Fact check: Context of key debate claims

— -- A look at the claims made by Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama at the third and final presidential debate Wednesday:

Tax cuts

The claim:Obama said his tax plan offers three times the tax relief as McCain's plan does for the middle class.

The facts:The non-partisan Tax Policy Center shows that is the case for the first year of Obama's plan, but not over the long haul, and only for a narrow slice of the "middle class" — those making between $37,595 and $66,354. The group says Obama's plan would save those families $1,042 in the first year, compared to McCain's $319. In later years, the difference is not nearly as great. In 2012, the last year of the next president's term, the difference is smaller: a $2,197 tax cut under Obama's plan compared with $1,441 under McCain's. And for people earning more but who still consider themselves middle class — those earning up to $112,000 — Obama's plan would cut their tax bill by $1,264 in 2009, McCain's plan by $994.

Bill Ayers

The claim:McCain criticized Obama's association with former Chicago radical Bill Ayers, whom McCain called "a guy who in 2001 said he wished he would have bombed more."

The facts:Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that engaged in domestic bombings to protest the Vietnam War. He was in hiding for years after three Weathermen died in 1970 when bombs they were making exploded. Federal charges against him for crossing state lines to incite riots and conspiracy were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

In a New York Times story published by coincidence on Sept. 11, 2001, about his memoirs, Fugitive Days, he said, "I don't regret setting bombs … I feel we didn't do enough."

These days, Ayers is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has drawn kind words from the city's mayor.

Ayers and Obama have moved in some of the same circles. Ayers was a founder of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school-reform group. Obama chaired its board from 1995 to 1999. In 1995, Ayers hosted a brunch for Obama, who was running for the Illinois Senate. In 1997, they were on a juvenile justice panel sponsored by the University of Chicago. Ayers gave $200 to Obama's 2001 state Senate campaign, and the two were on a 2002 panel on intellectualism that was co-sponsored by the Chicago Public Library.


The claim:Obama said he has proposed "a net spending cut," adding "every dollar that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches."

The facts:The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that Obama's spending and savings policies would emerge in 2013 with $144 billion in net savings. However, that's dependent on a phased withdrawal from Iraq over 16 months, leaving only 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2010. It also relies on several less-than-specific spending cuts and changes. And Obama's overall economic policies still would lose money, because his tax cuts would cost $360 billion and his health care plan would cost $65 billion over that period, the group says.

Voter-registration fraud

The claim:McCain said the Obama campaign has contributed to an organization that is perpetrating "one of the greatest frauds" in American campaign history.

The facts:The organization — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN — says it has registered 1.3 million people this year. Obama's campaign paid an ACORN affiliate, Citizens Services Inc., $832,000 this year for get-out-the-vote efforts in the Democratic primaries, according to the non-partisan CQ MoneyLine, which tracks campaign spending. Republicans have repeatedly accused the group of submitting fraudulent registrations; Obama said it had hired some people who "just filled out a bunch of names." What's not clear is whether any of the fraudulent registrations can lead to fraudulent votes.

Negative advertising

The claim:Obama said McCain's television advertisements have been "100% negative." McCain said that wasn't true.

The facts:Obama's claim apparently was based on an analysis released Oct. 8 by the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. The report said, "During the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 4, nearly 100% of the McCain campaign's advertisements were negative. During the same period, 34% of the Obama campaign's ads were negative." But the report also said that overall 73% of McCain's ads and 61% of Obama's have been negative. The study used information obtained from TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which analyzes data on the airing of every presidential ad in the top 186 TV markets in the country.

The McCain campaign last night released its own tally of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group data based on total ad spending, saying that the Obama campaign had spent $42 million on negative ads to McCain's $27 million, and that Obama had run 81,638 negative ads to McCain's 59,835.


The claim:McCain said Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden had proposed dividing Iraq into three countries. He called it a "cockamamie idea."

The facts:In 2006, Biden, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed partitioning Iraq into three regions — Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni — with a central government in Baghdad. He said it would "maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group … room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests." He did not propose that it become three separate countries.

Supreme Court

The claim:McCain said that Obama voted against Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts.

The facts:Obama voted against Roberts, but he was not in the Senate when Breyer was approved by the Senate in 1994. Obama became a senator in 2005.

McCain's health care plan

The claim:In discussing his $5,000-per-family tax credit for health care, McCain said the average cost of a health care plan is $5,800.

The facts:The average cost of a family plan purchased by employers this year hit a new high, $12,106, according to an annual survey of nearly 2,000 employers by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group based in Menlo Park, Calif. Individual coverage premiums averaged $4,479.

Obama's health care plan

The claim:McCain said that under Obama's health care plan, a small business could be fined for not offering coverage to its employees.

The facts:The key to this charge is what defines a "small" business, and the Obama campaign has not said. Obama has said he would exempt small businesses from having to contribute to their employees' health coverage or pay into a national fund. He has not, however, said what size company he has in mind for the exemption. In August, Obama adviser Jason Furman said companies with 10 or fewer employees would likely be exempted, but he did not limit it to that size.

Obama did not directly address the charge from McCain that parents would be fined for not insuring their children. Obama has not said how he would enforce his requirement that parents get coverage for their children.


The claim:McCain said: "Sen. Obama, as a member of the Illinois state Senate, voted in the Judiciary Committee against a law that would provide immediate medical attention to a child born of a failed abortion. He voted against that." Obama said he opposed the bill as a threat to abortion rights, knowing that state law already required doctors to care for babies born alive.

The facts:FactCheck.org, a non-partisan project of the University of Pennsylvania, found that Obama opposed Illinois legislation in 2001, 2002 and 2003 that would have defined any aborted fetus that showed signs of life as a "born alive infant" entitled to legal protection, even if doctors believed it could not survive. Obama opposed the 2001 and 2002 "born alive" bills as backdoor attacks on a woman's legal right to abortion, but he said he would have been "fully in support" of a similar federal bill that President Bush had signed in 2002, because it contained protections for Roe v. Wade, FactCheck.org found.

FactCheck also found that Illinois law already required physicians to protect the life of a fetus when there is "a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support."

Alaska budget

The claim:McCain said his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, "cut the size of government."

The facts:Palin has not cut the size of government. State spending under Palin has grown dramatically, fueled by an explosion of revenues thanks to Palin's multibillion-dollar tax increase on the oil and gas companies that fund most of the budget.

In 2007, Palin vetoed about $231 million in projects sought by legislators in a proposed $1.8 billion capital budget. Even after her cuts, the total capital budget was about $1.54 billion — "a lot more than the level of state spending she outlined when she took office in December," the Anchorage Daily News reported. The operating budget she signed in 2007 grew to $6.6 billion from $6.2 billion the year before. This year, Palin signed an operating budget that had grown to $11 billion, according to the Daily News. She vetoed about 10% of the proposed capital budget, but that budget nonetheless grew to $2.7 billion. While Palin was mayor of Wasilla from 1996 to 2002, the budget grew 55%, according to PolitiFact.com, a joint project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly.

Oil drilling

The claim:Obama said a key way to expand domestic oil production would be by "telling the oil companies the 68 million acres that they currently have leased that they're not drilling, use them or lose them."

The facts:Offshore drilling leases run for five to 10 years because that's how long the government expects it to take to find and begin producing oil or natural gas. Leases are extended if oil companies are making progress and not renewed if the area is totally dormant. So not nearly all of the 68 million acres Obama refers to can be drilled immediately. Willard Green, past president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, has said Democrats "are suggesting that there's a great big lake of oil under that acreage, and all the companies have to do is dig a hole down and produce it."