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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

GOP Convention Spin

Lieberman and Thompson make misleading claims about Obama on Day Two of the party in St. Paul.


Joe Lieberman and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson both made misleading claims about Obama in their prime time GOP convention speeches on Tuesday. We’ve heard two of them before – many times.


  • Lieberman said Obama hadn’t "reached across party lines" to accomplish "anything significant," though Obama has teamed with GOP Sens. Tom Coburn and Richard Lugar to pass laws enhancing government transparency and curtailing the proliferation of nuclear and conventional weapons.
  • Thompson repeated misleading claims about Obama’s tax program, saying it would bring "one of the largest tax increases in American history." But as increases go, Obama’s package is hardly a history-maker. It would raise taxes for families with incomes above $250,000. Most people would see a cut.
  • Lieberman also accused Obama of "voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield." But Obama’s only vote against a war-funding bill came after Bush vetoed a version of the bill Obama had supported – and McCain urged the veto.


We found a few factual issues in Tuesday night’s big-name speeches at the convention in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Obama on Your Side

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat (now Independent) who supports McCain, accused Obama of not reaching out to the other side:

Lieberman: In the Senate, during the three-and-a-half years that Senator Obama has been a member, he has not reached across party lines to get accomplish anything significant. …

We don’t know what Lieberman considers "significant." But Obama has co-sponsored bills with members of the other party, some of which have been noteworthy. Obama and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, for instance, teamed up on an initiative to lock down and secure both nuclear and conventional weapons worldwide, such as the shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles that have been proliferating in recent years. According to a report on the bill by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the legislation "enhances: (1) U.S. cooperation with foreign governments to destroy conventional weapons stockpiles around the world; and (2) the United States’ ability to provide assistance to foreign governments aimed at helping them detect and interdict weapons and materials of mass destruction." Lugar hasn’t objected to Obama’s characterization of their partnership or the bill, which became law in 2007, in his ads.

Another example: Obama worked with Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, to write the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which created a searchable database the public can use to look up details on federal grants and contracts. (McCain was also among the original co-sponsors of that bill, so Lieberman may have been tarring his own candidate when he disparaged Obama’s legislative accomplishments). Obama and Coburn also got together on a bill to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from issuing open-ended, no-bid contracts for emergency response activities after abuses were found in post-Katrina contracting.

The Truth on Taxes (Again)

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who was in the race himself earlier this year, banged the now-familiar tax drum in his denunciation of Obama when he said, "You don’t lift an economic downturn by imposing one of the largest tax increases in American history."

We’ve been here before (repeatedly), but we’re happy to reiterate: What Obama is proposing is indeed a substantial tax increase for some, but not for most. Overall, Obama says he would raise income, capital gains and dividend taxes only for taxpayers with family income above $250,000 or singles making more than $200,000. He would also raise corporate taxes through selective “loophole closings.”

For most taxpayers rates would go down. The nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center has described his plan this way:

Tax Policy Center: The Obama plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income families, but raise them significantly for high-bracket taxpayers. … By 2012, middle-income taxpayers would see their after-tax income rise by about 5 percent, or nearly $2,200 annually. Those in the top 1 percent would face a $19,000 average tax increase — a 1.5 percent reduction in after-tax income.

It’s true that Obama’s tax proposals overall would raise federal revenues by $627 billion over 10 years. Is that “one of the largest tax increases in American history” as Thompson claimed? And would it be a drag on the economy as he says?

When it comes to assessing the effect that a tax change will have on the economy, the single most relevant figure is the size of the increase or cut in relation to the size of the overall economy. And by that yardstick, Obama’s increase is hardly a history-maker. The largest was the 1942 increase enacted as the U.S. plunged into World War II, and it amounted to 5.2 percent of the entire economy in its first year.

President Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, which Republicans regularly and misleadingly call the largest in history, was actually about one-tenth as large, amounting to 0.5 percent of the economy over its first two years. The TPC calculates that Obama’s overall tax increase, as described by his aides and on his Web site, would be roughly 0.1 percent in its first year, and 0.3 percent on average over 10 years, compared with what people are paying now.

And how would that affect the economy? Not much. The TPC says, “Neither candidate’s plan would significantly increase economic growth unless offset by spending cuts or tax increases that the campaigns have not specified.” The tax plans of both Obama and McCain would leave the federal government wallowing in huge deficits for years to come, and compared with the economic drag created by deficit spending, the effects of either man’s tax plan is negligible.

Troop Funding Foul Play

Lieberman also said that "colleagues like Barack Obama were voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield." That’s a highly misleading claim that McCain also touted in an ad this summer. Obama has voted in favor of war-funding bills at least 10 times since becoming a senator. The McCain camp and Republicans cite one vote Obama cast against a funding bill as justification for their claim – but that vote came after President Bush had vetoed a version of the bill that included a date for withdrawal from Iraq.

In fact, most Republicans voted against that 2007 war-funding bill Obama and the Democrats supported. McCain was absent for the vote, but he urged the president to veto the bill. As we said about this subject previously, "Based on those facts, it would be literally true to say that ‘McCain urged a veto of funding for our troops.’ But that would be oversimplified to the point of being seriously misleading." And the same goes for Lieberman’s claim at the convention.

— by Viveca Novak, Brooks Jackson and Lori Robertson


Victor, Kirk. "The Lugar Connection." National Journal, 2 Aug. 2008.

Tempalski, Jerry. “Revenue Effects of Major Tax Bills.” Office of Tax Analysis, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Sept. 2006.

Williams, Roberton and Gleckman, Howard. “An Updated Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans.” Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 15 Aug 2008.

Office of U.S. Sen. John McCain. "McCain urges president to veto legislation requiring withdrawal deadline for U.S. troops." news release, 26 April 2007.

Office of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. “Obama Votes to Demand Changed Course in Iraq.” news release, 24 May 2007.

Office of U.S. Sen. John McCain. “Senator McCain Statement on Presidential Veto of Iraq Spending Legislation.” news release, 1 May 2007.