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WKYT Fact Check | The Kentucky Debate

The WKYT Investigates team looked into a few claims from Kentucky’s candidates for U.S. Senate
Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 11:54 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s record on Capitol Hill and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Amy McGrath’s plans if she were elected were both key targets for the two candidates in The Kentucky Debate, which aired on Monday night at WKYT.

WKYT’s Garrett Wymer watched the debate and investigated several claims made by the candidates.

Claim No. 1: “We have 213,000 Americans dead in nine months. That’s more Americans dead than World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

Who said it: Amy McGrath.

The latest data from Johns Hopkins University does show a U.S. coronavirus-related death toll of more than 214,000 now - a staggering number, no doubt, but still far fewer even than U.S. service member deaths in battle during World War II.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows the following death totals associated with those wars:

  • World War II: 405,399 (including 291,557 in battles)
  • Korea: 54,246 (including 33,739 in battles)
  • Vietnam: 90,220 (including 47,434 in battles)
  • Persian Gulf: 1,948 (including 148 in battles)
  • Iraq/Afghanistan: 6,967 total (combat/non-combat breakdown not available)

Those numbers add up to 558,780 - more than half a million combat and non-combat deaths in all those operations combined.

It is possible that McGrath meant to refer to World War I instead of World War II, in line with a previous comparison some have made.

Claim No. 2: The Heroes Act included “tax cuts for rich people in New York and California, health care for illegal immigrants, and...provided more money for Puerto Rico than it did for Kentucky.”

Who said it: Mitch McConnell.

On the topic of coronavirus relief, Amy McGrath hammered Senator McConnell for not doing more to help American families. McConnell fired back over McGrath’s support of the ‘Heroes Act.’

McGrath has expressed support for the ‘Heroes Act’ - including during Monday’s debate - by criticizing McConnell for not acting on the bill, which passed the Democratic-led House.

The bill does include substantial tax cuts - but not just for “rich people in New York and California.” The non-partisan Tax Policy Center says nearly all households would get some sort of income tax cut, for an average of about $3,300, with the biggest average benefits going to low- and moderate-income households.

The bill does take several steps to aid unauthorized immigrants - who did not qualify for assistance under the CARES Act - including temporarily shielding those who work in certain essential industries.

Puerto Rico, which has also been dealing with the aftermath of other crises (including earthquakes) during the pandemic - is allotted more money in the bill than is Kentucky, according to an analysis by the non-profit think tank Tax Foundation.

  • Kentucky: $8,712,071,163 total ($1,950 per capita)
  • Puerto Rico: $12,832,981,290 total ($3,895 per capita)

Claim No. 3: “Six years ago, Senator McConnell sat here and said, ‘You’ve got to vote for me, all your coal jobs are going to come back.’ Meanwhile, in the last six years we’ve lost 60 percent of coal jobs.”

Who said it: Amy McGrath

Claim No. 4: “At the beginning of the Obama administration, 50 percent of electricity in America was supplied by coal-fired generation. At the end of the Obama administration, 30 percent.”

Who said it: Mitch McConnell

These two claims are related, so we can look at them together.

The coal industry is not what it used to be. Why - and who is to blame - can certainly be a matter of debate, although it certainly includes a number of factors like tightened restrictions and market forces that have led many analysts to call the industry’s decline “inevitable.”

Nationwide, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows a 38.8 percent drop in the number of coal mining industry employees in the last six years.

  • September 2014: ~72,700
  • September 2020: ~44,500

Another source shows a more than 60 percent drop in Kentucky coal jobs in the last decade.

The numbers cited by McConnell, too, are largely accurate. However, that number has also continued to fall under President Trump.

Numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show the following percentages as coal’s share of U.S. electricity net generation:

  • 2008 (before President Obama took office): 48.2 percent
  • 2011 (three years into Obama’s first term): 42.3 percent
  • 2016 (the end of Obama’s second term): 30.4 percent
  • 2019 (the most recent published numbers and three years of Trump in office): 23.5 percent

Those statistics show a drop of roughly seven percent in Trump’s first three years in office - a slightly larger drop than the first three years President Obama was in office. More coal-fired power plants have closed under Trump than in Obama’s first term, CNN has reported.

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