Novak distorted Kerry's defense record, denied that Cheney cut defense


On CNN's The Capital Gang on May 1, co-host Robert Novak repeated distortions about Senator John Kerry's voting record on national defense, and he falsely claimed that Vice President Dick Cheney did not cut weapons programs as Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush:

MARGARET CARLSON: And Dick Cheney killed as many weapons programs as John Kerry ever voted against.

NOVAK: Yes. Yes. It's -- yes, that's really stupid, Margaret. I mean -- the whole idea that...


MARK SHIELDS: If we're going to start saying "stupid"...

NOVAK: [During crosstalk, Novak apologized for saying "stupid."] But I mean, the idea -- I mean, it's such Democratic propaganda that -- that Cheney killed weapons programs, when we had Kerry voting against ... all these.

Allegations regarding Kerry's votes on defense echo the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign ads and a February Republican National Committee research brief. Yet Novak, the campaign ads, and the RNC brief all misrepresented the facts on Kerry's record on military funding.

As the Annenberg Public Policy Center's Political Fact Check explained, "Kerry's votes against overall Pentagon money bills in 1990, 1995 and 1996 . were not votes against specific weapons. And in fact, Kerry voted for Pentagon authorization bills in 16 of the 19 years he's been in the Senate."

Since each appropriations bill contains hundreds of line items to fund all aspects of the armed forces -- from weapons systems to soldiers' salaries to schools on military bases -- as's Fred Kaplan explained in a February 25 military analysis, one could use this same logic to claim that Kerry had voted to abolish the entire U.S. armed forces.

Novak is also wrong about Cheney. In the early 1990s, then-Secretary Cheney did indeed request that Congress make substantial cuts in the defense budget. Kaplan's analysis quoted Cheney's January 31, 1992 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

CHENEY: Congress has let me cancel a few programs. But you've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new requirements. . You've directed me to buy more M-1s, F-14s, and F-16s-all great systems . but we have enough of them.

Cheney's request came three days after the State of the Union address, in which the president announced:

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper [MX] missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles.

Contrary to Novak's claim, Cheney is on the record requesting specific weapons-systems cuts, while the charge against Kerry is based primarily on votes against appropriations bills -- votes that cannot credibly be called weapons-programs cuts.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Defense Funding
2004 Elections
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