An ad released June 24 by the pro-Bush group Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA) attacks Kerry for voting against intelligence spending “even after the first World Trade Center bombing” and for voting against “13 weapons systems our troops depend on.” (emphasis original). The ad is partly accurate, but misleads by starving the facts of context.
PFA calls itself the “conservative ‘Issue Truth Squad.'” Indeed, C. Boyden Gray, a former White House counsel for the current President’s father, sits on the group’s advisory board. But as we’ve reported before, the claims made in the ad are half-truths at best.
The statement that Kerry voted against a long list of mainstream weapons is misleading. He didn’t vote against those weapons specifically, and though he did vote against the entire Pentagon budget on occasion he voted for weapons spending far more often than not. Furthermore, Republicans including Bush’s father and Vice President Cheney also proposed cuts or elimination in several of the same weapons at around the same time Kerry supposedly “voted against” them.
And while it’s true that Kerry voted to cut intelligence spending in 1994, he did so as part of a much larger deficit-reduction bill at a time of massive federal deficits and growing agreement that military spending could safely be scaled back in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
PFA’s broad claim that President Bush “will win the war on terror” — and its implied claim that Kerry would not — is an opinion to which they are of course entitled. But to buttress their opinion, they paint a distorted factual picture of Kerry’s record.
Progress for America Voter Fund Ad:
Announcer: Nine-eleven: A leader showed strength and compassion.
He held us together…
…and began to hunt down terrorist killers.
But what if…Bush wasn’t there? (original emphasis)
Could John Kerry have shown this leadership?
The Kerry who voted against billions for America’s intelligence, even after the first World Trade Center bombing?
The Kerry who voted against 13 weapons systems our troops depend on?
President Bush will win this war on terror.
Progress for America Voter Fund is responsible for the content of this ad.
Voted Against Weapons? Not Quite
Kerry did not, in fact, vote specifically against “13 weapons systems” as the ad claims. The bills shown on screen are actually Pentagon appropriations bills Kerry voted against in 1990 (H.R. 5803, S. 3189) and 1995 (H.R. 2126). Of course, voting against overall military spending bills does amount to voting against everything in them, but even so it isn’t quite the same as voting to eliminate specific weapons. We’ve addressed similar attacks by the Bush campaign in earlier articles, Feb. 26, March 16 and April 26.
PFA’s ad also fails to mention that Kerry voted for Pentagon money bills in 16 of his 19 years in the Senate. By that measure, Kerry was much more a supporter of “weapons systems our troops depend on” than he was an opponent.
Furthermore, Bush’s own father, who was then President, and Richard Cheney, who was then Secretary of Defense, proposed to cut or eliminate several of the very same weapons that Republicans now fault Kerry for opposing. In his first appearance before Congress as Defense Secretary in April 1989, for example, Cheney outlined $10 billion in defense cuts including proposed cancellation of the AH-64 Apache helicopter, and elimination of the F-15E ground-attack jet. Two years later Cheney’s Pentagon budget also proposed elimination of further production of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and targeted a total of 81 Pentagon programs for termination, including the F-14 and F-16 aircraft. And the elder President Bush said in his 1992 State of the Union address: “After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bombers. . . . And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles.” So if Kerry opposed weapons “our troops depend on,” so did Cheney and the elder President Bush.
Interestingly, the ad doesn’t specify the 13 weapons systems Kerry supposedly opposed. When asked to document the ad’s claim, PFA supplied a document that said the two appropriations bills cited “contained funding for at least 13 weapons systems.” The PFA most likely is relying on a list of 13 weapons that the Republican National Committee put forth last February when Republicans first tried this line of attack. One of those weapons is the Trident nuclear missile system — not exactly a weapon “our troops depend on” in the current conflict.
World Trade Center or Cold War?
As reported on March 15, it’s accurate to say that Kerry “voted against billions” for intelligence spending, and did so a year after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But that was a time that even many Republicans were coming to the conclusion that intelligence spending could safely be scaled back because the Cold War was over.
