FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 24 Oct 2014 23:27:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 NRA’s ‘Slick’ Ad Links Braley to Bloomberg http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/nras-slick-ad-links-braley-to-bloomberg/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:19:23 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90034 The National Rifle Association implies Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley lied when he said he “never met Michael Bloomberg,” but there’s no evidence of that. The NRA ad puts two separate photos of the men side-by-side and says they were at the “same event.” It was a day-long event, and they spoke hours apart.

The NRA Political Victory Fund ad says Braley, a Democrat running for the state’s open Senate seat, is “so slick, he can’t stick to the truth,” as an image of an oily substance slides down the screen. But the ad shows it’s the NRA that’s slippery when it comes to the facts.

The ad says Braley “votes for Michael Bloomberg’s extreme anti-gun agenda” in Washington but tries to be “slick” and “hide his connections to Bloomberg” in Iowa. It shows a clip of Braley at an Oct. 11 debate saying, “I’ve never met Michael Bloomberg.”

The narrator continues, “But look at this: Braley and Bloomberg both at the same event,” as an image is shown of the two men, Bloomberg sitting on the left and Braley standing at a podium on the right. “Braley’s staff even said so,” the narrator continues, as an image of a Dec. 13, 2010, press release on the event appears on screen.

Case closed? Not at all.

The press release says that Braley spoke at a launch event that day for a group called No Labels at Columbia University in New York. No Labels aims to bring people together, regardless of political affiliation, and, in its words, “call[s] on our leaders to put the labels aside and focus on fixing America’s most pressing problems.” Its tagline: “Not left. Not right. Forward.” Its founders include former Democratic National Committee Finance Chair Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.

The Braley press release — which has made the rounds on Twitter as something of a smoking gun — says the congressman was “[j]oined by a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials, including Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), among others.”

But those officials didn’t appear on a panel with Braley, who addressed the audience on his own for about five minutes during a nearly three-hour morning session (see the 52:35 mark). Braley spoke about growing up in a “no labels community” and “no labels household,” in which his father was a Republican and his mother was a Democrat. He talked about bipartisanship, using two pieces of bipartisan legislation that he authored as examples of bringing people together.

There was a break for lunch, according to one of the final morning session speakers, followed by afternoon breakout sessions (see the 58:58 mark of part 2 of the morning video). Bloomberg, who was headlining the event, appeared on a panel on “Electoral Reform in America” during the afternoon. Bloomberg’s fellow panelists were then-Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware, then-Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, then-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado of California and Ellen Freidin of FairDistrictsFlorida.org.

It was a large event, with the feel of a mini-political convention. In the introduction for the video stream of the day, TV journalist Bob Franken said there were more than 1,000 people in attendance in Columbia’s Lerner Hall auditorium. And the day was filled with big names and politicians, in addition to those mentioned in Braley’s press release, including New York Times columnist David Brooks, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, then-Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

It would be quite possible for two of the day’s speakers to never cross paths, given the number of attendees and speakers, and length of the event.

The Braley campaign told FactCheck.org that Braley and Bloomberg “did not meet at the event that day. It was an all day event, and Bruce was not there the entire time.” Sarah Benzing, Braley’s campaign manager and former chief of staff, tweeted on Oct. 11 that they did not see Bloomberg at the event: “I happened to staff Bruce at the no-labels event that day. No sign of Bloomberg.” And Matt Canter, who was on Gillibrand’s staff that day, also tweeted: “I was at that w Sen. Gillibrand & met Bruce that day. Didn’t see Bloomberg there while we were all there. All day event.”

No Labels confirmed to FactCheck.org that the two men attended the event, but didn’t know whether they talked or not.

We can’t say for sure whether Braley and Bloomberg met at the event or not. But neither can the NRA, which confirmed to us, and the New York Times, that the image of Braley and Bloomberg is actually two separate photos. Viewers with an inclination toward detective work could pick up on that, particularly if they pause the ad. But viewers may also think they’re looking at the same image, torn in half, as the graphics make it appear, and as the narrator implies.

The narrator’s words may lead viewers to believe that the NRA has photographic proof that the two men met, when he says, “But look at this: Braley and Bloomberg both at the same event.”

Braley has an “F” rating from the NRA, which takes issue with Braley’s pro-gun-control stances. Among his “votes” for Bloomberg’s “anti-gun agenda,” according to the NRA: a vote against the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, which would have allowed residents of states that permit the carrying of concealed weapons to do so in other states.

In late 2012, in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, Braley said he would sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition clips. He told the Huffington Post last year that he probably wouldn’t have supported the failed Senate legislation to expand background checks, because it didn’t go far enough. Braley objected to immunizing gun manufacturers from lawsuits for negligence. The Senate bill would have expanded background checks to private sales at gun shows, and also expanded lawsuit immunity to such sellers that completed checks.

So, Braley’s positions on guns are clearly at odds with the NRA, but the group goes too far in suggesting he lied when he said he never met Bloomberg.

– Lori Robertson, with Carolyn Fante

GOP Whacks Weiland Over Payroll Taxes http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/gop-whacks-weiland-over-payroll-taxes/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:03:47 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90001 A Republican TV ad says Senate candidate Rick Weiland is going across South Dakota saying “he’s one of us” when “Weiland supports higher payroll taxes.” Not for all, he doesn’t.

The “one of us” reference could lead viewers to believe that Weiland would raise payroll taxes for everyone in the state. Not so. He supports raising or eliminating the Social Security payroll tax cap – which would only affect individuals currently earning above $117,000.

Weiland, a Democrat who has boasted of visiting every one of South Dakota’s 311 towns, is competing against Independent candidate Larry Pressler and former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican nominee, in a three-way race for the state’s open Senate seat.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee uses Weiland’s traveling ways against him in an ad, called “All Over,” that suggests he isn’t like South Dakota voters after all.

“Rick Weiland is traveling all over South Dakota saying he’s one of us, but Weiland supports higher payroll taxes,” the ad’s narrator says. That’s misleading.

It’s true that Weiland favors expanding retirement benefits and paying for it by hiking or eliminating the cap on the Social Security payroll tax.

In August, the Argus Leader reported that Weiland, in an email to supporters, said that “raising or scrapping the cap on Social Security would allow seniors to receive a true annual cost of living adjustment and put the program on solid financial footing for decades to come.” He also told the paper he supported a bill that would phase out the cap over five years, leaving all income subject to the payroll tax.

Currently, employees and employers each pay 6.2 percent on earnings up to $117,000. Income over that amount isn’t taxed. The cap is scheduled to increase to $118,500 in 2015.

So Weiland’s plan would only affect individuals whose additional earnings would have otherwise been tax-free as a result of the tax cap. But most South Dakotans don’t earn enough each year to be affected by raising the cap or scrapping it all together. The state’s median household income was $54,453 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (table H-8). Less than 12 percent of South Dakota residents who filed federal tax returns in 2012 had an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more, according to IRS statistics.

Other Attacks on Weiland

The ad makes four additional claims that do not tell the full story:

Weiland “supports $700 billion in Medicare cuts.” This refers to Weiland’s support for the Affordable Care Act. But, as we’ve said again and again when Republicans have made this claim, the estimated $716 billion in “cuts” is actually a reduction in the future growth of Medicare spending over 10 years, not a slashing of the program’s current budget. The largest chunk of the $716 billion — about $415 billion over 10 years — comes from a reduction in the growth of future payments to hospitals through Medicare Part A. The next biggest chunk of the $716 billion is an estimated $156 billion in payments to insurance companies that offer private plans to seniors through the Medicare Advantage program. The law is intended over time to bring the costs of the MA plans in line with traditional Medicare plans.

Weiland “thinks a trillion in new taxes is okay.” This claim is also based on Weiland’s support for the federal health care law, which was estimated to raise about $1 trillion in tax revenue between 2013 and 2022, according to a Congressonal Budget Office analysis of a bill calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. However, viewers should know that a number of the new taxes, such as a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income and an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax, would, again, fall on Americans with high incomes. The increase in the Medicare tax, alone, was estimated to raise almost one-third, or about $318 billion, of the $1 trillion, according to CBO’s calculations. The law also includes taxes on health insurers, such as the excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans. CBO estimates that tax will bring in another $111 billion over 10 years.

Weiland “supports Obama’s plan raising energy costs.” This claim is based on Weiland’s stated support for a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Opponents of the proposal argue it would cause energy bills to increase. That could happen, at least in the short term, according to the EPA’s own projections. But long term, it could also reduce bills. Nationwide, “average monthly electricity bills are anticipated to increase by roughly 3 percent in 2020, but decline by roughly 9 percent by 2030 because increased energy efficiency will lead to reduced usage,” according to an EPA analysis of its proposal. That’s under the proposal’s first option for emissions reductions. An alternate option could result in up to a 1.4 percent increase in bills in 2020 and up to a 3.5 percent decrease in 2025.

