September 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Candidates’ Rhetoric Contains Kernel Of Reality

Steven Thomma Knight-Ridder
 

As Democrats launch their fall campaign, the boasts of their accomplishments and the charges against the opposition are flying like confetti.

Led by President Clinton, they’ve saved the economy, created millions of jobs, improved pay, cleaned up crime. All while the dreaded Republicans would take Medicare away from old people and saddle children with a new and ominous federal debt.

Or so they say.

The Republicans and their presidential candidate, Bob Dole, have their own script. They would cut taxes and improve wages for beleaguered Americans, they say. Clinton and the Democrats have presided over a sluggish economy and surrendered in the war on illegal drugs.

Those were the story lines at the recent national conventions - the Democrats here and the Republicans in San Diego.

Somewhere between Chicago and San Diego lies the truth.

Sometimes, the candidates simply omit part of the truth, like the fact that both parties would cut the growth of spending on Medicare. Sometimes, they embellish the truth, like the fact that the economy probably would have added millions of jobs anyway. And sometimes, they pick one subject to stress in order to get voters to forget about another, like Clinton talking crime because crime is down and Dole talking drugs because illegal drug use is up.

It’s particularly easy in a campaign, where a president can claim credit for signing legislation he didn’t even propose.

To help voters sort through the rhetoric on several top points of contention, here is a brief look at the claims and the reality:

MEDICARE

The claims. In a perennial campaign charge for Democrats, President Clinton says Bob Dole and the GOP would endanger the health insurance program for the elderly. His television ads hearken back to the congressional budget plan passed last year, warning that Dole “would have already cut Medicare $270 billion.” And he lambastes Dole’s proposal to cut taxes while balancing the budget, saying that would force “even bigger cuts in Medicare” and other programs.

Dole counters that he would not cut Medicare. His spokeswoman says Dole’s plan “keeps Medicare and Social Security off the table.”

The reality. Both Clinton and Dole would slow down the growth of Medicare spending. And they’re very close to each other.

Clinton doesn’t mention it, but his last proposal to balance the budget would spend $128 billion less than current budget projections over six years. And Dole doesn’t mention that his tax and budget proposal is based on the last GOP congressional budget proposal, which would shave projected Medicare spending by $158 billion over six years.

TAXES

The claims. Saying that Americans are paying more in taxes than ever before, thanks in large part to Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, Dole proposes to cut taxes by $548 billion over six years. He says federal, state and local taxes took 31.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product last year, the “highest in history.”

Dole insists he can cut taxes and still balance the budget without painful cuts in spending in large part because his tax cut and a balanced budget would boost the economy enough and cut interest rates enough to increase tax revenues by $147 billion and save the government another $247 billion.

Clinton says that’s irresponsible, that it can’t be done.

The reality. The combined tax burden from federal, state and local taxes took 30.4 percent of the nation’s economy in 1995, the highest total since at least 1950, according to the bipartisan Concord Coalition, an anti-deficit group.

But the federal tax burden has remained fairly constant since 1960; most of the increases have come in state and local taxes.

Also, Clinton’s 1993 tax increase fell mainly on the wealthy. For families with incomes under $100,000 a year, effective federal tax rates went down, while the tax rates went up for families with incomes above $100,000, according to a study by the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse for Money magazine.

And Dole’s assumption of an economic boom thanks to a balanced budget is at best optimistic. His plan would barely dent the deficit for years, holding the deficit near current levels through 2000 and putting off deep cuts until 2001 and 2002.

“To realize the full fiscal dividend, deficit reduction must begin promptly,” concludes the Concord Coalition.

ECONOMY

The claims. Clinton brags about the nation’s economy under his tenure, saying he has added 10 million new jobs, that the economy is growing faster than during any Republican administration in 40 years, that paychecks are finally growing again after years of stagnation.

Dole counters that the economy is growing at a sluggish 2.4 percent a year under Clinton, compared with 3.7 percent in 1992, an average 3.2 percent a year during the 1980s, and a post-World War II average of 3.3 percent.

The reality. The economy is growing. In the first three years of Clinton’s term, the economy grew at an average rate of 2.7 percent a year, on a par with the 2.7 percent in 1992, and the average of 2.77 percent a year during the 1980s, according to the Economic Report of the President. In the second quarter of this year, the economy grew at the robust annual rate of 4.8 percent.

While it is true that unemployment has dropped from 7 percent before Clinton to 5.4 percent and that the economy has 10 million more jobs since he took office, the country normally adds about 1.5 million new jobs in non-recession years anyway. So, it probably would have added 6 million jobs.

And, because he took office just as the country was recovering from a recession, the jobs increase was magnified as payrolls returned to pre-recession levels.

It is true that average wages started moving up this year after more than a decade of losing ground to inflation.

A big reason: businesses are starting to control the cost of health care. Employers have been steadily increasing the money they spend on workers, but rising health care costs took most of that, leaving little or nothing extra for paychecks. Turning to managed care and other devices to save money, businesses this year report that wages are growing faster than fringe benefits for the first time in more than a decade.

CRIME

The claims. Clinton boasts of his efforts to curb crime, pointing to his programs to add 100,000 police to the nation’s streets, ban 19 types of assault weapons, and require a waiting period to buy handguns to allow background checks to screen out convicted criminals from getting guns.

The reality. Crime is down. But it was already declining when he took office.

In 1994, there were 5,374 crimes for every 100,000 Americans, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. That was far higher than the 2,740 per 100,000 in 1970, but down from 5,660 in 1992, and down from 5,899 in 1980. The same is true for violent crime and murder, higher than 1970, but down from 1980 and 1992.

About 44,000 of the additional police positions have been funded, and about 20,000 are on the job.


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