FactChecking Biden-Palin Debate
- Reader Comment:
Watching the debate between Biden-Palin it was hard to determine:
Who loves "clean" coal more?
Judging from the little love fest, it was hard to tell who loves
clean coal more.
No one talked about fuel cells or solar energy because once you have
paid for the hardware of solar panels on your home, the energy
companies might have to send you a monthly check instead.
With atomic energy, coal and oil, we not only put huge amounts of
people at risk of cancers but whats most important to these corporate
cash marinated candidates is to keep you squeezed (terror code alert
color today is "orange").
For some unknown reason no one spoke about the "bailout".
No one spoke about Charles Keating, Neal Bush, the S&L bailout or
getting out of Afghanistan.
We did however learn that Joe Biden knows where Osama is hiding!
Why haven't you revealed this before, Joe?!
Who hates Iran more?
Who loves Israel more?
You heard how much they love Israel, do they love the USA as much as
they love Israel?
Its so hard to tell! But thats the choice the puppetmasters at the
Dept of Propaganda
have left you with. This is democracy, be glad you have a "choice".
So what is the difference between Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman?
FactChecking Biden-Palin Debate
Brooks Jackson, Viveca Novak, Lori Robertson, Joe Miller,
Jessica Henig and Justin Bank
October 3, 2008
The candidates were not 100 percent accurate. To say the least.
Biden and Palin debated, and both mangled some facts.
Palin mistakenly claimed that troop levels in Iraq had returned
to "pre-surge" levels. Levels are gradually coming down but current
plans would have levels higher than pre-surge numbers through early
next year, at least.
Biden incorrectly said "John McCain voted the exact same way" as
Obama on a controversial troop funding bill. The two were actually on
Palin repeated a false claim that Obama once voted in favor of higher
taxes on "families" making as little as $42,000 a year. He did not.
The budget bill in question called for an increase only on singles
making that amount, but a family of four would not have been affected
unless they made at least $90,000 a year.
Biden wrongly claimed that McCain "voted the exact same way" as Obama
on the budget bill that contained an increase on singles making as
little as $42,000 a year. McCain voted against it. Biden was
referring to an amendment that didn't address taxes at that income
Palin claimed McCain's health care plan would be "budget neutral,"
costing the government nothing. Independent budget experts estimate
McCain's plan would cost tens of billions each year, though details
are too fuzzy to allow for exact estimates.
Biden wrongly claimed that McCain had said "he wouldn't even sit
down" with the government of Spain. Actually, McCain didn't reject a
meeting, but simply refused to commit himself one way or the other
during an interview.
Palin wrongly claimed that "millions of small businesses" would see
tax increases under Obama's tax proposals. At most, several hundred
thousand business owners would see increases.
For full details on these misstatements, and on additional factual
disputes and dubious claims, please read on to the Analysis section.
Vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin met for their
one and only debate Oct. 2 in St. Louis, Missouri. The event was
broadcast nationally. Gwen Ifill of PBS was the debate moderator.
We noted the following:
Palin Trips Up on Troop Levels
Palin got her numbers wrong on troop levels when she said "and with
the surge that has worked, we're now down to pre-surge numbers in
The surge was announced in January 2007, at which point there were
132,000 troops in Iraq, according to the Brookings Institute Iraq
Index. As of September 2008, that number was 146,000. President Bush
recently announced that another 8,000 would be coming home by
February of next year. But even then, there still would be 6,000 more
troops in Iraq than there were when the surge began.
Biden Fudges on Troop Funding
Biden defended Obama's vote against a troop-funding bill, claiming
that McCain voted "the exact same way."
Palin: Barack Obama voted against funding troops there after
promising that he would not do so He turned around under political
pressure and he voted against funding the troops. ...
Biden: John McCain voted the exact same way. John McCain voted against
funding the troops because of an amendment he voted against had a
timeline in it to draw down American troops. And John said I'm not
going to fund the troops if in fact there's a time line.
As we've pointed out before, the squabble refers to a pair of 2007
votes on war funding. Obama voted for a version of the bill that
included language calling for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Biden is
simply wrong to say that McCain voted against that bill; he was
absent and didn't vote at all. McCain did oppose the bill, and he
urged President Bush to veto it. Bush did. Obama then voted against
the same bill without withdrawal language. He had voted yes on at
least 10 other war funding bills prior to that single 2007 no vote.
