FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:34:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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

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Jenkins Ads Mislead on Carbon Tax, Coal http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/jenkins-ads-mislead-on-carbon-tax-coal/ Fri, 17 Oct 2014 20:37:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89637 Two highly misleading ads from Republican Evan Jenkins leave the false impression that Rep. Nick Rahall is responsible for higher electric rates and personally profited from his votes in Congress:

  • Both ads imply that West Virginia’s electricity rates skyrocketed after Rahall voted for a budget resolution that called for a carbon tax. But the budget plan failed; no tax was ever implemented; and the 23.2 percent rate increase mentioned in one ad has nothing to do with a carbon tax.
  • One ad says Rahall took “bribes” in exchange for votes, “pocketing millions of dollars in return” for helping President Obama “kill coal.” But Rahall didn’t personally pocket any money. The ad cites editorials about Rahall’s out-of-state campaign contributions and lobbyist-paid trips. The editorials were written in 1994 and had nothing to do with coal or Obama.

Jenkins has proven to be a tough opponent for the Democratic incumbent, who has served in the House since 1977 and has represented West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District since 1993. The race is currently rated as a “toss-up” by the Rothenberg Political Report.

No Carbon Tax

In the Jenkins campaign ad “Bribes,” which went on the air Oct. 10, a narrator says Rahall “has gotten rich” in Congress and “he’ll never face the choice between feeding the kids or heating the home.” It goes on to say, “So when Rahall pushed a carbon tax raising electric rates, he wasn’t thinking about you.”

Another Jenkins campaign ad released earlier, on Oct. 1, also suggested that West Virginians’ utility bills have increased because of a carbon tax. That ad shows the words “power bills rise” and “carbon tax hits the poor” on screen, while the narrator says, “Nick Rahall’s carbon tax, sky high electric rates.” That’s followed by another graphic with “rate increase” and “23.2 percent” in quotes.

But no carbon tax has been implemented causing electricity rates to increase.

What Rahall voted for was the 2013 Congressional Progressive Caucus budget plan to create jobs and reduce the deficit. The proposal also called for a fee of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted by polluters, according to a summary of the plan. Under the proposal, the emissions fee would increase by 5.6 percent each year, and 25 percent of the revenue would be used as rebates to help shield low-income families from higher energy costs.

But the budget proposal failed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 327 to 84. Not one Republican voted for it, and more Democrats voted against it than in favor. Even if it had passed, the budget proposal was a nonbinding resolution, and the carbon tax proposal could not have been implemented without separate legislation.

Rahall told West Virginia’s Metro News that he did not vote for the budget because of the carbon tax proposal, but rather to make a statement against Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which Rahall opposed.

Even though Rahall’s vote could not have possibly resulted in higher electric bills, viewers see quotes from a newspaper article — “power bills rise” and “23.2 percent” – that have nothing to do with a carbon tax proposal at all. They come from a June story in the Charleston Gazette about two West Virginia utility companies asking a state commission to approve a 17 percent increase in electric power rates to increase company revenue.

Charleston Gazette, June 30: Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, both subsidiaries of American Electric Power, asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission on Monday to approve a 17 percent overall increase in electric power rates, which would raise the company’s revenue by $226 million.

Homeowners and individual customers could get higher rate increases than industrial and commercial consumers under the proposal Appalachian Power submitted on Monday. For example, residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would see their monthly power bills rise by 23.2 percent, or $21.77, to $115.77 from $94, according to a statement from the power company.

Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power, said in a Monday news release that increased revenues are needed to cover the costs of doing business.

“It includes things like storm restoration costs from the derecho [June 29, 2012] and Superstorm Sandy [Oct. 29, 2012], implementation of a right-of-way maintenance program to improve reliability and a return that is sufficient to attract capital. Ultimately, the commission will determine the outcome of the request,” Patton said.

The “carbon tax hits the poor” quote used in the Jenkins ad comes from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which argued against such a tax in an August 2012 report. As we said, the resolution didn’t pass and couldn’t have implemented a tax anyway.

Cash for Votes?

The “Bribes” ad also makes the over-the-top claim that Rahall “helped Obama kill coal, pocketing millions of dollars in return,” and says that the Charleston Gazette said Rahall “took bribes, trading cash for votes.” But the Jenkins campaign has no proof that Rahall’s votes were influenced by donations to his campaign.

First of all, neither Obama nor Rahall has killed coal. To be sure, the coal industry in West Virginia has suffered because of a number of factors, some of which predate the Obama administration, such as competing energy sources and technology. Regardless of the industry’s struggles, as of 2013, West Virginia was still the second largest coal producer in the nation after Wyoming, according to the Energy Information Administration. Its demise is greatly exaggerated.

Now, about those claims of “bribes.”

To back up its claim that Rahall “helped Obama kill coal, pocketing millions of dollars in return,” the Jenkins campaign points to more than $3 million in campaign contributions Rahall has received since 2007 from labor organizations and Democratic campaign committees and leadership PACs. The campaign also points to Rahall’s 2007 vote for H.R. 2643, a bill that endorsed “a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits and incentives on emissions of greenhouse gases that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of such emissions,” as well as Rahall’s 2009 vote for H.R. 2996, which, among other things, increased the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by more than $2.65 billion.

But Rahall’s vote for H.R. 2643 came in 2007, before Obama became president, and the bill didn’t become law anyway. Plus, campaign contributions alone hardly prove that Rahall is working on the president’s behalf. As we have written before, Rahall, on a number of occasions, has opposed Obama on policies affecting the coal industry. That includes a vote in 2009 against final passage of the Obama-backed H.R. 2454, which included a cap-and-trade system regulating carbon emissions from coal companies and other utilities.

In addition, viewers could be led to believe that the “bribes” and “cash for … his vote” quotes featured in the ad have something to do with Obama. They don’t. Those quotes come from Charleston Gazette editorials that were written 20 years ago.

In October 1994, former Gazette Editorial Page Editor Dan Radmacher questioned why the overwhelming majority of Rahall’s campaign contributions that year had come from people living outside of West Virginia.

Charleston Gazette, Oct. 23, 1994: Ask yourself: Why would people who don’t live in this state send money to convince West Virginians to elect Rahall?

Obviously, out-of-state donors are trying to buy influence with the representative who chairs a House subcommittee on transportation. They’re trading cash for favorable treatment in Congress. They know that Rahall, an entrenched incumbent, is a likely winner, so they want to butter him up in advance.

We should also note that Rahall again has received the vast majority of his money — 72 percent — from out-of-state residents during the 2014 cycle. But Jenkins has received a total of $315,000 in out-of-state contributions, according to Opensecrets.org. That’s not much less than the $394,000 that Rahall has received from outside the state.

In May 1994, longtime Gazette Editor James A. Haught wrote an editorial about “semi-bribes” to members of Congress, including Rahall, who once went on a cruise paid for by a lobbying group. “Remember when Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., took a Caribbean cruise with a woman companion at the expense of a lobbying group wanting his vote in Congress? The U.S. Senate finally has taken a solid step to ban such lucrative semi-bribes. By 95 to 4, it voted to prohibit lobbyists from giving Congress members free vacations, fancy meals, golf outings, ski trips and other luxury gifts,” he wrote.

And in February 1994, Radmacher wrote another editorial suggesting that Rahall would vote against a bill seeking to prevent secondhand smoke-related deaths because of support he had received from the tobacco industry. “Rep. Nick Rahall is probably the most hopeless of the state’s representatives,” he wrote. “A smoker himself — he prefers cigars — Rahall is well-known for mooching off the tobacco industry. He has accepted free trips and other legal bribes from the industry, including nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions. Guess which way he’ll vote, if the issue ever even makes it to the full House?”

