Hillary Clinton was positively skewered during her failed presidential campaign for claiming she landed in Bosnia “under sniper fire,” but Barack Obama and John McCain have told their share of whoppers, too.
In no particular order, Politico, in partnership with PolitiFact, a partnership between the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, present McCain and Obama’s biggest distortions that escaped wide notice: McCain claimed his gas tax holiday would cost as much as "a bridge to nowhere” or “another pork-barrel project."
In an April interview on Fox News, McCain said his plan to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer would cost the federal government “very little. Maybe a ‘bridge to nowhere.’ Maybe another pork barrel project. And it should be made up by general revenues. Look, all I'm asking for is a little holiday.”
But McCain dramatically underestimated the fiscal impact of suspending the gas tax. According to 2007 figures from the IRS, suspending the gas tax in June, July and August would cost the federal government about $9 billion in lost revenue.
On the other hand, the estimated federal share of erecting the so-called bridge to nowhere was about $200 million, which Congress eliminated amidst an anti-earmark furor provoked by revelations that the planned span would have benefited only a few dozen residents of Gravina Island in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Likewise, in 2008 the average price tag for earmarks — which McCain derides as pork-barrel projects – is $1.3 million, according to the small government nonprofit group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
PolitiFact found McCain’s statement “pants-on-fire” wrong. Obama claimed a law he “passed” reveals to the public which lobbyists are bundling cash.
During a January Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Obama boasted that “part of the reason that you know who’s bundling money for various candidates is because of a law I passed this year, which says: Lobbyists, if you are taking money from anybody and putting it together and then giving it to a member of Congress, that has to be disclosed.”
In fact, the bundling provision to which Obama was referring — and which his campaign bragged about in television ads — will not be implemented in time for the 2008 elections, partly because Obama led a partisan confirmation battle that crippled the agency charged with implementing the new rule.
McCain has voluntarily disclosed the names, addresses and occupations of his lobbyist bundlers (which will be required by Obama’s yet-to-be implemented provision) and his other bundlers. But Obama, who does not take money from lobbyists, only lists the names and addresses of his bundlers. Plus his claim is untrue. McCain claimed Obama wants to bomb Pakistan.
In a February speech, McCain went after Obama, asserting the country couldn’t afford the "confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally Pakistan."
Asked about the comment at a media availability the next day, McCain took it a step further, calling Obama’s views on Pakistan “naive. … You don't broadcast that you are going to bomb a country that is a sovereign nation and that you are dependent on the good will of the people of that country to help you in the war — in the struggle against Taliban and the sanctuaries which they hold.”
In fact, Obama never “suggested” or “broadcast” that he would bomb Pakistan.
Rather, in an August 2007 speech, he pledged to take out high-value terrorists hiding in Pakistan’s mountains with or without permission from Pakistan’s government.
“There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again,” he said. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President Musharraf won't act, we will.”
Though McCain’s “bombing” claim was part of a broader argument against telegraphing military plans, it falsely implied Obama was advocating attacking an ally. PolitiFact ruled McCain’s statement pants-on-fire wrong. Obama claimed McCain was OK with a 100-year war in Iraq.
During a February Democratic presidential debate in Cleveland, Obama said "We are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years."
In fact, McCain repeatedly has made clear he supports a prolonged peacetime presence by the United States military in Iraq, not a prolonged war there. Once combat ends and casualties dwindle, he has said he would support a military presence in Iraq similar to those in South Korea and Germany.
“We've got to get Americans off the front line, have the Iraqis as part of the strategy, take over more and more of the responsibilities,” McCain said in January on CBS's "Face the Nation." “And then I don't think Americans are concerned if we're there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years. What they care about is a sacrifice of our most precious treasure, and that's American blood.”
Obama may have intended to criticize McCain’s stance on a continued presence in Iraq, but his claim dovetailed with misrepresentations of McCain’s statements by others and rings false to PolitiFact. McCain claimed he’s never sought “a single earmark or pork barrel project” for Arizona.
McCain’s crusade against government waste has long been a central part of his political persona. And during a January Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., he asserted “in 24 years as a member of Congress, I have never asked for nor received a single earmark or pork barrel project for my state and I guarantee you I’ll veto those [spending] bills.”
In fact, a cursory review turned up a few projects that PolitiFact says contradict McCain’s claim: In 2006, McCain co-sponsored with fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl a bill — which died in committee — that would have authorized $10 million for an academic center at the University of Arizona named in honor of William Rehnquist, the late Supreme Court chief justice. In 2003, he won authorization to buy property to create a buffer zone around Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, a project requested by the Air Force, but not the president. In 1992, he wrote a letter to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency requesting that the “EPA either reprogram $5 million out of existing funds or earmark the amount from an appropriate account” for a wastewater project in Nogales, Ariz., according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. The EPA administrator, William Reilly, said it wasn’t doable. But in October 2007, McCain and Kyl wrote a letter asking the EPA to include money for the project in its budget request. When the EPA didn’t oblige, Kyl — not McCain — put an earmark in the 2008 omnibus spending bill.
McCain’s campaign asserts these projects didn’t meet the definition of earmarks, though pork-barrel projects are hard to define and PolitiFact concluded “these three examples conflict with his bold claim. So we find that claim false.”