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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Facts Take a Bath at Democratic Debate

Democratic candidates still getting some facts wrong about the economy, taxes -- and now, personal hygiene.


Political junkies tuning into the most recent Democratic candidates debate Dec. 9 in Durham, NH should not believe all that they heard. Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman overstated the number of jobs lost during President Bush’s tenure. Dean understated the size of the Bush tax cut received by most families. And John Kerry wrongly implied that groundwater contamination had forced a New Hampshire family to stop taking showers.


On Jobs

Democrats persist in getting this wrong.

Dean: “. . . 3 millions jobs lost is 3 million too many . . . This president has lost 3 million jobs.”

Lieberman: “Three and half million people have lost their jobs . . .”

In fact, as of November the job loss since President Bush took office in January 2001 stood at 2.26 million, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even at the worst point of the job slump last August the job loss was 2.7 million — not 3 million or 3.5 million.

(Note: Many Democrats like to cite the loss in private sector jobs, not total employment. Focusing only on private-sector jobs ignores the tens of thousands of new government workers hired — including teachers, policemen and federal airport security workers — and makes the job slump sound worse than it was. But even the loss of private-sector jobs under Bush now stands at 2.7 million according to most recent statistics. It did go to 3.2 million at the worst of the slump, which is when many Democrats started using the 3-million figure.)

(For a detailed table giving monthly employment figures for both total employment and private-sector employment only, click on “Jobs Lost Under Bush” under “Supporting Documents” below)

On The Tax Cut

Dean is getting closer to the facts on this one. In a September debate he falsely claimed that most middle-class people never got a tax cut from George Bush. At the most recent debate he had increased his estimate — but still not enough:


Dean: He has given tax cuts to people who make $1 million a year of $112,000. Sixty percent of us got $325.

But that’s still way too low. In fact,most American households got substantially more than $325 this year from the Bush tax cuts. The median tax cut for 2003 is actually $470, according to a calculation done at the request of FactCheck.org by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That means half of all American households are getting $470 or more, and half are getting less (including roughly 25% who are getting nothing because they earn too little to pay federal income taxes in the first place).

To get a better idea of who gets what, look at this table from the Tax Policy Center: Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 a year are getting an average tax cut of $638 this year. Those in the $30,000 to $40,000 range got an average cut of $825, and so on.


(Footnote: Aides to Dean insist his $325 figure is valid, and even too high. They calculated from Tax Policy Center figures that the average tax cut received by the lowest-earning 60% of American households was $305. That’s correct, but hold on. Using the same figures FactCheck.org calculates that the average tax cut received by the highest -earning 60% of households is $1,948. So using Dean’s logic, President Bush would be justified in claiming that 60% got $1,948. Either figure gives a warped idea of reality.)

On Economic Growth

Joe Lieberman implied that the economy isn’t growing under Bush:

Lieberman: We can get the economy going again. We need a Democratic president to make it happen.

In fact, the economy grew at the unexpectedly rapid annual rate of 8.2% in the third quarter (June, July and August) according to the latest official figures from the Department of Commerce. That was the best quarterly growth in 20 years.

On Water Contamination

John Kerry left a misleading impression when he tried to personalize a water-pollution issue:

Kerry: There’s a couple in Salem  called Lisa and Randy Denuccio. They live next to a lake. They can’t drink the water. They can’t — kids can’t make the lemonade now. They don’t take showers with the water. They have to buy bottled water.

But when an Associated Press reporter called the family after the debate, Lisa Denuccio said the family does in fact take showers: “We can’t do without that.” The AP did quote her as saying they now use water from the city rather than their well. Kerry’s statement that they can’t shower with “the water” might be literally correct — but might easily have led many listeners to think the Denuccio family is worse off than is the case. He should have come clean.

Supporting Documents

View Jobs Lost Under Bush (Excel Spreadsheet)

View Latest release on economic growth from federal Bureau of Economic Analysis


Nedra Pickler “Candidates Leaving Out Facts in Debate” The Associated Press 10 Dec. 2003.

Table 5.17  “Combined Effect of EGTRRA and Conference Agreement on the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003: Distribution of Income Tax Change by AGI Class, 2003” Tax Policy Center Washington DC 23 May 2003.

Table 5.18  “Combined Effect of EGTRRA and Conference Agreement on the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003: Distribution of Income Tax Change by Percentiles, 2003” Tax Policy Center  Washington DC 23 May 2003.

“Jobs Lost Under Bush” Table extracted from Bureau of Labor Statistics data from national Current Employment Statistics survey 10 Dec. 2003.

US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2003 (Preliminary) 25 Nov. 2003.