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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 the candidates -- President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry -- during their presidential debate on October 8, 2004.

(CNN) -- Claim: Bush said Kerry cut the intelligence budget by $7.5 billion in the 1990s.

CNN Fact Check: It is true that Kerry proposed or supported cutting several billion dollars from the intelligence budget in the 1990s, however this amounted to a small fraction of the overall intelligence budget, and some of the proposed cuts were in reaction to the discovery of a $1 billion fund that a government intelligence agency had secretly -- and illegally -- accumulated without informing Congress.

In 1995, Kerry did propose to cut the intelligence budget by $300 million a year ($1.5 billion over five years), or roughly 1% out of the estimated $29 billion annual intelligence budget. In Senate testimony, then-CIA director George Tenet was asked if a $300 million annual cut would "gut" his agency, and Tenet said no, that it would not "gut" the agency, although it wouldn't be helpful.

Kerry also proposed cutting $1 billion annually from intelligence budgets from 1994-1998. Also in 1995, Congress learned that a U.S. intelligence agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, had secretly accumulated about $1 billion in funds. Kerry, as well as Republicans Arlen Specter and Richard Shelby, proposed cutting the intelligence budget for that year by about $1 billion, to recoup this unspent NRO funds.

Claim: Bush suggested Kerry would allow other countries to veto U.S. troop deployments.

CNN Fact Check: Although Kerry did refer to a "global test" regarding troop deployments in the first debate, Bush neglects to mention that Kerry also said the following at that debate on the topic of a preemptive war by the U.S.: "No president ... has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America."

Bush also comes close to suggesting that Kerry would allow the United Nations to determine U.S. troop deployment. Although as a young congressional candidate in 1970, Kerry told the Harvard Crimson that he would "like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations," he has since revised his position, saying at his convention speech this summer: "I will never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security."

As for what Kerry meant by a "global test," he described it as a test "where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

Claim: Kerry said the United States has spent $200 billion on the Iraq war.

CNN Fact Check: Kerry once again overstates the cost of the Iraq war when he says that the U.S. has already spent $200 billion on the war effort. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the war in Iraq had cost about $120 billion through September 30, the end of fiscal year 2004.

Kerry's $200 billion figure includes money for the new fiscal year (which started October 1) but technically these funds have not yet been spent. Kerry's figure also includes some funds earmarked for both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Kerry campaign clarifies its claim in press releases saying that the Iraq war will cost $200 billion through September 2005, but Kerry frequently neglects to make this distinction when addressing audiences.

Claim: President Bush said Sen. John Kerry voted for higher taxes 98 times.

CNN Fact Check: The Bush-Cheney '04 campaign has identified 98 specific votes where Kerry supported raising taxes, including tax hikes on specific products like tobacco, alcohol, and diesel fuel. However the number is somewhat inflated because it includes all votes on a given piece of legislation, including procedural votes and votes to end debate.

Claim: Bush said the National Journal ranked Kerry as "The Most Liberal Senator."

CNN Fact Check: The 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.

The 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, not the first.

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

CNN Fact Check: Bush incorrectly suggests that under his watch 75 percent of al Qaeda's membership 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 killed or captured.

The non-partisan International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that al Qaeda has 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 began.

Claim: Kerry said that former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki was forced out for comments on Iraq troop levels.

CNN Fact Check: Kerry implies that Shinseki was forced to retire as a result of his comments about troop levels in Iraq, which is inaccurate. Shinseki served a full four-year term as Army chief of staff, and did not retire early. Since World War II, no Army chief of staff has served longer than four years.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld decided in April 2002 on who he would tap to succeed Shinseki, according to a Pentagon official, long before Shinseki's troop level comments in 2003. So by the time Shinseki made his comments on troop levels, it was already known that he would not remain in his post beyond his full four-year term. The Bush administration may not have been fond of Shinseki, who was appointed to his post by President Clinton, but it is inaccurate to say that he was forced to retire because of his comments on troop levels in Iraq.

Claim: Kerry said that Bush has presided over an economy which lost 1.6 million jobs and that he is the first president in 72 years to lose jobs.

CNN Fact Check: Kerry is correct in saying that Bush is on track to become the first president in 72 years (since Herbert Hoover) to oversee a net loss in jobs. However, Kerry said 1.6 million jobs have been lost under Bush's watch, but this actually refers to just private sector jobs. The overall loss over jobs since January 2001 is 821,000, according to numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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