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Separating Fact From Fiction in Debate Salvos

Times Staff Writer

There they go again. Presidential candidates George Bush and Michael S. Dukakis barraged viewers of their Thursday debate with salvos of charges and countercharges. Some were accurate, some were not.

The following information should help voters sort fact from fiction on some of the issues:

TAXES

Debate: Bush repeated his position that, as President, he would not raise taxes. Dukakis charged that Bush’s pledge against tax increases “isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on” because “he’s broken it three times in the past year already.”

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Facts: Although he has no official responsibilities in that regard, Vice President Bush, as a member of the Reagan Administration, did indeed go along with three tax increases approved by Congress this year.

The Gramm-Rudman law requires Congress to find revenue to pay for new spending programs, and Congress did just that this year when it expanded the Medicare program, revised federal trade laws and overhauled the welfare system. President Reagan signed all three bills.

The expansion of Medicare to protect the elderly against the costs of catastrophic illness adds an extra $6.30 a month in Medicare premiums and hits elderly taxpayers with a 15% surcharge on their income taxes, up to a maximum of $800. The surtax affects only the 40% of the elderly who have enough income to pay federal income taxes.

The 1988 trade bill imposes a fee of less than 0.5% on all imports to pay for a $1-billion program to retrain workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition.

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The welfare reform bill that Reagan signed Thursday, which will cost an estimated $3.3 billion over the next five years, includes provisions reducing tax refunds for those who owe the government money for such things as unpaid student loans. And it tightens the child care tax credit and limits it to parents with children no older than 12, instead of 14.

SOCIAL SECURITY Debate: Bush, while acknowledging he voted in 1985 for a one-year freeze on cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security beneficiaries, claimed: “For the record, I did not vote to cut COLAs.” He accused Dukakis of supporting a 1985 resolution by the National Governors’ Assn. that also called for a freeze on Social Security increases.

Facts: On May 10, 1985, Bush cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate in favor of eliminating one annual Social Security cost-of-living increase as part of a broad deficit-reduction package. The plan would have cut Social Security benefits about 3% below their scheduled level. But the Reagan Administration later repudiated the package, and it died in Congress.

During a governors’ conference in February of that year, Dukakis originally advocated a proposal to exempt Social Security COLAs from a resolution favoring an across-the-board federal spending freeze. But when the proposal failed to garner a two-thirds’ vote for approval, Dukakis supported the final resolution calling for the across-the-board freeze, which included eliminating the normal Social Security increase to keep benefits in pace with inflation.

INF TREATY Debate: Bush defended his choice of Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle as his running mate by citing Quayle’s role in the Senate’s approval of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union. Quayle, “unlike my opponent, is an expert in national defense, helped amend the INF treaty so we got a good, sound treaty,” Bush said.

Facts: Quayle was among senators who sought, against Reagan’s wishes, to add restrictive amendments to the treaty. He was skeptical of the treaty while Bush supported it. Most efforts by the conservative senators failed and Quayle ultimately voted to ratify.

PRISON FURLOUGHS Debate: Bush repeated his charge that Dukakis oversaw a Massachusetts prison furlough program that freed convicted murderers.

Facts: Massachusetts, like 45 other states and the federal prison system, has a furlough program. The state’s furlough program has operated under three governors, including the Republican who created it in 1972. Until recently, the furlough program in Massachusetts included prisoners with life sentences for first-degree murder.

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When it was disclosed that Willie Horton--sentenced to life without parole for a 1974 killing--raped a woman and stabbed her husband after escaping from his 10th furlough, lawmakers demanded changes. At first, Dukakis stood by furloughs for prisoners with life sentences, but last April he signed legislation that abolishes weekend furloughs for such prisoners.

CLEAN AIR Debate: Bush, in defending his environmental record, claimed credit for “90% reductions in lead (in gasoline) since I chaired that regulatory task force--90%.”

Facts: Far from supporting reductions in lead, Bush’s regulatory task force played a role in trying to eliminate the regulations requiring reductions.

In August, 1981, Bush’s task force ordered a review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s policy on lead in gasoline on the grounds, according to an Administration memo, that “growing use of unleaded gasoline made the continued regulation of gasoline unnecessary.” In February, 1982, the EPA suspended its lead-reduction regulations, but objections from lawmakers and environmental groups led the Administration to reinstate the regulations.

On Friday, even one of Bush’s chief environmental policy advisers, former EPA Administrator William D. Ruckelshaus, balked at the claim that Bush’s task force had “accelerated” the lead rules.

Interviewed on Bush’s campaign plane, Ruckelshaus said the task force actually “neither slowed up nor accelerated” the rules.


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