Weiland “wants to stop the Keystone pipeline and the 40,000 jobs it would create.” He does oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the benefits of it have been exaggerated. And the State Department does estimate that 42,100 jobs could be created by building the pipeline, including direct and indirect jobs. But they’d be temporary positions, lasting from just one to two years. And once the pipeline enters service, the project would only require 35 permanent workers and 15 temporary contractors, the State Department says.

– D’Angelo Gore

A ‘Willie Horton’ Ad in Nebraska http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/a-willie-horton-ad-in-nebraska/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:31:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90018 Every now and then we see a powerful attack ad that is factually accurate, but makes such a strong appeal to fear that we urge viewers to pause to consider all the facts. That’s the case in Nebraska, where a TV ad has been compared to the infamous Willie Horton ad.

The National Republican Congressional Committee went on the air Oct. 17 in Omaha with an ad that slams state Sen. Brad Ashford for his support of the state’s so-called good-time law, which allows inmates to receive credits to reduce their sentences. It is certainly fair game to debate the merits of good-time laws, which are in place in at least 32 other states because they ease prison overcrowding and give prison officials a tool to maintain order.

But the NRCC ad, which is titled “Nikko,” features the horrific case and the tattooed face of Nikko Jenkins, a convicted carjacker who went on a killing spree not long after his release from prison that resulted in four homicides in 11 days in August 2013.

“Brad Ashford supported the good-time law and still defends it, allowing criminals like Nikko Jenkins to be released early,” the ad says, displaying side-by-side photos of the white “liberal” Democrat and black convicted murderer.

The menacing image of Jenkins and the implication that Ashford is somehow responsible for Jenkins’ actions caused a backlash that went far beyond the boundaries of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. The ad brought immediate comparisons to the Willie Horton ad that an independent group aired in 1988 to portray Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, as soft on crime. Horton was a murder convict who raped a woman while on furlough, as the New York Times reported at the time Horton appeared in the ad.

Michael Steele, the first African American to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the “Nikko” ad racist.

“You say to yourself, what is the point of this ad? I mean, in the context of the case or the situation, yeah, okay, the member of the House supported the law. But then to put it in this frame, says something very racist in my view. … Stupid does stupid,” Steele said in a TV interview on Oct. 18. “This ad doesn’t tell you anything other than consultants are stupid and that’s basically – they play to the lowest common denominator and that’s part of the problem.”

Nobody’s disputing the factual accuracy of the statements in this 30-second ad — but it cries out for a full explanation of what happened in the Jenkins case and Ashford’s response to it.

Good-Time Law Gone Bad?

The Omaha World-Herald has done a remarkable job of documenting the case of Nikko Jenkins, which is summarized in a timeline that begins with Jenkins’ release from prison on July 30, 2013, and includes his Aug. 29, 2013, arrest for multiple murders. He later pleaded no contest to the four murders.

As the World-Herald documented, Jenkins received a maximum 21-year sentence for “two carjackings he committed when he was 15 and two assaults that occurred while he was an inmate.” Jenkins served 10-and-a-half years — almost exactly half his maximum sentence — because of the state’s sentence credit law, which was liberalized in 1992 from earned-time credits (in which inmates earn time off) to good-time credits (in which inmates get automatic credit, but can lose good-time credits for violating prison rules).

Ashford was in the state Legislature in 1992, but he did not vote on the good-time law, according to the World-Herald. Nevertheless, Ashford supported it. The NRCC ad points to a Sept. 6, 2013, World-Herald editorial that said Ashford supported the 1992 change in the law, as did most state legislators. (The Nebraska Legislature is unicameral, which means it has a single legislative body.)

World Herald, Sept. 6, 2013: Ashford said Thursday that the intent of the 1992 bill, which passed 27-6, was to address inconsistent sentencing by judges and to put into law the use of carrots and sticks to help motivate inmates. It was not meant to be lenient on violent criminals, Ashford said.

Before the 1992 legislation, state law said inmates could earn shortened criminal sentences when they demonstrated good behavior — a sensible approach. But during debate on LB 816, lawmakers removed the words “for good behavior.” That ill-considered change effectively cut sentences in half, without the specific good behavior requirement. Only first-degree murderers and convicts serving rare mandatory minimum sentences saw no benefit.

The National Conference of State Legislatures in an August 2011 report said that “at least 44 states … provide opportunities for some inmates to accelerate their release date,” and “at least 32 states have good-time policies.” Some states have both.

There were calls to tighten the Nebraska law in the aftermath of the Jenkins case, but there were also questions about how well the law was being implemented by prison officials. The World-Herald did an investigation that found “prison officials rarely took away the good-time privilege.” The paper said, “Inmates were punished for 92,000 infractions over five years, yet good time credit was taken away in less than 5 percent of those cases.”

Jenkins “could have spent at least another 9½ months in prison if officials had given him the maximum penalties for breaking prison rules,” the World-Herald reported.

World Herald, Sept. 24, 2013: From 2005 to 2011, prison records show, Jenkins was written up at least eight times, for refusing to submit to a search, aggravated assault on a corrections officer, three episodes of using threatening language, two episodes of “tattoo activities” and creating a weapon out of a toilet brush.

A judge sentenced him to four more years for his assault. For all his transgressions, prison officials took away just under 18 months of good time credit, including three months for the assault.

Good time is sometimes restored, although prison officials couldn’t say how often. Jenkins was given back at least a month of good time after it had been taken away, a prison spokeswoman said.

Ashford told the World-Herald that the problem is not with the good-time law, but with “the implementation of the sanctions” by the corrections department. “We need to ask the department why the administrative sanctions were not given,” he told the paper.

The World-Herald also wrote last year that Jenkins may have been required to served 21 years in prison if prosecutors tagged Jenkins as a “habitual criminal” after his assault conviction in prison. Prosecutors filed a “charging document” to do just that, but then withdrew it as part of a plea agreement.

World-Herald, Sept. 5, 2013: In the attack on the corrections officer, prosecutors filled out a charging document that would have tagged Jenkins as a habitual criminal. Such a designation could have meant a mandatory minimum 10 additional years in prison.

However, prosecutors dropped the charging document after Jenkins agreed to plead no contest to felony assault of an officer. Prosecutors also dropped an attempted escape charge punishable by 10 months in prison.

Kleine, the Douglas County attorney, said he is reviewing the decision to drop the habitual criminal tag. The prosecutor who made it is now a judge.

Under case law, Kleine said, a habitual criminal charge usually requires a defendant to have gone in and out of prison twice before committing a third crime. Jenkins never left prison.

“There’s a question of whether he would have qualified,” Kleine said. “We’re looking at that.”

Former Douglas County Attorney Stu Dornan, a Republican who criticized the NRCC ad for its “fear-mongering,” told the World-Herald that prosecutors and judges adjust sentences knowing that good-time credits will be applied to an inmate’s prison term. And there is evidence that that may be the case.

A January 1999 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics shows (on table 8) that violent offenders in Nebraska in 1997 served an average of 60 months in prison – which was nearly a year longer than the national average of 49 months. Violent offenders served longer average prison terms in only eight states in 1997, the report shows.

Similarly, the average maximum sentence in Nebraska was 134 months that year – much higher than the national average of 93 months. Only four states had an average maximum sentence for violent offenders that was higher than 134 months.

We could not find more recent statistics. However, Nebraska switched to its good-time law in 1992, as we said earlier, so the 1997 data — even though 17 years old — would reflect sentencing and time served under the good-time law in place at the time.

Ashford’s Response

Ashford has resisted attempts to change the good-time law.

On Jan. 13, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh at the request of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman introduced LB 832, which the bill description says would “require violent offenders sentenced after the date of the Act to earn sentence reductions through participation in a department-approved personalized program plan and through good behavior. Under LB 832, violent offenders may earn sentence reductions of up to 50% of their total sentence.”

At a Feb. 12 hearing of the Judiciary Committee he chairs, Ashford questioned the need for the bill. He asked Corrections Director Mike Kenney, “[s]omeone’s sentence who is misbehaving … can be lengthened for a significant period of time under the current law, correct?” Kenney responded, “Yes.”

Ashford also raised concerns at that hearing about what impact changes in the good-time law would have on prison overcrowding, rehabilitation programs and inmate recidivism. “What our goal should be, your goal and my goal, and we talked about this in my office, is the same,” he told Kenney. “We want people to reenter society and not come back to the institution.”

He told Kenney he wasn’t trying to be “adversarial” but that the bill to change the good-time law was a distraction.

“[T]he good-time law, which can be applied today in a way to take good time away, is distracting us from trying to get to the problem here and to try to get people out into the community in a safer way so that they can be productive and have a job and have a house, a place to live, so that they won’t commit more acts,” Ashford said.

Lautenbaugh’s bill was indefinitely postponed on April 17. That was the day the Republican governor signed a bill authored by Ashford designed to address numerous prison issues. The bill, which passed 46-0, is “intended to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders released from prison,” Ashford said in a statement on the bill’s passage.

