TOPICS > Politics

Presidential Candidates Criticize Each Other’s Political Stands

September 15, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, a little fact checking of presidential campaign speeches. As most of you know, we regularly run excerpts from the stump speeches of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and Senators Kerry and Edwards.

Do they always adhere to the accuracy straight and narrow? Media correspondent Terence Smith has some answers.

TERENCE SMITH: To help us with those answers, I’m joined by Brooks Jackson, director of, a non-profit, non-partisan research project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Brooks, welcome back to the broadcast. Tell us first how you go about the business of checking the accuracy of the assertions made by the different candidates.

BROOKS JACKSON: Well, Terry, when we hear dubious comments, something that sounds fishy, or especially when the candidates contradict each other directly and leave voters bewildered about which one of them is closer to the truth, we go first to the candidates and ask them where are they getting that and can you back that up?

We check their sources. Sometimes that means going to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for jobs figures; sometimes it means going to the Congressional Budget Office for spending figures, that sort of thing.

TERENCE SMITH: Publicly available records and figures.

BROOKS JACKSON: Right to the original sources, whenever we can.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, so we’ve selected, and you’ve selected, a number of excerpts from… most of which have appeared on this broadcast and others, of stump speeches of the two.

And in this case, the first is Sen. Kerry. He’s speaking in Greensboro, North Carolina, Sept. 7 — that was last week — and he’s speaking in this case about President Bush and the war in Iraq. So let’s take a look at it.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: He promised America this war would cost $1 billion and that oil from Iraq would pay for it. It’s almost $200 billion now, and I say to everybody in North Carolina, that’s $200 billion that we’re not investing in health care in America.

That’s $200 billion we’re not investing in schools in America. That’s $200 billion that we’re not investing in prescription drugs for seniors.

TERENCE SMITH: And of course, Brooks, he uses that figure, $200 billion, again and again in stump speech after stump speech. How does it hold up to your scrutiny?

BROOKS JACKSON: Well, you count it actually 14 times he used it in one speech alone. Well, the problem with it is that the war in Iraq hasn’t now cost $200 billion. Sen. Kerry is starting with an Office of Management and Budget figure of $120 billion.

That’s what OMB states that the war has cost through the end of this fiscal year, which ends this month. Then the senator adds $25 billion additional, which has been appropriated but won’t be spent until next year, which is one problem, and doesn’t all go for Iraq, which is another problem. Some of it goes for Afghanistan.

And to that he adds another $50 to $60 billion dollars that the Congressional Budget Office suggests the president is likely to have to ask for next year, but that’s money that obviously won’t be spent until the future. And it also includes a lot of money for Afghanistan and even money for combat air patrols over U.S. cities.

So it’s not all for Iraq either. So it’s an inflated figure. What he should say is the war has cost $120 billion and counting, or he could say it will cost $200 billion eventually. But he’s exaggerating.

TERENCE SMITH: That’s a pretty significant rounding up.

BROOKS JACKSON: I would say so.

TERENCE SMITH: Yeah. All right, here’s another clip, this from President Bush, who was speaking in Muskegon, Michigan, just two days ago, and he’s speaking of Sen. Kerry and his health care proposal.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Today there’s an independent study which has been released, which says that his plan would cost the taxpayers $1.5 trillion in new government spending.

Not only is his plan going to increase the power of bureaucrats in your lives, but he can’t pay for it unless he raises your taxes.

TERENCE SMITH: $1.5 trillion?

BROOKS JACKSON: $1.5 trillion. The president’s correct: There is an independent study from the American Enterprise Institute that came out that day that costs Kerry’s plan at $1.5 trillion.

What the president doesn’t mention is that there is also an earlier study done by Professor Ken Thorpe at Emory University that costs it at less than half that, between $600 billion and $700 billion. Now, these are both ten-year figures, and Professor Thorpe, who used to work for the Clinton administration and the American Enterprise Institute, which is pro-business, leaning somewhat conservative, are arguing over who’s right about this.

What’s interesting, though, is that these two studies actually agree on a couple of things. One is that Kerry’s plan would cover an additional 27 million persons who are not covered by health insurance, and that’s many times more than President Bush’s much less expensive plan, and that the plan would also drop health premiums for those who already have health insurance, which it is designed to do.

TERENCE SMITH: Those are points obviously that President Bush doesn’t mention.

BROOKS JACKSON: Leaves those details out, yes.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. All right, here’s another clip. This is Sen. Kerry again speaking in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 10, and he is talking about the very controversial issue of the outsourcing of jobs.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: I think sending jobs overseas and having a tax cut that actually… a tax benefit that actually rewards the company that goes overseas, I think that’s “w:” Wrong choice, wrong direction, wrong leadership for America.

And the right thing to do is to start creating those jobs here and to do smart things that help us invest in science and technology and create the high- paying jobs of the future so we’re not settling for jobs that pay us $9,000 less than the jobs that are going overseas.

TERENCE SMITH: $9,000 less. Is that an agreed figure?

BROOKS JACKSON: That is most definitely not an agreed figure. In fact, that’s one that’s been cooked up by the Kerry campaign. And if you look at what they’ve actually put on their Web site, it doesn’t back up what Sen. Kerry is saying.

