In volley of facts and figures, not all fly

Truth: From taxes to facts about Iraq, both candidates inflated figures and twisted information to fit their message.

The Debates

Election 2004

October 09, 2004|By Mark Matthews and Laura Sullivan | Mark Matthews and Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both tossed out facts and numbers like confetti in last night's town hall-style debate - some true, some misleading. But the most intriguing moments involved the arguments they could have put forward but didn't.

Kerry, for instance, allowed to stand Bush's denial of his involvement in a timber company. Bush, for his part, could have rebutted Kerry's criticism that the United States had failed to press for agreement with other countries in NATO to train Iraqi security forces.

While talking about creating jobs, Bush charged that Kerry "says he's only going to tax the rich. Do you realize, 900,000 small businesses will be taxed under his plan?"

Bush's charge is misleading. The "small businesses" Bush says will be taxed include hundreds of thousands of wealthy individuals who are claiming to be "small businesses" even though they may have earned as little as $1 in individual income, independent tax analysts have said. Such "small businesses" typically do not create any jobs.

Even if the 900,000 small businesses were in fact businesses, Bush does not mention that under Kerry's plan the country's 32 million other small businesses would not receive any tax increase.

The discussion of this issue, though, brought about one of the most visibly contradictory moments of the night. Kerry said Bush is an example of a wealthy individual who could claim to be a "small business" for tax purposes, saying "The president got $84 from a timber company that [he] owns, and he's counted as a small business."

Bush quickly responded, "I own a timber company? That's news to me. Need some wood?"

In fact, Kerry was mostly right. On his 2001 tax return, Bush called himself "part owner" of a timber company, saying he received $84 income from the company.

Pressing his point that Bush alienated longtime U.S. allies both before and after the war in Iraq, Kerry said, "Two weeks ago, there was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, which is the political arm of NATO. They discussed the possibility of a small training unit or having a total takeover of the training in Iraq. Did our administration push for the total training of Iraq? No. Were they silent? Yes. Was there an effort to bring all the allies together around that? No."

Bush replied by repeating previous criticism of Kerry's proposal to hold an international summit on Iraq, which the president predicted would fail because the Massachusetts Democrat considers the war a mistake.

He neglected to mention that the NATO alliance has been moving toward unity on sending a training mission to Iraq. In June, it agreed in principle to the mission. Yesterday, the North Atlantic Council adopted a concept for the operation that it said was aimed at "substantially enhancing NATO's assistance to the Iraqi interim government." The number of NATO troops to be sent has not been decided.

On the issue of homeland security, Bush erred when he said his administration "tripled the homeland security budget from $10 billion to $30 billion." According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of homeland security functions in fiscal 2001 was $17 billion with another emergency $4 billion in funding tacked on after the Sept. 11 attacks. The budget office says the funding has actually only about doubled to $41 billion since then.

Kerry, though, went too far when he said, "95 percent of our containers coming into this country are not inspected today. When you get on an airplane, your bag is X- rayed, but the cargo hold isn't X-rayed."

It's true 95 percent of shipping containers are not hand searched, but that is largely because they have been cleared by port security before they reached U.S. ports. Under several new initiatives, all shipping manifests are examined before ships arrive. Officials say 100 percent of containers deemed "high risk," such as those coming from suspect countries or of unknown origin, are hand searched.

Similarly, while most cargo aboard aircraft is not searched, as Kerry said, the Transportation Security Agency established a database of vetted shippers, which is used in a risk-weighted screening system. Most cargo is cleared before it arrives at the airport. Much like the port system, any cargo thought to be suspicious is either screened or not allowed onto the plane.

As in their previous debates, Bush and Kerry also used sometimes misleading information.

The two candidates' debate over jobs gained added urgency from the government's release of new statistics yesterday showing that 96,000 jobs had been created last month, a figure lower than many economists had anticipated.

Both reiterated past positions that fail to give the whole picture.

The economy has lost 2.7 million manufacturing jobs since bush took office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it has added close to 1.8 million, for a net loss of 900,000. Manufacturing job losses repeatedly cited by Kerry had begun under former President Bill Clinton well before Bush came into office.

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