WASHINGTON – In their third and final debate before the Nov. 2 election, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry engaged in the same fact-stretching on key issues that they have throughout the campaign. Some examples:
Bush stumbled at the start on a question not raised before now – on the flu vaccine shortage.
Bush said the United States “relied on a company out of England” for the flu vaccine. Chiron, however, is a California-based company with a factory in England. Bush implied U.S. authorities shut the factory, saying “we took the right action and didn’t allow contaminated medicine into our country.” In fact, English authorities, not U.S. authorities, shut the Chiron plant.
Also, Bush blamed lawsuits for the shortage, but that’s not the cause of frequent vaccine shortages, according to the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences. The problem is that vaccines aren’t profitable and drug companies keep merging. In 1967, nearly 30 drug companies made vaccines. That was down to five last year, and of those only two make flu vaccines.
Kerry also made a small but important factual error late in the debate by saying Bush had never met with the Congressional Black Caucus, implying that Bush wasn’t attuned to minorities. But Bush did meet with the caucus on Jan. 31, 2001. Bush also met with some members of the caucus in February but has declined six invitations to meet with the entire caucus.
Other examples of truth-shading by both sides:
Homeland security: Kerry is right in saying that 95 percent of containers entering the United States as well as cargo in commercial airlines aren’t inspected. The Sept. 11 commission called that a huge gap in security. But while not manually inspected, every container is electronically inspected and profiled for risk. Furthermore, Bush’s 2005 budget calls for a 628 percent increase in port security funding over 2001.
But according to Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, a new classified report by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general says that the current screening system is too weak to stop weapons of mass destruction from entering the country. An unclassified version of that report is expected to be released today.
Despite Kerry’s assertion on cargo and commercial airlines, the Transportation Security Administration announced Sept. 20 that it would expand the use of explosives detection devices at airports.
Jobs/economy: Kerry said 1.6 million jobs were lost under Bush’s watch. That is only private-sector jobs; counting the increase in public-sector jobs, the number of lost jobs is closer to 821,000. But at the current, slow rate of job creation, it seems likely in his first term that Bush will be the first president in 72 years to lose jobs, as Kerry put it.
Bush said the economy is growing with more jobs being created. But they’re being created at a far slower rate than the 150,000 jobs a month that economists consider healthy for the economy. For example, last month, 96,000 jobs were created.
Taxes: Bush said Kerry voted to raise taxes 98 times. But according to factcheck.org, a nonpartisan Web site run by the University of Pennsylvania, of those 98 votes, 43 were cast on budget measures that only set targets and don’t actually affect taxes. In addition, of the 98, some are multiple votes on the same bill. For example, the 98 number includes 16 votes on President Clinton’s 1993 proposal to raise taxes and cut spending.
Bush also said, in defending his tax cuts, “Most of the tax cuts went to middle- and lower-income Americans. … Now the tax code is more fair.”
In fact, a report issued in August by the Congressional Budget Office found that since the Bush tax cuts went into effect, the tax burden has slightly shifted toward the middle class from the top earners. Since 2001, tax liabilities for the top 10 percent of earners went from 50 percent to 47.6 percent of the tax burden, and tax liabilities for the middle 20 percent of earners went from 10 percent to 10.5 percent of the total tax burden. But it is true that the wealthy still pay the largest share of taxes.
Education: Kerry and Bush went back and forth on whether Bush cut Pell grants, a need-based college scholarship. Bush promised in 2000 to increase the maximum Pell grant from $3,300 to $5,100 for first-year students. It increased to $4,000 in 2002. He has requested an increase to $4,050 in his 2005 budget.
Bush proposed increasing Pell grants by $33 million in fiscal 2005. But the Department of Education said the program is already underfunded by $2.5 billion in the current academic year, Congressional Quarterly reported in January.