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Contrasting Campaign Rhetoric With Facts

Times Staff Writer

President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts are criticizing each other with increasing intensity. Here is some context for charges made during the Republican and Democratic conventions and on the campaign trail.

President Bush

Statement: “Sen. Kerry opposed Medicare reform and health savings accounts. After supporting my education reforms, he now wants to dilute them.... He opposed reducing the marriage penalty, opposed doubling the child credit, opposed lowering income taxes for all who pay them.” -- Thursday at the Republican convention

Context: Kerry missed the final vote in 2003 on a bill establishing the first Medicare prescription-drug benefit. But he opposed it in preliminary votes and has criticized the law since then as a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry that fails to allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices. He also criticizes a provision of the law that allows consumers to save money for health expenses tax-free, calling it inadequate relief for 45 million uninsured Americans.

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Kerry voted for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, but he criticized its implementation and said it needed more funding. Kerry also has voted against many Republican tax initiatives, but he has supported numerous Democratic tax-cut initiatives over the years. He now pledges to cut taxes for the middle class and raise taxes only on families that make more than $200,000 a year.

Statement: “I proposed, and the Congress overwhelmingly passed, $87 billion in funding needed by our troops doing battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. My opponent and his running mate voted against this money for bullets and fuel and vehicles and body armor.” -- Thursday speech

Context: Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, his running mate, voted against the Bush-backed spending bill in October 2003. At the time, many Democratic primary voters were attracted to Howard Dean’s surging, antiwar presidential candidacy. This vote helped Kerry and Edwards appeal to the former Vermont governor’s base even though both senators had voted the year before to authorize the use of force against Iraq. But Kerry said he opposed the spending bill to protest what he called Bush’s missteps in Iraq. He supported a Democratic proposal to provide the funding while raising taxes on the wealthy to offset the expense -- an idea that failed to pass.

Statement: “If you voted against a bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which my predecessor [Bill Clinton] signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values.” -- Friday rally in Pennsylvania

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Context: Kerry voted against a 1996 law that established a federal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. At the time he called the law needlessly divisive but said he opposed gay marriage.

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Vice President Dick Cheney

Statement: "[Kerry] talks about leading a ‘more sensitive war on terror’ as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.” -- Wednesday speech to Republican convention

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Context: In August, Kerry said he would fight “a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side.” Democrats say Bush and Cheney have also spoken of the need for sensitivity in matters of diplomacy and national security.

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Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.)

Statement: “Listing all the weapons systems that Sen. Kerry tried his best to shut down sounds like an auctioneer selling off our national security.... The B-2 bomber that Sen. Kerry opposed delivered airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and [Saddam] Hussein’s command post in Iraq.” -- Wednesday speech to Republican convention

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Context: Kerry criticized the B-2 program in the 1980s and 1990s as wasteful spending and voted several times against funding the Stealth bomber, citing a desire to cut the federal budget deficit. But Kerry has supported most military spending bills in nearly 20 years in the Senate -- and those bills included billions of dollars in funding for the B-2 and other weapons programs. In addition, President George H.W. Bush and his Defense secretary -- Cheney -- sought cutbacks in strategic bombers and other weapons systems from 1989 to 1993 as part of a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War.

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Sen. John F. Kerry

Statement: “You don’t value families by kicking kids out of after-school programs and taking cops off our streets.” -- Democratic convention speech July 29

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Context: Democrats contend that Bush is planning a budget that would cut back education and law enforcement funding after his election. Administration officials deny this and point to record-level education budgets and domestic security spending under Bush’s watch.

Statement: “You don’t value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service.” -- July 29 speech

Context: In September 2003, Army Gen. John Abizaid acknowledged to Congress that as many as 40,000 U.S. troops were sent to Iraq without the best available body armor. The Bush campaign replies that Kerry voted a month later against an $87-billion funding bill to remedy that problem.

Statement: "[Bush] said that he wants to reform the tax code. What he talked about is a national sales tax, which would raise the cost of everything you buy. And now he wants to privatize Social Security and cut your benefits.” -- Saturday radio address

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Context: Bush has not endorsed a national sales tax but has said he would consider it as one idea to simplify the tax code. Such a tax would raise the cost of goods and services. Advocates say those expenses would be offset by reduced income taxes; critics say sales taxes hit the poor harder than the rich. On Social Security, Bush backs the establishment of optional, privately managed retirement accounts. Such a move could cost trillions of dollars, raising questions about the system’s solvency, but the president pledged to leave benefits untouched for those close to retirement.

Statement: “I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have.” -- Thursday speech after the GOP convention

Context: Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War when he was of draft age. The future president flew fighter jets but never went to Vietnam. Cheney also was eligible for the draft but obtained several deferments; he said in 1989 that he had “other priorities” at the time of the war. Bush and Cheney have both said Kerry served honorably in Vietnam.

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Sen. John Edwards

Statement: “Millions of people have lost their healthcare coverage. Millions of people have had difficulty paying for healthcare because the cost of healthcare has gone up dramatically.” -- Friday speech in Wisconsin

Context: The Census Bureau reported last month that the estimated number of uninsured had risen to 45 million as of 2003 -- 15.6% of the population. When Bush took office, the number of uninsured was about 41 million people, or 14.6% of the population. Numerous studies document rising healthcare costs. The government announced Friday a 17% increase in Medicare premiums. Bush says a major reason for rising health costs is the soaring price of medical malpractice insurance. He proposes liability caps and seeks incentives and subsidies to expand tax-free health savings accounts.

Times staff writers Susannah Rosenblatt and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.

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