Palin's False Tax Claims
Palin repeated a false claim about Barack Obama's tax proposal:
Palin: Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last
year for those families making only $42,000 a year. That's a lot of
middle income average American families to increase taxes on them. I
think that is the way to kill jobs and to continue to harm our
Obama did not in fact vote to increase taxes on "families" making as
little as $42,000 per year. What Obama actually voted for was a
budget resolution that called for returning the 25 percent tax
bracket to its pre-Bush tax cut level of 28 percent. That could have
affected an individual with no children making as little as $42,000.
But a couple would have had to earn $83,000 to be affected and a
family of four at least $90,000. The resolution would not have raised
taxes on its own, without additional legislation, and, as we've noted
before, there is no such tax increase in Obama's tax plan. (The vote
took place on March 14 of this year, not last year as Palin said.)
Palin also repeated the exaggeration that Obama voted 94 times to
increase taxes. That number includes seven votes that would have
lowered taxes for many, while raising them on corporations or
affluent individuals; 23 votes that were against tax cuts; and 17
that came on just 7 different bills. She also claimed that Biden and
Obama voted for "the largest tax increase in history." Palin is
referring here to the Democrats' 2008 budget proposal, which would
indeed have resulted in about $217 billion in higher taxes over two
years. That's a significant increase. But measured as a percentage of
the nation's economic output, or gross domestic product, the
yardstick that most economists prefer, the 2008 budget proposal would
have been the third-largest since 1968, and it's not even in the top
10 since 1940.
Biden's False Defense
Biden denied that Obama supported increasing taxes for families
making $42,000 a year but then falsely claimed that McCain had cast
an identical vote.
Biden: Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she's
referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget
procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise
Biden was correct only to the extent that the resolution Obama
supported would not by itself have increased taxes; it was a vote on
a budget resolution that set revenue and spending targets. But he's
wrong to say McCain voted the same way. The Obama campaign attempted
to justify Biden's remark by pointing to a different vote, on a
Senate amendment, that took place March 13. The amendment passed 99-
1, with only Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold dissenting. It would have
preserved some of Bush's tax cuts for lower-income people. The vote
on the budget resolution in question, however, came in the wee hours
of March 14 and was a mostly party-line tally, 51-44, with Obama in
favor and McCain not voting.
Palin's Health Care Hooey
Palin claimed that McCain's health care plan would be "budget-
neutral," costing the government nothing.
Palin: He's proposing a $5,000 tax credit for families so that they
can get out there and they can purchase their own health care
coverage. That's a smart thing to do. That's budget neutral. That
doesn't cost the government anything ... a $5,000 health care credit
through our income tax, that's budget neutral.
The McCain campaign hasn't released an estimate of how much the plan
would cost, but independent experts contradict Palin's claim of a
The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain's plan,
which at its peak would cover 5 million of the uninsured, would
increase the deficit by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. Obama's plan,
which would cover 34 million of the uninsured, would cost $1.6
trillion over that time period.
The nonpartisan U.S. Budget Watch's fiscal voter guide estimates that
McCain's tax credit would increase the deficit by somewhere between
$288 billion to $364 billion by the year 2013, and that making
employer health benefits taxable would bring in between $201 billion
to $274 billion in revenue. That nets out to a shortfall of somewhere
between $14 billion to $163 billion for that year alone.
Palin also said that Obama's plan would be "universal government run"
health care and that health care would be "taken over by the feds."
That's not the case at all. As we've said before, Obama's plan would
not replace or remove private insurance, or require people to enroll
in a public plan. It would increase the offerings of publicly funded
McCain in Spain?
Biden said that McCain had refused to meet with the government of
Spain, but McCain made no such definite statement.
Biden: The last point I'll make, John McCain said as recently as a
couple of weeks ago he wouldn't even sit down with the government of
Spain, a NATO ally that has troops in Afghanistan with us now. I find
In a September 17 interview on Radio Caracol Miami, McCain appeared
confused when asked whether he would meet with President Zapatero of
Spain. He responded that "I would be willing to meet with those
leaders who are our friends and want to work with us in a cooperative
fashion," but then started talking about leaders in Latin America. He
did not commit to meeting with Zapatero, but it wasn't clear he'd
understood the question.
But the McCain campaign denied that their candidate was confused.
According to our colleagues at PolitiFact.com, campaign adviser Randy
Scheunemann e-mailed CNN and the Washington Post the next day, saying
that McCain's reluctance to commit to a meeting with Zapatero was a
Scheunemann, September 2008: The questioner asked several times about
Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero and id'd him in the
question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the
question referred. Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House
meeting with President Zapatero in this interview.
