A Democratic PAC is serving up some 11-year-old baloney in an attempt to keep ex-House member Doug Ose from returning to Congress. It accuses the California Republican of voting “to slash veterans’ benefits by $15 billion,” when what he actually voted for — way back in 2003 — was an increase.
The ad also claims he voted to increase his own pay, which he didn’t. In fact, Ose sponsored legislation to repeal automatic pay raises for himself and other members of Congress.
The House Majority PAC, a super PAC devoted to returning the House to Democratic control, started running this TV ad May 31. It attacks Ose in harsh language, accusing him of voting “to increase his own pay” while “dishonor[ing] the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes.” The PAC calls its ad “Dishonor.” But “disinformation” might be a more accurate label.
What Washington officials call a budget “cut” often turns out to be a smaller increase than originally had been sought. And this ad dishes up a classic example of this sort of deceptive political rhetoric from 2003.
The ad says, “Congressman Doug Ose voted to slash veterans’ benefits by $15 billion.” But what the ad refers to — cited in the fine print on screen — is a vote Ose cast on March 21, 2003, for a nonbinding budget resolution that actually proposed a 5.4 percent increase in new spending authority for veterans’ benefits and services for fiscal year 2004, which was to start several months later on Oct. 1.
On page 33 of the measure, H.Con.Res. 95, starting on line 16, the target for “new budget authority” for FY 2004 is pegged at $60.7 billion, up from just under $57.6 billion for the then-current fiscal year. The increase is also discussed in the Budget Committee’s official report that accompanied the bill itself, starting on page 72.
Nevertheless, Democrats claimed the bill contained a $15 billion cut. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, for example, said: “One of the most unconscionable cuts is a $15 billion reduction for veteran programs. On the very day we go to war [U.S. forces had just entered Iraq] how can we vote to neglect our veterans like this?” (See Congressional Record for March 20, 2003, page H2184.)
Compared with What?
So how can an increase be called a cut? When hearing such claims, our advice has always been to ask, “a cut, compared with what?” In this case, the House Republicans’ budget proposed a smaller increase in new spending authority for veterans’ benefits than President Bush’s budget. Bush had called for a 6.6 percent increase compared with the 5.4 percent contained in the House measure. (See page 88, Table 5.1 for the Bush figures.)
In dollar terms, Bush proposed new spending that was $846 million higher than the target set in the House budget. So where did Democrats get a $15 billion figure? While seldom saying so, they were referring to a five-year total. From FY 2004 through FY 2008, Bush’s budget projected $15 billion more than the House budget projected. Hence the “cut” — compared with what Bush was proposing.
Both the Bush budget and the House Republican budget proposed increases in spending for veterans’ benefits that exceeded the rate of inflation. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office at the time was projecting inflation to rise only 2.1 percent in 2003 and 2.2 percent in 2004. As it turned out, the Consumer Price Index rose a little faster than CBO projected, but not by much. It was up 2.3 percent in 2003 and 2.7 percent in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So even in inflation-adjusted terms, the budget that then-Rep. Ose voted for in 2003 represented an increase and not a reduction.
It was an even greater increase on a per-veteran basis. While spending has increased, the number of U.S. military veterans has been sliding steadily for a long time. That’s because today’s wars are fought with far fewer troops than World War II, Korea or Vietnam, and the veterans of those old conflicts are, as the saying goes, fading away. The Census Bureau estimated the number of military veterans in the U.S. at 26.4 million in 2000. That number fell below 22 million last year, and the Veterans Administration projects it will slide to fewer than 15 million in the next 25 years or so.
To say that veterans groups were not happy with the size of the proposed increase in spending would be an understatement. The ad features an angry letter written by Edward Heath Sr., who was the national commander of the Disabled American Veterans. Democrats happily read the letter into the Congressional Record (page H2218) during debate. “This budget dishonors the service of millions of service-connected disabled veterans, including combat-disabled veterans,” Heath wrote. “Is there no honor left in the hallowed halls of our government?”
The ad highlights a section of Heath’s letter expressing “deep-seated outrage” at the House budget, and another saying it “dishonor[s] the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes.”
Whether the House budget was “honorable” or not is of course a matter of opinion. But the House Majority PAC ad misleads viewers by saying the letter “condemned Ose’s cuts,” as though it attacked Ose personally and as though Ose had proposed the “cuts.” Actually, the letter was written several days before Ose even voted for the measure and makes no mention of him, and Ose was just one of 215 House members who voted in favor.
It is fair to argue that the increase Ose supported was inadequate. That’s an opinion with which anyone is free to agree or to disagree. But to claim that an increase is a “cut” is pure Washington baloney, and this serving from 2003 hasn’t improved with age.
The ad is also incorrect when it says Ose “voted to increase his own pay.” He didn’t. There was no vote on congressional pay in 2003, the year the ad claims Ose supported a pay raise. In fact, in April of that year the wealthy Ose, a multimillionaire developer, introduced a bill to repeal automatic annual cost-of-living increases for members of Congress.
What the ad refers to is a procedural vote Ose cast on Sept. 4, 2003, calling the “previous question” for a House rule setting conditions for consideration of an appropriations bill covering the Treasury Department, the Department of Transportation and a host of independent agencies. The bill made no mention of a pay raise for Congress. How is that a vote to raise House members’ pay? Critics of congressional pay raises make a tortured argument that it is.
As explained in a Congressional Research Service report on the history of votes regarding congressional pay: “By ordering the previous question, the House voted to prevent an amendment to the rule from being offered, and to bring the rule to an immediate vote. An amendment to the rule could have waived points of order so as to permit an amendment to the bill prohibiting a pay increase.” But as the CRS report also said, “It cannot be said with any degree of certainty that Members would have voted to deny a pay increase if they had been given an opportunity.”
Even so, Ose says on his campaign website that this vote was a mistake. And indeed, on Sept. 10, Ose inserted a brief “personal explanation” that appears on page H8167 of the Congressional Record: “Mr. Speaker, on September 4, 2003, I recorded a ‘yes’ vote on rollcall vote No. 463. My vote should have been ‘no.’ ”
For the record, an automatic 2.2 percent increase took effect Jan. 1, 2004. The $3,400 increase brought the pay of rank-and-file lawmakers to $158,100.
Ose left office voluntarily in 2005, having promised to serve only three terms. He’s the GOP nominee to run in November against freshman Rep. Ami Bera in California’s 7th Congressional District.
– Brooks Jackson