The Truth-O-Meter has rated 153 claims and attacks from John McCain. Many have involved wasteful spending and his reputation for fighting political pork. We found, for example, that he was pretty much on the mark about a government program to study the DNA of bears and that he was right that President Bush and the Republican Party have presided over a 55 percent increase in domestic spending.
We noted that McCain has been pretty consistent opposing pork projects for his own state, but he can't claim a perfect record. He sought $10-million for an academic center to honor the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and he asked the Environmental Protection Agency to provide $5-million toward a wastewater project in Nogales, Ariz.
We rated many of McCain's statements on Iraq, including his claim that Saddam Hussein said he had wanted to obtain weapons of mass destruction (True), and McCain's claim last summer that casualties and deaths were at the lowest point since the war began (Half True).
Barack Obama's attacks on McCain have tried to link him with Bush and portray McCain's economic plan as favoring wealthy families and big corporations. We found that Obama was right to say McCain votes with Bush 90 percent of the time, but that Obama was misleading in saying McCain's plan offers "billions in tax breaks for oil and drug companies." Actually, all companies would benefit from McCain's proposal to cut corporate taxes, not just the Democrats' favorite bogeyman.
We've also checked several of McCain's more unusual claims, including one that the Broadway musical Mamma Mia! sells out consistently (True) and that the average South Korean is 3 inches taller than the average North Korean (also True).
Barack Obama has faced the Truth-O-Meter 159 times, most often on issues involving taxes, the economy and energy. Many of the claims involved his tax plan, such as the one below about small businesses. We've also examined Obama's claim that his tax plan would reduce taxes on 95 percent of working families, which we rated True. But he has sometimes mistakenly said "95 percent of Americans" or 95 percent "of you," which earned a Half True.
We've checked many Obama claims on energy, including one that people could save all the oil from new drilling by fully inflating their tires and getting tuneups (True). And we examined his contention that oil companies are failing to drill on 68-million acres where they have rights (False).
Many attacks against Obama have also been about his tax plan, often suggesting he would raise taxes on the middle class. We found the attacks frequently distorted the truth, because Obama's plan would increase taxes only on families earning more than $250,000 per year. But we found McCain was correct that as a senator, Obama has not challenged his party leadership on any major issues and that McCain was right that Obama sought $932-million in political pork.
We've examined more than two dozen attacks against Obama from anonymous chain e-mails. The overwhelming majority of these e-mails have been wrong, often ridiculously so. No, Obama is not a Muslim, he did not take the oath of office on a Koran, he did not refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, he did not refuse to thank soldiers in Afghanistan, he does not want to unilaterally disarm our nation and he does not want to replace our national anthem with I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing.
Most small businesses won't be subject to tax increases
"98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000" and would not see a tax increase under Barack Obama's plan.
Barack Obama, Oct. 15 in a debate in Hempstead, N.Y. The ruling
A study of his tax plan by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group, indicates that Obama is right. His plan would roll back the Bush tax cuts on the top two tax brackets. In practice, this means that people with income above $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples would see taxes increase. It's not easy to identify small businesses because of the way people file taxes, but two analyses by the Tax Policy Center confirm that about 2 percent would see their taxes increase under Obama's plan.
Obama goes too far to make his point on gas tax holiday
A gas tax holiday is a gimmick that "every economist says will just go into the pockets of the oil companies."
Barack Obama, May 13 in a Q&A in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The ruling
It's true that economists have found oil companies don't pass the full benefit of gas tax holidays on to consumers. For that and other reasons, the vast majority of economists who have opined on the issue opposed the holiday. But to say every economist believes the break would just go to the oil companies is an exaggeration. Even harsh critics of a gas tax holiday said consumers would see some benefit. Obama takes a fact in his favor — that the nation's economists have come down on his side in the gas tax debate — and stretches it a bit too far.
Obama's health care plan expands existing system
Under Barack Obama's health care proposal, "if you've got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it."
Barack Obama, Oct. 7 in a debate in Nashville, Tenn. The ruling
Republicans often falsely characterized Obama's health plan as being government-run, which prompted him to assert that it would rely largely on the current system in which employers provide private health insurance for their employees. His plan would essentially take today's system and seek to expand it to the uninsured. Obama has said he would like his plan to be universal, in that everyone has health care coverage, but it only mandates coverage for children. He is correct that under his plan, people who want to keep their current insurance should be able to do so.
Obama has consistently opposed the war
"I opposed this war from the beginning. I opposed the war in 2002. I opposed the war in 2003. I opposed it in 2004 and 2005 and 2006."