Ashford’s bill provided more money for mental health, vocational and life skills programs for inmates while in prison, and required parole officers to help inmates and parolees to obtain access to housing and rehabilitative programs upon release. It also created a working group to study prison overcrowding and produce a report by Sept. 1, 2015.

Is Ashford’s bill enough? That’s a legitimate debate to have, but that’s not what voters are getting in the TV ads.

His Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Terry, held a press conference criticizing Ashford for opposing changes to the law, and has run multiple TV ads attacking Ashford for his position. The Terry campaign has indirectly referred to Nikko Jenkins in its ads, but it has not used the murderer’s name or image. Still, Terry’s campaign has defended the NRCC ad and has made the issue a centerpiece of its campaign.

Even after the uproar over the “Nikko” ad, Terry’s campaign started running a TV ad titled “One Bullet” on Oct. 21 that attacks “the good-time law that Brad Ashford supports,” and questions why voters should send Ashford to Washington “if the consequences of Brad Ashford’s dangerous policies are assault, robbery and murder.”

The World-Herald editorial board — which supports changing the law — gave a full-throttle endorsement of Ashford in an Oct. 21 editorial that attacked the NRCC and Terry’s ads for neglecting “the full story.”

In its editorial on the attack ads, the World-Herald praised Ashford’s legislative response, calling it “a serious effort to improve the prison system” and saying “a harder push for good-time changes could have doomed the larger reform effort” sought by Ashford. It also praised him for doing the “heavy lifting” to pass “juvenile justice reforms” last year that “could do more than any good-time change to protect Nebraskans from a future Nikko Jenkins.”

The editorial listed some of the facts omitted in the attack ads, including the failure of prison officials to “fully utilize” the existing law to keep Jenkins behind bars longer and their failure to properly respond to Jenkins’ plea for mental health help and his threats to commit violent acts when released from prison. It also noted the bipartisan support that the good-time law has enjoyed in the past. “At best, this is a bipartisan failure,” the editorial said.

World-Herald editorial, Oct. 21: The good-time law and the management problems in Nebraska’s prisons are state issues, not matters for Congress. In Lincoln, Ashford worked to solve state problems. That’s a much tougher job than flinging Washington mud and hoping it sticks.

The good-time law needs to be changed — and so do these mudslinging ads.

We take no position on the good-time law, but we agree the ads fail to tell the whole story. We encourage voters to seek out the facts. And we wholeheartedly embrace the editorial’s call for an end to “mudslinging ads.”

– Eugene Kiely

FactChecking the Iowa Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-iowa-senate-race/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:30:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88640 Longtime Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring, and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst are each hoping to be the one to replace him. Braley was once an early favorite to hold the seat for Democrats, but Ernst now has a slight lead in a very competitive race that most political forecasters rate a pure “toss-up.”

Ernst — who gained national prominence with a TV ad touting her hog-castrating prowess — has been attacked for being an “extreme” candidate who wants to privatize Social Security. And Braley — whose campaign has made a number of gaffes — has faced claims that he rarely attends his congressional committee hearings and is out-of-touch with Iowa voters.

Here’s a look back:


Claim: Ernst “would privatize Social Security.”

Facts: Ernst hasn’t proposed or endorsed a plan to change Social Security. In fact, she opposes any changes in Social Security for current seniors or workers nearing retirement age.

senatebattleAt most, Ernst has said that she would consider allowing “younger workers,” or those “just entering the workforce,” to put some portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into interest-bearing or stock market-based “personal savings accounts” for their retirement. Braley and other Democrats have hammered Ernst ever since, claiming that she “would privatize Social Security” or that she has “proposed privatizing Social Security.” But that goes too far.

Ernst hasn’t offered any specifics or committed to a fully “privatized” Social Security system, or even a partial one, as the Braley campaign and Democratic TV ads would have voters believe. That is a point that Ernst made in a televised debate with Braley on Sept. 28, when she said, “I haven’t endorsed one option over another, but we need to come together in a bipartisan manner to solve these issues.”

Full story: “Ernst and ‘Privatizing’ Social Security,” Oct. 7


Claim: Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.”

Facts: That’s false. None of the fundraisers was scheduled at the same time as the congressional hearing that Braley missed.

Here’s what’s true: Braley missed a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, titled “Veterans Affairs in the 112th Congress: Reviewing VA’s Performance and Accountability,” on Sept. 20, 2012. He also attended three fundraisers for his reelection campaign that day in Washington, D.C., including a breakfast scheduled from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., a lunch event at noon and a fundraising reception from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

The problem with the claim made in an ad from Concerned Veterans for America? The three fundraisers Braley attended didn’t conflict with the hearing he missed, which lasted from 10:19 a.m. to 11:54 a.m. The Braley campaign has said that the congressman missed the VA committee hearing because he was attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that was taking place at roughly the same time. The official hearing transcript shows he was present at the oversight hearing, but it is not known for how long. And his campaign declined to tell us.

Full Story: “Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack,” Aug. 1


Claim: Braley “skipped an astonishing 79 percent of Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings.”

Facts: That’s accurate, but not the whole story.

Braley missed 15 out of 19 full committee hearings as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2011 to 2012. However, that’s not his complete attendance record. Braley also served on the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity those two years, and he attended 15 out of 17, or 88 percent, of the subcommittee hearings. That means that, in total, combining the full committee hearings and subcommittee hearings, Braley was present at nearly 53 percent of the hearings that he could have attended.

Full story: “Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack,” Aug. 1


Claim: As an Iowa state legislator, Ernst “never wrote one measure to slash spending.”

Facts: Ernst’s record isn’t completely devoid of any effort to cut spending, as a Braley campaign ad suggests.

Ernst co-sponsored several measures intended to save the state money or cut wasteful spending, such as bills to freeze state hiring, develop less expensive state retirement plans and require a cost-benefit analysis before building new state rest stops.

It is true, as the same Braley ad says, that “she backed measures to actually increase spending,” including funding for transportation projects, the state preschool program, and a fund for road and bridge repair. But saying Ernst “never wrote one measure to slash spending” overlooks the part of her record aimed at cutting costs.

Full Story: “Pork, Served Two Ways, in Iowa,” June 13


Claim: Braley “voted to raise taxes on every single Iowa taxpayer.”

Facts: That’s a distortion of Braley’s clearly stated position to retain Bush-era income-tax rates for all but individuals making more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 for couples.

The vote cited in an ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee is one Braley cast in the House in December 2010 as a protest against extending Bush tax cuts for another two years for the more affluent. Had the bill failed, the Bush tax cuts might have lapsed on schedule on Jan. 1, 2011, for “every single” taxpayer, as the ad claims — assuming no other compromise was worked out. As it happened, the bill passed by a more than comfortable margin of 277 to 148, and the tax cuts were temporarily preserved for everyone.

But Braley’s vote against that bill doesn’t mean that he favored raising everybody’s income taxes. In fact, he clearly didn’t. During debate on the measure, Braley reiterated that he opposed any increase in taxes on the majority of taxpayers, saying the deal he voted against included at least an $81 billion tax break for “the wealthiest people in this country.” More recently, Braley voted to raise taxes on only about the top 1 percent, while keeping federal income taxes the same for all who are less affluent.

Full story: “NRSC Distorts Braley Tax Record,” Oct. 22


Claim: Ernst supports “a plan cutting Medicare’s guaranteed benefit.”

Facts: This tired claim misrepresents Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, which wouldn’t take away any benefits that are currently “guaranteed.” Ryan’s proposal would require private plans to cover the same benefits as traditional Medicare.

The Senate Majority PAC ran similar ads in other Senate races, tying Republican candidates to Ryan’s plan to gradually transition Medicare to a premium-support system in which people currently under 55, once eligible for Medicare, would get government subsidies for a selection of insurance plans on a Medicare exchange. The exchange would include both private plans and traditional Medicare. The DSCC also ran an attack ad against Ernst on this issue.

Ernst’s support for Ryan’s plan is indirect. She voted against an Iowa state Senate resolution that expressed opposition to the Ryan plan in 2011, which, unlike his current plan, didn’t give future beneficiaries the option of selecting a traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan. Ernst’s website says she “opposes any efforts to change the promised benefits for today’s seniors.”

Full story: “Midterm Medicare Mudslinging,” Oct. 3


Claim: Braley is backed by an environmental activist who “stands to profit by blocking” the Keystone XL pipeline.

Facts: This is inaccurate. It is based on outdated information about the investments of Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Climate Action group has run TV ads against Braley’s GOP challengers.

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, gave up ownership of Farallon Capital Management at the end of 2012 to pursue a career in environmental activism. Farallon invested hundreds of millions in oil and gas companies, including Kinder Morgan, an energy company that owns a pipeline that would be an alternative to Keystone if the latter project didn’t come to fruition, according to industry analysts.

