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Did Kerry Oppose Tanks & Planes? Not Lately

Kerry voted often against nuclear missiles and bombers in the '90s, but GOP claims that he opposed a long list of conventional weapons are overblown.

February 26, 2004

Modified: February 26, 2004

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Summary

 

Bush’s campaign chairman Marc Racicot on Feb. 22 accused Kerry of “voting against the weapons systems that are winning the War on Terror” and says Kerry was for "canceling or cutting funding for the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the B-1B, the F-15, the F-16, the M1 Abrams, the Patriot Missile, the AH-64 Apache Helicopter, the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, and the Aegis Air-Defense Cruiser." Another Bush campaign spokesman said Kerry has a "32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems" (a clear impossibility since Kerry has been in office less than 20 years.)

It's true Kerry expressed opposition to those weapons 20 years ago as a candidate, voted against Pentagon budgets several times as a senator in the early and mid-1990's, and proposed cuts in military and intelligence budgets as deficit-reduction measures as recently as 1996.

But Kerry's votes against specific military hardware were mostly against strategic nuclear weapons including the B-2 bomber, Trident missile and anti-missile items, not against conventional equipment such as tanks. And Kerry has a point when he says “I've voted for some of the largest defense and intelligence budgets in our history,” which is correct. He's voted for military spending bills regularly since 1997.

Analysis

 

Twenty years ago, as a candidate battling another liberal for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Massachusetts Kerry advocated terminating many strategic and tactical weapons.

In this 1984 campaign memo (which a Kerry spokesman confirms is genuine) the candidate called for cutting Ronald Reagan’s military budget by between $45 billion and $53 billion through (among other things) cancellation of the MX missile, B-1 bomber, anti-satellite weapons, and the “Star Wars” anti-missile program, along with several conventional weapons that have become mainstays of the present-day military, including the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the Aegis air-defense cruiser, and the F-14 and F-15 fighters. He also called for a 50% reduction in the Tomahawk cruise missile.

And during the same campaign, according to the Boston Globe, Kerry also advocated reductions in the M-1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the F-16 jet.

"No Excuse"

"There's no excuse for casting even one vote for unnecessary weapons of destruction, and as your senator I will never do so," Kerry said in the memo.

In 1985, Kerry's first speech in the Senate was against President Reagan's proposal to build MX ballistic missiles, and also in 1985 he introduced a "nuclear freeze" resolution calling on the President to negotiate a "verifiable" halt to testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. It attracted no co-sponsors and died without a hearing in committee.

Throughout Kerry's early Senate years he often voted against specific weapons systems and sometimes against the entire Pentagon budget. He voted repeatedly to cancel the B-2 Stealth bomber, for example, in  1989 , 1991 (twice ) and  1992 . He voted against the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile in  1994  and  1995.  And he voted repeatedly to cut funds for the Strategic Defense Initiative (ballistic missile defense) in 1991 1992 1993 1995,  and  1996. He also voted for across-the-board cuts in the military budget in 1991 and 1992, as Congress struggled to deal with mounting federal deficits and the former Soviet Union disintegrated.

Republicans shouldn't make too much of these votes, however, since President Bush's own father announced in his 1992 State of the Union address that he would be ceasing further production of B-2 bombers and MX missiles, and would cut military spending by 30 percent over several years.

Voting Against M-1 Tanks? Not Really.

And Republicans go too far when they claim that Kerry voted against such mainstay weapons of today's military as the M-1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and the Patriot missile. (See this Republican National Committee "fact sheet," for example.) These claims are misleading because they rest on Kerry's votes against the entire Pentagon appropriations bills in 1990 and 1995. Kerry also voted against the Pentagon authorization bills (which provide authority to spend but not the actual money) in those years and also in 1996. But none of those were votes against specific weapons systems. Kerry's critics might just as well say he was voting to fire the entire Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

It is true as Republicans say that in 1993 (Bill Clinton's first year as President) Kerry specifically proposed cutting the size of the military, including reductions in numbers of submarines, jet fighters and soldiers. But what Republicans fail to mention is that it was a very broad measure aimed at cutting federal spending by $85 billion at a time when the federal deficit was roughly $300 billion. Kerry's measure -- the "Budget Deficit Reduction Act of 1993" -- targeted not only military spending but also would have eliminated federal subsidies for cotton, wool and mohair production, eliminated the superconducting super collider and the space station, and raised fees for grazing or mining on public land. That bill died without a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

It is also true that Kerry proposed in 1995 another measure that -- among other things -- would have cut the US intelligence budget by $300 million per year for 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Republicans fail to mention, however, that this was another broad, deficit-reduction measure that didn't just target military spending. When he introduced it Sept. 29, 1995, Kerry said it would cut $90 billion in federal spending, of which $10 billion would come from defense spending, and $11 billion from terminating the international space station program. 

Republicans also point to a 1996 bill Kerry introduced to cut $6.5 billion from defense spending. What Kerry's critics fail to mention is that Kerry proposed to use the money to hire an additional 100,000 police officers (above the 100,000 President Clinton already was proposing to fund.) Kerry called it the Safer Streets Act of 1996.

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, in a telephone conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign Feb 21, went way over the top when he accused Kerry of "a 32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems." That's not possible since Kerry's first vote was cast in 1985. It also implies that Kerry has continued to vote for cuts over his entire career, which isn't true.

A "New Kerry?"

Since 1996, the John Kerry who once opposed the Apache helicopter and wanted to cut Tomahawk cruise-missile funds by 50% has evolved into a steady supporter of military budgets. Starting in 1997 Kerry voted for every regular Department of Defense appropriations bill and for every authorization bill as well.

Kerry says he's changed. He still defends his opposition to the MX missile and the "Star Wars" strategic defense initiative, but concedes that opposing some other weapons was a mistake.

This was not in evidence Feb. 21, when Kerry lashed out  at the Bush campaign's criticism of his voting record. In a  letter to President Bush he said -- wrongly --  "you and your campaign have initiated a widespread attack on my service in Vietnam," which is not the case. In fact Bush spokesmen at the White House, the campaign and the Republican National Committee have gone out of their way repeatedly to distinguish between Kerry's military service, which they call honorable, and his legislative record.

But Kerry was less defensive and more candid in a  June, 2003 interview with Boston Globe reporter Brian Mooney. The reporter quoted Kerry as conceding that some of his positions 20 years earlier were "ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now and the things that I've learned since then. . . . I mean, you learn as you go in life."

The Globe quoted Kerry as saying his subsequent Senate voting record on defense has been "pretty responsible."

Sources

 

Marc Racicot "Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Chairman Governor Marc Racicot’s Letter to Senator John Kerry" 22 Feb. 2004.

Nedra Pickler “Kerry Blasts Bush Over Attacks on Record” Associated Press 21 Feb. 2004.

John Kerry "John Kerry addresses Bush/Cheney campaign attacks," 21 Feb. 2004.

Glen Johnson, “Kerry admits to an error in boast about 1st speech,” The Boston Globe, 1 May 2003.

Brian C. Mooney, “Taking One Prize, Then A Bigger One,” The Boston Globe 19 June 2003 : A1.

S.1500 "Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Freeze and Arms Reduction Act of 1985" Introduced 25 July 1985.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 101st Congress - 1st Session S.Amdt.859 Vote #203  26 Sept. 1989.

U.S.   Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress - 1st Session S.Amdt. 1017 Vote #174   1 Aug 1991 .

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U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress - 2nd Session S.Amdt.1768 Vote #73 9 April 1992.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 101st Congress - 2nd Session HR5803 Vote #319 26 Oct. 1990.

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