What Kerry voted for in 1994 was an amendment that he himself had proposed, which included a cut in intelligence funding of $1 billion in 1994, and to cap spending at that level through 1998. That would amount to a $5-billion cut over five years, somewhere between 3% and 4% of estimated US intelligence spending at the time.
The Kerry amendment was a comprehensive deficit-reduction package that also targeted a variety of other cuts, including reductions in programs for agriculture, commerce and administration. Kerry’s amendment went down to defeat with only 20 votes in favor.
However, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing is not the only context in which Kerry’s vote can or should be placed. When the Berlin Wall fell five years earlier in 1989, the event marked the end of the Cold War. Over the next half dozen years the diminished threat from the former Soviet Union (which dissolved in 1991) led to a national debate over the level of intelligence spending, which had ballooned to an estimated $30 billion per year.
Four years prior to Kerry’s amendment, for example, in July of 1990 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report calling for new fiscal scrutiny of intelligence and saying “it is clear that the underlying rationale for many of these programs is in serious need of review.” The intelligence committee found massive duplication and waste in the Pentagon’s intelligence programs particularly, noting separate intelligence arms with their own “separate buildings, separate security, separate communications, separate support services” at every echelon, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force and even regional commanders around the globe.
And the same year Kerry voted to cut intelligence funds, 1994, a bipartisan commission was formed to assess the state of US intelligence efforts. It concluded two years later that cuts in intelligence spending were inevitable and might be made without endangering national security. In 1996 the 17-member Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community (also called the Aspin Commission) found that, despite cuts already made to that time, intelligence spending was still 80% higher than it had been in 1980 even including adjustments for inflation. By comparison, other defense spending had decreased 4%. To be sure, the commission didn’t recommend any more cuts in intelligence spending, but it acknowledged that balancing the federal budget would probably require that cuts be made:
Aspin Commission: Reductions to the existing and planned intelligence resources may be possible without damaging the nation’s security. Indeed, finding such reductions is critical . . . (I)t is clear a more rigorous analysis of the resources budgeted for intelligence is required.
Among the Republican commissioners who unanimously approved that language were Paul Wolfowitz, who is currently Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Sen. John Warner, now chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Also worth noting is that after Kerry’s proposal to cut intelligence spending by $1 billion a year failed, a Republican-sponsored cut sailed through easily. In 1995 Republican Senator Arlen Specter proposed to cut $1 billion from the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for fiscal year 1996. That cut was considered so uncontroversial that it passed by a voice vote.
Watch PFA Ad: “What If?”
View Text of Kerry’s 1994 Amendment (S. Amdt 1452)
H.R. 5803 “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 1991” Proposed 9 Oct. 1990.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 101st Congress – 2nd Session HR5803 Vote #319 26 Oct. 1990.
S. 3189 “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 1991” Proposed 11 Oct. 1990.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 101st Congress – 2nd Session S3189 Vote #273 15 Oct. 1990.
H.R. 2126 “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 1996.” Proposed 27 July 1995.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 104th Congress – 1st Session HR2126 Vote #579 16 Nov. 1995.
S. Amdt 1452 to H.R. 3759 Proposed 9 Feb. 1994.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress – 2nd Session S.Amdt 1452 Vote #39 10 Feb. 1994.
George Lardner Jr., “Pentagon Told to End Duplication Or Face Intelligence Personnel Cuts,” WashingtonPost, 14 July 1990: A4.
“Preparing for the 21st Century: An Appraisal of U.S. Intelligence, ” Aspin Commission 1 March 1996.
S. Amdt 2881 to S. 922 Proposed 29 Sept. 1995.
Richard W. Stevenson, “Arms Makers Brace for Peace,” New York Times 30 Jan 1992: D1.
President George H.W. Bush, “Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on the State of the Union,” 28 Jan. 1992.