Barack Obama, Sept. 12, 2007, in Clinton, Iowa The ruling
Obama opposed the war as a little-known state senator, and he spoke out notably at a Chicago antiwar rally in 2002. In 2003, when he began campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois, he reiterated his opposition in several debates and meetings. So his claim to have long opposed the war is true.
Actually, abortion numbers have declined
"Although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down.''
Barack Obama, Aug. 16 in TV interview with megachurch pastor Rick Warren The ruling
In his appearance at Warren's church in Lake Forest, Calif., Obama asserted that abortions have not gone down during the Bush presidency. But in fact, the numbers have gone down. The New York-based Guttmacher Institute reported that in 2005 the country's abortion rate fell to 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, continuing a trend that started after the abortion rate peaked in 1981 at 29.3. The institute says the rate of abortions is at its lowest point since 1974.
68-million acres aren't going untouched
Oil companies "haven't touched" 68-million acres where they already have rights to drill.
Barack Obama, Aug. 4 in Lansing, Mich. The ruling
The line sounds good as a Democratic rebuttal to Republican support for more drilling in Alaska and off the U.S. coast. But Obama's statement is misleading, inasmuch as it suggests that oil and gas companies have access to 68-million acres of oil and gas fields that they deliberately are not drilling. That is simply not true. Years of exploration and federal permitting must be completed before leased land yields oil or gas.
Obama knows McCain's intentions better than McCain?
"Sen. McCain would pay for part of his (health care) plan by making drastic cuts in Medicare — $882-billion worth."
Barack Obama, Oct. 17 in a speech in Roanoke, Va. The ruling
The $882-billion figure comes from an analysis of McCain's plan by the Center for American Progress Fund, a left-leaning think tank. Because McCain's campaign says the plan would be "budget neutral" — meaning it would be paid for by savings from Medicare and Medicaid — the Center for American Progress assumes the savings would come from cuts to the big health programs. But McCain has never talked about Medicare cuts to pay for his plan. Instead, his campaign says it would overhaul Medicare reimbursement policies, streamlining treatments, cracking down on fraud and waste, and more use of generic drugs, among other savings. So Obama is making a big leap with this one.
Obama ad distorts McCain's stem cell position
McCain "has opposed stem cell research."
Barack Obama, Sept. 16 in a radio ad The ruling
At one time, McCain did oppose embryonic stem cell research. But then he changed his mind. "I have talked with numerous scientific experts. I believe that under stringent safeguards and under the most rigorous kinds of procedures, that this can help in finding the cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other serious diseases," he said. In June 2004, McCain was among 58 U.S. senators — most of them Democrats — who signed a letter urging President Bush to change his position and allow federal funding for scientific research on embryonic stem cells. And McCain has backed up his words with his votes in favor of it in recent years.
High earners get a break under McCain's plan
John McCain "is proposing tax cuts that would give the average Fortune 500 CEO an additional $700,000 in tax cuts."
Barack Obama, Oct. 7 in a debate in Nashville, Tenn. The ruling
To come up with that number, the Obama campaign cites numbers from a Forbes magazine study of the average CEO compensation in 2007 for the 500 largest companies, not the Fortune 500. And yes, it comes to about $705,000. But the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center did a more conservative analysis that said CEOs would receive a tax rate decrease of 2.1 percent, or about $270,000. That's still a big number, but not as big as $700,000.
Taking it straight from the records, Obama nailed it
"John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time."
Barack Obama, Aug. 28 in a speech at the Democratic National Convention The ruling
The number is based on a "presidential support" score from Congressional Quarterly, which rates how often lawmakers back or oppose the president. Since 2001, McCain has, in fact, backed the president's position an average of 90 percent of the time. By congressional standards, that's solidly partisan, but hardly marching in lockstep. McCain supported Bush as infrequently as 77 percent of the time in 2005; and as high as 95 percent of the time in 2007.
McCain's tax plan doesn't ignore middle class
Sen. McCain's tax plan provides "virtually nothing to the middle class."
Joe Biden, Oct. 2 in vice presidential debate in St. Louis The ruling
Independent studies of McCain's tax plan show that wealthy Americans would benefit the most, but his plan does have provisions that would help the middle class. Chief among these is an increase to the exemption taxpayers claim for each dependent. It's currently $3,500 and would go up by $500 each year beginning in 2010 until it would reach $7,000 in 2016. After that, it would be indexed for inflation. McCain also would tweak the alternative minimum tax and extend President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, currently set to expire at the end of 2010, which expanded the child tax credit. So it's wrong to say McCain's plan would provide little relief to middle-class Americans.
