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"Why would they leave?" Holtz-Eakin asked. "What they are getting from their employer is way better than what they could get with the credit."

In a speech Tuesday at James Madison University, Obama said Holtz-Eakin's remarks showed that McCain's proposals would only make problems with health-care coverage worse.

"We were offered a stunning bit of straight talk -- an October surprise -- from his top economic adviser, who actually said that the health insurance people currently get from their employer is -- and I quote -- 'way better' than the health care they would get if John McCain becomes president," Obama said.

Holtz-Eakin sent reporters a memo accusing the Obama camp of "half-truths, distortions and outright lies about health care reform." He said Obama was distorting his words.

"The question I answered was: 'Will the young and healthy leave their generous employer-sponsored coverage as the Obama campaign claims?' My response was that, obviously, if they had better coverage, they would not change," Holtz-Eakin wrote. "The Obama campaign deliberately took the quote out of context. This continues their disgraceful campaign."

McCain has accused Obama of wanting the government to take over health care and said his own proposal for a $5,000 tax credit would let people buy the plan that suits them.

But the Obama camp says that buying coverage on the private market costs an average of $12,000 a year.

-- Robert Barnes

ISRAELI PAPER'S REPORT

French Deny Criticism Of Obama Over Iran

The French Embassy in Washington on Tuesday denied a report in Haaretz, a respected Israeli newspaper, that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was critical of Barack Obama's positions on Iran.

According to Haaretz, Sarkozy told Obama when they met in July that it would be a problem if Obama changed U.S. policy and began direct talks with Iran without preconditions. The paper said Sarkozy feared Obama might ignore members of a six-nation coalition that has sought to pressure Iran to halt its uranium-enrichment program before any substantive talks could begin on a package of economic and diplomatic incentives.

The Haaretz report was thinly sourced, attributed to "reports that have reached Israel's government," and the French Embassy called it "groundless."

-- Glenn Kessler


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