'What I call a tax gap'

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 23, 2004 5:44PM (EST)

At a political rally in Orlando on Saturday, the president whooped up the crowd with this statement about his opponent John Kerry:

THE PRESIDENT: We're beginning to see a pattern here. (Laughter.) Senator Kerry is one of the main opponents of tax relief in the United States Congress. However, when tax increases are proposed, it's a lot easier to get a 'yes' vote out of him. (Laughter.) Over the years, he's voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people --
THE PRESIDENT: -- including the biggest tax increase in American history. He also supported a $.50 gallon tax on gasoline.
THE PRESIDENT: He wanted you to pay all that money at the pump and wouldn't even throw in a free car wash. (Laughter.) Now, Senator Kerry is proposing a lot of new federal spending in this campaign. He's going to have pay for it somehow. There's a gap between Senator Kerry's spending promises and Senator Kerry's promise of a lower deficit. It's what I call a tax gap. Given Senator Kerry's record of supporting tax increases, it's pretty clear how he's going to fill the tax gap. He's going to tax all of you.
THE PRESIDENT: Fortunately, you're not going to give him that chance. (Applause.)

John Kerry has voted for tax hikes "350 times," the president says. Citing this supposed vote tally is now a critical go-to line for Bush-Cheney '04 in its strategy to "redefine" Kerry (Read: Distort his record.) But there's a catch here: The 350 figure is just plain wrong, and one that's being plainly reproduced in the political media. FactCheck.org devotes some space to setting the record straight, although several news organizations, including the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Palm Beach Post, UPI and the Washington Post have already reproduced Bush's "350 times" comment without thoroughly debunking it, thus furthering the dissemination of untruths about Kerry.

The truth, FactCheck says, is that "Kerry has not voted 350 times for tax increases, something Bush campaign officials have falsely accused Kerry of on several occasions. On close examination, the Bush campaign's list of Kerry's votes for 'higher taxes' is padded. It includes votes Kerry cast to leave taxes unchanged (when Republicans proposed cuts), and even votes in favor of alternative Democratic tax cuts that Bush aides characterized as 'watered down.'"

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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