So, in the not-too-distant past — 2012 — Steyer could have stood to profit if the Keystone pipeline project had been blocked. However, Steyer instructed Farallon to divest his personal holdings of money in tar sands and coal when he left the company. More important, his old hedge fund no longer has any holdings in that pipeline company.

The ad, from the conservative American Crossroads super PAC, also implies that Braley opposes the pipeline project because NextGen is spending millions to help him defeat Ernst. Braley initially voiced support for the pipeline in 2012, but has been opposed to it since at least May 2013, when he voted against authorizing the northern leg of the project. Braley says he’s opposed to the project because it threatens renewable energy jobs in Iowa and because there’s no guarantee the oil transported by the pipeline would stay in the United States.

There’s no evidence of any quid pro quo between Braley and the billionaire environmentalist.

Full Story: “Special Interest Battle in Midwest Races,” Sept. 23

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

Grimes Ad Misses the Mark on McConnell http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/grimes-ad-misses-the-mark-on-mcconnell/ Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:22:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89872 Thought you’d seen it all this political season? An ad from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes criticizes Sen. Mitch McConnell for his vote on a bill that President Obama praised, and even thanked McConnell by name for supporting.

The Grimes ad says McConnell “even voted to end the payroll tax credit” and refers in small print to McConnell’s vote in favor of the fiscal cliff deal that permanently extended the Bush tax cuts for most but allowed a temporary payroll tax cut to expire. All but three Democrats also voted for the bill, and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday was even  supported by the likes of Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House.

The ad also paints McConnell as “a multimillionaire who voted repeatedly for pay raises for himself and other senators.” But the ad is cherry-picking, ignoring other votes McConnell has cast to prevent automatic pay increases for members of Congress. And the fact that McConnell is a multimillionaire has less to do with his congressional pay and much more to do with his wife’s money.

As the Kentucky Senate race heads into the final weeks, recent polls suggest it will be a tight race right to the finish.  Both campaigns this week released a flurry of new ads attacking each other.

This latest Grimes ad, titled “Hurting Us,” stretches the facts to make the point that McConnell has enriched himself while voting against bills that could boost the economic well-being of Kentuckians.

Narrator: “Who is Mitch McConnell working for? He’s a multimillionaire who voted repeatedly for pay raises for himself and other senators. And for Kentucky families? McConnell voted 17 times against raising the minimum wage, opposed tax credits for small businesses that create jobs, and even voted to end the payroll tax credit, costing families an extra $2,000 a year. Mitch McConnell: taking care of himself, hurting us.”

The Payroll Tax Credit

We’ll address each of the ad’s claims, but let’s start with the claim that McConnell “even voted to end the payroll tax credit.”

At issue is the payroll tax holiday enacted in 2011 as part of the bipartisan agreement to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. Proposed by President Obama to provide some recession relief, it reduced the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for a year, saving a family earning $50,000 a year about $1,000. McConnell voted in favor of it.

A second round of congressional haggling began the following year, when the payroll tax holiday was set to expire. Both Democrats and Republicans — including McConnell — professed to want to extend it for a year, but there was a partisan disagreement over how to pay for it. McConnell balked at a Democratic plan that called for paying for the tax cut with a new 3.25 percent tax on income over $1 million. McConnell said at the time he would support a payroll tax cut so long as there was no tax increase to pay for it.

Indeed, McConnell ended up supporting a bipartisan compromise bill in February 2012 that extended the payroll tax holiday for another year, but was not offset with a tax increase on millionaires (or any other taxes or spending cuts).

So it can be said that McConnell voted for the bill that initiated what was promoted at the time as a temporary, one-year payroll tax holiday. And with the economy continuing to flounder, he voted the following year to extend it for another year.

This brings us to early 2013 and the vote cited in the Grimes ad.

Leading up to the vote, the White House and top Democrats sent mixed signals about whether they wanted to extend the payroll tax cut for yet another year.

In September 2012, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testified before a Senate Budget Committee that he thought it was time for the payroll tax holiday to go.

New York Times, Sept. 30, 2012: “This has to be a temporary tax cut,” said Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, testifying before the Senate Budget Committee this year and voicing the view of many in the White House and on Capitol Hill. “I don’t see any reason to consider supporting its extension.”

The same New York Times article noted that “Nancy Pelosi of California, the top House Democrat, has told reporters she thinks it should expire.”

In an article on Nov. 29, 2012, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was attempting to put a payroll tax extension back in play in negotiations with Republicans. But it’s unclear how hard the administration ultimately pushed. As we noted in a story about the fiscal cliff negotiations that year, extending the payroll tax cut was not part of Obama’s 2013 budget. And whether it was part of the Obama administration’s initial fiscal cliff proposal is a bit fuzzy. As we reported on Dec. 5, the president’s opening offer in the fiscal cliff negotiations included $200 billion in new stimulus spending. At that time, Treasury declined to give us a detailed list of proposals for new spending, but it did confirm published reports that some of the elements of the stimulus plan might include an extension of the payroll tax holiday.

In any event, an extension of the payroll tax cut was not included in the fiscal cliff compromise deal — known as the  American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 — that was reached on New Year’s Day in 2013. McConnell voted for the bipartisan deal, which permanently extended Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except for individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000 a year. Technically, it was not a “vote to end” the payroll tax holiday. The 2012 payroll tax cut contained a sunset provision, and it was simply allowed to expire. But the compromise deal had the same effect.

The fiscal cliff deal was praised by President Obama in an address that same day.

Obama, Jan. 1, 2013: Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America.

Obama even thanked by name those who he said helped forge the bipartisan agreement — including McConnell.

Obama, Jan. 1, 2013: I want to thank all the leaders of the House and Senate. In particular, I want to thank the work that was done by my extraordinary vice president, Joe Biden, as well as Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell. Everybody worked very hard on this and I appreciate it.

Obama made no mention of the expiration of the payroll tax holiday in his speech.

Only three Democratic senators voted against the bill, and two of them — Michael Bennet and Tom Carper — made no mention of the expiration of the payroll tax holiday as a sticking point in statements explaining their votes. In other words, while the ad rightly notes that McConnell voted for a bill that did not extend the payroll tax holiday, the same could be said of all but three Democratic senators, and Obama, for that matter, since he signed it.

Pay Raises

The Grimes ad also dubs McConnell a “multimillionaire” and pairs that fact with the claim that he “voted repeatedly for pay raises for himself and other senators.”

We looked into McConnell’s record on voting for pay raises back in June 2013 when the Democratic groups Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA ran an ad claiming that McConnell voted four times to raise his own pay. We confirmed that McConnell voted against a 2009 appropriations bill with a provision eliminating the pay raise scheduled to take effect in 2010, and that he cast votes in 2001, 2002 and 2003 to block amendments to bills that would have prevented adjustments in fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively. The Grimes ad cites those same four votes.

But we also concluded the claim “simply ignores other votes he has cast to prevent automatic pay increases for members of Congress” including measures that blocked pay increases in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The ad is also deceptively worded when it links the pay raises to the fact that McConnell is a multimillionaire. The Center for Responsive Politics ranks McConnell as the 10th wealthiest senator, with a net worth somewhere between $9.2 million and $36.5 million (based on the value ranges of assets from financial disclosure forms).

But as our fact-checking colleague at the Washington Post Glenn Kessler notes, the bulk of McConnell’s wealth comes via an inheritance (valued at between $5 million and $25 million, according to McConnell’s 2008 financial disclosure statement) from the mother of McConnell’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as income earned by his wife. So McConnell is a multimillionaire, but not because of Senate pay raises he once supported.

Tax Credits for Small Businesses

Finally, the ad says McConnell “opposed tax credits for small businesses that create jobs” and in small print cites Senate roll call vote 177 on July 12, 2012. That was a vote against cloture that effectively denied a vote on the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, a bill that sought to provide incentives to hire new employees by giving businesses a 10 percent income tax credit on new payroll.

In its backup for the ad, the Grimes campaign cites a July 12, 2012, Washington Post story that says the Democratic plan for small-business tax breaks got caught up in a partisan “procedural debate over how and when the Senate should vote on a broader proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year.”

McConnell’s campaign says he preferred a Republican alternative for small-business tax relief, one originally proposed by then-Rep. Eric Cantor in the House. The Cantor alternative was offered as an amendment to replace the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, but it was tabled by a vote of 73-24. The alternative plan would have allowed businesses with fewer than 500 employees to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their active business income earned in the U.S., a cut that would have provided about $46 billion in tax relief to small businesses.

The McConnell campaign argues the Republican alternative would have provided meaningful relief, while the Democratic plan would not. We take no position in the political debate over which plan would have provided more small-business tax relief. We only note that there were different visions for small-business tax relief, and McConnell preferred the Republican one. The vote against the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act fell almost entirely along partisan lines, with just two Republicans supporting it, and one Democrat against it.

As for the ad’s claim that McConnell has voted 17 times against raising the minimum wage, McConnell has been consistently outspoken about his opposition to raising the federal minimum wage, arguing that it is a job-killer. For some flavor of McConnell’s position, see a transcript of his speech from the Senate floor when in April he successfully filibustered a Democratic bill that sought to raise the minimum wage, saying it could result in job losses.

