for Chinese men; it’s 50 to 55 for women depending on the nature of their jobs.) And some of the 60-plus population is still working

Yi noted that China’s ratio of working people to seniors is shrinking as the country’s population ages. But Biden’s claim that the number of retirees already exceeds the number of people working is clearly not correct, even if you apply the usual dose of skepticism to official Chinese data.

“It’s certainly the direction they’re heading, but still an exaggeration,” Derek Scissors, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank who is an expert on the Chinese economy, said of Biden’s claim.

Biden made a similar claim in 2021, which CNN fact-checked as false at the time.

As he has on numerous previous occasions, Biden cited a 2021 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy think tank that found that 55 of the country’s largest corporations had made more than $40 billion in total profit in their previous fiscal year but not paid any federal corporate income taxes.

Biden said in the same Tuesday speech in Scranton: “When Trump was president in 2020, 55 of the largest corporations in America of the Fortune 500 made $40 billion in profit and paid zero — zero — in federal income taxes.” After someone in the audience called that “sinful,” Biden continued, “Well, guess what? I came along and took care of the sin. Not anymore. Thanks to the law that I wrote and signed, big corporations now have to pay a minimum — they should be paying more — a minimum of 15% tax.”

Facts FirstBiden’s “not anymore” claim is false — the same exaggeration he delivered in his State of the Union address in March. While the 15% corporate minimum tax he signed into law in the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the number of big corporations that don’t pay any federal taxes, it’s not true that “not anymore” will any big corporation — such as the ones on the list of 55 companies Biden mentioned — ever do so. That’s because the minimum tax, on the “book income” companies report to investors, only applies to companies with at least $1 billion in average annual income. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, only 14 of the companies on that 2021 list of 55 non-payers reported having US pre-tax income of at least $1 billion.

In other words, there will clearly still be some big and profitable corporations paying no federal income tax despite the existence of the new Biden tax. The exact number is not known.

Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, told CNN in 2022 that the new tax is “an important step forward from the status quo” and that it would raise substantial revenue, but he also said: “I wouldn’t want to assert that the minimum tax will end the phenomenon of zero-tax profitable corporations. A more accurate phrasing would be to say that the minimum tax will *help* ensure that *the most profitable* corporations pay at least some federal income tax.”

There are lots of nuances to the tax; you can read more specifics here. Asked for comment in early 2023, when Biden made a similar claim, a White House official told CNN: “The Inflation Reduction Act ensures the wealthiest corporations pay a 15% minimum tax, precisely the corporations the President focused on during the campaign and in office.”

Billionaires and taxes

Biden delivered another version of a claim he has regularly made about billionaires’ tax rates. He said in the same Tuesday speech in Scranton: “Do you know what the average federal tax rate for a billionaire is today in America? For real: 8.3%.” After some people in the audience laughed, Biden continued, “That’s how much federal ta- — no, I’m serious. Not a joke. Far less than the vast majority of Americans pay in federal taxes. No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher, a nurse, a sanitation worker.”

Facts FirstBiden’s “8.3%” claim is misleading in the absence of any explanation of what this figure is. As in previous speeches, including the State of the Union address in March, Biden didn’t explain that the figure is the product of an alternative calculation, from economists in his own administration, that factors in unrealized capital gains that are not treated as taxable income under federal law. In other words, while Biden made it sound like he was talking about a federal tax rate, he was actually citing a figure that is not based on the way the US tax system actually works at present.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the alternative calculation itself; the administration economists who came up with it explained it in detail on the White House website in 2021. (They said the figure was 8.2%.) Biden, however, has tended to cite the figure without any context about what it is and isn’t, leaving open the impression that he was talking about what these billionaire families pay under current law.

So what do billionaires actually pay under current law? The answer is not publicly known, but experts say it’s clearly more than 8%.