But those are the opinions of editorial writers. They don’t prove that Rahall votes based on campaign donations. And, again, those editorials had nothing to do with Obama or coal.

– D’Angelo Gore

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FactChecking the Louisiana Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-louisiana-senate-race/ Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:10:20 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89433 As the campaigns head into the home stretch, the Louisiana Senate race has shaped up as one of the least positive in the country. Small wonder. Louisiana has become one of the key battlegrounds in the Republican Party’s efforts to regain control of the Senate.

The seat has been held by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu since 1997, but polls show she is vulnerable in this red state. Landrieu faces Republicans Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness in the Nov. 4 election, but if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will square off in a Dec. 6 runoff. Polls show Cassidy leading Landrieu in a head-to-head race.

Over the last two weeks, the Wesleyan Media Project found just 18 percent of the ads in the Louisiana Senate race were positive, with the rest split almost evenly between contrast and negative ads. In the prior two-week period, there wasn’t a single positive ad aired in the race.

Where there are negative and comparison ads, fact-checkers often find themselves very busy. And that has certainly been the case in Louisiana.

 

Claim: Cassidy “voted for a plan that would cut veterans benefits.”

Facts: This is inaccurate. An ad aired separately by both Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA, two Democratic-aligned groups, cites Cassidy’s February 2012 vote for a Republican-sponsored bill that would have changed the budget process in a way that may or may not have resulted in budget cuts.

senatebattleSpecifically, the Baseline Reform Act would have changed how the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determines baseline projections used to measure the impact of changes in law. But, as CBO explained in its analysis, the bill “would not affect direct spending or revenues. Any impact on the budget would depend on the extent of future legislative actions by the Congress and the President.”

Cassidy is a Republican who supports cutting spending. Neither side disputes that. This ad, however, is wrong when it says Cassidy’s vote for the Baseline Reform Act “would cut veterans benefits.”

Full Story: “Democratic Assault on Cassidy’s Record,” Sept. 3

 

Claim: Cassidy sponsored a plan “called ‘Obamacare lite’ ” that would have set up “government-run health care” in Louisiana.

Facts: That’s pure invention; Cassidy’s bill did nothing of the sort.

Senate Majority PAC’s ad refers to S.B. 307, a bill that Cassidy introduced in 2007 when he was a Louisiana state senator. The bill had one pale similarity to what eventually became the federal Affordable Care Act — it would have set up something called a “Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange” within the state Department of Insurance. But Cassidy’s state-run exchange would have been nothing like the ACA. It didn’t include any new regulations on doctors, hospitals or patients, contrary to the ad’s claim that it amounted to “government-run health care.” The ACA, of course, isn’t “government-run health care” either, despite the many times Republicans have tried to brand it as such.

Cassidy’s bill led to nothing. It died quietly in committee without receiving even so much as a public hearing.

Full Story: ” ‘Cassidycare?’ Come On!” June 11

 

Claim: “Cassidy even said the government should automatically register us in Obamacare if we don’t sign up.”

Facts: Cassidy actually called for repealing the law and enrolling the uninsured in a scaled-back GOP alternative.

A Senate Majority PAC ad refers to remarks that Cassidy made on March 20 to the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. In those remarks, Cassidy did indeed argue for automatically signing up uninsured people for his Republican alternative to the ACA — not Obamacare.

Full Story: ” ‘Cassidycare?’ Come On!” June 11

 

Claim: “Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights.”

Facts: A TV ad by the National Rifle Association stretches Landrieu’s voting record to the breaking point to support its implication that she has supported policies that would prevent homeowners from being able to protect themselves against violent intruders.

The NRA cites Landrieu’s vote for a proposal that would have expanded background checks to private sales by unlicensed individuals at gun shows and over the Internet. It also cites her votes to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court — both of whom the NRA contends have been hostile to gun owners’ rights — and votes cast in 1999 and 2004 for amendments to close the so-called “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks on firearm transactions at gun shows.

Landrieu has co-sponsored and voted for legislation to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons in states other than their own, has repeatedly opposed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and has voted to prevent the seizure of firearms during a state of emergency. She also praised a decision by the Supreme Court to repeal a ban on carrying handguns in Washington, D.C., and voted in 2009 to “restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia” and to repeal its ban on semi-automatic weapons.

In other words, Landrieu has been an advocate for people — like the woman featured in the NRA ad — being able to keep firearms in their homes for protection.

Full story: “NRA’s Ominous But Misleading Appeal,” Oct. 3

 

Claim: Landrieu voted “to give benefits to those here illegally” instead of “fully funding veterans benefits.”

Facts: There was no such vote. Cassidy’s ad is referring to a procedural vote that prevented all Republican amendments to a bipartisan spending bill. As for the “veterans’ benefits,” Cassidy voted for the same cuts in a House version of that spending bill, and both candidates later voted to restore those reductions.

First of all, Landrieu never voted “to give benefits to those here illegally,” as the ad claims. The procedural vote that blocked Republican amendments to a bipartisan budget bill prevented a vote on an amendment from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions that would have restored a cut in the pensions of working-age military retirees and paid for it by taking away child tax credits from some immigrants living in the country illegally. Democrats have historically opposed such efforts, arguing that the chief beneficiaries of the child tax credit are the children of immigrants in the country illegally — and most of those children, they note, are legal citizens by birth.

But the Sessions amendment on military pensions never got a vote. And the point became moot when less than two months later both Landrieu and Cassidy joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House and Senate to restore the pension cuts before they ever had a chance to kick in.

Full Story: “False Choice: Veterans vs. Immigrants,” Sept. 19

 

Claim: Landrieu supports “amnesty.”

Facts: Landrieu voted on a bipartisan immigration bill that included an earned path to citizenship, not blanket amnesty.

Cassidy’s ad cites Landrieu’s vote in 2013 for S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, otherwise known as the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill. The bill included a series of border security measures that would have to be achieved before a pathway to citizenship would be available to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally since at least Dec. 31, 2011. The earned path to citizenship included paying fines and back taxes, proving gainful employment, completing background checks, learning English and civics, and going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.

We’ve said numerous times before that such an earned path to citizenship does not meet the strict definition of amnesty, which implies that immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally would be granted immediate, permanent residency without any of the requirements listed above. It’s a distinction Cassidy himself made in a 2013 interview.

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Cassidy doesn’t think border security is a problem.

Facts: A Landrieu ad quotes Cassidy out of context to suggest he’s weak on border security. In fact, he has a history of supporting enhanced border security.

In Landrieu’s ad, Cassidy is heard saying, “Our threat is not the folks coming across the border,” and the narrator responds, “Really? Mary Landrieu thinks that is the threat.” Actually, Cassidy was talking about the biggest threat to Louisiana jobs. He wasn’t saying the problem of immigrants coming across the border was not a threat, but rather that a moratorium on offshore drilling represented a comparatively bigger threat to Louisiana job creation.

Pulling the quote out of context as evidence that Cassidy “opposed a border fence” ignores Cassidy’s history of votes for border security.

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Landrieu “voted to … build triple-layer fencing.”

Facts: This is true, as Landrieu says in her TV ad. She voted to build hundreds of miles of it in 2006 — but seven years later, she called that vote a “mistake.”

In 2006, she voted for an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that provided $1.8 billion to construct 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the southwest border. She also voted that year for the Secure Fence Act, signed by President George W. Bush, that called for “at least two layers of reinforced fencing” for nearly 700 miles. Congress later gave the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to decide what type of fencing was appropriate for different regions along the border, and very little of it has been double- or triple-layer fencing.