Ad distorts McCain's record on Violence Against Women Act
Says McCain "voted to let governments charge rape victims" for forensic exams.
Planned Parenthood, Oct. 1 in a TV ad The ruling
The ad attributes the charge to McCain's 1994 vote on a crime bill that included the Violence Against Women Act, which included a provision that required states to provide free forensic exams for rape victims. Planned Parenthood's logic: Because McCain opposed that bill, he voted to let governments charge victims for their rape kits. But McCain opposed it not because of the Violence Against Women provisions but because it included wasteful spending and had a provision that would have banned so-called assault weapons. And Planned Parenthood conveniently ignores the fact that McCain voted in favor of the act several other times and actually spoke in favor of it on the Senate floor.
McCain spoke up early, held hearings on global warming
"John McCain stood up to the president and sounded the alarm on global warming … five years ago."
John McCain, June 17 in a TV ad The ruling
Indeed, the Congressional Record shows that McCain spoke up about global warming in January 2003. And as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, he held hearings on the issue several years before that. On Jan. 9, 2003, McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act, which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capping them and allowing companies and utilities to sell or trade their emission rights. Manik Roy, director of congressional affairs for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, called McCain "a huge leader on this issue in the Senate."
McCain's change in posture, not position, on drilling
"I've always said it's (offshore drilling) up to the states and I still say that."
John McCain, June 18 in Springfield, Mo. The ruling
Opponents have accused McCain of flip-flopping on offshore drilling, but we found McCain's record is not so clear. In June 2003, McCain was among 10 Republicans who voted for an anti-drilling amendment proposed by Democratic Florida Sen. Bob Graham, but in August 2006, McCain voted in favor of a bill that authorized drilling in about 8.3-million acres of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. In reviewing his statements over the years, we found McCain has consistently been in favor of letting states ultimately decide whether to drill. The difference now is that he's become a cheerleader for the cause. If it's not a change in position, it's at least a change in posture.
Fannie, Freddie and John, at odds in 2006
"John McCain fought to rein in Fannie and Freddie … but Democrats blocked the reforms."
John McCain, Sept. 30 in an advertisement The ruling
McCain did indeed co-sponsor a bill that would have enhanced oversight of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, private corporations created and sponsored by Congress to lower the cost of mortgage capital. McCain signed on 17 months after it was introduced, after a damning federal report on accounting practices at Fannie Mae was released. The McCain campaign has also noted that in 2003 he was one of five Republican senators to co-sponsor a prior bill to tighten oversight of Fannie and Freddie. Still, if he "fought" for reform, it wasn't exactly guns-a-blazin'. McCain overstates his role in pushing for Fannie and Freddie reform.
Gas tax holiday much more costly than McCain suggests
The price of a gas tax "holiday" would be about the same as "a Bridge to Nowhere (or) another pork barrel project."
John McCain, April 24 in interview on Fox News The ruling
A gas tax holiday would cost the federal government about $9-billion in lost revenue, according to 2007 figures from the IRS. And McCain is way off with his suggestion that it could be paid for by eliminating the famous "Bridge to Nowhere" or another pork barrel project. When Congress was considering the project, the federal cost was estimated at just over $200-million, so it would actually take 45 Bridges to Nowhere to make up for the shortfall in gas tax. He's also way off with his suggestion that the holiday could be paid for by eliminating a pork barrel project. The average pork project costs $1.3-million, so it would take more than 6,900 of them to pay for the tax holiday. The math is so far off that we've got to set the meter ablaze.
Hussein did say he hoped to get WMD
When the United States invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein wanted to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and "he said so himself after his capture."
John McCain, June 4 in St. Petersburg The ruling
The claim is based on information from the Iraq Survey Group, which interviewed scores of people, including Hussein's top advisers. After his capture in 2003, the survey group gained access to information gleaned from Hussein during detention. Hussein's interrogator for the group, George Piro of the FBI, told 60 Minutes that Hussein told him he wanted to pursue weapons of mass destruction again. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD," Piro said. "So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program." Granted, the Survey Group came from the U.S. intelligence community, which got the weapons question wrong before the invasion. But it's the best record publicly available, and it supports McCain's statement.
He was front and center, uncovering a wasteful mess
"I saved the taxpayers $2-billion on a bogus Air Force Boeing tanker deal where people went to jail."