 – Robert Farley

Crossroads Skips Context in Colorado http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/crossroads-skips-context-in-colorado/ Wed, 22 Oct 2014 22:46:03 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89902 The conservative group Crossroads GPS attacks Colorado Sen. Mark Udall for saying the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant isn’t an “imminent threat” to the United States. The ad leaves off the rest of the senator’s remarks and then cites a news article that actually supports what Udall said.

Udall went on to say, “But if we don’t respond to the threat it represents, they will be a threat to this country.” And a USA Today article cited on-screen in the Crossroads ad quotes Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as telling the newspaper that the terrorist group isn’t a threat to the homeland “at this point.”

The ad, which is airing on a $3.5 million buy, according to the New York Times, features a woman named Melissa, a mother of five and a Marine, who says she worries about her kids’ “future and safety.” She says it “bothered” her when Udall said this, and a clip is shown of Udall saying, “that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation.”

That’s a truncated quote from the senator during an early September debate. Here are the fuller remarks:

Udall, Sept. 6 debate: I said last week that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation, and it doesn’t. I sit on the armed services committee and intelligence committee. But if we don’t respond to the threat it represents, they will be a threat to this country.

Udall went on to say that the U.S. should respond by standing together, not playing politics. He said, “We are pushing back ISIL right now as we sit here with airstrikes and special forces in Iraq.” And he said Arab nations and moderate Sunnis should “stand up and rub out this threat that’s in their midst.”

Udall didn’t dismiss ISIL as nothing to worry about. Instead, he said the terrorist group wasn’t an “imminent” threat to the U.S. but will be in the future if the country doesn’t respond in the Middle East now.

This isn’t the only attack ad to pick up on the Udall quote. The NRSC highlighted it in an ad also portraying Udall as soft on terrorism, as did Udall’s Republican opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner.

But the Crossroads ad is the only one to actually cite a news article that supports what Udall said. While the woman in the ad says, “As a mom and a Marine, I know the danger is closer to home than Sen. Udall seems to think,” an on-screen graphic cites an August USA Today article headlined, “Returning Islamic State fighters could threaten USA.” That article quotes experts saying that an attack on U.S. soil isn’t an imminent threat, but there’s concern about what could happen if fighters holding Western passports return home.

USA Today, Aug. 28, 2014: After U.S. planes bombed its forces in Iraq, the jihadist juggernaut that calls itself the Islamic State threatened to attack Americans “in any place,” adding for good measure: “We will drown all of you in blood.”

For now, facing a multi-front war and bombs falling on their fighters’ heads, the Islamic State’s leaders probably lack the time and opportunity to plot a strike on the U.S. homeland.

That could change if thousands of fighters with Western passports return home, terrorism analysts warn.

“Right now, they have plenty of other things to worry about and bigger fish to fry,” says Mia Bloom, an expert on suicide terrorism. But “everybody’s worried about what happens when these guys come back” – especially after the U.S. bombing. …

An attack could come later from returning fighters, experts say, or sooner from Americans who’ve never been to the Middle East but are inspired by Islamic State propaganda.

But the thrust of the Islamic State’s polished online recruiting pitch is to come on over and join the fight, not to stay home and plot terrorism.

The article does include quotes from two former military and intelligence officials who expressed a greater concern over an attack on U.S. soil. Gen. John Allen, former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the Islamic State was “a clear and present danger to the U.S,” and former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin told the paper the group’s rivalry with al Qaeda makes an attack on the U.S. more likely, because “success would contrast sharply with al-Qaeda’s inability to pull off another major attack here after 9/11.”

But then the paper quotes the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying that the Islamic State isn’t a threat to the homeland “at this point.”

USA Today, Aug. 28, 2014: The Islamic State is not a threat to the homeland “at this point,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told USA TODAY. Unchecked, however, it will threaten Israel and Europe, he said, describing the group’s world view as virtually “apocalyptic. … This is not a group that can stop. It has to stay on the offensive.”

The woman in the ad says, “I know the danger is closer to home than Sen. Udall seems to think,” but Dempsey’s comments back up Udall.

There can be a difference of opinion over whether ISIL poses a threat to U.S. interests and allies, or an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland. But this ad implies that Udall doesn’t think ISIL is a threat at all, and that’s not accurate.

The ad ends with the woman correctly citing the Denver Post editorial that endorsed Gardner. She says Udall was “running a single-issue campaign that insults all of us.” Indeed, the editorial board wrote of Udall’s focus on advertising claims that Gardner wanted to ban birth control: Udall’s “obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince.”

– Lori Robertson

NRSC Distorts Braley Tax Record http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/nrsc-distorts-braley-tax-record/ Wed, 22 Oct 2014 18:21:54 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89882 In Iowa, a Republican ad claims that Democratic Senate nominee Bruce Braley “voted to raise taxes on every single Iowa taxpayer.” That badly distorts Braley’s clearly stated position. The fact is, Braley voted most recently to raise taxes on only about the top 1 percent, while keeping federal income taxes the same for all who are less affluent.

Braley consistently favored holding income-tax rates steady for all but individuals making more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 for couples. The vote cited by the ad is one Braley cast in the House in 2010 as a protest against extending Bush tax cuts for another two years for the more affluent — which Braley called “a Christmas bonanza to the privileged few” — as a condition for extending the cuts for the less affluent.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released the ad Oct. 21. The narrator says that “even Obama thinks Braley is too extreme on taxes,” and goes on to cite Braley’s vote on Dec. 17, 2010, against a tax bill that represented a compromise between Obama and congressional Republicans. Braley was one of 112 House Democrats who opposed the measure (as did 36 House Republicans).

Had the bill failed, the Bush tax cuts might have lapsed on schedule on Jan. 1, 2011, for “every single” taxpayer, as the ad claims — assuming no other compromise was worked out. As it happened, the bill passed by a more than comfortable margin of 277 to 148.

In the end the measure had the support of most House Democrats, and once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed it to go to the floor, there was little doubt it would pass. (She later grumbled that Republicans were forcing Democrats “to pay a king’s ransom in order to help the middle class.”) That made Braley’s 2010 vote little more than symbolic.

Braley had spelled out his reasons several days before in a news release dated Dec. 9:

Braley, Dec. 9, 2010: As the tax cut package takes shape, I want to reiterate my support for a tax cut extension for every American family on incomes up to $250,000. I continue to fight for an extension of unemployment benefits, especially during the holiday season. I remain extremely concerned that extending Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthiest 2% of Americans will explode the deficit.

I continue to fight to cut taxes for Iowa’s families and working to ensure our future generations are not saddled with extreme debt. I look forward to reading the legislative language produced on the bill to make a firm decision on these provisions.

And during debate on the measure, Braley reiterated that he opposed any increase in taxes on the majority of taxpayers, saying the deal included at least an $81 billion tax break for “the wealthiest people in this country.” As recorded in the Congressional Record:

Braley, Dec. 17, 2010: Mr. Chairman, today, the House will vote on a bill that will explode the deficit by $858 billion. While this package includes several programs I have proudly supported, I cannot support the underlying bill.

As recently as last week, I voted to give every American a tax cut by making the middle class tax cuts permanent for the millions of American families, consumers, and small-business owners who drive our economy. I have consistently voted to extend unemployment insurance to assist the families struggling in this difficult time.

Those were some of the good things included in this deal. Unfortunately, the merits of these good things do not outweigh the bad things in this deal. I cannot justify mortgaging our children’s futures to provide a Christmas bonanza to the privileged few. I refuse to support increasing the deficit by at least $81 billion to provide a tax break to the wealthiest people in this country. I refuse to support a bill that would balloon the deficit by $23 billion to provide an average tax break of more than $1.5 million to only 6,600 families a year.

That is why I am voting “no,”‘ and I urge you to do the same.

Whether that vote makes Braley “extreme” or not is a matter of opinion. Obama himself said when he signed the bill that “there are some elements of this legislation that I don’t like,” so the difference between him and Braley may not be as wide as the NRSC ad would have viewers believe. Obama, like Braley, wanted tax rates increased on those making more than $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples. But Republicans insisted on continuing the Bush cuts even for the most affluent, and Obama gave in.

There’s no question, however, that Braley and Obama were indeed on opposite sides on this bill. The president supported the bill in order to get a temporary, one-year 2 percentage point reduction in the Social Security payroll tax as an economic stimulus measure, as well as a 13-month extension of federal unemployment benefits. (Unemployment was still at 9.8 percent in November of that year.) But, as the Washington Post reported Dec. 7, 2010, in a story cited on screen in the NRSC ad, the president’s “liberal supporters are furious about the decision” to compromise with Republicans on extending tax cuts for higher-income taxpayers. Braley was among those holding out for a tax hike on top earners.