But in June 2013, as the latest comprehensive Senate immigration bill was being debated, Landrieu opposed an amendment to the bill that would have required 350 miles of double-layer fencing along the southern border. In a floor speech opposing the amendment, Landrieu said she “voted for the dumb fence once” and wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Landrieu said she supported construction of a “smart fence” utilizing new technology, a combination of a “real and virtual fence that is actually going to work.”

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Landrieu “voted nine times to block amnesty.”

Facts: There were no votes on amnesty, contrary to this claim in a Landrieu ad. Her tortured logic: The current immigration system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” so her votes to overhaul the immigration system were votes to “block amnesty.”

Landrieu’s ad scrolls through vote numbers and dates, but fails to mention those were all votes related to the Gang of Eight Senate immigration bill. Most of the votes were procedural votes related to the bill, but the list also includes votes for border security amendments and her vote in favor of the final bill, which passed 68-32.

The Landrieu campaign quotes some Republicans who argued that the existing, broken immigration policy amounts to “de facto amnesty.” But the fact is those who live in the U.S. illegally were not granted amnesty, and there have been no votes to grant them amnesty. So she did not have the opportunity “to block amnesty.”

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Cassidy voted to cut Social Security benefits “to pay for a tax break for millionaires like himself.”

Facts: The proposal would have slowed Social Security spending to prolong the life of its trust funds — not to finance tax cuts.

Landrieu’s claim refers to Cassidy’s votes over the years for the Republican Study Committee’s budget resolutions, most recently for fiscal year 2015. It is true that the RSC budget resolution for fiscal 2015 would have reduced Social Security benefits by changing the method of calculating cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age.

However, the savings would not go “to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut,” as Landrieu says in the ad. The slower rate of spending from the Social Security trust funds would prolong the life of the funds and improve the program’s finances. Moreover, budget resolutions are nonbinding. They do not carry the force of law. An actual “cut” in Social Security benefits would require separate legislation.

Full Story: “Social Security Scare in Louisiana,” Aug. 7

 

Claim: The Koch brothers are “spending millions” to elect Cassidy so he will “fight for them” on issues such as their “fight to let flood insurance premiums soar.”

Facts: Cassidy championed flood insurance legislation that was opposed by Americans for Prosperity — a conservative advocacy group founded by David Koch.

A Senate Majority PAC ad uses guilt by association to tie Cassidy to brothers David and Charles Koch and AFP’s policy position on the National Flood Insurance Program, which is billions of dollars in the red.

Here’s what actually happened: A 2012 law designed to bring flood insurance premiums in line with actual costs threatened to result in “stratospheric” rate hikes for many homeowners in flood-prone areas such as in Louisiana. Late last year, Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York proposed legislation to soften the blow of rate hikes by reinstating grandfathered rates and capping premium increases. AFP and a coalition of other conservative groups opposed the legislation, arguing that it is not “reasonable to leave taxpayers on the hook for insuring private property.” But Cassidy, who co-sponsored the bill, led the charge to pass the legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama.

Full Story: “Guilt by Association in Louisiana,” April 10

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

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The Uninsured in Kentucky http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/the-uninsured-in-kentucky/ Wed, 15 Oct 2014 22:52:41 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89731 Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes disagreed at their Oct. 13 debate on how many Kentuckians had gained health insurance through the state exchange. McConnell disputed that the state website has insured 521,000 people. Grimes, meanwhile, said those half a million people had insurance for the first time.

More than half a million people have signed up for coverage through the Kynect website for both private insurance and Medicaid, but Grimes is wrong to say they were all previously uninsured. Through the end of the open-enrollment period, 75 percent of Kentuckians who had signed up for coverage indicated they had been uninsured prior to gaining insurance through Kynect. That’s according to numbers provided to FactCheck.org by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

During the debate, McConnell said he would be fine with continuing the Kynect website, even though he opposes the Affordable Care Act (around the 34:30 mark). He said it was a “state decision” and the state “can continue it if they’d like to,” though Kentucky would “have to pay for it.” When asked by moderator and TV journalist Bill Goodman if he’d continue Kynect, McConnell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a website.”

It’s a website that Goodman then noted had “also insured 521,000.” McConnell said, “No, it hasn’t.” Later, when Goodman said 85,000 of those had private insurance, McConnell asked: “How many of them, though, got insurance after having policies canceled?”

We don’t know how many had received cancellation notices from their insurance companies because their plans didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s minimum benefit requirements, and then decided to purchase coverage through the Kynect website. But we do know that some of those who signed up through Kynect — 25 percent — said they had been previously insured.

A Gallup poll released in August found Kentucky had experienced the second largest drop in the percentage of uninsured among the states from 2013 to mid-2014. Kentucky’s percentage of uninsured went from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent, a drop of 8.5 percentage points, second to only the decline in Arkansas, according to the telephone survey.

Grimes, however, echoed a common Democratic talking point in assuming that all those who got coverage through the exchange were newly insured. She said: “We have over half a million Kentuckians who for the first time ever are filling prescriptions. They are going to the doctor and they’re getting checkups. I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from their hand. I will work to fix the Affordable Care Act.”

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services told us that between Oct. 1, 2013, and April 15, 2014 — the open enrollment period — 413,410 Kentuckians enrolled in health coverage through Kynect. Of those, 330,615 qualified for Medicaid coverage and 82,795 bought private insurance. Three-quarters of all those signing up indicated they had been uninsured prior to getting coverage through the website.

That would mean that as of April 15, there were about 310,000 uninsured Kentuckians who were covered through Kynect. The total enrollment number is now more than 521,000. If the 75 percent figure remained constant, then there would be about 391,000 previously uninsured people who now have coverage.

– Lori Robertson

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Corbett’s Desperation and Deceit http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/corbetts-desperation-and-deceit/ Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:08:07 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89604 We’ve noticed that the most deceitful attack ads often come from candidates who are most desperate. For example, consider the claim by Pennsylvania’s unpopular Republican Gov. Tom Corbett that his opponent “is promising to raise middle-class taxes,” when in fact Democratic nominee Tom Wolf promises to cut them.

Wolf has proposed increasing the state’s income tax — but only for those making more than roughly $70,000 to $90,000 per year for individuals, or more than $140,000 to $180,000 for married couples. For the large majority of Pennsylvanians, whose incomes fall below those levels, Wolf proposes to reduce or eliminate the income tax.

Furthermore, Wolf also proposes to cut local property taxes, shifting more of the burden of financing schools to the state. That would be an additional benefit to homeowners.

But Corbett is trailing by wide margins in the polls, as he has been for many weeks. And now, with Election Day just three weeks away, he’s twisting Wolf’s proposal around nearly 180 degrees in ads calling it a tax increase on “middle-class” families.

Corbett’s campaign released a 30-second TV spot on Oct. 7 claiming that Wolf is “calling for raising taxes on middle-class families.” That followed a 45-second ad released Sept. 30 that made the same claim, even though Wolf had been saying just the opposite for months.

Corbett even adds insult to injury by calling Wolf “dishonest” in one of those ads, which itself misrepresents Wolf’s business dealings.

Who’s Being ‘Dishonest’?

But it is Corbett who’s being dishonest here. He knows exactly what Wolf is proposing, because he was standing only a few feet away from him during an Oct. 8 debate in which Wolf sketched out his plan.

Wolf said (starting at about 23 minutes into the recording): “If you are in the seventy to ninety thousand dollar range as an individual — and you can double that if you are married — you should not pay any more in taxes. And people making below that will get a break. That’s my goal.”

