Factcheck.org: AFL-CIO Falsely Attacks McCain

The AFL-CIO is attacking McCain with a TV spot saying he voted "against increasing health care benefits for veterans." Actually, he voted for increases in those benefits.

The labor federation points to McCain's votes against Democratic proposals to increase funding. Those were defeated along party lines, and were accompanied by alternative measures to increase benefits by smaller amounts, all of which passed unanimously or with near-unanimous majorities. McCain supported all of them.

The AFL-CIO also points to a McCain vote against a war spending supplemental appropriations measure from 2007 that included additional funding for veterans' health care, along with much else. The measure passed the Senate along partisan lines but was vetoed by President Bush. But McCain voted for a later version of the supplemental that ultimately passed into law and actually included slightly more funding for veterans' benefits.

Update, July 11: After this article was posted the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee aired a radio ad in two states repeating the bogus $32,000 figure. The campaign also sent an e-mail to reporters defending it, but failing to note that it refers to taxable income and not total income.

The AFL-CIO attack ad against John McCain starting airing today and is the first ad the labor federation has run in the 2008 presidential campaign. It will run in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin for the next three weeks, according to a report in the Washington Post.

We find the ad, narrated by Vietnam Veteran Jim Wasser, to be unduly harsh on McCain's voting record on veterans' health benefits.

McCain's Votes
The ad says that McCain "took Bush's side against increasing health care benefits for veterans." But he actually voted to increase veterans' health care benefits, though not by as much as Democrats proposed.

The AFL-CIO, in documentation it provided to FactCheck.org, cites four specific votes as support for this allegation. Three of them were against Democratic amendments to the annual budget bill in 2004, 2005 and 2006. And all of them failed along party lines in a Republican-controlled Senate. But in each case, McCain supported different amendments to increase veterans' health benefits, either on the same day or the following day.

Specifically, in 2004 McCain voted against an increase of $1.8 billion, but an increase of $1.2 billion passed by unanimous consent. In 2005 he voted against an increase of $2.8 billion, but voted for a $410 million increase. And in 2006, he voted against a $1.5 billion increase, then voted for an $823 million increase.

There was no dissent for the 2004 amendment, and the 2006 amendment passed unanimously. In 2005, the alternative spending increase passed with a healthy 96-to-4 bipartisan stamp of approval. Also, it's worth mentioning that the president does not express an opinion on every amendment offered in the Senate. So it is not accurate to say McCain "took Bush's side" on these votes.

The union group also cites a fourth vote, a March 2007 vote by McCain against a war spending supplemental that passed the Senate but was vetoed by the president. The bill did include $1.77 billion in additional funding for veterans' health care benefits. However, McCain voted for an alternative version of the supplemental that was quickly introduced, passed and signed into law. And it actually included slightly more money for veterans' health benefits, $1.79 billion.

$10 Billion a Month?
The ad also says that McCain "wants us to keep spending ten billion dollars a month in Iraq, just like Bush." It is true that the U.S. is spending $10 billion or more per month in Iraq, according to most estimates. And McCain has certainly resisted any "retreat" from Iraq, and he has even said U.S. troops could remain for decades. But strictly speaking, McCain has never said that he wants to spend $10 billion per month in Iraq. Quite the contrary.

In fact, McCain says he's counting on reduced spending for military operations to help him balance the federal budget. In his "Jobs for America" plan released July 9, the McCain campaign said:

McCain campaign: The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.

We can't predict whether McCain, or for that matter, Obama, will actually be able to cut spending in Iraq. But it's simply wrong to say McCain "wants" to continue spending at the current level, when he's said he wants to reduce it.

Update, July 11: The McCain campaign has escalated its use of the false $32,000 claim. The campaign and the RNC have aired a radio ad in Virginia and Ohio in which a teacher repeats the false claim, saying: "Barack Obama promises to cut taxes, but he voted to raise taxes on folks earning as little as $32,000." Also, in a July 11 e-mail to reporters, McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin defended the figure:

*Holtz-Eakin*: In the past three days, much has been written about Barack Obama's vote in favor of a budget resolution that raises income tax rates by three percentage points for 25, 28 and 33 percent tax brackets. The lowest of these brackets begins at an income level of $31,850.

What Holtz-Eakin fails to say anywhere in his message, however, is that he is referring to /taxable/ income, and not to total income. As we already noted, an unmarried taxpayer with no dependents would need to have an income of at least $41,500 to reach the 25 percent bracket in 2008. A couple would have to earn at least $83,000. In 2008, the cutoff for the 25 percent bracket was $32,500 (not $31,850 as the McCain campaign continues to claim) in taxable income – or income after deductions and exclusions.

Holtz-Eakin is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, so we were surprised to see him misstate such a basic figure. But he does. The $31,850 number he cites was for income earned /last/ year, 2007, as the Internal Revenue Service notes on its Web site. The IRS announced last October that the tax brackets for /this/ year would be widened, as they are
every year, to adjust for inflation. For 2008, the 25 percent bracket begins at $32,550 of taxable income, as the IRS notes in this procedural manual.

Furthermore, Obama's vote was on a budget bill for 2009, at which time the bracket will start at an even higher level.

Holtz-Eakin says that Obama's "words on the campaign trail do not match the actions he has taken. He tells the American people one thing but has a record that is quite different." The McCain campaign is surely entitled to compare Obama's voting record with his campaign promises. But the fact is, Obama didn't vote for raising taxes on persons making $32,000. The resolution could not have affected any single person making less than $41,500 in total income, and no married couple making less than $83,000.

We reiterate: McCain's $32,000 figure is phony.

Reprinted with permission from Factcheck.org.