What he’s talking about here are averages between industries. And it’s true if you take Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for certain industries that are shrinking and have gone down since Bush took office and others that have gone up, there is a $9,000 difference in the average of those industries. But that tells you nothing about the individual jobs that have been lost versus the individual jobs that have been gained. The government simply does not collect that kind of data.

We’ve looked at other data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that looks at occupations, and it turns out higher-paid occupations are growing while lower-paid occupations are not.

And what most economists will tell you is that they just don’t know. Kerry accurately could have said that jobs today may be paying less than jobs yesterday, but economists don’t know and they certainly can’t tell you by how much.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Now, here the next clip is actually the president speaking on the issue of jobs. He’s in Colmar, Pennsylvania on Sept. 9.

And in this case, he’s describing his own record on job creation. So let’s take a look at that.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our country has now seen 12 straight months of job gains. Over the past year, we’ve added 1.7 million jobs. That is more than Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada and France combined. (Cheers and applause)

Unemployment is down to 5.4 percent. (Applause) That is nearly a full point below the rate in the summer of 2003, and it is below the average of the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, so that’s a rosy picture that he is writing there. How does that hold up?

BROOKS JACKSON: Well, it depends on how you look at it. It’s true we’ve added just under 1.7 million jobs in that period he mentioned, the last 12 months.

And, frankly, I was surprised to find when I went back and checked that not only is the current rate, 5.4 percent unemployment, lower than all of the 1990s, average, 1970s, 1980s; it’s lower than the average since they’ve been keeping figures in 1948. But it’s not quite as low as it got during Bill Clinton’s administration.

The average there was 5.2 percent; it got under 4 percent for a while. And if you take the full Bush administration, we’re still 900,000 jobs down from where we were when he started. And it does look now likely that the Democrats will turn out to be right on this, that Bush, by the end of his term, will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net job loss over the full four years.

TERENCE SMITH: During the course of his administration.

TERENCE SMITH: All right, here’s another clip, and, again, it’s another very sensitive, big issue in the campaign: Social Security. It’s Sen. Kerry speaking in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Sept. 7, and he is referring to President Bush’s acceptance speech at the GOP Convention in New York.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: Now, at that convention in New York last week, George Bush actually stood up and said he had a new idea. (Laughter) And you know what that new idea was?

The bad old idea of privatizing Social Security and cutting your benefits. (Audience booing) So that’s “w:” Wrong choices, wrong direction, and we’re going to make it right by never privatizing Social Security and never cutting people’s benefits.

TERENCE SMITH: So there’s the issue: Cutting people’s benefits.

BROOKS JACKSON: Cutting your benefits, indeed. Well, that mischaracterizes Bush’s position, of course. What Bush has said pretty consistently is that whatever he does eventually propose in this area– and there is no specific plan you can look at– will not include cutting benefits for those who are currently retired or those who are about to retire. Traditional Social Security will continue, so he says. What he’s talking…

TERENCE SMITH: Even if he creates these private accounts.

BROOKS JACKSON: Right, what he’s talking about would more correctly be called “partial privatization.” It would allow younger workers to put part of their Social Security money into private accounts. And if the president turns out to be right, maybe do better, but maybe do worse; that would be the risk they would take.

But Kerry really does mischaracterize the president’s position and doesn’t mention that as things are going, Social Security actuaries say that the system can’t continue. We will have… if we were to put it in balance today for the next 75 years, it would require either cutting benefits 13 percent today or raising payroll taxes 15 percent today: Hard choices that we don’t hear Sen. Kerry talking about in that stump speech.

TERENCE SMITH: And that would be any president would confront those…

BROOKS JACKSON: And it only gets worse the farther off we put those hard choices.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. Okay, last clip. It’s from President Bush. It’s, again, that same speech in Colmar, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 9.

But this time he’s talking about the benefits of his tax cuts.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Because of tax relief, the middle class is paying less in federal taxes. The average family of four with an income of $40,000 got nearly a $2,000 tax cut. (Applause) Real after-tax incomes are up almost 10 percent since December of 2000.

TERENCE SMITH: Well, why do I guess that that’s what you are going to latch on to — that last phrase?

BROOKS JACKSON: Well, it’s… we’ll give him his due. If you are a family of four making $40,000, and both your children are under age 17 and so qualify for the per child tax credit, you did get about a $1,900 or so tax cut.

TERENCE SMITH: Close enough to his $2,000.

BROOKS JACKSON: Close enough. Singles didn’t do so well; he doesn’t mention that. But that 10 percent figure, though, is interesting. What he’s talking about is a Department of Commerce figure for all the income earned by everybody all lumped together.

Now, population growth actually accounts for some of that 10 percent. If you look at it per person, it turns out to be under 6 percent, and that doesn’t tell you where the money is going. For that you have to look at Census Bureau figures.

New figures out recently show, in fact, that the typical household, typical median mid- point household income actually declined $1,500 in the first three years of the Bush administration. Now, that’s before taxes. They don’t have the after-tax figures out, so we don’t know yet about that. Also, another 4.3 million persons are in poverty under Bush. He doesn’t mention that, of course.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Brooks Jackson, thanks for checking the facts for us.