And that is consistent with what Wolf has been saying as far back as February, when he released a “Fresh Start” campaign white paper that included a promise of a “progressive income tax” that “will result in every middle-class family receiving a tax cut.” But the initial plan didn’t define “middle class” or give an income level.

In later interviews, including a July 25 session with Associated Press reporters and editors, Wolf specified that the “middle-class” cutoff would come somewhere between $70,000 and $90,000 in annual income. Later, his campaign said that would be just for single taxpayers, and the income level would be double that for married couples filing jointly. In the Oct. 8 debate, Wolf confirmed the $140,000-$180,000 range as the likely cutoff for couples.

By way of background, Pennsylvania currently imposes a flat 3.07 percent income tax on all taxable income, allowing for a hodgepodge of deductions but with no standard exemption or exclusion. Wolf says he would institute a universal exclusion, exempting all income below a certain level from any income tax. And he would increase the percentage tax rate on income above that level.

Wolf hasn’t yet specified exactly how large that exemption would be, or how much he would increase the 3.07 percent tax bite on income above the exemption level. He also has not been pinned down on precisely at what income level Pennsylvanians would see an increase — except to say that the cut-off would fall somewhere in the $70,000 to $90,000 range for individuals, or the $140,000 to $180,000 range for couples.

The Corbett campaign says the rate would have to go up by 188 percent to accomplish Wolf’s goal of shouldering a greater share of school spending. But Wolf, who served as revenue secretary under then-Gov. Ed Rendell, says those details would have to wait until he’s in office and has access to more detailed information on the state’s financial status, and on “what everybody pays in taxes.”

Actually, some information on who pays how much state income tax is publicly available already. Even so, Wolf’s stated intent could not be more clear: The income tax would go down for most, and go up only for the relative few with higher incomes. And the outline he has given is quite consistent with that goal.

Even if Wolf provides a tax break only to those at the lower end of the income ranges he has mentioned, many more people would see an income tax cut than would see an increase. We know this because the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that two-thirds of all households in Pennsylvania reported income of less than $75,000 last year, and all of those would see income taxes reduced or eliminated if Wolf sets his cut-off at that level, which is on the low side of the $70,000-$90,000 range for individuals.

Even fewer taxpayers would see an increase if Wolf eventually were to set the cut-off at closer to $90,000.

Looking only at married-couple families in Pennsylvania, Census reports that 16.5 percent had income of $150,000 or more, which is also at the lower end of Wolf’s $140,000 to $180,000 range for couples filing jointly. And yet, Corbett’s ads keep calling the Wolf proposal a tax increase on middle-class taxpayers, rather than the tax cut he promises for most.

We freely concede that some Pennsylvanians who think of themselves as “middle class” have incomes higher than the levels described by Wolf, and they would see their taxes go up. A USA Today/Gallup Poll found in 2012 that only 2 percent of Americans considered themselves to be “upper class” and only 10 percent identified themselves as “lower class.” The rest described themselves as “middle class” (42 percent), “upper middle class” (13 percent) or “working class” (31 percent).

Both candidates are exploiting the tendency of egalitarian Americans to think of themselves as in the “middle” no matter how high or low their actual incomes. So Wolf’s promise of an income tax cut for “every” middle-class family is true only for those who accept his particular income definition of “middle class.” But Corbett’s ads strive to give the impression that Wolf is proposing an income tax increase for everybody who considers himself “middle class.” And that’s not the case.

Failed Attempts at Justification

The Corbett campaign strains — and fails — to justify turning a proposed cut into a promised increase. One example is a citation in the 45-second ad, which includes a truncated, misleading quote from a political news website called PoliticsPA.com. On screen viewers see, “Wolf Calls for Income Tax Increase.” What viewers are not shown is the rest of the headline: “[and] Reduction of Property Taxes.”  

And even that full headline lacks important detail; it is a secondhand account of the AP’s July 25 interview. The AP’s own headline gave a more detailed and accurate description of Wolf’s position: “Tom Wolf says richer Pennsylvanians to pay more income taxes to lower property taxes.” But that headline didn’t suit the Corbett campaign’s purposes, and so it used the less accurate and less authoritative snippet.

Another example of failed justification is in the backup provided by the Corbett campaign for its more recent ad. The campaign says, “The $70,000-$90,000 range is well within the middle class in Pennsylvania.” Oh really? To back that up, the Corbett campaign cites median income figures for the three most affluent counties in the state — Chester ($86,184), Montgomery ($78,984) and Bucks ($76,859) — while ignoring the state’s 64 other counties with lower median incomes.

There’s no mention, for example, of Fayette County, with median income of only $38,108. Such cherry-picked data can’t change the fact that a small percentage of Pennsylvania taxpayers would see an income tax increase under Wolf’s plan, while the large majority would see a decrease.

More False Mudslinging

Also worth noting is that the more recent Corbett ad gives yet another distorted account of Wolf’s business dealings, which we dealt with in detail on previous occasions when two of his Democratic primary rivals attempted to raise them in different ways during that election. (Wolf won the primary with nearly 58 percent of the party vote.)

The Corbett ad claims that Wolf got rich “off the backs of middle-class taxpayers.” How? The ad says “millions from the state’s pension fund were funneled into Wolf’s company” and that “after Wolf pocketed the money” the company laid off workers, and “to this day hard-working Pennsylvania taxpayers have never been repaid.”

The facts as we outlined them before are these: Wolf was part owner of the Wolf Organization, a kitchen cabinet and building supply company that had been in the family since its founding in 1843. Wolf and his cousins sold 47 percent of the firm in 2006 — not to the state pension fund — but to Weston Presidio Fund V. As we reported, the state pension fund was one of many investors in the diversified Fund V, and owned only 5 percent of the $1 billion investment fund.

The ad claims that Wolf “laid off his workers,” but that’s not accurate. The company’s troubles resulted from the 2007 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing bubble that year, which took place after Wolf was no longer in charge.  And not mentioned in the Corbett ad is that of the $20 million that Wolf “pocketed” from the sale, he later reinvested $11 million to regain day-to-day control of the firm — saving it from foreclosure. The paper loss to the state pension fund would have been even greater had the company gone into foreclosure.

So when the Corbett ad says, “Tom Wolf, the more you learn the more dishonest he seems,” we can’t help thinking that the governor should take a look in the nearest available mirror.

– Brooks Jackson

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No Proof of ‘Lying’ http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/no-proof-of-lying/ Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:23:25 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89616 Sen. Mitch McConnell claims in a TV ad to have “shocking” video evidence from Alison Lundergan Grimes’ “own staff” to prove “Grimes is lying” about her support for coal. He doesn’t.

The ad cites an Oct. 6 article in the Free Beacon about the videos, but the original source is James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action Fund. O’Keefe, a conservative activist, surreptitiously videotaped Grimes supporters saying the Democratic candidate doesn’t actually support the coal industry. But none of those featured in the ad is a paid staffer with the Grimes campaign, and all of them are expressing their personal opinions — not revealing campaign strategy.

Genuine support for the coal industry has been a hotly contested issue in the Kentucky Senate race. Both candidates have been outspoken in support of coal, and against Obama administration regulations of it, but both sides have accused the other of simply paying lip service to the issue.

The new ad from McConnell’s campaign suggests it has a smoking gun with comments from Grimes’ “own staff.” The campaign doesn’t.

“Why do radical anti-coal activists support Alison Grimes, even as Grimes claims to support coal? Now we know,” the ad’s narrator says. “Shocking new undercover videos with Grimes’ own staff and donors show Grimes is lying, only praising coal to win an election.”

