FactChecking McCain
He made some flubs in accepting the nomination.
We checked the accuracy of McCain’s speech accepting the Republican nomination and noted the following:
  • McCain claimed that Obama’s health care plan would “force small businesses to cut jobs” and would put “a bureaucrat … between you and your doctor.” In fact, the plan exempts small businesses, and those who have insurance now could keep the coverage they have.   

  • McCain attacked Obama for voting for “corporate welfare” for oil companies. In fact, the bill Obama voted for raised taxes on oil companies by $300 million over 11 years while providing $5.8 billion in subsidies for renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels.   

  • McCain said oil imports send “$700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much.” But the U.S. is on track to import a total of only $536 billion worth of oil at current prices, and close to a third of that comes from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.   

  • He promised to increase use of “wind, tide [and] solar” energy, though his actual energy plan contains no new money for renewable energy. He has said elsewhere that renewable sources won’t produce as much as people think.   

  • He called for “reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs,” but as in the past failed to cite a single program that he would eliminate or reduce.   

  • He said Obama would “close” markets to trade. In fact, Obama, though he once said he wanted to “renegotiate” the North American Free Trade Agreement, now says he simply wants to try to strengthen environmental and labor provisions in it.
Sen. John McCain’s acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 4 was couched more in generalities than in specifics, offering fewer factual claims to check than we found in other speeches to the gathering. But we found some instances where the nominee strained the truth.  

Insurance Claims

McCain mischaracterized Obama’s health care plan:

McCain: His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor.

mccain at conventionThe claim that “small businesses” would have to “cut jobs, reduce wages,” runs counter to Obama’s actual proposal. Obama’s plan would require businesses to contribute to the cost of insurance for employees or pay some unspecified amount into a new public plan. But his proposal specifically says, “Small businesses will be exempt from this requirement.” And it offers additional help to small businesses that want to provide health care in the form of a refundable tax credit of up to half the cost of premiums. We’ll note that neither man has defined what exactly a “small business” is.
Furthermore, Obama’s plan wouldn’t “force” families into a “government-run health care system.” His plan mandates that children have coverage; there’s no mandate for adults. People can keep the health insurance they have now or chose from private plans, or opt for a new public plan that will offer coverage similar to what members of Congress have. Obama would also expand Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. His plan certainly expands government-offered insurance – and McCain’s doesn’t – but it’s not a solely government-run plan, as McCain implied. And if Obama’s public plan turns out to be similar to what federal employees have, as he says it would be, we’re not sure how “a bureaucrat” would stand “between you and your doctor.” The possible exception would be persons covered by Medicaid or SCHIP.
McCain also made this boast:



McCain: My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance.

Fair enough. But McCain’s plan wouldn’t do nearly as well as Obama’s. One comparison, by the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, finds Obama’s would reduce the uninsured by 18 million people in its first year, compared with a 1 million reduction under McCain’s plan. TPC made various assumptions about the plans to fill in details each proposal lacks, so those numbers aren’t definitive. We await more comparisons from other experts.

Oily Words

McCain attacked Obama for supporting “corporate welfare” for oil companies:

McCain: [I]nstead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies.

The bill McCain is talking about here is the 2005 energy bill, which actually raised taxes on the oil industry a little bit overall – by about $300 million, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Meanwhile, McCain himself proposes to cut the corporate rate for all companies – oil included – and that would result in an estimated $4 billion cut for the five largest U.S.-based oil companies, according to the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Obama, on the other hand, is promising that he’ll strip oil companies of “tax breaks” to the tune of an amount yet to be determined.

It’s true that Obama voted for the 2005 bill. He said he favored the $5.8 billion (over 11 years) that it contained in tax incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels. McCain voted against it on the grounds that the $2.6 billion it contained for oil and gas incentives was too much, even though the bill also took away $2.9 billion from the industry, for a net tax increase of $300 million. Describing such a complex measure as “corporate welfare” is misleading.


