A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama’s Speech and Those Frivolous Earmarks

President Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, and we caught several factual errors and misstatements in his remarks. See our full story on FactCheck.org for all the details. Here’s just one item we found:
Obama exaggerated a bit in describing the Children’s Health Insurance Program that was recently reauthorized by Congress:

Obama: When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full time.

Earmark Numbers

Obama’s right about earmark amounts. According to the budget watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, earmarks totaled just $18.3 billion in 2008. Citizens Against Government Waste came in with a slightly smaller number of $17.2 billion, and the Office of Management and Budget smaller still at $16.9 billion.

FactChecking Debate No. 1

McCain and Obama contradicted each other repeatedly during their first debate, and each volunteered some factual misstatements as well. Here’s how we sort them out:

Obama said McCain adviser Henry Kissinger backs talks with Iran “without preconditions,” but McCain disputed that. In fact, Kissinger did recently call for “high level” talks with Iran starting at the secretary of state level and said, “I do not believe that we can make conditions.” After the debate the McCain campaign issued a statement quoting Kissinger as saying he didn’t favor presidential talks with Iran.

McCain: $3 million to study the DNA of bears?

We’ve heard that one before.
McCain’s been playing it for laughs since 2003. The study in question was done by the U.S. Geological Survey, and it relied in part on federal appropriations. Readers (and politicians) may disagree on whether a noninvasive study of grizzly bear population and habitat is a waste of money. McCain clearly thinks it is — but on the other hand, he never moved to get rid of the earmark. In fact, he voted for the bill that made appropriations for the study.

One Bridge, Two Bridge

Once upon a time, there were two Bridges to Nowhere. There was the Bridge to Nowhere, and the Bridge to Nowhere’s brother, the Bridge to Nowhere. Or, if you prefer, there was the Gravina Access Project, which would connect the town of Ketchikan to the island of Gravina for purposes of development and airport access, and the Knik Arm bridge, which would improve access between Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The bridge would connect the port in Anchorage to Port MacKenzie in Mat-Su.

Fact-Checking…’The View’?

We generally don’t take it upon ourselves to parse ABC’s morning gabfest. But we noticed that when the chat turned to Palin’s record on earmarks McCain got it wrong.
He was correct on one point: Palin vetoed $500 million in spending as governor. She axed over $230 million in state spending in 2007. And the Anchorage Daily News reported that she lopped off another $268 million in spending for 2008.
But then the ladies shot back with this:

Barbara Walters: She also took some earmark spending.

Original Mavericks, Old Bunk

A new McCain ad, “Original Mavericks,” repeats the claim that Gov. Sarah Palin “stopped the Bridge to Nowhere” last year.

We’re here to tell you that no matter how many times she and McCain say it, it’s still misleading. We refer you to our story of last week, GOP Convention Spin, Part II, in which we explain: Congress actually knocked out the earmark for the bridge, which was projected to cost $398 million. The state instead received funds that weren’t designated for specific projects.

The Budget According to McCain: Part I

McCain’s big promise is that he can balance the budget while extending Bush’s tax cuts and adding a few of his own. He likes to leave the impression that this can be done painlessly, for example, by eliminating “wasteful” spending in the form of “earmarks” that lawmakers like to tuck into spending bills to finance home-state projects. We found that not only is this theory full of holes, it’s not even McCain’s actual plan. In this story we examine the spending-cut side of McCain’s budget program. In Part II, we’ll look at what McCain has said about taxes.

McCain’s Record on Earmarks

Q: Has McCain ever made any earmarks?
A: Not for fiscal year 2008 and never explicitly, though over the course of his career, there are several that might deserve the label.

Defining an ‘Earmark’?

Q: What is an earmark?
A: Earmarks are government funds that are allocated by a legislator for a particular pet project, often without proper review.