John McCain, Nov. 28, 2007, in St. Petersburg The ruling
Indeed, McCain was front and center in a well-publicized effort that killed an Air Force plan to lease 100 Boeing 767s and use them for refueling tankers. The plan eventually led to one of the more notable Washington scandals in years, resulting in prison terms for a top Boeing official and the Air Force's No. 2 weapons buyer. It is well-documented in media and government reports that McCain was quick to identify the $23.5-billion deal as a bad one for taxpayers. He found it in December 2001 and tucked into a little-noticed amendment to the 2002 defense budget. Other senators and watchdog groups took up the fight against the deal, but only after McCain and his staff revealed the makings of a scandal.
In the U.S. Senate, Obama's no maverick
"Sen. Obama has never taken on his party leaders on a single major issue."
John McCain, Oct. 7 in a debate in Nashville, Tenn. The ruling
Limiting our examination to Obama's four years in the U.S. Senate, it would seem that McCain is on mostly solid ground. Congressional Quarterly each year tallies what it considers the key votes that took place in the previous 12 months. Of the 41 Senate votes tallied by CQ between 2005 and 2007, Obama sided with a majority of his caucus on 36 of them. On three, he did not vote. On one, he voted with 21 colleagues against the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, a vote that evenly divided the Democratic caucus. And last, there was a 2005 tort reform vote. CQ did not consider the Office of Public Integrity votes to be among the most important of 2006 or 2007. So McCain is correct.
An absurd claim about a sex-ed bill that never passed
Obama's one education accomplishment was "legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergartners."
John McCain, Sept. 9 in a television ad The ruling
The origins of this claim go back to Obama's days as a state senator in the Illinois General Assembly. But the bill never passed, and Obama was not a sponsor or a co-sponsor. He just voted for it in committee. So calling it one of his accomplishments is incorrect. The McCain ad also distorts the impact of the bill on young students. The bill specifically mentions that instructional material must be age appropriate. It specifically mentions teaching children how to "say no to unwanted sexual advances" and "nonconsensual physical sexual contact." This is a ridiculous claim, because it wasn't an accomplishment for Obama and it distorts the purpose of the bill.
Obama is a Christian, and he was sworn in on his Bible
When Obama was sworn into office, "he DID NOT use the Holy Bible, but instead the Kuran (Their equivalency to our Bible, but very different beliefs)."
Chain e-mail, from Dec. 19, 2007 The ruling
Many of the chain e-mails we examined say Obama is a Muslim. One contended that his middle name is Mohammed (Pants on Fire). Another one took a different route, distorting Bible passages to allege that he is the Antichrist. (also Pants on Fire). The claim about the Koran seems to be inspired by the 2007 swearing-in of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress. Ellison used a Koran that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. But as for Obama, he is a Christian and took the oath on his own Bible.
Obama's tax plan hits $200,000 and up
Obama plans "a tax increase for everyone earning more than $42,000 a year."
John McCain, Aug. 11 in an Internet ad The ruling
A snarky Web ad from McCain calls Obama "The One" and shows his supporters saying things like "Hot chicks dig Obama." The ad says that for supporters of Obama, "The perks are amazing, like a tax increase for everyone earning more than $42,000 a year." It's a gross distortion of Obama's proposals to say they would raise taxes on "everyone" who earns that much. The McCain campaign's evidence are Obama's votes on budget resolutions. But budget resolutions are nonbinding, don't have the force of law and don't include precise details on taxes or spending. And Obama's tax plan would only raise taxes on people making more than $200,000 if single or $250,000 if married filing jointly.
McCain has Obama over a pork barrel
"Obama has asked for $932-million in earmarks, literally $1-million for every day that he's been in Congress."
John McCain, Sept. 16 in a speech in Tampa The ruling
On his Web site, Obama has listed every earmark he's requested – but not necessarily received – during his time in the Senate. It totals $931.3-million, even though the Illinois senator said earlier this year he would eschew any pork for fiscal 2009. Obama took office Jan. 3, 2005. Since then, there have been about 930 working days, as they are defined by most people, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Overall, Obama's been in Congress for more than 1,350 days, if you count weekends. So how many points do you take off for McCain not saying "every working day"? Not many. We say Mostly True.
Several ratings rank Obama lower
"Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate."
John McCain, Sept. 26 in Oxford, Miss. The ruling
In January, National Journal magazine rated Obama the "Most Liberal Senator in 2007." But he wasn't the top liberal in his two other years in the U.S. Senate, according to the magazine. He was 10th-most liberal in 2006 and 16th in 2005. And Voteview.com, a site created by political scientists that plots lawmakers on a liberal-conservative scale based on their voting patterns, calculated nine senators were more liberal than Obama. McCain's statement suggests it is a cumulative rating for Obama's tenure in the Senate. But in fact, it is true for only one rating for one year. Measurements for other years and by other groups show Obama is not the No. 1 liberal — in some cases, far from No. 1.