By LAURA MECKLER
WASHINGTON — Outright distortions were rare, but on taxes, health care, education and other issues, George W. Bush and Al Gore left out crucial information or stretched the truth as they squared off in their first debate.
Bush made a misstatement when he claimed that "this man has outspent me" in the campaign. In fact, Bush spent more than $93 million on his primary campaign, compared with $46 million by Gore.
And while the two men each received $67.6 million in federal funding for the fall campaign, Bush had spent nearly twice as much of his allotment in the first month as the vice president.
Gore found himself on the defense right from the opening question when moderator Jim Lehrer asked what he meant when he questioned whether Bush has the experience to be president.
"I have actually not questioned Bush’s experience. I have questioned his proposals," Gore said Tuesday night.
But in an April 13 interview with The New York Times, Gore said Bush’s call for a large tax cut "raises the question, ‘Does he have the experience to be president?’ " Gore’s spokesman has also called the Texas governor "a lightweight."
At one point, the vice president asked how Bush would pay for his plan to privatize Social Security that allows younger workers to create personal accounts and invest a portion of their Social Security contributions.
Gore said that plan would require an extra $1 trillion to replace young workers contributions and continue paying benefits to current retirees.
Bush said the money "comes from the surplus," a solution he hasn’t proposed before. The problem is the tax cuts and spending programs he’s already proposed would eat up the entire projected budget surplus.
On adding a prescription drug plan to Medicare, Gore argued that Bush’s plan would not help middle-class seniors during its first few years. Bush responded that Gore was using "fuzzy math."
In fact, unless someone’s drug costs reach $6,000, Bush’s plan helps low-income seniors only during its first four years.
When Gore said Bush would spend more cutting taxes for the top 1 percent than he does to increase spending on domestic programs, Bush again called Gore’s math "fuzzy" but didn’t dispute his bottom line.
On education, Gore accused Bush of supporting a plan that leaves children in failing schools for three years before giving parents vouchers to help pay for private schools. He didn’t mention that his own plan would keep schools that don’t meet federal standards open for three years before closing them and reopening them under new leadership.
On taxes, Gore declared that every middle-class American was eligible for a tax cut under his program. That’s true, but only if every American participates in the activities that the vice president has targeted for tax breaks such as college tuition or retirement savings.
Discussing the economy, Gore suggested that the nation had been through a "triple-dip recession," which occurs when economic growth stalls twice or turns negative after experts thought that a recession had ended. In fact, while some feared a triple-dip recession in 1992, it never happened.
Other times, the candidates left out essential information or stretched facts:
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