That's not a refusal to meet with Zapatero, as Biden said. It's
simply a refusal to commit himself one way or the other.
Palin's Small Business Balderdash
Palin repeated a falsehood that the McCain campaign has peddled, off
and on, for some time:
Palin: But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase
affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're
forgetting millions of small businesses that are going to fit into
that category. So they're going to be the ones paying higher taxes
thus resulting in fewer jobs being created and less productivity.
As we reported June 23, it's simply untrue that "millions" of small
business owners will pay higher federal income taxes under Obama's
proposal. According to an analysis by the independent Urban-Brookings
Tax Policy Center, several hundred thousand small business owners, at
most, would have incomes high enough to be affected by the higher
rates on income, capital gains and dividends that Obama proposes.
That counts as "small business owners" even those who merely have
some sideline income from such endeavors as freelance writing,
speaking or running rental properties, and who get the bulk of their
income from employment elsewhere.
Biden and Palin got into a tussle about military recommendations in
Biden: The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said
today that a surge the surge principles used in Iraq will not
well, let me say this again now our commanding general in
Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in
Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan. He
said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to
spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan.
Palin: Well, first, McClellan did not say definitively the surge
principles would not work in Afghanistan. Certainly, accounting for
different conditions in that different country and conditions are
certainly different. We have NATO allies helping us for one, and even
the geographic differences are huge but the counterinsurgency
principles could work in Afghanistan. McClellan didn't say anything
opposite of that. The counterinsurgency strategy going into
Afghanistan, clearing, holding, rebuilding, the civil society and the
infrastructure can work in Afghanistan.
Point Biden. To start, Palin got newly appointed Gen. David D.
McKiernan's name wrong when she called him McClellan. And, more
important, Gen. McKiernan clearly did say that surge principles would
not work in Afghanistan. As the Washington Post reported:
Washington Post: "The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge,' "
McKiernan stressed, saying that what is required is a "sustained
commitment" to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many years
and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution.
However, it is worth noting that McKiernan also said that Afghanistan
would need an infusion of American troops "as quickly as possible."
Killing Afghan Civilians?
Palin said that Obama had accused American troops of doing nothing
but killing civilians, a claim she called "reckless" and "untrue."
Palin: Now, Barack Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan
is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless,
reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.
Obama did say that troops in Afghanistan were killing civilians.
Here's the whole quote, from a campaign stop in New Hampshire:
Obama (August 2007): We've got to get the job done there and that
requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding
villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems
The Associated Press fact-checked this one, and found that in fact
U.S troops were killing more civilians at the time than
insurgents: "As of Aug. 1, the AP count shows that while militants
killed 231 civilians in attacks in 2007, Western forces killed 286.
Another 20 were killed in crossfire that can't be attributed to one
party." Afghan President Hamid Karzai had expressed concern about
these civilian killings, a concern President Bush said he shared.
Whether Obama said that this was "all we're doing" is debatable. He
said that we need to have enough troops so that we're "not just air-
raiding villages and killing civilians," but did not say that troops
are doing nothing else.
Out of Context?
Biden claimed a comment he made about "clean coal" was taken out of
Biden: My record for 25 years has supported clean coal technology. A
comment made in a rope line was taken out of context. I was talking
about exporting that technology to China so when they burn their
dirty coal, it won't be as dirty, it will be clean.
Was it really taken out of context? Here's the full exchange, which
took place while Biden was shaking hands with voters along a rope
line in Ohio.
Woman: Wind and solar are flourishing here in Ohio, why are you
supporting clean coal?
Biden: We're not supporting clean coal. Guess what? China's building
two every week, two dirty coal plants, and it's polluting the United
States. It's causing people to die.
Obama-Biden campaign spokesman David Wade later said that "Biden's
point is that China is building coal plants with outdated technology
every day, and the United States needs to lead by developing clean
Whatever Biden meant or didn't mean to say on the rope line, he has
supported clean coal in the past. When the McCain camp used this one
remark from Biden as the basis for a TV ad saying that Obama-Biden
oppose clean coal, we said the claim was false. Obama's position in
favor of clean coal has been clear, and pushing for the technology
has been part of his energy policy.
McCain in the Vanguard of Mortgage Reform?
Palin said that McCain had sounded the alarm on Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac two years ago.
Palin: We need to look back, even two years ago, and we need to be
appreciative of John McCain's call for reform with Fannie Mae, with
Freddie Mac, with the mortgage-lenders, too, who were starting to
really kind of rear that head of abuse.
