Republican John McCain expressed incredulity in the presidential debate Tuesday that Democrat Barack Obama would tip off the enemy by saying publicly that he’d attack al-Qaida in Pakistan under certain conditions. "Remarkable," McCain said during the presidential debate, meaning remarkably irresponsible.
Lost in his withering criticism: McCain took the same position as Obama, a year ago, when he said, "Sure. We have to," when asked if he’d go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Both candidates stretched facts, sometimes past the breaking point, as they addressed the financial crisis and misrepresented each other’s position on health care during their second presidential debate.
One of the night’s sharpest exchanges was over what should be done if the U.S. knew the whereabouts of bin Laden and his terrorists in sovereign Pakistan, and Pakistani officials were unable or unwilling to strike. Obama repeated that he’d attack across the border in that instance.
"Sen. Obama likes to talk loudly,’ McCain said in response. "In fact, he said he wants to announce that he’s going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable."
McCain went on: "I’m not going to telegraph my punches, which is what Sen. Obama did. And I’m going to act responsibly, as I have acted responsibly throughout my military career and throughout my career in the United States Senate."
In an October 2007 interview with Military Times, however, McCain’s position was indistinguishable from Obama’s.
Asked if "you’d go get him" if U.S. forces had a fix on bin Laden in Pakistan, McCain said: "Sure. Sure. We have to, and I’m sure that after the initial flurry, that whoever our friends are, wherever he is, would be relieved because, as I mentioned to you before, he’s still very effective in the world, very, very effective."
McCain broadened that threat to say he’d target the Taliban operating in Pakistan, too: "I think that if we knew of al-Qaida — more specifically Taliban, it’s mainly Taliban that are operating in these places — that we have to do what’s necessary. We don’t have to advertise it. We don’t have to embarrass or humiliate the Pakistani government."
Also in the debate:
OBAMA: Said McCain’s proposal to give people a tax credit in exchange for treating employers’ health insurance contributions as taxable wages amounts to "what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away."
THE FACTS: Obama’s suggestion that McCain’s health care plan is a wash for families is misleading. McCain offers families a $5,000 tax credit to help them buy health insurance. The corresponding increase in taxable wages would result in a much smaller cost than the value of the tax credit, at least at first. Over time, the value of the tax credit may diminish as premiums rise. However, the Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain’s plan would increase the federal deficit by $1.3 trillion over 10 years — mainly because it would lead to less tax revenue coming in, meaning it is a true tax break overall.
McCAIN: Said he would provide a $5,000 refundable tax credit for families to buy health insurance "rather than mandates or fines for small businesses as Sen. Obama’s plan calls for."
THE FACTS: Obama’s health care plan does not impose mandates or fines on small business. He would provide small businesses with a refundable tax credit of up to 50 percent on health premiums paid on behalf of their employees. Also, large employers that do not offer meaningful coverage or contribute to the cost of coverage would be required to pay a percentage of payroll toward the costs of a public insurance plan. But small businesses would be exempt from that requirement.
OBAMA: "Actually I’m cutting more than I’m spending so that it will be a net spending cut."
THE FACTS: The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates Obama would increase spending by $425 billion over four years and reduce spending by $144 billion for a net increase in the deficit of $281 billion. Obama has said he’ll cut pork-barrel programs and the costs of the war in Iraq to pay for his programs — as well as raise taxes on the wealthy — but the specifics of his new spending plans outweigh the few spending cuts he’s identified.
McCAIN: Said one way out of the financial crisis is to "stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us."
THE FACTS: Although he didn’t spell it out, he was referring — as he has in the past — to purchases of oil from countries hostile to the U.S. The figure is inflated and misleading. The U.S. is not spending nearly that much on oil imports and roughly one-third of what it does spend goes to friendly countries such as Canada, Mexico and Britain.
OBAMA: Blamed some of the problem of terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region on Bush administration policy in Pakistan, saying "We can’t coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he’s making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants."
THE FACTS: Obama oversimplifies ex-President Pervez Musharraf’s approach to making peace deals. In fact, the U.S.-backed Musharraf focused more heavily on military action, launching blistering attacks on the militants at times and negotiating peace deals with them at others. Obama also ignores the fact that Pakistan’s newly elected civilian government, also U.S.-supported, is seeking the same kind of peace deals and has stepped back from heavy-handed tactics that were pursued by the Musharraf government.
McCAIN: Said Obama had voted for tax increases "94 times."
THE FACTS: This inflated count, heard before, includes repetitive votes as well as votes to cut taxes for the middle class while raising them on the rich. An analysis by factcheck.org found that 23 of the votes were for measures that would have produced no tax increase at all, seven were in favor of measures that would have lowered taxes for many, 11 would have increased taxes on only those making more than $1 million a year.
OBAMA: "I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years, strongly promoted by President Bush and supported by Sen. McCain, that essentially said that we should strip away regulations, consumer protections, let the market run wild, and prosperity would rain down on all of us."
THE FACTS: McCain has indeed favored less regulation over the years but supported tighter rules and accountability on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years before the start of a financial crisis prompted in part by those giant mortgage underwriters. Obama was not a leader in that unsuccessful effort. Some of the current problems can be traced to legislation passed in 1999 that lifted many regulations over the financial industry. That deregulation was championed by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, a McCain supporter, but also by President Clinton, who signed the legislation, and by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now a top Obama economic adviser.
MCAIN: "Oil drilling offshore now is vital so we can bridge the gap between imported oil … and it will reduce the price of a barrel of oil. … We’ve got to drill offshore and do it now."
THE FACTS: The government estimates that opening the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling "will not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030." Even then, it would only increase domestic oil production by 3 percent.
Associated Press writers Tom Raum, Andrew Taylor, Kevin Freking, Anne Gearan, H. Josef Hebert and Christopher Wills contributed to this report.