More Oily Words

We found other exaggerations in McCain’s claims about his plan for energy independence:

McCain: We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much.

In fact, the U.S. doesn’t pay nearly that much for oil from hostile nations. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. imported 4.9 billion barrels of oil in 2007. At today’s prices, that works out to about $536 billion, still a hefty chunk of change, but considerably less than $700 billion. More important, that’s what we pay to all exporting nations, not just those that “don’t like us very much.” We note that 32 percent of U.S. oil imports came from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Just Wind

McCain also made sweeping claims about green energy that aren’t actually backed up by his policy proposals:

McCain: We will attack the problem on every front. …We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

McCain has been quite specific about his proposals to clear the way for building 45 new nuclear power plants, opening offshore areas to oil drilling and spending $2 billion a year for so-called “clean coal” technology. He has also proposed a $300 million prize for developing the first practical plug-in electric car, although General Motors already is working on that and is aiming for delivery of the Chevrolet Volt by 2010, prize or no prize. McCain has also proposed a $5,000 tax credit for consumers who purchase zero emission vehicles
But when it comes to power from wind and tide, McCain’s words are blowing in the breeze. His energy plan, which he calls the Lexington Project, proposes no new spending for renewable energy programs. Instead, he proposes to “rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits,” but hasn’t said what he means by that. As we’ve written before, spokespeople for the wind and solar industries are unsure what this actually means. Finally, we’ll note that McCain himself told supporters at a July town hall meeting that he doesn’t think that renewable energy is likely to be “as much of the solution as some people think.” Perhaps not, but if McCain is right his own words are contributing to the public misperception.


Pig in a Poke

McCain repeated his vague promise to make spending cuts:

McCain: Reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs will let you keep more of your own money to save, spend and invest as you see fit.

McCain has not said which programs he considers to be “failed programs.” He thus makes the spending cuts sound less painful than they will be should he fulfill his previously stated promise to balance the federal budget by 2013 while also making all Bush tax cuts permanent and adding new cuts of his own. McCain repeated his promise to eliminate “earmarks” from federal spending bills, saying  “the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it.” That drew applause, but the fact is that earmarks amount to only $16.9 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, the deficit is expected to be more than $200 billion in 2009. And McCain’s tax cuts will add billions more to future deficits unless offset by spending cuts, which he so far has not been willing to identify. What would he cut?
A McCain adviser, former CBO chairman Douglas Holtz-Eakin, has said that McCain “will provide the leadership to achieve bipartisan spending restraint” and “will perform a comprehensive review of all programs, projects and activities of the federal government” to find programs to cut or eliminate. But that, of course, will come after people have cast their votes.



Trade Talk

McCain said, “I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them.”
McCain may be alluding to Obama’s threat earlier this year to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico and Canada won’t open the deal to renegotiation. Obama said at a Democratic primary debate in Cleveland in February:


Obama, Feb. 26: I will make sure that we renegotiate. … I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced. 

But that’s far from a threat to “close” markets to U.S. exports.

An expert from a pro-trade group agrees. “It’s a stretch to take the heated comment from the Cleveland debate to pull out of NAFTA if it wasn’t revised as indicative of a protectionist policy,” Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told FactCheck.org. “In any event, the position on NAFTA has since been clarified.”

In fact, Obama has said he thinks it’s unwise to repeal the trade deal, because to do so “would actually result in more job loss … than job gains.” And in a June interview with Fortune magazine, he stated that he didn’t plan on pulling out of NAFTA. “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,” he said.
It’s true that McCain has been a stronger advocate of free trade agreements than Obama, who supported the trade deal with Oman in 2006 and one with Peru in 2007 but opposed the one with Central America and another with Colombia. But saying he would “close” markets is nonsense.



Planet Plans

Finally, we note that McCain and the Republican delegates applied a different standard to the Republican nominee’s lofty rhetoric than they did to Obama’s.
McCain drew applause with this line:


McCain: We must use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy from the damage caused by rising oil prices and restore the health of our planet.

