19 Oct Presidential candidates stretch necks — and facts
With two weeks to go before the presidential election, the polls show a dead heat and many voters scratching their heads over claims made by Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry. With the help of independent fact-checking groups, here’s one attempt to cut through the hype and the clutter surrounding a few major issues:
On jobs and the economy: Kerry says 1.6 million jobs have been lost during the Bush presidency. That figure represents only private-sector jobs. When the increase in public-sector jobs is added, the loss is about 585,000. (Of course, that raises another question about why so many public-sector jobs are being created.) Unless there’s a surge over the next few months, Bush could become the first president in 72 years to lose jobs in a first term. On the other hand, Bush is correct when he says the economy is growing and more jobs are being created. It’s simply not growing fast enough. Economists say the U.S. economy must add about 150,000 jobs a month to stay healthy; the latest statistics showed 96,000 jobs were created in September.
On the tax burden: Kerry says Bush has shifted the burden of taxes from the middle class to the wealthy. That’s true on the margins. A report issued in August by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office found that since the Bush tax cuts took effect, the burden has shifted only slightly from the top earners to the middle class. Since 2001, tax liabilities for the top 10 percent of earners went from 50 percent to 47.6 percent of the overall tax burden. Tax liabilities for the middle 20 percent went from 10 percent to 10.5 percent of the tax burden. The middle class is paying more, but the wealthy still pay the lion’s share of U.S. taxes.
On flu vaccine: In the third debate, Bush tripped up when asked about the shortage of flu vaccine in the United States. He said the nation “relied on a company out of England” for the flu vaccine. Not so. Chiron is a California-based company with a production plant in Liverpool. Bush suggested that U.S. authorities shut down the plant. “We took the right action and we didn’t allow contaminated medicine into our country.” Not so, again. British authorities shut down the plant when they suspected there were problems.
On Big Pharma: One of Kerry’s ads claims “drug companies got a $139 billion bailout,” a reference to legislation that added prescription drug coverage to Medicare. That figure is actually based on an estimate of additional profits that will be earned by pharmaceutical companies over eight years under the new legislation—not a direct subsidy implied by the word “bailout.” The legislation was a response to long-term, political pressure to add drug coverage for seniors to Medicare.
On Homeland Security technology: Kerry was correct in the third debate when he said 95 percent of containers entering the United States as well as cargo in commercial airliners aren’t inspected. The 9/11 Commission report described that as a substantial security gap. But while most containers are not manually inspected, all are electronically inspected and profiled for risk. The Transportation Security Agency announced last month it will expand the use of explosion detection devices and airports, and Bush’s 2005 budget calls for a 628 percent increase in port security funding.
On health care insurance: Bush ads and his own debate remarks have accused Kerry of pushing for “government-run health care,” which would lead to more bureaucracy, less choice and rationing. According to FactCheck.org, however, 97 percent of Americans would keep the private insurance they now have if Kerry’s plan became reality. However, Bush was correctly quoting analysts when he said Kerry’s health-care plan “mixes private-sector incentives with significant public-sector expansion in enrollment in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.” Most states—Wisconsin included—are already struggling to keep pace with expanding Medicaid costs.
Still confused about which candidate is more correct? That’s not surprising. Facts and our own predispositions influence how we hear—and accept—what candidates claim on the stump. With the Nov. 2 election approaching, however, voters shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to simply tune out because there’s too much conflicting information. Look for independent sources and try to determine the truth, even if that is a somewhat relative term in this presidential election.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.