A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

AFL-CIO Falsely Attacks McCain

It runs an ad claiming McCain voted "against increasing health care benefits for veterans," when he actually voted repeatedly to increase them.


Summary

The AFL-CIO is attacking McCain with a TV spot saying he voted "against increasing health care benefits for veterans." Actually, he voted for increases in those benefits.

The labor federation points to McCain’s votes against Democratic proposals to increase funding. Those were defeated along party lines and were accompanied by alternative measures to increase benefits by smaller amounts, all of which passed unanimously or with near-unanimous majorities. McCain supported all of them.

The AFL-CIO also points to a McCain vote against a war spending supplemental appropriations measure from 2007 that included additional funding for veterans’ health care, along with much else. The measure passed the Senate along partisan lines but was vetoed by President Bush. But McCain voted for a later version of the supplemental that ultimately passed into law and actually included slightly more funding for veterans’ benefits.

Analysis

The AFL-CIO attack ad against John McCain started airing today and is the first ad the labor federation has run in the 2008 presidential campaign. It will run in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin for the next three weeks, according to a report in the Washington Post.

We find the ad, narrated by Vietnam veteran Jim Wasser, to be unduly harsh on McCain’s voting record on veterans’ health benefits.

[TET ]

AFL-CIO Ad: "Not Now"

Vietnam Veteran Jim Wasser: Every vet respects John McCain’s war record. It’s his record in the Senate that I have a problem with. He wants us to keep spending ten billion dollars a month in Iraq, just like Bush. That’s money we could use to build schools and roads and create jobs we need here at home. He even took Bush’s side against increasing health care benefits for veterans. People should let John McCain know his agenda’s not what we need. Not now.[/TET]

McCain’s Votes

The ad says that McCain "took Bush’s side against increasing health care benefits for veterans." But he actually voted to increase veterans’ health care benefits, though not by as much as Democrats proposed.

The AFL-CIO, in documentation it provided to FactCheck.org, cites four specific votes as support for this allegation. Three of them were against Democratic amendments  to the annual budget bill in 2004, 2005 and 2006. And all of them failed along party lines in a Republican-controlled Senate. But in each case, McCain supported different amendments to increase veterans’ health benefits, either on the same day or the following day.

Specifically, in 2004 McCain voted against an increase of $1.8 billion, but an increase of $1.2 billion passed by unanimous consent. In 2005 he voted against an increase of $2.8 billion, but voted for a $410 million increase. And in 2006, he voted against a $1.5 billion increase, but voted for an $823 million increase.

There was no dissent for the 2004 amendment, and the 2006 amendment passed unanimously. In 2005, the alternative spending increase passed with a healthy 96-to-4 bipartisan stamp of approval. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the president does not express an opinion on every amendment offered in the Senate. So it is not accurate to say McCain "took Bush’s side" on these votes.

The union group also cites a fourth vote, a March 2007 vote by McCain against a war spending supplemental that passed the Senate but was vetoed by the president. The bill did include $1.77 billion in additional funding for veterans’ health care benefits. However, McCain voted for an alternative version of the supplemental that was quickly introduced, passed and signed into law. And it actually included slightly more money for veterans’ health benefits, $1.79 billion.

$10 Billion a Month?

The ad also says that McCain "wants us to keep spending ten billion dollars a month in Iraq, just like Bush." It is true that the U.S. is spending $10 billion or more per month in Iraq, according to most estimates. And McCain has certainly resisted any "retreat" from Iraq, and he has even said U.S. troops could remain for decades. But strictly speaking, McCain has never said that he wants to spend $10 billion per month in Iraq. Quite the contrary.

In fact, McCain says he’s counting on reduced spending for military operations to help him balance the federal budget. In his "Jobs for America" plan released July 9, the McCain campaign said:

McCain campaign: The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.

We can’t predict whether McCain, or for that matter, Obama, will actually be able to cut spending in Iraq. But it’s simply wrong to say McCain "wants" to continue spending at the current level, when he’s said he wants to reduce it.

–by Justin Bank

Correction, July 14: Our article originally said that McCain’s 2005 and 2006 votes against Democratic proposals to increase veterans’ funding preceded his votes for legislation to increase funding by less. McCain’s votes for the alternative legislation came first. We have changed the story to reflect this.

Sources

Cillizza, Chris, "AFL-CIO Goes After McCain in Battleground States," Washington Post. 9 July 2008.

108th Congress, U.S. Senate, 2nd Session Roll Call Vote No. 40.

109th Congress, U.S. Senate, 1st Session Roll Call Vote No. 55.

109th Congress, U.S. Senate, 1st Session Roll Call Vote No. 54.

109th Congress, U.S. Senate, 2nd Session, Roll Call Vote No. 41.

109th Congress, U.S. Senate, 2nd Session, Roll Call Vote No. 40.

110th Congress, U.S. Senate, 1st Session, Roll Call Vote No. 126.

110th Congress, U.S. Senate, 1st Session, Roll Call Vote No. 181.

Public Law 110-28: U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007.