A Bridge Too Far: McCain Falsely Claimed Palin Vetoed Earmarks

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Looks like the level of earmark bamboozlement coming from John McCain is even deeper than we’d known.

Speaking to reporters today, McCain defended his running mate, Sarah Palin, for lying about her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere with the following claim, as reported by the Associated Press:

“The important thing is she’s vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark projects — far, far in excess of her predecessor and she’s given money back to the taxpayers and she’s cut their taxes, so I’m happy with her record.”

McCain had said a similar thing on ABC’s The View Friday morning: “Earmark spending; which she vetoed half a billion dollars worth in the state of Alaska.”

The notion that Palin “vetoed earmarks” has become a fully-fledged GOP talking point in recent weeks. Here, for instance, is Republican congressman Jeb Hensarling repeating the claim at a news conference 12 days ago.

But governors don’t “veto” federal earmarks. As Palin’s own gubernatorial spokesman, Bill McAllister, told TPMmuckraker: “She can choose not to submit the request, but once Congress makes them, they’re there.”

The provenance of McCain’s half a billion figure appears to be related to this claim, which Palin made this morning during a speech in Colorado:

“Nearly half a billion of excessive spending in our state budget, that’s what vetoes are for.”

It’s true, as the Boston Globe reported over the weekend, that as governor, Palin vetoed over $500 million in state legislative spending requests over two fiscal years.

But generic spending requests, which Palin rejected through the use of her line-item veto power as governor, aren’t remotely the same thing as earmarks. As McAllister told us: “It’s called line-items, generally. [Earmarks],that’s not common parlance.” And the money that Palin cut didn’t come from the federal government, which is the starting point for the whole earmarks debate. So that $500 million figure has nothing to do with earmarks.

In other words, McCain has taken a statistic from one issue, and applied it to defend Palin’s record on a different one — under the assumption that the press won’t look closely enough at the details to call him on it.

Ironically, an ad released almost two weeks ago by the RNC makes the necessary distinction between cutting spending through line-item vetoes, and cutting earmarks. It asserts that Palin “vetoed nearly half a billion dollars in wasteful spending and cut earmark requests by hundreds of millions of dollars.” That latter claim refers to requests for pork made by the state to its congressional delegation, which did go down under Palin as compared to her predecessor as governor, Republican Frank Murkowski. But note that the half a billion dollar figure clearly refers not to the reduction in earmark requests, but rather to the cuts in spending.

And yesterday, Palin seemed to suggest that she was aware of that same distinction, remaining technically truthful, if misleading, by telling a crowd in Nevada: “We reformed the abuses of earmarks in our state. I vetoed nearly half a billion dollars of wasteful spending in looking at it as an executive responsibility.”

But McCain hasn’t been as scrupulous, either on The View or in talking to reporters today.

CBS News has already noted McCain’s dissembling, after his appearance on The View. Will anyone else?

The McCain campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.