The ad then cuts to an undercover video of Roz Heise saying, “She’s saying something positive about coal because she wants to be elected.” But Heise, 71, isn’t a Grimes campaign staffer. She’s a volunteer with the Fayette County Democratic Party.

The Project Veritas video also includes another volunteer with the Fayette County Democratic Party, Gina Bess — not featured in the McConnell ad– who says that market forces, more than any EPA regulations, have led to the decline of the coal industry. “But,” she says, “you really can’t say that in Kentucky, which is so stupid, because there are too many people who would go, ‘Coal is our livelihood.’ ” Bess is then asked if she thinks that if Grimes is elected, she’d “do the right thing and wipe out that coal industry and go for better resources.” Bess responds, “I absolutely think she is.”

But Bess isn’t a Grimes campaign staffer either.

Bob Layton, chair of the Fayette County Democratic Party, told us in a phone interview that both Heise and Bess are “100 percent volunteers with the Fayette County Democratic Party.” While both support Grimes’ candidacy, he said, “I am certain they are not a part of the Grimes campaign, and I am certain they have never been to any Grimes campaign staff meetings.” Layton said the videos were shot surreptitiously in the Fayette County Democratic Party offices without its consent.

The McConnell ad also shows a Grimes donor, Niko Elmaleh, saying, “she’s going to *** [coal companies] as soon as she gets elected. Take my word for it.” That comes from a second Project Veritas video. Records show Elmaleh donated $2,600 to the Grimes campaign on June 23, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Elmaleh, who is in real estate, is certainly entitled to his opinion. But that’s all it is: his opinion.

Others quoted in the Project Veritas videos include members of the Warren County Democratic Party offices, a field organizer in the Louisville Democratic office, a former Kentucky auditor and Grimes supporter, and a Grimes campaign field organizer.

The Grimes campaign said none of them is actually employed as a Grimes campaign staffer. We also checked records filed with the Federal Election Commission, and none of those featured in the Project Veritas video is listed on the campaign payroll.

The Grimes campaign emailed a statement to FactCheck.org saying, “The sleazy video Mitch is himself peddling does not contain Alison’s staff, nor does it in any way represent her views.”

We asked specifically about Chase Sanders, identified in the Project Veritas video as a Grimes campaign field organizer, who said Grimes is “trying to get votes in that sense from parts of Kentucky that that’s appealing to but once she gets in she’s going to be very realistic about the fact that there are environmental problems and she will do her part, in a sense, to support those things.”

The Grimes campaign told us, however, that Sanders “does not work for the campaign.” Thomas Mann, a campaign expert for the Brookings Institution, said campaign field organizers have nothing to do with campaign strategy anyway. They focus on voter identification, canvassing and voter turnout.

The Grimes campaign said it is “shameful and reeks of desperation” for McConnell to use the work of O’Keefe, “a convicted criminal – with a known history of manipulating and fabricating these videos.”

O’Keefe rose to national prominence in 2009 after releasing a series of videos purporting to show employees at voter registration organization ACORN going along with illegal activities. In 2013, O’Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former ACORN employee featured in one of O’Keefe’s videos who appeared to go along with O’Keefe’s make-believe scheme to smuggle underage girls into the U.S. to act as prostitutes. The man in the video actually called police shortly after O’Keefe left the office to report a potential crime.

In 2010, O’Keefe was convicted of a misdemeanor charge after he and three other members of Project Veritas tried to finagle their way into Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. O’Keefe pleaded guilty to entering federal property under false pretenses and was sentenced to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service, and fined $1,500.

Also worth noting, a California attorney general’s report in 2010 on the ACORN videos concluded that unedited versions of the videos, in addition to showing “highly inappropriate” though not illegal behavior by ACORN employees, also revealed how some of the ACORN videos released by O’Keefe had been deceptively edited.

And so we asked for raw, unedited videos from the interviews regarding Grimes. Stephen Gordon, a spokesman for Project Veritas Action Fund, told us via email that the group “does not release raw or unedited tapes or reporters’ notes of investigations. This policy ensures compliance with federal and state laws while providing the best privacy protection for individuals recorded.”

“The reporting process and methods of Project Veritas Action are proven successful and effective and are the protected intellectual property and trade secrets of Project Veritas Action,” Gordon added. “This policy is in accordance with the practices of news organizations globally and is generally accepted as the professional norm.”

Without the unedited versions, we can’t provide any further context to the comments featured in the Project Veritas videos. But even taking the videos at face value, what is shown on the Project Veritas videos, and in the McConnell ad, are the opinions of Grimes supporters. The videos are not, as the McConnell ad claims, evidence of “Grimes’ own staff” showing that “Grimes is lying, only praising coal to win an election.” Also, O’Keefe and the McConnell campaign accuse Grimes of lying without considering the possibility that the supporters shown in the video are just telling the undercover actors, who posed as liberals concerned about Grimes’ coal-friendly statements, what they think the actors want to hear.

As we noted back in June when an ad accused Grimes of being “silent” as “Obama attacked coal,” Grimes has been vocal and consistent throughout her campaign about her opposition to Obama administration regulations on the coal industry.

Correction, Oct. 15: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect spelling of Roz Heise’s name, based on her identification in the Project Veritas video.

– Robert Farley

 

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A ‘Whopper’ in Arkansas Debate? http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/a-whopper-in-arkansas-debate/ Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:30:03 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89614 At an Oct. 13 Arkansas Senate debate, Rep. Tom Cotton claimed that Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor “voted for every one of Barack Obama’s tax increases.” Pryor called this a “whopper,” and countered that he “voted against every budget that President Obama has offered.” We find that both are not telling the whole story.

Pryor voted for two laws championed by the president — the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act — that contained tax increases. But the senator also voted against other tax increases proposed by the president. The distinction between enacted tax increases and proposed tax increases may have been lost on viewers left with the impression that Pryor has voted for all of Obama’s tax increase proposals.

However, Pryor cannot say he voted against “every budget” offered by Obama. The president has offered six budgets, and none of them were really voted on by Congress. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions twice sponsored budget resolutions that claimed to be Obama’s budgets. In both cases, the Senate unanimously rejected the resolutions, with Republicans gleefully declaring that the “president’s budget” had not gotten a single vote and Democrats dismissing the votes as political theater.

Obama’s Tax Increases

Let’s first take Cotton’s claim about Pryor’s record on voting for “Obama’s tax increases” — a statement he made twice within the span of two minutes.

Cotton, Oct. 13: The last thing our economy needs is tax increases and Mark Pryor has voted for every one of Barack Obama’s tax increases. … We don’t have a taxing problem in this country. In fact, last year the federal government had the highest tax collections that we’ve ever had in the history of our country. We still have deficits because we have a spending problem. Mark Pryor’s solution is to keep increasing taxes. He’s never voted against one of Barack Obama’s tax increases.

Pryor did vote in 2009 for the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act — the only two bills on the conservative Americans for Tax Reform’s “full list of Obama tax hikes.” The health care law increased taxes by about $1 trillion over 10 years, mostly on high-income taxpayers and health-related companies, and the CHIP reauthorization raised tobacco taxes, including an additional 61-cents per pack of cigarettes. Both tax increases went to expand access to health care.

So Cotton is correct — if the universe is limited to enacted tax increases. If not, Pryor can point to at least two votes in 2012 against proposed tax increases: Pryor’s vote against Obama’s proposed “Buffett Rule,” which would have required high-income taxpayers to pay an effective tax rate of at least 30 percent of their adjusted gross income, and his vote for a Republican proposal opposed by Obama that would have extended all Bush-era tax cuts for one year. Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget proposed allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000.