The previous evening, however, McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, ridiculed Obama for using similar high-sounding words:

Palin, Sept. 3: What does he actually seek to accomplish after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?

That crack drew jeers and laughter. Perhaps Republicans see a distinction between “healing the planet” and “restor[ing] the health of our planet,” but it escapes us.
–by Brooks Jackson, with Viveca Novak, Lori Robertson, Joe Miller and Emi Kolawole


Obama, Barack. “Plan for a Healthy America.” BarackObama.com, accessed 5 Sept. 2008.

Office of Management and Budget. “FY 2008 Appropriations Earmarks Summary,” 28 January 2008.

Congressional Budget Office. “CBO’s Baseline Budget Projections,” March 2008.

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Spot Prices, Crude Oil in Dollars per Barrel.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, accessed 5 Sept. 2008.

The New York Times. “Transcript, the Democratic Debate in Cleveland.” 26 Feb. 2008.

Tapper, Jake. “Obama Knocks Clinton, but Wouldn’t Ax NAFTA.” ABC News, 24 Feb. 2008.

Easton, Nina. “Obama: NAFTA not so bad after all.” Fortune Magazine, 18 June 2008.

Obama, Barack. “Why I Oppose CAFTA.” Chicago Tribune, 30 June 2005.

Elliott, Philip. “Obama says rivals have failed.” The Associated Press, 9 Oct. 2007.

Remarks for Sen. Barack Obama: AFL-CIO.” 2 April 2008. http://www.barackobama.com, Web site accessed 5 Sept. 2008.



GOP Convention Spin, Part II
Palin trips up on her facts, and Giuliani and Huckabee have their own stumbles on Night 3 of the Republican confab.
Sarah Palin’s much-awaited speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night may have shown she could play the role of attack dog, but it also showed her to be short on facts when it came to touting her own record and going after Obama’s.We found Rudy Giuliani, who introduced her, to be as factually challenged as he sometimes was back when he was in the race. But Mike Huckabee may have laid the biggest egg of all.

  • Palin may have said “Thanks, but no thanks” on the Bridge to Nowhere, though not until Congress had pretty much killed it already. But that was a sharp turnaround from the position she took during her gubernatorial campaign, and the town where she was mayor received lots of earmarks during her tenure.
  • Palin’s accusation that Obama hasn’t authored “a single major law or even a reform” in the U.S. Senate or the Illinois Senate is simply not a fair assessment. Obama has helped push through major ethics reforms in both bodies, for example.
  • The Alaska governor avoided some of McCain’s false claims about Obama’s tax program – but her attacks still failed to give the whole story.
  • Giuliani distorted the time line and substance of Obama’s statements about the conflict between Russia and Georgia. In fact, there was much less difference between his statements and those of McCain than Giuliani would have had us believe.
  • Giuliani also said McCain had been a fighter pilot. Actually, McCain’s plane was the A-4 Skyhawk, a small bomber. It was the only plane he trained in or flew in combat, according to McCain’s own memoir.
  • Finally, Huckabee told conventioneers and TV viewers that Palin got more votes when she ran for mayor of Wasilla than Biden did running for president. Not even close. The tally: Biden, 79,754, despite withdrawing from the race after the Iowa caucuses. Palin, 909 in her 1999 race, 651 in 1996.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a hit with the party faithful at the GOP convention, but some of her claims were amiss. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also delivered a few faulty remarks.

A Bridge Too Far

Palin claimed to have stood up to Congress on the subject of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” the Gravina Island bridge in Ketchikan, Alaska, about which we wrote last November.

Palin: I told the Congress, “Thanks, but no thanks,” on that bridge to nowhere.

This is not the first time Palin has cited her choice to kill the bridge in 2007 as an example of her anti-waste stance. It’s true that she did eventually nix the project. But the bridge was nearly dead already – Congress had removed the earmark, giving the requested money to the state but not marking it for any specific use. Palin unplugged its life support, declaring in 2007 that the funds would not be used for the Gravina bridge.

