October 3, 2008

Fact Check: A Closer Look at Debate Claims

By Ken Dilanian and Richard Wolf

A look at some of the claims made by Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the vice presidential debate Thursday night in St. Louis:

Health care

The claim: Palin said Barack Obama wants a "universal, government-run program" and "health care being taken over by the feds."

The facts: Obama's health care plan does not call for a government takeover. In fact, it isn't even universal. It would only cover all children. Obama's plan would give Americans the opportunity to have government health insurance, but they also could pick a private plan.


The claim: Biden said he has "always" supported clean coal. He said "a comment made at a rope line was taken out of context" by John McCain's campaign.

The facts: In the video, recorded at the beginning of Biden's bus trip across Ohio last week, he is seen responding to a question about why the campaign is supporting clean coal, which is a process to reduce pollution caused by burning coal. "We're not supporting clean coal," he says. "Guess what? China is building two every week, two dirty coal plants. And it's polluting the United States. It's causing people to die." As the exchange continues, Biden says: "China's gonna burn 300 years of bad coal unless we figure out how to clean their coal up, because it's gonna ruin your lungs, and there's nothing we can do about it. No coal plants here in America."

Mortgage crisis

The claim: Biden said that McCain said he was "surprised" by the subprime mortgage crisis.

The facts: McCain's use of the word "surprised" came in response to a leading question in New Hampshire last December. At the time, he compared it to the dot-com collapse of the late 1990s, adding: "I was surprised at other times in our history. I don't know if surprised is the word." Later in the same interview, he said, "When I say 'surprised,' I'm not surprised when in capitalist systems that there's greed and excess."

Troop levels

The claim: Palin said success in Iraq has allowed the U.S. to reduce troops to the level before President Bush's "surge" at the beginning of 2007.

The facts: Before the surge, there were about 130,000 troops in Iraq. While plans for troop reductions would get us close to that level, we are not there yet. There are still about 152,000 troops in Iraq.


The claim: Biden said Obama did not say he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The facts: In New York City in September 2007, Obama was asked, "Senator, you've said before that you'd meet with President Ahmadinejad ... would you still meet with him today?" He replied: "Yeah, nothing's changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>