Ultimately, both parties agreed to a compromise on the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2012 to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The American Taxpayer Relief Act, which was the title of the bipartisan fiscal cliff agreement, increased the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for individuals earning more than $400,000 and families earning more than $450,000. It also kept the estate tax and gift exemption at $5 million, but raised the estate and gift tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent, and reduced the value of itemized deductions and other tax preferences for those earning more than $250,000 and families earning more than $300,000.

The bipartisan compromise raised taxes on the wealthy by $618 billion over 10 years, but kept the Bush income tax cuts in place for most Americans. Compared with current law — that is, if the tax cuts had expired as schedule — the American Taxpayer Relief Act provided a net $3.6 trillion tax cut over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill passed the Senate 89-8 on Jan. 1, 2013. Pryor voted for it.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to voting for $3.6 trillion in tax cuts in the American Taxpayer Relief Act, Pryor also voted in 2009 for about $232 billion in temporary tax cuts and credits as part of the president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or stimulus act.

So, Pryor has voted for Obama’s tax cuts as well as his tax increases — but Cotton ignored that.

‘A Whopper’?

In his closing statement, Pryor took issue with Cotton’s claim on Obama’s taxes.

Pryor, Oct. 13: Before I go on with my closing statement, I have to go back for just a minute because Congressman Cotton just told a whopper when he said that I have voted for every single one of Barack Obama’s taxes. It’s not even close. In fact, I voted against every budget that President Obama has offered.

We already found this claim about voting against Obama’s budget to be bogus when we fact-checked a TV ad by Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska. Pryor’s campaign cites Pryor’s votes against budget resolutions sponsored by Republican Sen. Sessions in 2011 and 2012. In both cases, Sessions set forth the president’s budgetary levels for a 10-year period, and in both cases the resolutions did not receive a single vote. So Pryor was not alone in voting “nay.”

The Democrats rejected Sessions’ resolution in 2011, saying the budgetary levels contained in the bill were outdated and no longer represented the president’s budget plan. It failed 0-97. In 2012, the Democrats denounced the GOP-sponsored resolution for lacking the president’s detailed policy language. Prior to the vote — six hours and 24 minutes into the debate — Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad held up several thick books and said “this is the president’s budget.” He then held up the 56-page budget resolution. “Do you see a difference?” Conrad asked. “This is not the president’s budget, so of course we are not going to support it.” It was defeated 0-99.

We agree with Conrad that there is a big difference between Sessions’ resolutions and the president’s actual budgets. Even if one disagrees with Conrad, Pryor certainly cannot claim that he has voted against “every budget that President Obama has offered,” since the Republicans offered these resolutions only twice.

We also wouldn’t call Cotton’s statement on taxes a “whopper,” as Pryor did. After all, Pryor did vote for both of Obama’s enacted tax increases. But Cotton is not telling the whole story, because Pryor has voted against some of Obama’s tax proposals.

– Eugene Kiely

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FactChecking the Alaska Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-alaska-senate-race/ Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:10:17 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88706 Sen. Mark Begich has portrayed his Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan, as soft on sex offenders and tough on women’s rights. Sullivan has accused the Democrat of hurting taxpayers and ignoring veterans. Both candidates and their allies have twisted the facts.

The Alaska Senate race remains a toss-up that could help decide control of the U.S. Senate. Here are some of the questionable claims that have been made in TV ads by the candidates and on their behalf.

 

Claim: Begich “voted against President Obama’s trillion-dollar tax increase.”

Facts: Begich voted against a GOP-sponsored budget resolution that Republicans called “the president’s budget.” But it wasn’t his budget. It contained Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget figures, but not his policy language. It failed 0-99.

That’s right. Everybody who cast a vote that day opposed it, including Begich. Democrats dismissed the vote as a political stunt — “not even serious,” as Sen. Tom Harkin put it.

senatebattleThat vote came in May 2012. Less than eight months later, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act to address the so-called fiscal cliff. It was a bipartisan bill, but it contained some of the same tax hikes proposed in Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget. The administration said the bill — which Begich supported — raised taxes on high-income taxpayers by $618 billion over 10 years.

Full story: “Begich’s Bogus Tax Boast,” Oct. 9

 

Claim: Sullivan “would make abortion a crime even if a woman’s health is threatened.”

Facts: Actually, Sullivan has said he’d allow abortions to save a mother’s life, and he has been silent on an exemption for lesser health threats.

Put Alaska First, a liberal super PAC primarily funded by the Senate Majority PAC, makes this claim in a TV ad. Its evidence is a questionnaire Sullivan filled out that asked respondents to choose which statement “most closely reflects” their view. Sullivan checked off a statement saying “abortion should be illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.” None of the choices included an exemption for non-life-threatening “health” reasons.

It’s easy to speculate that Sullivan might oppose such a “health” exemption in cases where a mother’s life was not at risk. But the ad is wrong to pass off such speculation as fact, and could well lead some viewers to think — incorrectly — that he wouldn’t allow abortion in the case of a life-threatening health situation.

Full story:Abortion Distortions 2014,” Sept. 26

 

Claim: Sullivan stood up for “every Alaska teacher” by “forcing a Wall Street firm to pay for their malpractice.” 

Counterclaim: Sullivan “sold Alaska’s teachers out.”

Facts: Ads from both Begich and Sullivan exaggerate the impact of a $500 million settlement that Sullivan reached in 2010 while serving as state attorney general. The settlement was reached after the Alaska Retirement Management Board sued its actuarial firm for underestimating state pension contributions, allegedly causing a $2.8 billion pension shortfall.

Sullivan’s ad features a teacher who boasts that Sullivan stood up for “every Alaska teacher” by forcing the firm to return “almost half a billion dollars into the retirement fund for Alaskans.” But the Teachers’ Retirement System received only $44 million of the $500 million.

Begich’s ad says Sullivan’s settlement is “putting the permanent fund at risk,” suggesting every resident who receives a dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund may have to pay for Sullivan’s actions. But that’s unlikely. The state this year added $3 billion to its pension system without tapping into the permanent fund. Also, there are other factors — not just the actuarial errors — that caused a pension shortfall that had reached $12 billion.

Full story: Alaska’s Pension Fight,” Sept. 19

 

Claim: As state attorney general in 2010, Sullivan allowed a “light” sentence for a sex offender who now stands accused of a rape and double homicide.

Facts: The “light” sentence was not by choice. It was because the Alaska Public Safety Information Network (APSIN) provided prosecutors with an incomplete criminal history of the accused murderer when he was charged in an earlier assault in 2009.

Begich’s ad says Sullivan let “a lot of sex offenders get off with light sentences,” telling the horrific tale of the 2013 murders of an elderly couple and the rape of their granddaughter. Police allege Jerry Andrew Active committed the rape and murders on the day he was released from prison for the crimes he committed in 2009. The Begich ad suggests Sullivan is to blame, because Active received a “light” sentence in 2010 and was free to commit more crimes.

Active did receive a lesser sentenced than he could have. He was sentenced to four years in the 2009 case for the attempted sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree, because the APSIN database used to conduct a criminal history check on Active did not include a 2007 felony conviction. If it had, Active would have been subject to a sentence of eight to 15 years, rather than two to 12 years, and presumably he would have been given a longer prison term.

An argument could be made that Sullivan’s office did not do its due diligence. But there is no evidence that Sullivan had any direct involvement in the case, and he had no responsibility for the incomplete database maintained by APSIN, which was not part of Sullivan’s department. Sullivan also did not have responsibility for the probation officer at the Department of Corrections who wrote a confidential pre-sentencing report in 2010 that apparently failed to include Active’s complete criminal history.