When she was running for governor, however, Palin expressed a different position. In 2006, the Ketchikan Daily News quoted her expressing optimism and support for the bridge at a Ketchikan campaign stop.

Palin, 2006: “People across the nation struggle with the idea of building a bridge because they’ve been under these misperceptions about the bridge and the purpose,” said Palin, who described the link as the Ketchikan area’s potential for expansion and growth. … Palin said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge as part of a package deal and that she “would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge.”

Palin also answered “yes” to an Anchorage Daily News poll question about whether she would continue to support state funding for the Gravina Island bridge if elected governor. “The window is now,” she wrote, “while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.” It was only after she won the governorship that Palin shifted her position. And even then, it’s inaccurate to say that she “told the Congress ‘thanks, but no thanks.’” Palin accepted non-earmarked money from Congress that could have been used for the bridge if she so desired. That she opted to use it for other state transportation purposes doesn’t qualify as standing up to Congress.

The bridge reversal is not the only matter throwing doubt on Palin’s credentials as a government waste reformer. Watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has reported that the small town of Wasilla, Alaska, which had not previously received significant federal funds, hauled in almost $27 million in earmarks while Palin was mayor. (McCain has explicitly criticized several of the Wasilla earmarks in recent years.) To help obtain these earmarks, Palin had hired Steven Silver, the former chief of staff for recently indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, as Wasilla’s lobbyist.

And Palin continued to solicit federal funds as governor. A request form on Stevens’ Web site shows that she requested $160.5 million in earmarks for the state in 2008, and almost $198 million for 2009. 

Tough Grader

Palin disparaged Obama’s legislative record, both in Illinois and in Washington:

Palin: But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or even a reform, not even in the state Senate.

Of course, we can’t say what Palin considers “major.” But if Palin’s own ethics reforms in Alaska were important enough to highlight in her convention address, then it’s only fair to credit Obama’s efforts on that topic. In 1998 in the Illinois Senate, Obama cosponsored an ethics overhaul that bars elected officials from using their campaign funds for personal use and and was called the the first major overhaul of Illinois campaign and ethics laws in 25 years. It also bans fundraisers in the state Capitol during legislative sessions. Obama’s Republican cosponsor Kirk Dillard even appeared in an Obama ad last summer describing Obama’s skills working with members of both parties to get legislation passed.

In Washington, Obama was instrumental in helping to craft the 2007 ethics reform law that ended gifts and meals from lobbyists, cut off subsidized jet travel for members of Congress, required lobbyists to disclose contributions they “bundle” to candidates, and put the brakes on other, similar common practices.

In addition, we already noted in a recent article Obama’s efforts with Republican senators to help detect and secure weapons of mass destruction and to destroy conventional weapons stockpiles around the world, and to create a publicly searchable database on federal spending.


One area where we note improvement is the way Palin attacked Obama’s tax proposals – as a burden “on the American economy” rather than, as McCain has been falsely claiming, a direct tax increase on middle-income workers:

Palin: And let me be specific: The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, and raise payroll taxes, and raise investment income taxes, and raise the death tax, and raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars. … How are you – how are you going to be better off if our opponent adds a massive tax burden to the American economy?

Her tax remarks still cry out for context. Obama proposes to cut taxes for most individuals (81.3 percent of all households would get a tax cut), while raising them only for a relative few at the top, which she did not mention. But she avoided the false claims that McCain continues to make, most recently in a TV ad that wrongly accuses Obama of planning “painful tax increases on working American families.” Instead, Palin spoke of the effect of an overall tax increase on jobs and the economy.
It’s quite true that Obama’s plan would increase taxes overall, by a total of $627 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Economists may debate how large or small an effect such an increase would have on jobs and businesses; it’s certainly a topic open for discussion in a political campaign.


Riffing Wrongly

In attacking Obama, Palin reeled off a few statements that had a nice cadence, but were light on facts.

