Arrow-right Camera


Charges Fly, But Sometimes Not Far

Mon., Oct. 7, 1996


A look at the truth of candidates’ claims

The smallest government in 30 years. The largest tax increase in history. A $270 billion cut in Medicare. In the pocket of the trial lawyers.

In their first debate, President Clinton and Bob Dole made those claims and many more Sunday night. How their words measured up to the facts:

Trial lawyers. Dole accused the president of being under the influence of trial lawyers. It is true that lawyers have been Clinton’s single largest source of donations for this election - a total of nearly $3.9 million. But Dole also has gotten a healthy share of political donations for this election from attorneys - $1.5 million.

Smallest government in 30 years. It is true that Clinton has trimmed nearly 250,000 federal jobs since taking office and that the total federal work force now is smaller than during the Kennedy administration. However, two-thirds of those cuts have come from the Defense Department because of the end of the Cold War. The non-defense federal work force which also has shrunk under Clinton’s reinventing government plan - is still about 40 percent larger than when Kennedy was president.

Taxes and incomes. Dole alleged that under Clinton, wages had stagnated and families now pay 40 percent of what they earn for federal, state and local taxes - “more than you spend for food, clothing and shelter combined for taxes under this administration.”

But two government studies challenge those claims.

The Census Bureau reported in August that the median household income, even when adjusted for inflation, rose 2.7 percent in 1995, the first increase in six years. The gain was shared by families across the board.

Dole’s 40 percent tax figure came from a recent study by a conservative tax foundation, which estimated that it takes until May 7 of each year for the average American to earn enough to pay taxes.

But the underpinnings of that study have been attacked by several experts.

And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this year that in 1994, the average family paid $5,897 in all taxes in 1994. That was just one-third of what the average family spent on food, clothing and housing.

Medicare spending. Clinton accused congressional Republicans of trying to cut Medicare by $270 billion. In fact, Republicans never proposed reducing Medicare spending.

Both Republicans and Clinton have proposed restraining the future growth of Medicare - the GOP by $270 billion over seven years, the president by $124 billion over the same period.

Under the GOP plan, Medicare spending still would have risen by 7 percent a year, the Congressional Budget Office says.

Troop deployment. Dole accused the president of deploying “more than any president in history around the world.” In fact, Clinton’s high-profile deployment of troops to Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia and the Persian Gulf pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands deployed during the Gulf War, Vietnam War or World War II.

In all, Clinton deployed about 20,000 troops to Bosnia, 23,000 to Haiti and 10,000 to Somalia. Last month when tensions flared with Iraq, Clinton deployed another 10,000 troops to that region.

Dole, however, was correct in noting that Clinton had promised to pull all U.S. troops out of Bosnia by this December but recently made plans to keep thousands more there through next spring.

Drug czar. Clinton and Dole both battled over the White House drug czar’s office. Clinton took credit for appointing a former general this year to head the office. But in 1993, Clinton slashed the size of the office by nearly four-fifths as part of his effort to reduce White House staff by 25 percent.

Dole criticized the president for those cuts. However, as a senator Dole voted against the creation of the drug czar office in the 1980s.

The largest tax increase. Dole charged that Clinton’s 1993 budget resulted in the “largest tax increase in history.”

Well, not really. Not when you account for inflation.

With that adjustment, the largest U.S. tax increase since World War II came in 1982 under President Reagan. It was written principally by Dole, then chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee.

A dollar was worth more in 1982 than it was in 1993. Using 1993 dollars as a measure, Dole’s 1982 tax increase cost $260 billion over five years. Clinton in 1993 proposed $266 billion in tax increases over five years but congressional negotiators cut that to about $241 billion.

Click here to comment on this story »