Full story: ”The Rest of Alaska’s Crime Story,” Sept. 5

 

Claim: Begich doesn’t believe the VA scandal is a problem.

Facts: This bogus claim was made in a TV ad that misused a Begich quote to insinuate something the senator didn’t say.

Crossroads GPS’ TV ad focused on news reports that some veterans died while waiting for VA medical appointments. The ad quotes Begich as saying, “If there’s a problem, they need to fix it,” and the ad’s narrator asks incredulously, “if there is a problem?” to suggest that Begich doesn’t believe there is one.

Begich was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying the administration should learn from the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov and quickly correct any problems at the Veterans Administration. ‘They should have learned from that — if there’s a problem, they need to fix it,” he said. But three weeks before he made that remark, Begich condemned reports of mismanagement at the VA as a “disgrace” and called for an immediate investigation. He also urged that the VA adopt a national policy to allow veterans to get medical care at non-VA health facilities.

Full story: “Twisting Begich’s Response to VA Scandal,” June 4

 

Claim: Begich should have known about problems at the VA “four years ago.”

Facts: The same Crossroads GPS ad conflates the newly discovered national problem of long wait times for medical appointments with years-old problems at a VA hospital in Alaska that had nothing to do with medical appointments.

The ad says, “If there’s a problem? Four years ago the VA inspector general failed the Anchorage VA office in 13 of 14 areas.” But that inspector general report had nothing to do with wait lists for care or veterans dying while waiting for appointments.

Instead the Anchorage Veterans Administration Regional Office got poor marks for processing disability claims for service-related disabilities including post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes and traumatic brain injury. The same Anchorage Daily News report cited in the Crossroads GPS ad said Begich immediately had asked then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to address the issue and had scheduled a committee field hearing in Anchorage. Begich acted on the local problems four years ago.

Full story: “Twisting Begich’s Response to VA Scandal,” June 4

 

Claim: Sullivan “remained silent about jobs being lost” at an oil refinery owned by Koch Industries.

Facts: Not exactly. Sullivan’s campaign declined to respond to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s criticism of Koch Industries and a group founded by David Koch that has been airing attack ads in the Alaska Senate race.

Koch Industries owns Flint Hills Resources, which announced in February that it was closing its North Pole refinery and laying off 81 employees by Nov. 1. An ad by the liberal super PAC Put Alaska First says that Sullivan “remained silent about jobs being lost here,” while on screen viewers see: “Sullivan’s campaign has declined comment.” Sullivan declined to comment on a campaign by the DSCC called “GOP addicted to Koch,” which highlights the refinery closing and Americans for Prosperity’s spending on ads attacking Begich. David Koch founded AFP. A political blogger in Alaska wrote about the DSCC campaign. “Sullivan’s campaign has declined comment,” the blogger wrote.

According to his campaign, Sullivan “worked hard to keep the Flint Hills refinery open while he was our [Department of Natural Resources] commissioner.”

Full story: ” ‘Outright Lies’ in Alaska,” May 2

 

Claim: Begich “was unconcerned” about the 80 jobs that will be lost at the Flint Hills oil refinery.

Facts: This claim twists Begich’s words and distorts their meaning.

A Sullivan TV ad quotes Begich as saying, “It’s the private sector making a decision,” in response to a question about the closing of the Flint Hills oil refinery. But that was only part of Begich’s response. He went on to say: “We have to do everything we can to be sure those who have jobs, those families, have opportunities.”

The news story that includes that quote, from KTUU-TV, also paraphrased Begich as saying “that the closure could cause a trickle-down effect that will impact businesses like shipping, as a local source of jet fuel disappears, and the Alaska Railroad, which moves product from Flint Hills south, as many as 30 cars a day, five days a week.”

Voters can make up their own minds as to which candidate cares more — or less — about the refinery jobs. But the very article the Sullivan campaign cites shows that Begich wasn’t “unconcerned.”

Full story: ” ‘Outright Lies’ in Alaska,” May 2

 

Claim: Begich “is on record supporting a carbon tax … that will cost the average family over $2,000 annually.”

Facts: Begich hasn’t backed a carbon tax proposal, and the $2,000 figure is based on general assumptions, not any specific plan or piece of legislation. In fact, there is no legislation currently being debated in Congress that would institute a carbon tax, which would be a direct tax on the carbon content of energy sources including coal, oil and gas.

An Americans for Prosperity ad points to Begich’s March 2013 vote against a budget resolution amendment offered by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt that would have required 60 votes to approve a potential carbon tax in the future. Carbon tax opponents, such as AFP, supported the Blunt amendment. But voting against a resolution to require a high-threshold for such a tax to pass the Senate at some unknown point in the future is not the same as voting in favor of the tax itself.

The AFP ad goes on to say the carbon tax that Begich supposedly supported “will cost the average family over $2,000 annually,” citing a Heritage Foundation analysis from January 2013. Heritage developed its estimate using carbon-tax scenarios presented in the Energy Information Administration’s 2012 Annual Energy Outlook. It took the higher of the two carbon tax scenarios (a $25 tax) and compared that with the scenario in which companies wouldn’t make any adjustments in capital costs in anticipation of legislation. Using this maximum impact under the EIA scenarios, Heritage says a carbon tax would “cut the income of a family of four by $1,900″ in 2016.

But, again, Begich hasn’t signed on to any carbon tax proposal — let alone the one suggested by Heritage.

Full story: “AFP Distorts Begich’s Carbon Tax Stance,” Feb. 28

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

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What We Were Told About Ebola http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/what-we-were-told-about-ebola/ Mon, 13 Oct 2014 20:53:55 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89581 Sen. John McCain claimed on a Sunday talk show that “we were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States.” Not exactly. U.S. health officials, early in the outbreak, said it was highly unlikely, but we could not find any instances of them saying it would never happen.

At a July 28 press briefing concerning the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official Stephan Monroe said the virus “poses little risk to the U.S. general population.” But, he added, “it’s possible that someone could become infected with the Ebola virus in Africa and then get on a plane to the U.S.” Monroe called this scenario a “very remote possibility,” but he didn’t say it could never happen, as the senator claimed.

Even earlier, in an April 2 Bloomberg News story about the outbreak, Monroe said a suspected Ebola case in Canada that turned out to be a false alarm “reminded us that any of these diseases are only a plane ride away.”

That is exactly what happened in Texas, where Thomas Duncan died Oct. 8 after contracting the disease in Liberia and flying home to the United States.

The Arizona Republican made his remarks on CNN Oct. 12 after “State of the Union” host Candy Crowley asked McCain about the breaking news that “one of the health care workers who had contact with Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan has tested positive for the virus.” McCain criticized federal officials for giving information about Ebola “that’s not correct.”

Crowley, Oct. 12: Let me talk to you first about this breaking news we have this morning, and that is, look, I’m not a doctor, you’re not a doctor, we can only listen to doctors. But do you get the sense that the federal government is on top of this? Is there anything more you think the federal government can do?

McCain: Well, first of all, from spending time here in Arizona, my constituents are not comforted. There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge. There has to be some kind of czar.

I think that we have to look at people coming into the United States, not only at our airports here but the places where they leave from. As you know, there are not direct flights from Africa. And Americans have to be reassured here. I don’t think we are comforted by the fact that we were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States and obviously that’s not correct. I was impressed by your panel, but frankly I’d like to know who’s in charge, among other things.

The U.S. agency chiefly responsible for preventing the spread of infectious diseases is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which acted early to contain the spread of the virus at its source. The World Health Organization said the Ebola outbreak started in Guinea in March. The CDC, on March 31, sent a five-member team to Guinea to assist on Ebola cases, according to the April 2 Bloomberg News article. At the time, the WHO reported that there were 112 confirmed Ebola cases, including 70 deaths, in Guinea. (As of Oct. 13, the CDC website had reported more than 4,600 confirmed cases in multiple countries, including 2,431 deaths.)

