Rivals stretch facts to make points

Statements: The claims made by one candidate against the other did not always fit the historical record.

Election 2004

The debates

October 14, 2004|By Mark Matthews and Laura Sullivan | Mark Matthews and Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry each made an obvious misstatement that could quickly be disproved last night in their final debate of the campaign, while continuing to offer misleading statements about each other's positions.

Bush denied, wrongly, that he ever said he wasn't "that concerned" about al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. Kerry, for his part, incorrectly charged that the president had never met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In one of the most evidently contradictory moments of the night, Kerry charged, "Six months after [Bush] said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, `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.'"

Kerry used the Bush statement as a new illustration of a point he has made repeatedly in the debates: that Bush has allowed himself to be diverted from what Kerry believes is the main objective of the war on terror -- searching out and crushing al-Qaida.

Bush immediately responded, "Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations."

In fact, he did. At a March 13, 2002, news conference at the White House, when asked why he rarely mentioned bin Laden anymore, Bush said, "Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Meeting Black Caucus

Kerry uttered his false statement about Bush and the Black Caucus while arguing that the United States still needs affirmative action measures to combat discrimination against minorities and women.

Referring to Bush, he said, "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 recalled, correctly, he had met with the Black Caucus at the White House. He met with its members within two weeks of taking office in January 2001 and in February of this year. The latter meeting was not exactly by invitation. The caucus chairman, Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, and other members sought the meeting to demand stronger U.S. action to correct the deteriorating situation in Haiti, then in the throes of a rebellion.

They were first offered a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. But they demanded, and got, a meeting with Bush.

The candidates also sparred over Pell Grants, which offer college money to low- and moderate-income students. Bush said, "In his last litany of misstatements, [Kerry] said we cut Pell Grants. We've increased Pell Grants by a million students. That's a fact."

Kerry responded, "You know why the Pell Grants have gone up in their numbers? Because more people qualify for them because they don't have money. But they're not getting the $5,100 the president promised them. They're getting less money."

Kerry was right. Government statistics show more students are qualifying in the low- or medium-income category than in the past, leading to more applicants. Additionally, while Bush pledged to increase the amount of the grants from $4,050 to $5,100 during his 2000 campaign, he has not.

A 2003 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service also found that new rules the administration put in place meant more than 80,000 students received less money than they would have gotten before the rules were implemented.

Bush and Kerry spent a good portion of last night arguing over health care. Both stretched the facts.

Bush implied that Kerry supported a government health care system when he said, "We have a fundamental difference of opinion. I think government-run health will lead to poor-quality health, will lead to rationing, will lead to less choice."

Kerry's health care plan, while arguably larger than what Bush proposes, is not a government system. Independent health experts who have studied the plan have said 97 percent of Americans who now have insurance would not be affected by his plan and would keep the insurance they have. More than 27 million people without coverage of any kind would gain insurance.

Kerry advocates regulating employers and insurance providers more closely, not doctors or patients, under a plan in which the government helps cover the cost of catastrophic medical bills to lower overall costs.

Kerry's claim to have "a plan to cover all Americans" with health insurance is off the mark. In fact, analysts say it would extend coverage to 25 million of the 45 million Americans who lack health insurance, according to the Associated Press. Even the Kerry campaign stops short of saying it would eliminate the problem of the uninsured.

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