Talent, McCaskill question each other's 'facts'

Monday, September 25, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Whether debating the nation's energy policy or war against terror, Missouri's U.S. Senate candidates are spouting facts and figures galore while each accusing the other of stretching the truth.

What's fact, what's fiction and what's fuzzy? That's sometimes hard to determine.

But here's a look at a few of the assertions being made before the Nov. 7 election by Republican Sen. Jim Talent and his Democratic challenger, State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

Attention to the fight against terrorists was heightened because of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. So the natural question arises: Is the United States better prepared now than it was then?

Talent, a general defender of President Bush's anti-terrorism policies, believes the nation is now safer. He backed that up during the candidates' first debate with an assertion that, "The government is implementing -- or has implemented -- 37 of the 39 recommendations from the 9/11 commission" appointed after the attacks.

McCaskill countered that, "Those recommendations have not been implemented."

So which is it?

To start with, it should be noted that the Sept. 11 commission -- officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- made 41 recommendations on July 22, 2004. Two of those were addressed to Congress only. The rest involved either the executive branch only or both the executive and legislative branches.

Document vs report card

To back up his claim, Talent's campaign provided The Associated Press a packet of information released in August by the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee. It included a July 30, 2004, document from the White House outlining how Bush's administration already had addressed -- or would consider -- the 39 recommendations involving the executive branch.

Talent's campaign upped his claim Friday to say that 38 of the 39 recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being so. The only exception, Talent's campaign said, is the declassification of the intelligence budget.

McCaskill's campaign counters that it's ridiculous to cite a presidential document prepared just eight days after the commission's report, especially when that document suggests that virtually every recommendation already was being addressed.

Instead, McCaskill cites a follow-up report issued last December by the members of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission. They concluded the Bush administration and Congress had not moved quickly enough to enact the majority of their recommendations. Their report card included five Fs, 12 Ds, nine Cs, 12 Bs, one A-minus and two incomplete grades.

"Based on the scorecard, none of them have been fully implemented," said McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh, adding that a "straight A" would have been required to meet McCaskill's threshold.

Big Oil

McCaskill and Talent also have sparred over the nation's energy policy -- particularly the energy bill passed 74-26 by the Senate on July 29, 2005.

Talent, who voted for the bill, stresses a provision he championed requiring the United States use 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel by 2012.

McCaskill, who opposes the bill, stresses the tax breaks included for "Big Oil." She claims the legislation contains at least $9 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas industries.

To back that up, McCaskill's campaign claims there are $2.6 billion in tax breaks for oil companies to expand refineries and deduct the cost of certain equipment.

She claims the bill contains an additional $1.5 billion in oil and gas subsidies because it includes a research and development program for unconventional and deep-water natural gas supplies.

And McCaskill -- like Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, of California; John Kerry, of Massachusetts; and Charles Schumer, of New York -- claims that relaxed royalty requirements in the energy bill could mean an additional $7 billion for oil and natural gas companies.

The math on McCaskill's figures actually adds up to $11 billion.

But Talent shakes his head every time McCaskill cites the big-oil giveaway. Talent campaign spokesman Rich Chrismer contends most of those claims are bogus. He said Talent concurs only in the $2.6 billion in incentives to expand refinery capabilities -- and believes ultimately that a greater supply of oil should help keep consumer prices in check.

The energy debate also has spawned at least two other "facts," which at face value don't seem quite right.

As Missouri's gas prices dipped last week to around $2 a gallon for regular unleaded fuel, McCaskill continued running a radio ad critical of Talent's energy policies that begins: "It's hard to figure, at a time when we're paying $3 a gallon for gas..."

Talent, meanwhile, has tried to cast McCaskill's opposition to the energy bill as out of step by claiming that every Midwestern senator voted for the bill. Yet Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, voted against the bill.

Talent considers Wisconsin part of "the upper Midwest" -- something distinct from the Midwest, Chrismer said. But that runs contrary to the definitions of the dictionary and U.S. Census Bureau. Both place Wisconsin squarely in the Midwest.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Capitol Correspondent David A. Lieb covers Missouri government and politics for The Associated Press.

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