In the Bloomberg article in April, Monroe — who is deputy director for the agency’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases — spoke of the possibility of travelers bringing the disease to North America.

Bloomberg News, April 2: Last week, when Canadian officials feared that a severely ill patient who had recently been to Liberia may have been infected with deadly Ebola, the U.S. took notice. It was a “false alarm,” Monroe said, “that reminded us that any of these diseases are only a plane ride away.”

On July 28, Monroe spoke again about the possibility of infected travelers arriving in the U.S. This time it was during a CDC press briefing that was held after two U.S. workers became infected with the virus at a hospital in Liberia. Monroe called it a “very remote possibility.”

Monroe, July 28: I want to underscore that Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population. … While it’s possible that someone could become infected with the Ebola virus in Africa and then get on a plane to the United States, it’s very unlikely that they would be able to spread the disease to fellow passengers. The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with the blood, secretions, or other body fluids of ill people, and indirect contact – for example with needles and other things that may be contaminated with these fluids. Most people who become infected with Ebola are those who live with and care for people who have already caught the disease and are showing symptoms.

Nevertheless, because people do travel between West Africa and the U.S., CDC needs to be prepared for the very remote possibility that one of those travelers could get Ebola and return to the U.S. while sick. We are actively working to educate American healthcare workers about how to isolate patients and how they can protect themselves from infection. Today, we are sending out a Health Alert Notice to remind U.S. healthcare workers of the importance of taking steps to prevent the spread of this virus.

Less than two weeks after Monroe called it a “very remote possibility,” CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote on the CDC Director Blog that “there is a risk for Ebola to be introduced to the United States,” but that “widespread transmission in the United State is highly unlikely.”

Frieden, Aug. 8: There is a risk for Ebola to be introduced to the United States via an infected traveler from Africa. If that were to happen, widespread transmission in the United States is highly unlikely due to our systematic use of strict and standard infection control precautions in health care settings, although a cluster of cases is possible if patients are not quickly isolated. Community spread is unlikely due to differences in cultural practices, such as in West Africa where community and family members handle their dead.

So, the possibility of an Ebola case in the U.S. went from being a “very remote possibility” to being a “risk” that could lead to a “cluster of cases.” But in both cases, the possibility existed. That also has been the position of President Obama and the White House, and for the same reasons.

The fact that Ebola cannot be spread through the air — like influenza — has helped to contain past outbreaks to a particular region, President Obama said at an Aug. 1 press conference. There have been 16 Ebola outbreaks since 2000, mostly in African countries, according to the CDC.

Obama, Aug. 1: Keep in mind that Ebola is not something that is easily transmitted. That’s why, generally, outbreaks dissipate. But the key is identifying, quarantining, isolating those who contract it and making sure that practices are in place that avoid transmission. And it can be done, but it’s got to be done in an organized, systematic way, and that means that we’re going to have to help these countries accomplish that.

On Sept. 16, the White House issued a fact sheet saying an outbreak in the U.S. “is highly unlikely,” but “unintentional” cases were possible. This was two weeks before the CDC confirmed the first case of Ebola in the U.S. in Texas.

White House, Sept. 16: Despite the tragic epidemic in West Africa, U.S. health professionals agree it is highly unlikely that we would experience an Ebola outbreak here in the United States, given our robust health care infrastructure and rapid response capabilities. Nevertheless, we have taken extra measures to prevent the unintentional importation of cases into the United States, and if a patient does make it here, our national health system has the capacity and expertise to quickly detect and contain this disease.

It would have been correct for McCain to say we were told that an Ebola case in the United States is highly unlikely, as conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has said. But we can find no evidence that “we were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States.” We asked McCain’s office for evidence, but we did not get a response and neither did our colleagues at Politifact. If we do, we will update this item.

– Eugene Kiely

 

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Double Whopper Against King http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/double-whopper-against-king/ Fri, 10 Oct 2014 21:40:53 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89494 A TV ad from Democrat Jim Mowrer claims Iowa Rep. Steve King “did vote to raise his own pay by $20,000 a year and take perks like free health care for life.” That’s a double whopper.

  • There was no vote to raise congressional pay by “$20,000 a year,” as the ad’s narrator says. That’s about how much salaries for members of Congress have automatically increased since King, a Republican, was first elected in 2002.
  • There also was no vote to “take perks like free health care for life.” King voted for a House budget proposal that called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. If the health care law were repealed, members of Congress would once again obtain their health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, but it wouldn’t be at no cost to them.

Mowrer is challenging King for his 4th District House seat. King has threatened to pull out of an Oct. 23 debate if the Mowrer campaign doesn’t pull the ad, which was still running as of Oct. 8, according to Kantar Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Pay Raises

The ad’s narrator knocks King for not supporting a minimum wage increase, and says, “he did vote to raise his own pay by $20,000 a year.” That’s false — there was no such vote.

Since 1989, pay for Congress has automatically increased each year unless members pass legislation blocking the salary hike. The amount of the increase is determined by a formula based on private sector wages.

The ad cites King’s vote against H.Res. 184 in February 2009. It was a vote on a rule allowing for consideration of H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, without amendments. King voted against both the resolution, which passed on a 398-to-4 vote, and the appropriations bill, which passed on a vote of 245 to 178.

The $410 billion spending bill did include a provision — added by H.Res. 184 — rejecting the pay raise scheduled to take effect in January 2010. But the amount of the increase wasn’t $20,000. Instead, it was to be a much smaller bump of $2,610. King’s campaign says his was “a vote against a broken House procedure barring all amendments on a huge spending bill,” and not a vote for a raise.

We thought the “$20,000 a year” claim might have been a mistake, so we reached out to the Mowrer campaign for an explanation. We were told by a spokesman that the figure refers to how much salaries for members of Congress have increased since 2003, which was King’s first year in Congress. That year, most members of Congress made $154,700. From there, Congress received a salary adjustment in six of the seven years from 2003 through 2009, when the salary for most members of Congress was raised to $174,000. So, now King is making nearly $20,000 more a year than he was in 2003.

Since 2009, Congress has consistently voted to block its annual pay raises. As a result, members’ salaries have not kept up with inflation. When adjusted for inflation, King’s 2003 salary would have the buying power of $199,977 in 2014. That’s almost $26,000 more than he currently makes.

Now, each year from 2003 to 2007, King did vote in favor of House resolutions with rules — similar to those he now decries — that had the effect of blocking any amendments to appropriations bills, including ones that could have potentially kept the increases from taking place. That’s according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report on votes affecting congressional salaries. But it’s impossible to know whether amendments to prevent the increases would have passed had they been allowed.

No Free Health Care

The ad’s narrator also says that King voted to “take perks like free health care for life.” There was no vote on that, either.

The ad cites King’s vote in favor of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013. That proposal called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, among other things. If that happened, members of Congress would no longer be required to purchase their insurance coverage through the exchanges created by the health care law. Instead, they would be able to return to receiving their insurance coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. That still wouldn’t mean “free health care for life” for federal lawmakers.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, the federal government, on average, paid 72 percent of health insurance premiums for its employees, including members of Congress. But that’s still not the entire premium.

Based on a final rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management in 2013, members of Congress are eligible to return to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program upon retirement, according to a Congressional Research Service report on their health benefits. But even as federal retirees, they would still be responsible for paying the same premiums as active federal employees. So, again, there would be no “free health care for life.”

– D’Angelo Gore

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