But just because Braley cast a protest vote against that bill doesn’t mean that he favored raising everybody’s income taxes. In fact, he clearly didn’t. Furthermore, had the bill failed, further negotiations could well have led to a different compromise that Braley might have supported. And in fact, just such a compromise followed a little more than two years later when the “fiscal cliff” deal raised tax rates only on those earning more than $400,000 a year ($450,000 for couples) effective in 2013.

That bill raised taxes on even fewer affluent Americans than Obama or Braley wanted. But Braley voted for the bill anyway — extending tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans and raising taxes only on about the top 1 percent. (According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent of income earners took in a minimum of $434,000 each, and the average was much higher, in 2010 for a two-person household.) Braley was among 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans who supported that legislation.

– Brooks Jackson

Aiken’s Attack Ad Is Off-Key http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/aikens-attack-ad-is-off-key/ Tue, 21 Oct 2014 21:02:12 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89833 Clay Aiken’s latest attack ad against incumbent Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers hits a couple of bad notes.

  • Aiken falsely claims Ellmers “voted against the payroll tax cut because she thought $1,000 out of your pocket is not that much money.” She voted against a two-month extension because it wasn’t long enough, and helped craft a bipartisan bill that extended the payroll tax holiday for one year.
  • Aiken also says Ellmers failed to “stop a Fort Bragg Air Wing from being moved out of state,” because she missed a deadline for filing a bill amendment with the House Rules Committee. But that had nothing to do with the amendment not coming up for a floor vote. More important, the airlift wing hasn’t moved, and Ellmers is still fighting to keep it from being relocated.

Aiken, a Democrat best known nationally for his runner-up finish on American Idol in 2003, is fighting an uphill battle to unseat the incumbent. Redistricting has given Republicans a decided advantage in North Carolina’s 2nd District, and a flash poll in late September showed Ellmers ahead, but with Aiken making a race of it.

Payroll Tax

In his latest ad, Aiken makes the argument that Washington has changed Ellmers.

“We all hope people go to Congress with good intentions,” Aiken says in direct-to-camera appeal. “But after Renee Ellmers got there, she voted against the payroll tax cut because she thought $1,000 out of your pocket is not that much money.” That’s a gross distortion of Ellmers’ position.

The payroll tax holiday enacted in 2011 reduced the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. The temporary recession relief was set to expire at the end of 2011, setting off a contentious round of partisan congressional haggling.

The Aiken ad cites a Dec. 21, 2011, report on Time Warner Cable News on the House rejecting a Senate plan to extend payroll tax cuts for two months, with Ellmers joining the Republican majority. But as the accompanying interview with Ellmers indicates, her position was exactly the opposite of what Aiken suggests. In the interview, she explains that instead of a two-month extension, she and other House Republicans preferred extending it for a full year.

“We’re all about the year extension,” Ellmers said in the TWCN report. “That’s what we voted in the House of Representatives. … We’re just not in agreement that a two-month or eight-week extension, as the Senate has passed back to us, is acceptable.”

In the interview, Ellmers did refer to the payroll tax extension — which she estimated at $1,000 a year for the average American — as “not that much money for anyone.” But contrary to the Aiken ad’s suggestion that Ellmers wanted to nix the tax cut because it wasn’t that much money, the context of the interview makes clear that Ellmers was saying it was “not that much money” when compared with the comprehensive tax reform changes she and other Republicans envision.

Ellmers, Dec. 21, 2011: Well, the thing is, the payroll tax extension is not that much money for anyone. For a year, it’s about $1,000 for the average American. … So the point is that this isn’t really the way to go about good tax reform. We just want to make sure that over the year, in the economy we’re in, we’re not taking money out of those pockets. But what we’re working for is good, sustainable tax reform that’s flatter, fairer, that really is much simpler, and this will just lead up to that. So I’m for this in the sense that I don’t want to do any more harm to anyone. But the real goal here is good tax reform that we can all work on.

Her fuller comments also make clear that Ellmers believed an extension of the payroll tax cut was critical as the country continued to struggle to get out of a recession.

“We’ve got to give the people of North Carolina that reassurance moving forward into 2012 that they’re going to keep that money in their pockets,” Ellmers said.

In rejecting the Senate plan, House Republicans were pushing for a year-long extension, and had hoped to include provisions to pay for it with higher Medicare premiums on upper-income senior citizens, as well as a measure to fast-track a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

But two days later, House Republicans relented and unanimously agreed to a two-month extension, with the promise of negotiating a longer-term agreement early in 2012. And, in fact, as a conference committee member, Ellmers helped to craft a compromise agreement in February 2012 to extend the payroll tax cut until the end of 2012. Ellmers, of course,  voted for that bill.

The payroll tax holiday was allowed to expire at the end of 2012, with neither Republicans nor Democrats fighting for its inclusion in the so-called fiscal cliff deal reached in January 2013.

Fighting for Bragg Air Wing

In the ad, Aiken also criticizes Ellmers because “she didn’t stop a Fort Bragg Air Wing from being moved out of state, which will hurt our local economy.”

But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Ellmers’ part.

After President Obama’s 2015 budget proposal called for deactivating the 440th Airlift Wing at Fort Bragg as a cost-cutting measure, Ellmers joined a bipartisan group from the North Carolina delegation that sent a letter in March to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey urging them to reconsider. The following month, Ellmers made a similar appeal during testimony at a House Armed Services Committee.

And in May, Ellmers introduced an amendment to the 2015 defense authorization bill to spare Fort Bragg’s 440th Airlift Wing from being deactivated or relocated. The amendment was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of North Carolina congressmen, Democratic Reps. David Price and Mike McIntyre and Republican Rep. Richard Hudson.

In its support for the ad, the Aiken campaign argues that it’s not so much that Ellmers hasn’t advocated for saving the airlift wing, it’s that she botched those efforts. The Aiken campaign cited a May 22 story in the Fayetteville Observer that said Ellmers’ amendment “was submitted late, according to the House Armed Services Committee.”

The Rules Committee website does, in fact, note that Ellmers’ amendment was filed late. But that’s not as calamitous as it sounds. The fact that it was filed late did not preclude it from being considered. There were 322 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 submitted for consideration. Of them, 32 are listed as “late” — most of them later than Ellmers’ proposed amendment — and yet 15 of them were “made in order,” meaning they were allowed by the Rules Committee to be voted on by the full House. The Rules Committee decided not to allow Ellmers’ amendment to be debated on the floor and voted on.

“Typically, we mark amendments when they have been submitted late,” a Rules Committee spokesman told us in a phone interview. “But the fact that it is late does not have any bearing on whether it is ‘made in order’ or not. The lateness factor does not preclude an amendment.”

So why did the Rules Committee decide not to allow the Ellmers amendment to move forward? There were hundreds of amendments to the NDAA, the spokesman said, and “we don’t normally get into why a particular amendment is ‘made in order’ or not.”

“We’re not sure why the Rules Committee rejected it,” said Lawrence Kluttz, a spokesman for Price, a Democrat who co-sponsored the amendment. “But it was not because it was submitted late. There were other amendments submitted late that were allowed to be considered on the floor.”

The ad also makes it sound like the airlift wing already has been moved out of the state, and that hasn’t happened — at least not yet.

“Number one, it’s still there,” Patrick Sebastian, an Ellmers campaign spokesman told us in a phone interview. “For Aiken to act as if the airlift is gone, he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Whatever happens in the future happens, but [Ellmers] is working hard with other legislators in North Carolina to keep the airlift wing in North Carolina.”

An amendment authored in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has at least delayed the proposed move until 60 days after the Air Force provides justification for it.

In the same interview highlighted in the ad, Ellmers vowed that despite the failure of her proposed amendment, she would keep up the fight.

“We’re not going to let this issue go. I feel very strongly – that not only for military readiness, but also to the economy of the Fayetteville area is dependent on that unit staying together,” Ellmers told TWCN.

 – Robert Farley

FactChecking the Michigan Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-michigan-senate-race/ Tue, 21 Oct 2014 17:23:53 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89687 The Michigan Senate race pits Democratic Rep. Gary Peters against Republican Terri Lynn Land, a former Michigan secretary of state, to replace the retiring Sen. Carl Levin. The two candidates have faced plenty of attacks from outside spending groups, who have poured enough money into the race to make it the seventh highest in terms of outside dollars.

In fact, those groups — not the candidates themselves — have so far been the focus of our fact-checking efforts. False and misleading claims have centered on taxes, equal pay for women, health care, outsourcing jobs, Medicare and energy.

The latest polls show the race tilting in Peters’ favor.


Claim: On Peters’ watch “Michigan gas taxes [were] siphoned off by Washington instead of staying [in Michigan] and being spent on Michigan’s crumbling roads.”

Facts: Despite what a Land campaign ad says, Michigan has received slightly more than $1 worth of highway funding for every $1 collected of federal gasoline taxes earmarked for highways.

