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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Kerry’s Attack Video Misleads on Veterans, Jobs

Campaign says Internet ad is to 'set the record straight.' But it contains some distortions.


The Kerry campaign Feb. 27 e-mailed a new attack ad to supporters, asking them to pass it on to friends. The ad accuses Bush of breaking his word. But the Kerry ad itself falsely implies that Bush has cut off health benefits for 200,000 veterans, and overstates the number of jobs lost under Bush.


In a news release about its new ad, the Kerry campaign said George W. Bush has lost credibility” and “his rhetoric does not square with his record.” But the same can be said of some parts of the Kerry ad itself.

Kerry Ad:
“Keep Our Word”

Bush: When we make a pledge, we keep our word. When America works, America prospers. So my economic security plan can be summed up in one word. Jobs.

On Screen: 2.9 Million Jobs Lost, [Bureau of Labor Statistics.]

Bush: The No Child Left Behind Act is opening the door of opportunity to all of America ’s children.

On Screen: No Child Left Behind Act Underfunded by $9 Billion. [H.R.1, 2001; Bush’s FY2005 budget.]

Bush: I’ve got a plan to do something about that, it’s to make health care affordable and available.

On Screen: 3.8 million more Americans Lost Health Insurance. [Census Bureau, Historic Health Insurance Tables, Table H1.]

Bush: Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short term.

On Screen: Annual Deficit to Exceed $400 billion for next 10 years. [CBPP, analysis of CBO, 2/1/04 ]

Bush: We should and must provide the best care for anybody’s who’s willing to put their life in harm’s way.

On Screen: 200,000 veterans cut from health system. [Department of Veterans Affairs, 9/03.]

Bush: We’re going to set aside all the payroll taxes aimed for social security and spend it on social security.

On Screen: Raids entire $2.6 trillion Social Security Trust Fund [Congressional Budget Office, 3/7/03 ]

Bush: When we make a pledge, we mean it. We keep our word. We keep our word.

Kerry: We need a President who’s on your side. I’m John Kerry and I approved this message.

False Statement About Veterans

At one point the ad shows Bush saying “we must provide the best care” for veterans, then shows a graphic saying: “200,000 veterans cut off from health system.” It cites the Department of Veterans Affairs as the source. But the statement is false.

In fact, no veterans have had benefits cut off under Bush. Quite the contrary, as we’ve previously noted, spending for veterans benefits has grown 27% since Bush took office, and the ranks of veterans drawing benefits have increased by more than 1 million.

The Kerry campaign says the ad is referring to a proposal in Bush’s budget for fiscal year 2005, which begins Oct. 1. But that proposal has not been enacted and, in fact, a similar proposal was rejected last year. Congress is expected to reject it again this year.

Furthermore, the proposal would not “cut off” veterans as the ad says. It would instead raise the cost of the VA’s popular prescription–drug benefit. The VA estimates this would cause an estimated 200,000 veterans to leave the system — voluntarily — because they have better benefits from other sources. The drug benefit currently requires no payment to gain coverage, and a $7 co-payment for each one-month supply of prescription drugs. The Bush administration proposes to charge $21 per month for coverage, and to raise the co-payment to $15 per one-month supply of prescription medications.

Job Loss Overstated

The ad wrongly states that 2.9 million jobs have been lost under Bush, and cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the source. That’s wrong.

BLS figures actually show the loss in total payroll jobs has been 2.2 million jobs. The Kerry ad overstates the job loss by a number that exceeds the population of Washington DC.

For those of you who wish to check the math on this, the BLS reports total nonfarm employment, seasonally adjusted, was 132,388,000 in January 2001, the month Bush took office. It was 130,155,000 as of the most recent report in January, 2004. That’s a loss of 2,233,000 jobs — not 2,900,000 as the ad states. The ad overstates the job loss by 667,000. The US Census Bureau estimates the population of Washington DC last year at 563,384.

The Kerry campaign says the ad is referring to the loss of private sector jobs only, disregarding a large gain in federal, state and local government employment since Bush took office. But there’s no way anyone watching the ad would know that. Kerry has used this misleading tactic before, as we’ve previously noted.

$400-Billion Deficits for Next 10 Years?

The ad is on more solid ground in other areas. It shows Bush stating in his 2002 State of the Union address that “our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term,” and then displays a graphic stating: “Annual Deficit to Exceed $400 billion for next 10 years.”

Officially, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that deficits won’t be that large, but will be no lower than $240 billion every year for the next 10 years.

However, the Kerry ad accurately quotes an independent source, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The CBPP predicts deficits exceeding $400 billion in each of the next 10 years if Congress makes Bush’s tax cuts permanent, enacts relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax before it affects many more middle-income taxpayers, and increases defense spending, all of which the CBPP deems likely to happen.

What Happened to the “Lock Box”

The ad also shows Bush saying, “We’re going to set aside all the payroll taxes aimed for Social Security and spend it on Social Security,” then says on screen: “Raids entire $2.6 trillion Social Security Trust Fund.” It’s true that all proceeds from payroll taxes that exceed current needs for Social Security and Medicare are going to finance other government spending, and that a total of $2.6 trillion in excess payroll taxes are projected to be spent this way over the next decade.

However, the ad fails to make clear that Bush’s promise was made during the 2000 campaign, before the economic recession that began in March, 2001 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. By the time Bush’s first budget took effect Oct. 1, 2001, all talk of putting excess payroll tax proceeds into a “lockbox” had ended. The assessment of the Los Angeles Times at the time was typical: “The turnabout is attributable in large part to the deepening economic downturn, last summer’s big tax rebates and the response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”



News Release: “Kerry Campaign Unveils New Internet Ad—Keep Our Word? Bush Credibility Gap Growing Wider By the Day” John Kerry for President campaign 27 Feb 2004.

Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2005 ” Table 5.2 — Budget Authority by Agency” (Washington, Government Printing Office) 3 Feb 2004.

US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs, “ Statement of Anthony J. Principi , Secretary Of Veterans Affairs” 4 Feb 2004.

US Congressional Budget Office “ Preliminary Results of CBO’s Analysis of the President’s Budgetary Proposals for Fiscal Year 2005 ” 27 Feb 2004.

Richard Kogan , David Kamin, and Joel Friedman “Deficit picture grimmer than new CBO projections suggest ” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 1 Feb. 2004.

Warren Vieth, “‘Lockbox’ Lightened by $33 Billion in 2001; Social Security: U.S. Treasury tally details the portion of fund’s surplus that was needed to ride out a rocky fiscal year,” Los Angeles Times 30 Oct 2001: A17.