“Biden’s numbers are way too low,” Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute think tank, told CNN in 2023. Gleckman said that in 2019, University of California, Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman “estimated the top 400 households paid an average effective tax rate of about 23 percent in 2018. They got a lot of attention at the time because that rate was lower than the average rate of 24 percent for the bottom half of the income distribution. But it still was way more than 2 or 3,” numbers Biden has used in some previous speeches, “or even 8 percent.”

In February 2024, Gleckman provided additional calculations from the Tax Policy Center. The center found that the top 0.1% of households paid an average effective federal tax rate of about 30.3% in 2020, including an average income tax rate of 24.3%.

Biden and the budget deficit

During the same Tuesday speech in Scranton, Biden repeated a familiar boast about his supposed impact on the federal budget deficit. He said, “A lot more to do, but guess what? During the whole time, I’ve been able to cut the federal deficit at the same exact time by over $1 trillion — $1 trillion.”

Facts FirstBiden’s claim leaves out such critical context that it is misleading. While the annual federal budget deficit was more than $1 trillion lower in the 2023 fiscal year than it was in both the 2020 fiscal year (under President Donald Trump) and the 2021 fiscal year (partially under Trump and partially under Biden), analysts have repeatedly noted that Biden’s own actions, including laws he has signed and executive orders he has issued, have had the overall effect of worsening annual deficits, not reducing them. As in past remarks, Biden didn’t explain that the primary reason the deficit fell by a record amount during his tenure was that it had skyrocketed to a record high at the end of Trump’s term because of bipartisan emergency pandemic relief spending, then fell as expected when that spending expired as planned.

“The deficit is a trillion dollars lower, roughly, than when President Biden took office. That’s true. But that’s driven not because he ‘reduced’ the deficit by a trillion dollars, but because when he took office it was the middle of Covid and we had been temporarily injecting huge sums of money into the economy,” Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an advocacy group that promotes deficit reduction and tracks the issue, said in a February interview.

Biden can fairly say that his policies have contributed to a strong economic recovery that has boosted tax revenues and thus eaten into deficits. On the whole, though, Goldwein said deficits under Biden have been “higher than they otherwise would have been because of legislation President Biden has signed into law and executive actions he’s taken.”

Biden made the same claim during his State of the Union address in March. You can read a more detailed fact check here.

Biden’s visits to Iraq and Afghanistan

Biden claimed in another Tuesday speech in Scranton: “I was in, I think, 36, 38 times in Iraq and Afghanistan as a senator and as a vice president.”

Facts FirstThese figures are false, according to statistics previously released by Biden’s own 2020 presidential campaign. The campaign said in 2019 that Biden had visited Iraq and Afghanistan on a total of 21 occasions, the Washington Post reported at the time.

Biden has delivered similar falsehoods about his travel to Iraq and Afghanistan on various previous occasions — including in the 2019 remarks that prompted his campaign to correct the record — and they have been previously fact-checked by media outlets including CNN.

In Scranton, where Biden was born, he visited a memorial that honors local residents who died in World War II, including his late uncle Ambrose Finnegan. Before Biden left the city on Wednesday, he told a dramatic story about Finnegan: “He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time. They never recovered his body.” He blamed cannibalism even more directly in his Pittsburgh speech later in the day, claiming Finnegan “got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be — there were a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea.”

Facts First: Biden’s claim differs from the account provided by the Defense Department, as CNN’s Donald Judd reported Wednesday. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s page on Finnegan says this about the 1944 incident: “For unknown reasons, this plane was forced to ditch in the ocean off the north coast of New Guinea. Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft’s nose hit the water hard. Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash.” This official account, which notes that an additional crew member survived the crash, makes no mention of the plane being shot down or of possible cannibalism; while Biden said the crash happened “in” New Guinea, where there was indeed some cannibalism at the time, the official account notes the men went down in the nearby ocean.

White House spokespeople did not repeat Biden’s assertions about cannibals or the plane being shot down when asked about his story. “President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea,” deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told CNN on Wednesday.

– CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this item.


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