The Land ad makes it seem like Michigan is getting back less in highway funding than its residents pay in gasoline taxes. But the Federal Highway Administration reported that, in 2012, Michigan received $1.03 in highway funding for every senatebattle$1 in federal highway gasoline taxes collected in the state. Michigan’s return on investment was even better in 2010 and 2011, according to the FHA, when the state received $1.30 and $1.20 in highway funding for every $1, respectively.

It turns out Land’s point isn’t just about return on investment, but also increasing local control of highway spending. She advocates a plan to gradually reduce the federal gas tax and replace it with a state tax, giving states more control over the money.

The federal government currently collects a tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and puts it into the Highway Trust Fund. Out of every 18.4 cents, 15.44 cents are allocated to state departments of transportation to “design, construct, improve and preserve” major roads. The money can’t be used for routine maintenance, such as repairing potholes, which are shown in Land’s ad.

Full story: “Trading Jabs in Michigan,” Aug. 29


Claim: Land “said guaranteeing equal pay for women who do the same work as men is not a good idea.”

Facts: The DSCC ad making this claim takes Land’s words out of context.

The ad cites an April 12 article from the Wall Street Journal, which made it clear that Land’s “not a good idea” comment was referring to the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democratic bill, not to the idea of equal pay. The article even noted Land’s stated support for “the principle of equal pay for women.”

As the Journal explains, the bill “which was blocked by Senate Republicans, would have allowed employees to discuss their pay without potential retaliation and required employers to show that salary differences aren’t based on gender bias.” Land said she opposed the bill because “that would require that businesses have to post the pay of each individual so it was public. … I don’t think you should have to have everyone know what your pay is.”

People may disagree with her — or object to her ill-informed belief that the bill would have required employers to post employees’ pay — but Land never said “guaranteeing equal pay for women who do the same work as men is not a good idea.”

Full story: “Trading Jabs in Michigan,” Aug. 29


Claim: Peters, who opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, is backed by environmental activist Tom Steyer, who “stands to profit by blocking Keystone.”

Facts: The claim that Steyer would profit from the Keystone pipeline is based on outdated information.

Steyer does oppose the Keystone XL pipeline for environmental reasons, and Peters voted against the project in May 2013. It’s also true that Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action group backs Peters, and had spent $3.6 million against Land as of Oct. 20. Until 2012, Steyer owned Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund that invested in Kinder Morgan, an energy company that owns a pipeline that runs from Canadian tar sands to Pacific ports. This pipeline would be an alternative if the Keystone project fizzled. So, in the not-too-distant past, Steyer might have profited if the Keystone pipeline project had been blocked.

But when he left Farallon, Steyer instructed the company to divest his personal holdings of money in tar sands, coal, oil and natural gas. In 2013 he pledged to donate profits he had received from the Kinder Morgan investment to environmental disaster relief, and in 2014 he announced that he and his wife would put $2 million in a new Climate Disaster Relief Fund to help victims of extreme weather including wildfires. And Farallon no longer has any holdings in Kinder Morgan.

Full story: “Special Interest Battle in Midwest Races,” Sept. 23


Claim: Health insurance premiums are up “by nearly 40 percent” in Michigan.

Facts: Americans for Prosperity uses this figure, which comes with several caveats, from an unscientific survey. This wouldn’t be the first time that the conservative group founded by businessman David Koch misused the survey.

The ad attacks Peters for his support of the Affordable Care Act and suggests health insurance premiums are going up by nearly 40 percent for everyone in Michigan. That’s simply not the case. Premiums for employer-sponsored plans, where most Americans (and Michiganders) get their coverage, have gone up an average of 5.9 percent per year since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, while they went up 4.8 percent on average per year in the five years before the law. AFP’s claim concerns the no more than 5 percent of Michiganders in the individual market.

Small print in the ad cites an April 7 story in Forbes, which is about a survey of 148 insurance brokers taken by Morgan Stanley to help guide investor decisions about stock purchases. A state-by-state chart suggests a 35.6 percent increase in rates in the individual market in Michigan in 2014, according to responses from just six insurance brokers in the state.

Robert Santos, senior methodologist at the Urban Institute and past president of the executive council at the American Association for Public Opinion Research, told us that the survey has no scientific validity with regard to the aggregated nationwide results. He also said that “anyone would be on very tenuous ground in trying to make a state-specific inference” from the survey. A small notation below the state chart uses technical jargon to warn the same thing.

And even if the figure were accurate, it doesn’t account for improved coverage or government subsidies, which 80 percent of those in the new individual market exchanges are expected to receive.

Full story: “AFP Misuses Survey Again,” May 30.


Claim: A Michigan family’s “new plan is not affordable at all” under the ACA.

Facts: Another Americans for Prosperity ad features a Michigan mom, Shannon Wendt, who says her family’s “new plan is not affordable at all.” Her case is actually an example of how middle-class families can benefit from the health care law — if they choose to do so.

The ad leaves the false impression that the Wendt family obtained its costly new insurance plan through the federal exchange set up by the ACA. Rather, the family’s “new plan” is a temporary plan that does not meet the ACA requirements. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offered the plan to customers who had their old policies canceled but did not want to purchase insurance on the exchange. It turns out that Wendt found a cheaper, subsidized plan on the exchange, but declined to accept it because she did not want her children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, even though they were eligible. HealthCare.gov explains that a family cannot receive subsidies to help buy insurance on the exchange if the children in the family are CHIP-eligible and they do not sign up.

We found that a Michigan family of seven similar to the Wendts could get a “silver” plan with the same coinsurance as the Wendts’ current plan, a monthly premium that would be roughly the same and an annual deductible far below their current $10,000 deductible. Plus, such a family would be eligible for subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket expenses to around $3,000 — which could represent a significant savings since Shannon Wendt told MLive.com, a Michigan news website, that her family paid $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses last year.

Full story: “Misleading Anti-Obamacare Ad in Michigan,” March 31


Claim: Land “supports a plan that would end the Medicare guarantee.”

Facts: A DSCC ad misrepresents Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan to make this false claim about Land. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t end the guarantee of Medicare benefits, nor would it take away any particular benefits that are currently “guaranteed.”

Instead, Ryan’s plan, which he first included in his 2011 House budget, called for a transition to a premium-support system in which people currently under 55, once eligible for Medicare, would get government subsidies for a selection of insurance plans on a Medicare exchange. The private plans offered would have to include minimum benefits equivalent to those covered by traditional Medicare. The 2011 version of Ryan’s plan didn’t include traditional Medicare as an option on that exchange, but his plan the subsequent year, and every year since, has. His proposals also have grown increasingly more generous in terms of how that premium-support subsidy increases over time.

Land expressed support for the 2012 Republican Platform, which among other things called for a premium-support system like Ryan’s plan.

Democrats have made similar claims against Republicans in many congressional races.

Full story: “Midterm Medicare Mudslinging,” Oct. 3


Claim: Peters, who was the state lottery commissioner from 2003 to 2007, “outsourced millions in contracts out of state, and even to China.”

Facts: Ending Spending Action Fund made this distorted claim, wrongly implying that the outsourcing cost Michigan jobs, and blaming Peters for an out-of-state contract in place before he became lottery commissioner.

The ad cites a 2005 article from the Detroit News about the state purchasing 6 million pencils for the lottery from a Chinese manufacturer for $210,000. According to the state’s purchasing director, Sean Carlson, no Michigan jobs were lost because no state-based company bid on the contract or even made such pencils at the time. The contract actually saved taxpayers $90,000.

The ad also cites a Feb. 12, 2007, article in the Coldwater Daily Reporter that discussed the Michigan Lottery’s contracts with GTECH, a Rhode Island lottery operating company that Bloomberg News described as “the world’s biggest supplier of lottery systems.” GTECH has been the state’s lottery operator since 1988, so the company already held the contract when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Peters commissioner on April 9, 2003. In June 2003, after Peters was appointed commissioner, the Michigan Lottery exercised an option to extend GTECH’s contract through 2009. No Michigan jobs were at stake because no Michigan companies competed for this highly specialized work.

Full story: “Jackpot Ad Is a Loser,” Sept. 25


Claim: Peters backed “carbon taxes” that would have “killed up to 96,000 Michigan jobs.”

Facts: Peters didn’t support a carbon tax. Rather, he supported cap-and-trade legislation that independent analyses said would cause a small reduction in employment.

The Land ad cites Peters’ vote for H.R. 2454, also known as the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which would have required polluters to have allowances, or permits, in order to emit carbon dioxide. The bill passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate. A carbon tax, while having a similar goal to cap-and-trade (reducing emissions), would instead be a direct tax on the carbon content of oil, gas and coal. Such a tax is politically unpopular, and legislation that would institute it hasn’t moved out of committee.

The 96,000-jobs figure used by the Land campaign comes from a 2013 National Association of Manufacturers analysis of two hypothetical carbon tax proposals, not Waxman-Markey. We looked at Waxman-Markey back in 2009 and determined that the bill would have caused a loss of jobs, but opponents — including the NAM— were exaggerating the likely impact. Independent experts and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the cap-and-trade legislation could have led to a small loss of jobs.