Palin is referring to a bill that would have increased oversight on
Fannie and Freddie. In our recent article about assigning blame for
the crisis, we found that by the time McCain added his name to the
bill as a cosponsor, the collapse was well underway. Home prices
began falling only two months later. Our colleagues at PolitiFact
also questioned this claim.
And There's More...
A few other misleads of note:
Palin said, "We're circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign
countries" for imported oil, repeating an outdated figure often used
by McCain. At oil prices current as of Sept. 30, imports are running
at a rate of about $493 billion per year.
Biden claimed that McCain said in a magazine article that he wanted
to deregulate the health care industry as the banking industry had
been. That's taking McCain's words out of context. As we've said
before, he was talking specifically about his proposal to allow the
sale of health insurance across state lines.
Biden said five times that McCain's tax plan would give oil companies
a "$4 billion tax cut." As we've noted previously, McCain's plan
would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent for
ALL corporations, not just oil companies. Biden uses a Democratic
think tank's estimate for what the rate change is worth to the five
largest U.S. oil companies.
Palin threw out an old canard when she criticized Obama for voting
for the 2005 energy bill and said, "that's what gave those oil
companies those big tax breaks." It's a false attack Sen. Hillary
Clinton used against Obama in the primary, and McCain himself has
hurled. It's true that the bill gave some tax breaks to oil
companies, but it also took away others. And according to the
Congressional Research Service, the bill created a slight net
increase in taxes for the oil industry.
Biden said that Iraq had an "$80 billion surplus." The country was
once projected to have as much as a $79 billion surplus, but no more.
The Iraqis have $29 billion in the bank, and could have $47 billion
to $59 billion by the end of the year, as we noted when Obama used
the incorrect figure. A $21 billion supplemental spending bill,
passed by the Iraqi legislature in August, knocked down the old
Biden said four times that McCain had voted 20 times against funding
alternative energy. However, in analyzing the Obama campaign's list
of votes after the first presidential debate, we found the number was
actually 11. In the other instances the Obama-Biden campaign cites,
McCain voted not against alternative energy but against mandatory use
of alternative energy, or he voted in favor of allowing exemptions
from these mandates.
Correction Oct. 3: In the summary of this story we originally
referred to the "president" of Spain. Biden actually used the
word "government" and we have corrected the reference.
Belasco, Amy. "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on
Terror Operations Since 9/11." 14 July 2008. Congressional Research
Service. Accessed 2 October 2008.
Pickler, Nedra. "Fact Check: Obama on Afghanistan." The Associated
Press. 14 Aug. 2007.
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "Promises, Promises: A
Fiscal Voter Guide to the 2008 Election." U.S. Budget Watch. 29 Aug.
Williams, Roberton and Howard Gleckman. "An Updated Analysis of the
2008 Presidential Candidates' Tax Plans." Urban-Brookings Tax Policy
Center. 15 Sep. 2008.
"Impacts of Increased Access to Oil and Natural Gas Resources in the
Lower 48 Federal Outer Continental Shelf." 2007. Energy Information
Administration. 8 Aug. 2008.
Petroleum Basic Statistics. The Energy Information Administration, 3
NPC Global Oil & Gas Study. "Topic Paper #7, Global Access to Oil and
Gas," 18 July 2007.
Clarke, David and Liriel Higa, "Blueprints Gain Narrow Adoption,"
Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 15 March 2008.
"Iraq Index," Brookings Iraq Index.
Baldor, Lolita C, "General: Urgent need for troops in Afghanistan
now," Associated Press. 2 Oct 2008.
"Bush: 8,000 Troops Coming Home By Feb," CBS/AP. 9 Sept 2008.
Tyson, Ann Scott, "Commander in Afghanistan Wants More Troops,"
Washington Post. 2 Oct 2008.
Barnes, Julian N., "More U.S. troops needed in Afghanistan 'quickly,'
general says," Los Angeles Times. 2 Oct 2008.
Table T08-0164 "Distribution of Tax Units with Business Income by
Statutory Marginal Tax Rate, Assuming Extension and Indexation of the
2007 AMT Patch, 2009" Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 20 May 2008.
FactChecking Debate No. 1
Facts muddled in Mississippi McCain-Obama meeting.
Who Caused the Economic Crisis?
MoveOn.org blames McCain advisers. He blames Obama and Democrats in
Congress. Both are wrong.
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