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Inside Politics

CNN Fact Check: Attacks on Kerry

Editor's Note: This fact check, and the accompanying piece evaluating claims made in speeches by the Kerry-Edwards campaign, were researched by the CNN Political Unit.

• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- Bush-Cheney claim: "As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's hearings."

CNN Fact Check: Official records confirm that Sen John Kerry attended 11 out of 49 public committee meetings from 1993 through January 2001, for an absentee rate of 78%. President Bush's campaign credits Kerry for attending another public meeting in June 1999, although official records do not indicate exactly who attended. Assuming Kerry did attend this 12th meeting, his absentee rate would be 76%, as the Bush campaign claims. The Kerry campaign says that most of the committee meetings are closed and that attendance records are not public, suggesting that his attendance rate could be higher if closed meetings were included in the tally. However, Kerry himself could authorize the committee to release his attendance records for closed meetings, but has not done so.

Bush-Cheney claim: "John Kerry has repeatedly opposed weapons vital to winning the war on terror: Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Patriot missiles, B-2 Stealth bombers, F-18 fighter jets and more."

CNN Fact Check: This claim is accurate, although it primarily references his votes on several large spending bills, as opposed to votes on specific programs. It also references old positions that Kerry now disavows. The Bush campaign's claims are based primarily on Kerry's votes against Pentagon spending bills in 1990, 1995 and 1996, as well as his opposition to certain weapons systems as a Senate candidate in the 1980s. However, throughout his Senate career, Kerry voted to approve 16 of 19 annual Pentagon spending bills, which authorized spending for many of the systems that the Bush-Cheney campaign says Kerry opposed. It is true that Kerry opposed many weapons systems when running for the Senate in 1984, although as a presidential candidate he has said that he should not have taken those positions in 1984. According to local press accounts of the day, Kerry opposed some conventional weapons systems such as the M-1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the F-16 jet. In the Senate, he has voted repeatedly to eliminate the B-2 Stealth bomber program, most recently in 1992.

Bush-Cheney Claim: "The nonpartisan National Journal magazine ranks Kerry the most liberal member of the Senate -- more liberal than Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy."

CNN Fact Check: National Journal's February 2004 rankings did list Kerry as the most liberal member of the Senate in 2003, but the result was based only on his votes in the year 2003, and may have been artificially inflated by Kerry's unusually high absentee rate last year. National Journal based its ratings on 62 key Senate votes cast in 2003 in three issue areas: economic policy, social policy and foreign policy. Kerry's rating was based only on the 20 votes he cast in the economic policy area. His votes in social and foreign policy were not counted because he missed more than half of the votes in those categories. In short, Kerry's rating was based on only 20 of 62 votes. Had he missed four more economic votes, Kerry would not have been included in the National Journal ratings at all. Also, Kerry's lifetime liberal rating is 85.7 out of 100, making him the Senate's 11th most liberal senator.

Bush-Cheney Claim: "Kerry supported higher taxes over 350 times."

CNN Fact Check: Kerry has not cast 350 votes in the Senate to actually increase taxes, although he has opposed numerous Republican tax cut proposals. Many of the votes the Bush campaign refers to were votes cast to leave taxes unchanged (in opposition to Republican-proposed cuts), or in support of Democratic tax cut packages instead of larger Republican packages. This could be characterized as "supporting higher taxes," but it's more accurate to say that he opposed lowering taxes, or supported the smaller of two tax cut proposals.

Bush-Cheney claim: "Kerry's plan will raise taxes by at least $900 billion his first hundred days."

CNN Fact Check: The Bush campaign says Kerry will raise taxes by $900 billion to pay for "new government spending." The Kerry campaign says the figure is "completely false." Kerry has not said he would raise taxes to that degree to pay for his proposals. The $900 billion figure is the Bush campaign's estimate of how much taxes would have to be raised in order to pay for Kerry's spending proposals.

Kerry's health plan was estimated to cost $895 billion in a September 2003 paper by former Clinton administration official Kenneth Thorpe, now a professor at Emory University. Thorpe says now that after cost-cutting measures are included, this would actually cost $653 billion.

Kerry also says he would cut the $500 billion federal deficit in half by 2009. Kerry initially had offered few details about how he would pay for all his proposals, other than repealing the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year. Now, he has added that he would repeal the Bush administration's capital gains and dividend tax cuts and reinstate the estate tax, which Kerry's campaign said would generate about $860 billion in revenue.

Bush-Cheney claim: "Kerry supported a 50-cent a gallon tax hike for gasoline."

CNN Fact Check: Kerry has never sponsored or voted for any legislation to raise gas taxes by 50 cents per gallon, although an extensive search did reveal one 1994 article in which he is said to have voiced support for the idea in general. In 1993, Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia introduced legislation that proposed phasing in a 50-cent increase, but Kerry did not vote for or co-sponsor this bill.

Bush-Cheney claim: "Kerry voted to increase taxes on Social Security benefits. "

CNN Fact Check: Kerry voted for President Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction package, which included a tax increase on Social Security benefits. The revenue from this tax hike went exclusively to the Medicare trust fund. President Bush has not proposed in any of his tax cut packages a repeal of the Social Security tax increase that Kerry supported in 1993. The increase targeted higher-income households; the vast majority of Social Security recipients were not affected.

Bush-Cheney claim: "Kerry found time to vote against the Laci Peterson law that protects pregnant women from violence."

CNN Fact Check: Kerry voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 1997), which recognized a fetus as a second victim if injured or killed when a violent act is committed against the pregnant mother. This legislation was seen as an extension of the abortion debate, with abortion-rights supporters opposing the legislation, and abortion-rights opponents in favor. Abortion-rights supporters said the legislation was a back-door attempt to chip away at the legality of abortions by extending legal protection to unborn fetuses. Proponents of the bill referred to this as "the Laci Peterson law," as did the Bush campaign in a July television ad, although the ad did not explain what the legislation entailed. The Kerry campaign said that Kerry "strongly supports making it a federal crime to commit an act of violence against a pregnant woman," but added that a law could be crafted "without undermining a woman's right to choose."

Bush-Cheney claim: "Kerry would weaken the Patriot Act used to arrest terrorists and protect America."

CNN Fact Check: Although Kerry voted for Patriot Act, he now says that several provisions of should be scaled back and that a new law is needed to "assure our enhanced security does not come at the expense of our civil liberties."

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