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Did Kerry Vote "No" on Body Armor for Troops?

Yes, along with $87 billion worth of other things. But Bush didn't send enough in the first place.

March 16, 2004

Modified: March 18, 2004

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Summary

 

Bush-Cheney '04 launched a new attack ad against Kerry in West Virginia on March 16, calling him "wrong on defense" because he voted against last year's $87-billion supplemental appropriation to support military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ad characterizes that as voting "against funding our soldiers." It shows Kerry casting specific "no" votes on body armor for troops, higher combat pay and health-care benefits for reservists, all of which were in fact included in the bill.

But it is also true, as Kerry has been saying, that Bush sent US troops to Iraq with too little of the best-grade body armor to equip all who needed it.

On March 18 the Bush campaign updated their ad to include footage of Kerry saying "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Kerry had co-sponsored an amendment, which was defeated, to pay for the measure by rolling back some of Bush's tax cuts. The Bush campaign said Kerry's words showed him equivocating.

Analysis

 

The Bush ad says Kerry "voted . . . for military action in Iraq" and then "voted against funding our soldiers." In fact, Kerry did vote  October 11, 2002 to grant Bush authority to use military force against Iraq at his discretion, and a year later Kerry also voted  against Bush's request for $87 billion to fund military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush-Cheney '04 Ad

"Troops"

Bush:  I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war.  Though John Kerry voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq , he later voted against funding our soldiers.

Senate Clerk:   Mr. Kerry: 

Announcer: No.

Announcer: Body armor for troops in combat.

Senate Clerk:   Mr. Kerry: 

Announcer:  No.

Announcer:  Higher combat pay.

Senate Clerk:  Mr. Kerry:

Announcer:  No.

Announcer:  And, better health care for reservists and their families…

Senate Clerk:  Mr. Kerry:

Announcer:  No.

Announcer:  Wrong on defense.

The ad strains the facts in some places. Granting Bush the authority to use force is not exactly the same thing as favoring its actual use, for one thing (though Kerry had a difficult time convincing many Democratic voters of that.) And Kerry did not cast separate "no" votes on popular items contained in the $87-billion package, as the ad depicts him doing. There was one vote on the entire package.

"No" on Body Armor?

Nevertheless, the bill Kerry opposed did contain $300 million requested by the Pentagon to buy best-grade body armor for all troops in Iraq, and also contained additional combat pay and health benefits for reservists called to active duty.

But it's also true that as many as 40,000 US troops were sent to Iraq without the best-grade body armor. Frontline troops had the new vests, containing ceramic plates that can stop assault-rifle bullets, while others had only older designs that offered protection mainly against shrapnel and lower-velocity projectiles.

At a House Appropritions subcommittee hearing Sept. 24, 2003, Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, did not dispute the estimate that 40,000 troops were without the newer design, and said the $300 million was needed to buy more of the vests.

Abizaid: Now, I can't answer for the record why we started this war with protective vests that were in short supply. But I can tell you that by November, every soldier that's serving in Iraq will have one. It's very important.

Bush campaign aides say their ad is in part a reaction to Kerry's recent criticisms of Bush on that very point. In a radio address on March 7, for example, Kerry said Bush sent troops "into harm's way without enough firepower and support," and the the Pentagon had only recently started making armored door kits to protect Humvee occupants from roadside ambushes.

Kerry:  Even more shocking, tens of thousands of other troops arrived in Iraq to find that - with danger around every corner - there wasn't enough body armor

In a telephone conference call with reporters March 16, a Bush aide said Kerry is living in a "parallel universe," criticizing the President for failing to provide enough body armor while voting against a bill to provide money to buy more.

On March 15 Kerry gave his most recent explanation of his vote on the $87-billion measure, in a speech to the International Association of Firefighters:

Kerry: And I might add, that vote for the $87 billion, which was was a vote to change our policy and get other nations involved and get other people on the ground and take the target off of American troops by sharing the responsibility, it was also a vote that took place long after they already committed the troops, long after they should have had the equipment that they needed.

For the record, the body-armor money amounted to just over 1/3 of 1 percent of the $87 billion supplemental bill that Kerry opposed.

Bush-Cheney '04 Ad

"Troops-Fog"

Bush:  I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war.  Though John Kerry voted in October, 2002 for military action in Iraq , he later voted against funding our soldiers.

Senate Clerk: Mr. Kerry: 

Announcer: No.

Announcer: Body armor and higher combat pay for troops?

Senate Clerk: Mr. Kerry: 

Announcer: No.

Announcer: Better health care for reservists?

Announcer: Mr. Kerry: 

Announcer: No.

Announcer: And what does Kerry say now?

Kerry: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.

Announcer: Wrong on defense.

March 18 Update:

New Version of Ad Goes National

On March 18 the Bush campaign released a new version of the ad and said they would run it nationally on network cable television, as well as in West Virginia.

The updated version of the ad was nearly identical in wording but added near the end footage of Kerry giving an awkward but widely quoted explanation of his position:

Announcer: And what does Kerry say now?

Kerry: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it

Kerry was referring to a measure he co-sponsored that would have provided the $87 billion while also temporarily reversing Bush's tax cuts for those making $400,000 a year or more. That measure was rejected  57-42.

The Bush campaign named the revised ad "Troops-Fog" and issued a news release saying Kerry's stance is part of a pattern of equivocation. Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan called the ad misleading and said: "John Kerry opposed a red inked, blank check on Bush’s failed Iraq policy."

 

Sources

 

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 107th Congress - 2nd Session (H.J.Res. 114) Vote #237 11 Oct 2002.

Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress - 1st Session S. 1689 (Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan Security and Reconstruction Act, 2004) Vote #400 17 Oct. 2003.

Patrick Healy, “In Swipe At Bush, Kerry Says Us Troops In Iraq Ill Prepared” Boston Globe 7 March 2004: A13.

US Congress, House Appropriations Committee; Subcommittee On Foreign Operations, Export Financing And Related Programs, “Hearing On Reconstruction Portion Of Iraq Supplemental,” 24 Sept 2003.

Richard Sisk: “G.I.s Short On Protection Lack New Body Armor To Stop Iraq Sniper Attacks” NY Daily News 28 Sept 2003: A22.

U.S. Senator John Kerry “Remarks At The International Association Of Fire Fighters Conference” Washington DC 15 March 2004.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress - 1st Session: Motion to Table Biden Amdt. No. 1796  Vote #373 2 Oct 2003.