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Fact-checking the debate

Analyzing the statements of President George Bush and challenger Senator John Kerry.

HEALTH CARE

Kerry: “I have a plan to cover all Americans. We’re going to make it affordable and accessible. We’re going to let everybody buy into the same health-care plan senators and congressmen give themselves.”

While Kerry says his plan would cover “all” Americans, his plan would cover 25 million of 45 million uninsured Americans, with lower premiums to some working families, as well as making the congressional health plan available to many Americans. Bush cited a report by the independent Lewin Group saying that Kerry’s plan would cost $1.2 trillion. The Lewin report said the Bush health care plan would provide insurance to 8.2 million Americans, costing $227 billion, compared to the 25 million under Kerry, costing $1.2 trillion.

TAXES

Bush: “He voted to increase taxes 98 times. When they tried to reduce taxes, he voted against that 127 times. He talks about being a fi scal conservative… but he voted over – he voted 277 times to waive the budget caps.”

An analysis by the nonpartisan Annenberg Political Fact Check has found that the Bush campaign has infl ated Kerry’s tax votes by counting and double counting votes on procedures and amendments that don’t make legislative changes. Early in the campaign, Bush claimed that Kerry had voted to raise taxes 350 times. That was subsequently reduced to 98. Neither accurately reflects Kerry’s voting record, says Annenberg Political Fact Check.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND

Kerry: “The president reneged on his promise to fund No Child Left Behind. He’ll tell you he’s raised the money, and he has. But he didn’t put in what he promised, and that makes a difference in the lives of our children.”

Funding for the Department of Education grew 58 percent during the first three years of the Bush administration, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Bush promised to “provide the resources necessary” – and critics say he has not – but his promise did not come with a specific price tag.

PELL GRANTS

Bush: “We’ve increased Pell Grants by a million students. That’s a fact.”

Kerry: “But they’re not getting the $5,100 the president promised them. They’re getting less money. We have more people who qualify. That’s not what we want.”

Bush said during the 2000 campaign that he would increase the Pell Grant, aid to needy students, to $5,100 for freshmen. Instead, the maximum Pell Grant has remained at $4,050 for the last two years – and Bush’s 2005 budget proposal keeps it at that level. The number of students qualifying for Pell Grants has surged, meaning that government spending on the program increased $4 billion during the last three years. Bush has also proposed Pell bonuses to select groups of students, including an extra $1,000 for those who take rigorous high school classes – but the plan includes funding for only 33,000 students.

BLACK CONGRESSIONAL CAUCUS

Kerry: “This president is the first president ever, I think, not to meet with the NAACP. This is a president who hasn’t met with the Black Congressional Caucus. This is a president who has not met with the civil rights leadership of our country.”

Bush did meet with the Black Congressional Caucus less than two weeks after taking office in January 2001, though the meeting was boycotted by some congressmen because of anger over the Florida recount. He also met with members of the caucus on Feb. 25, 2004, to discuss “the political and humanitarian crisis in Haiti.” The Black Congressional Caucus has been rebuffed in attempts to get a formal “work meeting” with the president. The president did not attend this July’s NAACP meeting, in what NAACP leaders said was a snub.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Bush: Reiterated his 2000 proposal to allow private savings accounts, saying “if we don’t act today, the problem will be in the trillions.”

Kerry: Private accounts would be a “disaster.… I will not privatize it. I will not cut the benefits.”

While Bush created a commission that came up with three proposed plans to rescue Social Security, he has not endorsed any of the plans. Bush has not said how he would finance the estimated $1 trillion or more necessary to pay the “transition costs” to allow private savings accounts. Kerry has not presented a detailed plan to rescue Social Security. Kerry’s website leaves open the possibility of cutting Social Security benefi ts for higher-income retirees, saying, that Kerry would not “cut benefits for people who rely on Social Security, or privatize Social Security. He will consider making sure that high-income beneficiaries don’t get more out than they pay in.”

VETERANS AFFAIRS

Bush: “We’ve increased VA funding by $22 billion in the four years since I’ve been president.”

The VA budget went from $48 billion in 2001 to $65 billion this year, an increase of $17 billion, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

JOBS

Kerry: Bush is “the only president in 72 years to lose jobs – 1.6 million jobs lost.”

While Kerry is correct in saying Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs during his administration, Kerry overstates job losses under Bush by referring only to private-sector jobs lost. If government jobs are included, the nation has 925,000 fewer jobs since February 2001.

FAMILY INCOMES

Kerry: “He’s the only president to have incomes of families go down for the last three years.”

Family income is lower than three years ago, but the declines occurred in 2001 and 2002. Income in 2003 was flat, according to the Census.

KERRY’S VOTING RECORD

Bush: “He introduced some 300 bills and he’s passed five. No record of leadership.”

Kerry: “I’ve actually passed 56 individual bills that I’ve personally written and, in addition to that, and not always under my name, there is amendments on certain bills.”

A tally of statistics reported by Thomas, an Internet database on Congress kept by the Library of Congress, shows that Kerry was the prime sponsor of 707 bills and amendments in the Senate during his career; 11 of the measures became public law. The numbers do not include private relief bills and may not reflect measures that ended up getting attached to bigger bills.

Kerry: “I helped write – I did write, I was one of the original authors of the early childhood health care and the expansion of health care that we did in the middle of the 1990s. And I’m very proud of that.”

The staff of Senator Edward Kennedy did much of the work, helping craft legislation, which Kerry introduced before the 1996 election. Kennedy also did much of the work to pass the measure.

LAWSUITS

Bush: The threat of medical lawsuits “costs the federal government some $28 billion a year and costs our society between $60 billion and $100 billion a year.”

This comment was based on a heavily disputed study that looked at the effect of lawsuits on heart medicine, then extended those findings to the entire medical system. The federal General Accounting Office said that the heart medicine costs could not be extrapolated that way. A 1990 Harvard School of Public Health study “did not fi nd a strong relationship between the threat of litigation and medical costs.” Most academics say the costs of lawsuits to medicine are too hard to accurately measure.

HOMELAND SECURITY

Kerry: “The measurement is not: Are we safer? The measurement is: Are we as safe as we ought to be? And there are a host of options that this president had available to him, like making sure that at all our ports in America containers are inspected. Only 95 percent of them – 95 percent come in today uninspected. That’s not good enough.”

It is true that only between 2 and 5 percent of shipping containers entering the United States are physically opened and searched by hand to look for a nuclear bomb or some other terrorist device. Shipping companies argue that physically opening more would slow the fl ow of trade and hurt the economy. But the Bush administration has taken other measures, including new radiation detectors and a program that places customs officials at foreign ports to screen cargo containers before they leave for the United States. Containers are categorized by risk based on such factors as country of origin, and officials claim all “high risk” containers are now hand searched.

OSAMA BIN LADEN

Kerry: Bush said “Where is Osama bin Laden?” He said, “I don’t know. I don’t really think about him very much. I’m not that concerned.”

Bush: “Gosh, I don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations.’’

Bush said in a March 2002 news conference, “I don’t know where he is. I, I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run.”

Compiled by Michael Kranish, Charles Savage, Michael Schmidt, Rick Klein, Marcella Bombardieri, Raja Mishra, Susan Milligan, Rob Gavin, Farah Stockman, Bryan Bender, Elizabeth Grillo, and Beth Daley of the Globe staff

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