Full story: “Peters’ ‘War’ on Michigan Jobs?” May 30

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

Student Loan Stretching http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/student-loan-stretching/ Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:25:00 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89775 Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton mischaracterizes the Affordable Care Act’s impact on student loans, and a teachers union stretches Cotton’s voting record on the issue.

Cotton says the ACA “nationalized the student loan industry” and implied students can’t get private loans from their local banks anymore. Not exactly. Plenty of banks offer private education loans, and the federal student loan program always has been a government program.

Before the ACA, about half of federal student loans originated with private lenders while being guaranteed by the government. Now, the government is both the lender and the guarantor. The move saves $61 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

An ad from the National Education Association Advocacy Fund attacks Cotton on this topic, saying that he “voted to end low-interest student loans.” He didn’t. The vote in question was on a Republican budget that called for ending federal subsidies for need-based Stafford loans. The subsidies cover the cost of interest payments while students are in school. The Republican budget didn’t call for ending the loan program, which includes unsubsidized Stafford loans at the same interest rate.

Nationalizing a Federal Program

At the Oct. 14 Arkansas Senate debate with Sen. Mark Pryor, Cotton mischaracterized the changes made to the federal student loan program by the reconciliation bill, which was part of the Affordable Care Act. He claimed the health care law “nationalized the student loan industry,” and made it so that students couldn’t have a mix of federal and private loans, as he did when he was a college student. He said the law “took that choice away from you so the bank where you have a checking account can’t help initiate a loan for you.”

Let’s start with the claim that the ACA “nationalized the student loan industry.” The federal government got into the student loan business with the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965. The loan provisions of the law were designed to, according to a Congressional Research Service report, “enhance access to postsecondary education for students from low- and middle-income families by providing them access to low-interest student loans.”

First came the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, in which loans originated with the private sector but were backed (guaranteed against default or in cases of death) by the federal government and offered at rates lower than the banks would normally give. In 1993, a direct loan program was created by separate legislation “with the goals of streamlining the student loan delivery system and achieving cost savings,” says CRS. That program, where the government directly lends the money, was supposed to gradually replace the FFEL program, but that plan was later nullified by subsequent legislation.

Colleges and universities chose which program they’d like to use, and students would get information on applying for a loan — specifically a Stafford loan for students or a PLUS loan for parents of dependent students — through college financial aid offices. From students’ perspective, for the most part, they “didn’t even recognize there were these two different programs working in tandem,” Beth Akers, a fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, told us. The difference was who sent a check to the school, and who sent students a bill once they graduated. Even then, loans originating with the government could be serviced by private banks, meaning the bills still came from the banks.

In 2010, the year the Affordable Care Act was enacted, CBO estimated that 55 percent of federal student loans originated with banks (what are called “guaranteed loans”), with the rest originating with the government as “direct loans.”

The share of bank-originated federal loans had been declining — it was 81 percent in 2008. The reasons were the financial crisis, which increased private lenders’ costs and led the Department of Education to buy new loans that had originated with private lenders. Uncertainty about the banks’ participation caused more schools to switch to the direct loan program. CBO estimated this decline would continue, with the guaranteed, or bank-originated, loans making up 40 percent of new federal loans in 2013.

But the ACA changed the program, making all new federal student loans direct loans. Specifically, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which passed the House by a vote of 253 to 171 in September 2009, was rolled into the reconciliation bill, which Democrats used to pass the health care law without risk of a filibuster. Under the student aid provisions, the government would cut out the middle-man — the private lenders, such as Sallie Mae — and all new loans would be direct ones from the government. CBO estimated the move would save taxpayers $61 billion over 10 years. More than half of that amount would go to the Pell Grant program for low-income students.

CBO’s report on the loan programs said that the FFEL program (in which banks originated the federal loans) was “significantly more costly for the federal budget.” Why? Mainly because payments to the lenders were set, by legislation, at a higher average amount than the cost of the direct loans, with the additional payment covering “the higher marketing and funding costs of the guaranteed loan program and the higher level of services that it offers to schools and students.” In other words, it’s cheaper for the government to lend the money directly instead of paying banks to do so.

The government still contracts with private banks to service student loans — meaning students may still send their payments to private banks — but banks no longer originate the loans. Cotton may oppose that change, but it’s misleading to say the ACA “nationalized” a student loan program that was a federal program in the first place.

As for students not being able to choose to get a private loan at “the bank where you have a checking account,” as Cotton said, that’s not accurate, either. Private banks offer student education loans, just as they did before the ACA.

And even under the pre-ACA federal program, students weren’t the ones who could choose whether their Stafford loans originated with a bank or the government — that choice was up to colleges and universities. A student couldn’t get a federal loan through his local bank unless the bank was part of the federal program and worked with the college or university in question. Akers says the banks, in the past, couldn’t discriminate against the student, but they could say they’d only lend to those attending certain institutions.

PNC Bank provides a chart on the differences between federal and private student loans. Students can borrow larger amounts privately, but need to have a credit check and likely a co-signer (neither are required for Stafford loans). The fixed interest rate is lower for the federal loan as well, though a variable-rate loan could dip below the Stafford’s current 4.66 percent fixed rate.

With subsidized Stafford loans, available based on income, the government covers the interest on the loan while a student is still in school and during any hardship deferment periods.

Cotton Wants to ‘End’ Low-Interest Loans?

The National Education Association Advocacy Fund launched an ad on Oct. 14 featuring Arkansas teacher Ashley Pledger saying, “Tom Cotton got federal student loans to help pay for his Harvard education, but now Cotton wants to end those same student aid programs. Tom Cotton would deprive Arkansas students the opportunities that helped him.”

On screen are the words, “Tom Cotton voted to end low-interest student loans.”

But the March 2013 vote cited — in favor of the Republican Study Committee budget resolution — wouldn’t have ended low-interest student loans. Instead, it called for ending subsidized Stafford loans, which are available to undergraduates to cover interest payments while they are in school. The proposal didn’t call for eliminating all Stafford loans (a little more than half are unsubsidized, says CBO) or PLUS loans the government provides for parents of undergraduate dependents. The RSC budget failed.

Cotton has said he had Stafford loans and private loans to help pay for his Harvard education. We don’t know whether Cotton received subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford loans. But either way, his vote wasn’t to “end low-interest student loans,” as all types of Stafford loans have the same interest rate.

In July last year, Cotton also voted against the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, a measure that reversed a doubling of student loan interest rates and changed the rate-setting system from one legislated by Congress to one tied to the market and capped. He was one of only six Republican House members to vote against the bill, which passed the House on a 392-31 vote and the Senate on an 81-18 vote.

The NEA ad doesn’t cite that vote, which could certainly be called a vote against lowering student loan interest rates. But it still wouldn’t be a vote to “end low-interest student loans,” nor would it be a vote to “end those same student aid programs” that benefited Cotton.

At the time of the vote on interest rates, Cotton said he favored “ending the federal-government monopoly on the student-lending business” and having “hometown banks work with students and families to finance higher education.”

Cotton, Aug. 1, 2013: A better path is to repeal Obamacare, which nationalized the student-loan business, and let Arkansas’s hometown banks work with students and families to finance higher education, just as they do with homes, farms, businesses, and other loans. I’m committed to bringing affordable higher education to every Arkansan and ending the federal-government monopoly on the student-lending business.

It’s unclear exactly what Cotton proposes for the federal student loan program. But if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, then the student loan program could go back to the days before the ACA, when about half of federal student loans originated with private banks and the other half with the federal government. However, that wouldn’t end the “federal-government monopoly” on student loans. The federal student loan program already had provided the vast majority of student education lending.

CBO’s 2010 report on the program said there wasn’t good data on the size of the private student loan market, but that one estimate showed the dollar value of such lending was about one-quarter the size of the federal lending program in 2007-2008. For fiscal year 2007, the federal loan program included $64.4 billion in lending for 14.3 million new loans. (For fiscal 2014, the Department of Education estimates new lending under the federal loan program would total $112.1 billion for 21.9 million loans.)

At the Oct. 14 debate, Cotton said, “I don’t want to eliminate the student loan program,” but that he wanted local banks to compete. He didn’t elaborate. We asked Cotton’s campaign for clarification and details on what Cotton supported in terms of the federal student loan program. We have not yet received a response.

The Brookings Institution’s Akers laid out for us the general arguments for and against having private banks originate the federal loans or having the government do so: Having the private sector involved could lead to efficiencies that come with competition for government grants or students’ business, but could be less stable, as happened during the 2008 financial crises. With the direct federal loans, that competition is eliminated but the stability, and potentially cost savings, is gained.

How best to structure and operate the federal student loan program would make for an interesting policy debate, but as often happens in political campaigns, voters in Arkansas are left instead with exaggerations and misrepresentations of the facts.

– Lori Robertson