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AD WATCH | Evaluating the Accuracy of Political Advertising

Kerry Charges Bush Would Slash Benefits

Candidate: John F. Kerry

Images: President Bush raising his hand at swearing-in, with a blown-up Social Security card superimposed against a black backdrop

Time: 30 seconds

2004 Campaign

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President Bush claims victory after John F. Kerry concedes the 2004 presidential election.
Bush's Speech: Video | Transcript
Kerry's Speech: Video | Transcript
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 U.S. President
Updated 2:09 AM ET Precincts:0%
 CandidateVotes % 
  Bush * (R)  60,693,28151% 
  Kerry (D)  57,355,97848% 
  Other  1,107,3931% 
Full ResultsSourceAP

Friday's Question:
It was not until the early 20th century that the Senate enacted rules allowing members to end filibusters and unlimited debate. How many votes were required to invoke cloture when the Senate first adopted the rule in 1917?

Audio: The truth is coming out. George Bush has finally admitted that he intends to privatize Social Security in a second term. "I’m going to come out strong after my swearing in," Bush said, "with . . . privatizing of Social Security." First, George Bush threatens Social Security with record deficits of over $400 billion. Now, Bush has a plan that cuts Social Security benefits by 30 to 45 percent. The real Bush agenda? Cutting Social Security.

Analysis: The commercial is misleading in two ways. The "admission" by the president comes not from a public statement but from a New York Times Magazine article yesterday in which the president is quoted as making the privatization comment to a "confidential" Republican luncheon. No source for the comment is cited, but Bush campaigned in 2000 on allowing younger workers to divert a portion of their benefits to private savings accounts. Bush has repeatedly said current recipients would not be affected, although the ad implies that benefits would be slashed immediately.

The estimate of retirement benefits having to be cut as much as 45 percent comes from a Congressional Budget Office report on a proposal by a commission on Social Security named by Bush. That proposal would also cost the government $2 trillion over 10 years, the CBO says. But since Bush hasn’t endorsed a particular plan, there is no way to calculate the impact of what he might do in a second term.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt accused Kerry of "misleading" the elderly, saying the president has never used the word "privatization." Referring to the Times article by Ron Suskind, who wrote a book on former Treasury secretary Paul H. O’Neill that sharply criticized the president, Schmidt said: "The Kerry campaign is taking third-hand, made-up quotes from avowed Bush antagonist Ron Suskind to scare seniors."

Asked how the campaign could predict what the president might do, Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said Bush "is either going to blow a bigger hole in the deficit or have some major cuts in seniors’ benefits."

Accusing the Republicans of plotting to cut Social Security is the oldest page in the Democratic playbook. The Kerry ad, however, is attacking a plan that doesn’t yet exist.

— Howard Kurtz

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