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Inside Politics

CNN Political Unit debate fact check

Bush, Kerry and the truth

From the CNN Political Unit

Editor's Note: These fact checks were researched by the CNN Political Unit, following remarks made by Republican President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry during their presidential debate on October 13, 2004.

Sen. John Kerry and President Bush before the final presidential debate Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona.
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(CNN) -- Claim: Kerry said Bush blocked Canadian drug reimportation.

CNN Fact Check: Kerry is correct that Bush opposed a measure to import inexpensive prescription drugs from Canada, but he doesn't mention that the Clinton administration killed a similar measure in December 2000.

President Clinton signed a Canadian drug reimportation bill in October 2000 but at the same time criticized the law as "little more than a false promise," citing various problems, including safety concerns.

Two months later, the Clinton administration invoked a provision in the law to kill the program entirely.

In the second presidential debate this year, Bush explained his position: "Just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you."

In the 2000 presidential debates, however, Bush indicated support for drug reimportation: "Expediting drugs through the FDA makes sense, of course. Allowing the new bill that was passed in the Congress made sense to allow for, you know, drugs that were sold overseas to come back and other countries to come back into the United States. That makes sense."

Claim: Kerry said Bush has never met with the Congressional Black Caucus.

CNN Fact Check: Bush met with the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House on two occasions. The first was on January 31, 2001, shortly after his inauguration. The second was on February 25, 2004, about unrest in Haiti.

Bush declined the caucus's invitation to address its annual gala in September 2004. Bush has never met with the NAACP as president, and according to a spokesman for the group, he is the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover to not address an NAACP convention.

Claim: Bush said he never said he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden.

CNN Fact Check: Bush said at a March 13, 2002, press conference that he was "truly not that concerned about" bin Laden. His comment was part of a response to this question from CNN's Kelly Wallace: "Don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?"

Bush's response: "Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. ... And, again, 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. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban. But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became -- we shoved him out more and more on the margins."

Claim: Bush said 75 percent of known al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice.

CNN Fact Check: Bush incorrectly suggests that on his watch 75 percent of al Qaeda's leadership has been brought to justice. CIA officials have estimated that 75 percent of the two dozen or so known al Qaeda leaders as of September 11, 2001, have been either killed or captured.

The estimate does not take into account post-September 11 activity, or new al Qaeda leaders who have taken the place of those killed or captured. The nonpartisan International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that al Qaeda has about 18,000 potential operatives, but there is no official data on the size of al Qaeda's total membership, in part because it is difficult to track the number of new recruits since the Iraq war.

Claim: Kerry said 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance.

CNN Fact Check: According to an August 2004 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans increased by 5.2 million from 2000 through 2003. The Kerry campaign interprets this to mean that 5.2 million Americans who previously had health insurance lost their coverage while Bush was president.

This is not correct. The bureau does not track how many people "lost" health insurance; it tracks the number of uninsured. According to a bureau spokesman, Kerry's claim does not take into account that the U.S. population grew by about 9 million from 2000 through 2003, and that a sizable portion of the 5.2 million may be new workers or immigrants who moved to the United States since Bush took office and did not previously have health insurance.

Claim: Kerry said 1.6 million jobs were lost under Bush.

CNN Fact Check: Kerry was actually referring to the number of private sector jobs lost on Bush's watch. When the increase in public sector jobs is factored in, the overall job loss since January 2001 is 821,000, according to numbers released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau also announced that the number of net jobs lost will likely fall to about 585,000 when the agency issues a correction next February.

Claim: Bush said Kerry has proposed $2.2 trillion in new spending.

CNN Fact Check: Bush's number is based on an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. However, Bush cites an outdated institute report that did not include a detailed Kerry campaign budget plan released August 3, 2004.

After factoring in these August proposals, the institute revised its estimate to $1.8 trillion in spending, which the Kerry campaign says is still off base. According to the revised institute analysis, Kerry's largest expenditure is his health care plan -- about $922 billion. But separate independent analyses, one by the nonpartisan Concord Coalition and the other by Emory University professor Ken Thorpe, have each priced Kerry's health care plan at $653 billion.

The Concord Coalition analysis finds that Kerry's and Bush's overall spending proposals each cost roughly $1.3 trillion. Thorpe, the Emory professor, is a former Clinton administration official, but the Bush campaign has cited his numbers to support various campaign claims, suggesting they approve of his methodology.

Claim: Bush and Kerry each said he will cut the deficit in half.

CNN Fact Check: Both promises are extremely optimistic. The current federal deficit is $415 billion and the 10-year shortfall is projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to be $2.3 trillion.

The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan deficit watchdog, analyzed the Kerry and Bush fiscal plans in a report released last week. The report concluded that although both campaigns have promised to cut the deficit in half by 2009, "neither candidate has produced a credible set of numbers to back up his deficit reduction rhetoric."

From the report: "Both candidates are touting expensive initiatives that would make deficit reduction more difficult in the short term and fiscal sustainability unlikely in the long term. The policy options in their plans are very different, but the bottom lines are not. Regarding the deficit, they appear to be taking alternative routes to a similar destination."

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