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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking McCain

He made some flubs in accepting the nomination.


We checked the accuracy of McCain’s speech accepting the Republican nomination and noted the following:

  • McCain claimed that Obama’s health care plan would "force small businesses to cut jobs" and would put "a bureaucrat … between you and your doctor." In fact, the plan exempts small businesses, and those who have insurance now could keep the coverage they have.
  • McCain attacked Obama for voting for "corporate welfare" for oil companies. In fact, the bill Obama voted for raised taxes on oil companies by $300 million over 11 years while providing $5.8 billion in subsidies for renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels.
  • McCain said oil imports send "$700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much." But the U.S. is on track to import a total of only $536 billion worth of oil at current prices, and close to a third of that comes from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
  • He promised to increase use of "wind, tide [and] solar" energy, though his actual energy plan contains no new money for renewable energy. He has said elsewhere that renewable sources won’t produce as much as people think.
  • He called for "reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs," but as in the past failed to cite a single program that he would eliminate or reduce.
  • He said Obama would "close" markets to trade. In fact, Obama, though he once said he wanted to "renegotiate" the North American Free Trade Agreement, now says he simply wants to try to strengthen environmental and labor provisions in it.


Sen. John McCain’s acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 4 was couched more in generalities than in specifics, offering fewer factual claims to check than we found in other speeches to the gathering. But we found some instances where the nominee strained the truth.

Insurance Claims

McCain mischaracterized Obama’s health care plan:

McCain: His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor.

The claim that “small businesses” would have to “cut jobs, reduce wages,” runs counter to Obama’s actual proposal. Obama’s plan would require businesses to contribute to the cost of insurance for employees or pay some unspecified amount into a new public plan. But his proposal specifically says, “Small businesses will be exempt from this requirement.” And it offers additional help to small businesses that want to provide health care in the form of a refundable tax credit of up to half the cost of premiums. We’ll note that neither man has defined what exactly a “small business” is.

Furthermore, Obama’s plan wouldn’t “force” families into a “government-run health care system.” His plan mandates that children have coverage; there’s no mandate for adults. People can keep the health insurance they have now or chose from private plans, or opt for a new public plan that will offer coverage similar to what members of Congress have. Obama would also expand Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. His plan certainly expands government-offered insurance – and McCain’s doesn’t – but it’s not a solely government-run plan, as McCain implied. And if Obama’s public plan turns out to be similar to what federal employees have, as he says it would be, we’re not sure how "a bureaucrat" would stand "between you and your doctor." The possible exception would be persons covered by Medicaid or SCHIP.

McCain also made this boast:

McCain: My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance.

Fair enough. But McCain’s plan wouldn’t do nearly as well as Obama’s. One comparison, by the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, finds Obama’s would reduce the uninsured by 18 million people in its first year, compared with a 1 million reduction under McCain’s plan. TPC made various assumptions about the plans to fill in details each proposal lacks, so those numbers aren’t definitive. We await more comparisons from other experts.

Oily Words

McCain attacked Obama for supporting "corporate welfare" for oil companies:



McCain: [I]nstead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies.

The bill McCain is talking about here is the 2005 energy bill, which actually raised taxes on the oil industry a little bit overall – by about $300 million, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Meanwhile, McCain himself proposes to cut the corporate rate for all companies – oil included – and that would result in an estimated $4 billion cut for the five largest U.S.-based oil companies, according to the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Obama, on the other hand, is promising that he’ll strip oil companies of "tax breaks" to the tune of an amount yet to be determined.

It’s true that Obama voted for the 2005 bill. He said he favored the $5.8 billion (over 11 years) that it contained in tax incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels. McCain voted against it on the grounds that the $2.6 billion it contained for oil and gas incentives was too much, even though the bill also took away $2.9 billion from the industry, for a net tax increase of $300 million. Describing such a complex measure as "corporate welfare" is misleading.

More Oily Words

We found other exaggerations in McCain’s claims about his plan for energy independence:

McCain: We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much.

