Both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry resorted to plenty of half-truths and exaggerations in Wednesday’s debate in Tempe, Ariz., especially on the subjects of jobs and taxes.

As he did in last week’s debate, Kerry said 1.6 million jobs have been lost during Bush’s presidency. In fact, he was referring to private-sector jobs. But government employment has grown since Bush took office, so the net employment loss is closer to a half-million jobs.

Kerry also said that household income has declined under Bush, in line with a Census Bureau report showing that median household income fell in 2003 by $63 to $43,318. But that figure did not include figures for this year, when the economy has been stronger. Economists say that household income likely is on the rise this year. And wages are up this year over last year, according to the Commerce Department.

Bush’s statement that most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans and that the tax code is now more fair has been challenged by a number of studies.

The Congressional Budget Office said on Aug. 13 that in 2004, the wealthiest 20 percent of taxpayers saw their share of taxes paid fall from 64.5 percent to 63.5 percent while middle-class taxpayers, earning from $51,500 to $75,000, saw their share of payments rise from 18.5 percent to 19.5 percent.

Bush said Kerry would increase spending by $2.2 trillion over 10 years and create a “tax gap” that could only be met by raising taxes. The Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group, estimated that Kerry’s plan would increase the deficit by $1.27 trillion over 10 years while Bush’s plan would raise the deficit by $1.33 trillion.

Health care

The president erred in answering a question about the flu vaccine shortage. He said a “company out of England” had produced contaminated vaccine and that “we took the right action and didn’t allow contaminated medicine into our country.”

In fact, the company involved is based in California, although its manufacturing plant is based in Liverpool, England. And it was British authorities who shut down the manufacturing plant, cutting off supplies to the United States.

Kerry, meanwhile, may have overstated things by saying “this president has turned his back on the wellness of America.”

The president supported the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which extends more preventive care benefits to seniors and will begin to pay for their drugs in 2006.

His administration has also expanded federally funded health centers in a move to provide better access to medical care.

Bush wrongly suggested that Kerry’s plan to let consumers join the health plan currently available to Congress would cost $7,700 per family, or $5 trillion over 10 years. Kerry has never suggested that the government pay the tab for everyone who might want to join this plan. His proposed tax credits apply only to lower-income families.

Asked about why health care costs are rising so dramatically, the president suggested the “defensive practice of medicine” was in part responsible. This is a reference to services doctors provide out of a fear of being sued, even if these services are not medically necessary. The president said costs associated with defensive medicine run between $60 billion and $100 billion a year, but some health care economists have said there is no reliable way to quantify the cost.

Playing on seniors’ anger over a recent 17.4 percent increase in Medicare Part B premiums, Kerry said a $139 billion windfall profit to drug companies, which he attributed to flaws in Medicare’s new drug plan, was at least in part responsible. The cost of the Medicare drug plan isn’t included in Part B premiums.

Education

Bush touted his federal education reforms, called No Child Left Behind, as a way to get youngsters prepared for the workforce rather than be “shuffled through” schools without learning the basics. The law demands rigorous testing, holds schools accountable for results and lets children transfer out of failing schools.

Bush said the reforms, signed in January 2002, are beginning to close the achievement gap between white and minority students. But with controversy growing about the reforms, Bush steered clear of making broad assertions about over-all academic progress under No Child Left Behind.

A recent study of 15 states by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California concluded that “no consistent pattern of gains in children’s reading skills can yet be detected” since passage of the federal reforms. The U.S. Department of Education has rejected those findings.

As he has in the past, Kerry focused on funding, saying the president has shortchanged schools the billions he promised to carry out the reforms. Kerry voted for No Child Left Behind, and has not criticized the substance of the reforms.

Bush shot back, saying “only a liberal senator from Massachusetts” would consider a 49 percent increase in funding for education as not enough.

However, that 49 percent figure, used by Bush’s campaign, represents only certain key programs within the U.S. Department of Education’s budget. Overall, the department’s budget has increased by 32 percent between 2001 and 2004.

Security

Responding to a suggestion Kerry made that Bush had lost his focus on capturing Osama bin Laden, the president said, “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.”

But in March 2002, Bush said something close to that, although Kerry didn’t provide the full context.

“I truly am not that concerned about him,” Bush said of bin Laden, according to a White House transcript. “I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country.”

Bush said he favored an extension of the recently expired assault weapons ban, but he did not push for its renewal earlier this year, even though he has done so for other legislation he considered important.

Finally, Kerry joked that he had “married up.” That’s for sure. Teresa Heinz Kerry is worth an estimated $1 billion. That’s way up.



(Chicago Tribune correspondents John McCormick, Diane Rado and Judith Graham in Chicago and William Neikirk in Washington contributed to this report.)



(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-13-04 2347EDT



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