Who Fact Checks the Fact Checkers?

PolitiFact has a hilarious article "fact checking" a Paul Ryan statement to Congress in 2011:

They pointed to several documents that shed light on the claim. One was the CBO’s analysis of Ryan’s own budget "roadmap," published in early 2010.

The report compared Ryan’s proposal to a CBO model that takes the current baseline budget numbers and adjusts them to account for a number of policy changes, most of which are expected to be enacted. This can be considered an approximation of the status-quo.

Analyzing this status-quo model, the CBO wrote that "it is not possible to simulate the effects … after 2058 because deficits become so large and unsustainable that the model cannot calculate their effects." (The CBO went on to write that, compared to the status-quo option, Ryan’s plan did a better job of bringing down the debt and promoting economic output.)

Still, the year this economic model essentially blows up, according to CBO, is 2058 -- 21 years later than what Ryan said in the CNN clip.
Oh, well I guess everything is hunky dory.

Look, if the Republicans were claiming the economy was going to collapse in 2037 and required a massively painful series of government cuts to avoid that, while the Democrats were instead making a series of painful government cuts to hit the target date of 2058, this quibbling might be worth something. After all, the 2058 date means that a plan can be less severe, achieving the same goals but with a longer period to do it in. It's the flip side of RRSPs: the longer the timeframe you have to build up your money, the less money you have to put into it to achieve the same result. Start your RRSPs at 53 and you're hooped. Start them at 19 (as a girl I was out with today has done) and you're in like flint.

The problem, of course, is that the Democrats are going full speed ahead on government spending, ballooning the deficit by over a trillion (that's trillion, with a "T") dollars a year and contributing to the $16 trillion national debt which is so chillingly shown in this video:

As a result, it really doesn't matter if Ryan is forward or backward a decade or two on the specific date: he's talking about it and is trying to come up with plans to deal with it. The Democrats aren't.
The model Ryan is referring to is based on the assumption that no policy changes are made to reduce the debt.

Even though lawmakers have typically been loath to touch the main drivers of the nation’s debt burden -- entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare -- some economists said that it was unrealistic that politicians would simply let the economy implode rather than making changes to stave off that fate.
Not to harp on this point a lot, but this "unrealistic" view that politicians don't want to make the changes is actually what's happening right now. Here are a look at the two plans to reduce the deficit:

President Monkey's plan

Paul Ryan's plan

Now Ryan's plan itself isn't particularly harsh: as I implied above though, it's the harsher plan. When your harsher plan isn't harsh enough, does it make any sense for your opponents to criticize it when their plan isn't even remotely harsh?

So where does this leave us? We’ll start by listing the exaggerations in Ryan’s statement.

First, he implies that there’s only one CBO model, glossing over the fact that the agency uses multiple models that have produced varying results. Second, Ryan predicts a collapse in 2037, but there’s considerable variation in the doomsday year depending on the model the CBO uses and the data it plugs into its calculations.

Third, Ryan’s statement assumes that no change will be made from current policies before a collapse -- an assumption that’s unlikely. And fourth, his claim that the CBO’s "computer simulation can't conceive of any way in which the U.S. economy can continue" strikes us as an overstatement. In fact, the CBO finds lots of unpalatable scenarios if things get bad enough, but the agency doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the economy will simply cease functioning. Economies are far more complex than any single model, so just because a model stops working, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the economy will bring us back to hunter-gatherer days when the model stops working.
So the first point may have validity..so what about other CBO models? When they do mention their models (they aren't publicly visible, we rely on politicians like Ryan who do read the to tell us) there typically isn't that much fudge factor. Read their report on President Monkey's budget from last April for example. Meanwhile, did Ryan specify that he was looking at a bad-case scenario number when the CBO produced a likely scenario number? Or was Ryan's the likely and 2058 is a best-case scenario? See, two can play at this game.

As to their second point, the key bit that Ryan is trying to make public that is being glossed over in this election is there is a fucking doomsday year!. Shouldn't this be something Americans worry about? All the college students today who will be in their mid-40s when the Ryan doomsday year comes about and in their mid-60s due to retire when the CBO doomsday year comes about are still out their flagging their useless demagogic race-baiting huckster of a failed President! This is maybe something that deserves more than a half-assed "fact check".

We already discussed the third point: between PoliFact's opinion of what politicians will do and the reality we can see today of what they actually do do, I think Ryan is justified warning us about the future. After all, until politicians are pushed to fix this it won't be fixed, and half the U.S. political spectrum denying that this is even a problem may just throw a wrinkle into this analysis.

As for their new fourth point, in 2008 we saw what impact a single failing sector of the United States economy -- residential real estate -- had on the economic success of the entire globe. I'd say the United States government, which under President Monkey is going to spend a quarter of the nation's economic output and under Romney/Ryan will spend "merely" a fifth, would have something of a negative impact on the economy if it shut down completely overnight. You think consumer confidence corroded when people's homes dropped in value? Imagine what will happen when the 47+% of Americans who are dependent on government suddenly run out of cash? If you think the Occupy Wall Street fleabaggers were a social problem, what happens when their numbers swell to more and more who got so used to free government money that they cannot function without it? What happens when the U.S. Treasury tries to take more and more money from citizens in the years leading up to doomsday to (too late!) try and hold it off? What happens when the "moral" argument for taxes falls apart: to wit that you may be getting raped by Uncle Sam every two weeks but at least we're using it to help the poor and create a Just Society? When that statement doesn't hold true how many taxpayers will suddenly find the burden an outrage?
"The issue is simply that under current law, the debt-to-GDP ratio soars so high that economic models break down," said J.D. Foster, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The truth is that nobody really knows what would happen as the debt-to-GDP ratio pushes through 100 percent on the way to 200 or 300 percent. The models certainly are not capable of anticipating the effects. But you don't have to have an economic model to appreciate the clear picture of fiscal Armageddon."

Generally, then, Ryan’s oversimplifications and exaggerations lead us to downgrade our rating, but his broader point about the perils of the debt for the nation’s economy remains accurate. On balance, we rate his statement Half True.
So the guy saying Armageddon is coming and (possibly!) exaggerates the date in a plea to avoid inaction, and PoliFact says it was half true inasmuch that the day I suppose is coming after all but so long as Congress acts in accordance to the demands of Cassandra Ryan the Half Truther it won't entirely be true.

So does that mean when somebody is apparently a liar, their statement is probably 100% true? According to PoliFact, yes, yes it is. If you don't believe me, take a look.