In fact, the U.S. doesn’t pay nearly that much for oil from hostile nations. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. imported 4.9 billion barrels of oil in 2007. At today’s prices, that works out to about $536 billion, still a hefty chunk of change, but considerably less than $700 billion. More important, that’s what we pay to all exporting nations, not just those that “don’t like us very much.” We note that 32 percent of U.S. oil imports came from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Just Wind

McCain also made sweeping claims about green energy that aren’t actually backed up by his policy proposals:

McCain: We will attack the problem on every front. …We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

McCain has been quite specific about his proposals to clear the way for building 45 new nuclear power plants, opening offshore areas to oil drilling and spending $2 billion a year for so-called "clean coal" technology. He has also proposed a $300 million prize for developing the first practical plug-in electric car, although General Motors already is working on that and is aiming for delivery of the Chevrolet Volt by 2010, prize or no prize. McCain has also proposed a $5,000 tax credit for consumers who purchase zero emission vehicles.

But when it comes to power from wind and tide, McCain’s words are blowing in the breeze. His energy plan, which he calls the Lexington Project, proposes no new spending for renewable energy programs. Instead, he proposes to "rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits," but hasn’t said what he means by that. As we’ve written before, spokespeople for the wind and solar industries are unsure what this actually means. Finally, we’ll note that McCain himself told supporters at a July town hall meeting that he doesn’t think that renewable energy is likely to be "as much of the solution as some people think." Perhaps not, but if McCain is right his own words are contributing to the public misperception.

Pig in a Poke

McCain repeated his vague promise to make spending cuts:

McCain: Reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs will let you keep more of your own money to save, spend and invest as you see fit.

McCain has not said which programs he considers to be "failed programs." He thus makes the spending cuts sound less painful than they will be should he fulfill his previously stated promise to balance the federal budget by 2013 while also making all Bush tax cuts permanent and adding new cuts of his own. McCain repeated his promise to eliminate "earmarks" from federal spending bills, saying  "the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it." That drew applause, but the fact is that earmarks amount to only $16.9 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, the deficit is expected to be more than $200 billion in 2009. And McCain’s tax cuts will add billions more to future deficits unless offset by spending cuts, which he so far has not been willing to identify. What would he cut?

A McCain adviser, former CBO chairman Douglas Holtz-Eakin, has said that McCain "will provide the leadership to achieve bipartisan spending restraint" and "will perform a comprehensive review of all programs, projects and activities of the federal government" to find programs to cut or eliminate. But that, of course, will come after people have cast their votes.

Trade Talk

McCain said, “I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them."

McCain may be alluding to Obama’s threat earlier this year to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico and Canada won’t open the deal to renegotiation. Obama said at a Democratic primary debate in Cleveland in February:

Obama, Feb. 26: I will make sure that we renegotiate. … I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.

But that’s far from a threat to "close" markets to U.S. exports.

An expert from a pro-trade group agrees. “It’s a stretch to take the heated comment from the Cleveland debate to pull out of NAFTA if it wasn’t revised as indicative of a protectionist policy,” Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told FactCheck.org. “In any event, the position on NAFTA has since been clarified."

In fact, Obama has said he thinks it’s unwise to repeal the trade deal, because to do so "would actually result in more job loss … than job gains." And in a June interview with Fortune magazine, he stated that he didn’t plan on pulling out of NAFTA. "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he said.

It’s true that McCain has been a stronger advocate of free trade agreements than Obama, who supported the trade deal with Oman in 2006 and one with Peru in 2007 but opposed the one with Central America and another with Colombia. But saying he would "close" markets is nonsense.

Planet Plans

Finally, we note that McCain and the Republican delegates applied a different standard to the Republican nominee’s lofty rhetoric than they did to Obama’s. McCain drew applause with this line:

McCain: We must use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy from the damage caused by rising oil prices and restore the health of our planet.

The previous evening, however, McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, ridiculed Obama for using similar high-sounding words:

Palin, Sept. 3: What does he actually seek to accomplish after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?

That crack drew jeers and laughter. Perhaps Republicans see a distinction between "healing the planet" and "restor[ing] the health of our planet," but it escapes us.

–-by Brooks Jackson, with Viveca Novak, Lori Robertson, Joe Miller and Emi Kolawole


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Office of Management and Budget. "FY 2008 Appropriations Earmarks Summary," 28 January 2008.

Congressional Budget Office. "CBO’s Baseline Budget Projections," March 2008.

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"U.S. Imports by Country of Origin." U.S. Energy Information Administration, accessed 5 Sept. 2008.

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www.barackobama.com, Web site accessed 5 Sept. 2008.