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Bush Still Fudging the Numbers on Kerry's Tax Votes

Ad claims Kerry cast "98 votes" to raise taxes, but the total is misleading.

August 30, 2004

Modified: November 11, 2004

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Summary

 

The Bush-Cheney campaign released a television ad August 23 accusing Kerry of casting "98 votes for tax increases." The number is an improvement on Bush's  earlier claim that Kerry cast 350 votes for "higher taxes," which we described as inflated. But even the new, reduced total is padded.

Of the 98 votes for "tax increases," 43 were cast on budget measures that only set targets and don't actually legislate tax increases. Often, several votes are counted regarding a single tax bill.

The ad also strives to blame Kerry for raising taxes on the "middle class" and says "There's what Kerry says and then there's what Kerry does." But a close look shows the votes cited in this ad are in fact fairly consistent with Kerry's promise only to raise taxes on those making over $200,000 a year.

(Update, Oct. 11: The Bush campaign still insists their count of 98 votes is correct. We don't agree, for the reasons stated here. However, we have posted their rebuttal under "supporting documents" at right.)

Analysis

 

The ad released August 23 is called "Taxing Our Economy," accusing Kerry of voting repeatedly to raise taxes on the "middle class." 

 Bush-Cheney '04 Ad

"Taxing Our Economy"

Announcer: Now Kerry promises...

John Kerry: We won't raise taxes on the middle class.

Announcer: Really? John Kerry's voted to raise gas taxes on the middle class ....10 times....

He supported a 50 cent a gallon gas tax increase.

Higher taxes on middle class parents.... 18 times.

He voted to raise taxes on social security benefits.

98 votes for tax increases.

There's what Kerry says and then there's what Kerry does.

 Stretching for 98

Bush has scaled back an earlier claim that Kerry voted 350 times for "higher taxes," a number we previously described as bogus . However,  Bush is still using misleading numbers.

Of the 98 votes "for tax increases,"  43 would not actually have increased taxes. They were for budget bills to set target levels for spending and taxes in the coming fiscal years.

To be sure, such votes did express Kerry's general approval for the higher tax levels they contained. But strictly speaking, separate legislation would be required to bring about an actual tax increase. In fact, budget resolutions are not even submitted to the President, much less made into law.

The Bush campaign also exploits the complexity of the parliamentary voting system to pad the number. Most of the 98 votes were on procedural measures, such as votes to end debate or votes on amendments, and not on passage of the measure itself. More than once, the 98-vote total counts half a dozen votes or more on on a single bill.

For example, the total includes:

  • Sixteen votes -- by the Bush campaign's own count -- on Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction package, which raised taxes (almost exclusively on the highest-earning one or two percent of households) and cut spending. Only one of the 16 was on final passage of that measure, and the rest on various amendments and parliamentary maneuverings.
  • Six votes on Sen. John McCain's 1998 proposal to raise taxes on cigarettes by $1.10 a pack to deter youthful smoking. Four were votes for cloture (to end debate).  One was a procedural vote to waive budget restrictions requiring 60 votes to approve the McCain bill. The sixth vote was against stripping the tax-increase provisions from a broader measure McCain was using as a vehicle for his proposal.
  • Seven votes that were cast on one  budget resolution for the 1996 fiscal year, one of them a vote for a Democratic alternative to the Republican-proposed budget, increasing funding for  Medicare, veterans' benefits, and education, financed by higher taxes on corporations and persons making over $140,000 a year. The other five were votes to increase spending on such things as student loans and health research, funded by closing tax "loopholes" or raising the tobacco tax.
  • Six votes on the 1997 budget resolution.  Kerry voted variously for higher funding for education, Medicare, the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and veterans  benefits, financed by "closing corporate tax loopholes" and extending expired tax provisions.

 Kerry supported middle class tax increases?

–Gasoline Tax: The ad claims that Kerry voted to "raise gas taxes on the middle class 10 times," which is false. As we've noted before, five of those votes were on the 1993 Clinton package, which resulted in a 4.3-cent per gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax. And five of the votes were not to raise the tax, as the ad falsely claims, but were against Republican attempts to cut the gasoline tax. Four were against repeal of Clinton's 4.3-cent tax after it had gone into effect. The last vote was against temporarily suspending the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax entirely for 150 days during a period of spiking gasoline prices in 2000.

The Bush ad also recycles once again the statement that Kerry "supported a 50 cent a gallon gas tax increase," which (as we've noted before) hasn't been true for a decade. Kerry once told newspaper interviewers that he deserved credit as a deficit hawk for supporting such an increase, but the fact is he had passed up a chance to cosponsor a Senate bill that would have done that, never voted for such an increase, and says he opposes such an increase now.

–Child Tax Credit: The ad further claims that Kerry voted 18 times for "higher taxes on middle class parents." All these were votes against Republican proposals for granting tax credits for families with children, going back to 1994, and many were votes against broad Republican tax packages that included expanded child credits as one element. Strictly speaking, those weren't votes to raise taxes as the ad implies, but votes to keep taxes unchanged. Now, Kerry says he'd preserve the child tax credits currently on the books.

–Social Security: It's true as the ad states that Kerry voted to increase taxes on Social Security benefits, an increase included in the 1993 deficit-cutting package. That increased tax goes to help pay for Medicare, and is paid only by those making $44,000 a year or more for a married couple, falling on roughly the highest-earning 18% of Social Security recipients.

( Update, Nov. 11: Due to a typographical error, the income level for those who would pay increased Social Security tax was erroneously reported as $144,000 when we first posted this article. The correct figure is $44,000, as we had earlier reported in our March 26 article.)

–Middle Class:Generally this ad attempts to discredit Kerry's promise not to raise taxes on the "middle class," but in fact many of the votes cited by the Bush campaign are votes to do pretty much what he promises to do if elected: raise taxes on upper-income taxpayers. The votes on the fiscal '96 budget are a good example, as the increases would have fallen on those making over $140,000 a year.Currently, Kerry promises to repeal the Bush cuts only for those making over $200,000 a year.

Picking Through 6,000 Votes

According to his campaign, Kerry has cast more than 6,000 recorded votes over his nearly 20-year Senate career. It's fair game for the Bush campaign to pick through those looking for votes that are contrary to Kerry's stated positions. But as this ad demonstrates, voters have reason to be skeptical of such exercises. Bush's claim that 98 of those 6,000 votes were to "raise taxes" is still misleading.

Sources

 

Bush-Cheney '04,  "Ad Facts: 'Taxing Our Economy'," news release 23 Aug 2004.

Kerry-Edwards '04, "Bush-Cheney Ad Factcheck 'Taxing Our Economy'" news release 23 August 2004. 

Factsheet supplied by Republican National Committee, "Sen. Kerry Has Voted 98 Times For At Least $2.3 Trillion in Tax Increases," 23 August 2004. 
 

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