Palin: America needs more energy; our opponent is against producing it. Victory in Iraq is finally in sight, and he wants to forfeit. Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay; he wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.

We have factual problems with three of these statements.

  • Obama’s not against producing more energy. In fact, he’s not even against drilling for oil any more, within limits. He has a $150 billion clean energy program and says that he wants to develop clean coal technology, advance the next generation of biofuels, prioritize construction of the Alaska gas pipeline (surely a measure Palin agrees with) and take a host of other steps to both conserve energy and produce it, in various forms.  

  • If Obama’s comments about meeting with “terrorist states” are worthy of ridicule, then perhaps so are those of the Bush administration and other Republicans. Obama made his first statement on this in an answer to a video question at a Democratic debate last year, when he said “I would” when asked whether he’d meet “separately, without precondition” in his first year with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Reagan, JFK and other presidents had spoken to the Soviet Union regularly, he noted.

In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June, Obama elaborated, saying that he would take an aggressive diplomatic approach – carefully preparing for such meetings, setting a clear agenda, coordinating with  U.S. allies, and not conducting the meetings at all unless they were clearly in the U.S. interest. He also stressed he would “do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

In recent months, the Bush Administration has been more open to beginning a dialogue with the same nations that it once referred to as the “axis of evil.” In July, the president sent a high-level official to Geneva to sit in on nuclear talks with Iran and authorized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak with North Korean diplomats about ending that country’s nuclear weapons program. Reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times noted the stark contrast between the administration’s current position about meeting with “foes” and its attitude several years ago.

Further, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in May that we should “sit down and talk” with Iran. So did former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in March. As did Sen. Dick Lugar, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as far back as 2006.


    Naked Gun

    Giuliani also bungled a reference to McCain’s Navy record:

    Giuliani: And being a “Top Gun” kind of guy, he became a fighter pilot.

    Actually, McCain wasn’t a fighter pilot at all, much less “top gun” among that very specialized group. McCain was a bomber pilot, and he himself makes this clear on page 173 of his book “Faith of my Fathers”: “I trained exclusively in the A-4 Skyhawk, the small bomber that I would soon fly in combat missions.” The aircraft is formally called a “Light Attack Bomber” by Boeing, successor to McDonnell-Douglas, the company that made it. It’s true that a few A-4s were flown by the Navy Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, California – but they played the role of “bogies,” which the fighter pilots in training were supposed to intercept and shoot down.

    Giuliani might be forgiven for his mistake, as he never served in the military himself.

    Too Good to Check?

    The biggest whopper of the night may have come from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who charged that Palin “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States.” It may sound like a great line, but it’s not true – not even close. Palin garnered 651 votes in 1996 and 909 votes in 1999 in her two races for mayor of Wasilla, according to the city. Biden, despite withdrawing from the race after the Iowa caucus, got 79,754 votes in the Democratic primaries.
    – by Viveca Novak, with Brooks Jackson, Jess Henig, Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore


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    2 Responses to “In The News”

    1. S.E. Says:

      First and foremost, McCain will not lead us into a third world war. Unlike Obama, McCain sacrificed a large portion of his life so he could serve this nation honorably. He knows what war is, and he isn’t stupid enough to start an unnecessary one. As for the Iraq War, there’s two things I would like to say: first, I can tell you have a lot of opinions and not many facts; and second, even though I am a conservative and Bush supporter, I will admit that the Iraq War was a mistake. But it’s done with now. Why dwell on it when we can’t change the fact that we went to war? If you care about politics and REALLY want to know the reasoning behind Bush’s Iraq War, read “What Happened” by Scott McClellan. McClellan was the president’s former press secretary and close friend before he left the White House, disappointed and frustrated with how things turned out. As for the Surge: YES, IT HAS WORKED! As I said in my other comment, the violence in Iraq is the lowest since the invasion in 2003. Cities are rebounding, economies are growing, and oil production is starting to pick up considerably.

    2. bilia Says:

      Claiming victory when it is not victory is absurd

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