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Fact Check On The Final Debate

President Bush overlooked a flip-flop of his own when he boasted Wednesday about launching the Homeland Security Department: He was against it before he was for it. John Kerry told Americans he has a health care plan that covers all of them, when he doesn't.

Figures and rhetorical claims flew in the last presidential debate, and not all them were on target.

Kerry accurately quoted Bush as saying he does not think much about Osama bin Laden and is not all that concerned about him. The president protested: "I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations."

But in March 2002, Bush indeed said, "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run." He described the terrorist leader as "marginalized," and said, "I just don't spend that much time on him."

Kerry declared, "I have a plan to cover all Americans" with health insurance, but even his campaign does not contend his blueprint would eliminate the ranks of the uninsured. Independent analysts say full implementation of Kerry's plan would extend coverage to about 25 million of the nearly 45 million uninsured.

He also said Bush has cut Pell grants, but later altered the accusation when the president pointed out accurately that about 1 million more students are getting the aid than when he took office. Kerry then said Bush has not raised the maximum Pell grant as much as promised.

"They're not getting the $5,100 the president promised them," he said. Education Secretary Rod Paige said the month after Bush took office that the maximum grant for first-year students would go up by more than half, to $5,100. But the maximum now is $4,050.

Also in the debate:

  • Kerry, trying to show Bush has paid too little heed to civil rights, stated flatly, "This is a president who hasn't met with the Black Congressional Caucus." Actually, Bush met the caucus at the White House within two weeks of taking office.
  • Bush talked about how he signed the bill creating the Homeland Security Department, putting that on his list of actions that have made the country safer. But he was a convert to that cause, at first opposing the massive reorganization.
  • Kerry sharply criticized Bush on port security inspections of ship cargo, saying "95 percent come in today uninspected. That's not good enough."

    Kerry's claim ignores that the manifests of all U.S.-bound cargo are screened before they reach American ports and all high-risk cargo is identified. U.S. officials then physically inspect the high-risk cargo - which accounts for about 5 percent of the overall total.

    On whether the inspections are adequate, a new report by the Homeland Security Department internal investigator that surfaced Wednesday concluded federal inspectors of oceangoing shipping containers still need to improve their detection equipment and search procedures to prevent terrorists from sneaking weapons of mass destruction into the United States.

  • Bush accused Kerry of voting 98 times to raise taxes during his 19-year Senate career. An analysis by the Annenberg Public Policy Center's found that 43 of the votes cited by the president involved budget measures that merely set targets for taxes without actually legislating changes to the tax code. The list also counted multiple votes on the same bills, including 16 votes on the 1993 Clinton package of tax increases and spending cuts.

    By Calvin Woodward

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