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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Feb. 23-March 1

This week, readers sent us a comments about reconciliation and health care, premium costs, and the danger of clicking on links in chain e-mails.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Reconciliation Responses

You’ve done it again, trying to equate a true statement by a Democrat with false GOP statements ["Health Care Summit Squabbles," Feb. 25]:

"Reid said ‘since 1981 reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it has been used by Republicans.’ That’s true, but scholars say using it to pass health care legislation would be the most ambitious use to date of this filibuster-avoiding maneuver."

Are you saying that Harry Reid denies that this would be an ambitious use? I didn’t hear him say or even imply that. You perhaps also should have included a description of one of the more ambitious recent uses of reconciliation — for the Bush tax cuts. You could probably find some analysts who would say that this reconciliation use had the most detrimental effect on the budget deficit. If all true statements require full explanation of their impacts, then you should be including a lot more of them in your analysis.

Meg McGowan
Honolulu, Hawaii

Although it sounds like the reconciliation process has been used numerous times and mostly by Republicans, has it ever been used to avoid a fillibuster? Or in the 22 incidences cited, is it typically used because doing otherwise would kill the bill or the majority of the components in the bill? I ask this question because if the answer to both of these questions is no, then this use of reconciliation in this case would be considered fairly unusual and Sen. Alexander’s point would be much more valid than Sen. Reid’s. If not, the reverse would be true.

Mark Maraman
Olympia, Wash.

FactCheck.org responds: Our colleagues at Politifact found eight instances of reconciliation where the winning side didn’t have a supermajority, and thus had to worry about filibuster. Six of those came from Republicans.

Your claim in the post-health care summit piece that a Brookings study pointed out that the use of reconciliation to pass health care reform "would be the most ambitious use to date of this filibuster-avoiding maneuver" is misleading. That piece was written in April ’09 and contemplated passing the whole health care reform package through reconciliation. Now, the Democratic leadership wants to have the House pass the Senate HCR bill, which passed the Senate with a 60-vote supermajority, and pass only some negotiated adjustments addressing House concerns through reconciliation. A recent piece by Brookings’ Henry Aaron points out that this use dovetails precisely with the purpose that reconciliation was designed to fulfill — making budget-related adjustments to passed legislation.

Andrew Sprung
South Orange, N.J.

FactCheck.org responds: We spoke to Thomas Mann, co-author of the Brookings/American Enterprise Institute report we cited, and he agrees. "We argued last year that reconciliation legitimately could be used for health reform, but that it would be ambitious, difficult and partial, given the constraints of the process," Mann told us. "Its much more limited use this year, adding amendments after the bill itself has passed following a successful cloture vote, is very modest and unquestionably legitimate." We have updated the story accordingly, and Brookings plans to update its article within a few days.


Apples to Apples

You did a great job covering the health care summit, and I was particularly pleased to see your section "Premium Costs, Up or Down" laying out the facts on the exchange between Obama and Alexander. I dug into this subject myself, debating with a friend, and found your analysis to be quite accurate.

There was one thing, though, that was missing that I wish you’d taken up. Obama basically suggested that the reason average premiums go up in the individual market is because people are paying more for more comprehensive insurance. As you note, this is partially because of the mandate and partially just because if people can suddenly afford better plans, some will opt for them.

I would have loved to have seen you take up what happens to the price tag of a policy in the individual market, comprehensive enough to meet the mandate, if the legislation passes.

Walter Frick
Cambridge, Mass.


Watch Out for E-mail Links

Your recent vidcast ["Just the Facts 2010: Emails," Feb. 23] recommends that one way to check on suspect e-mails is to click on links provided to see if they really provide relevant support for the claims being made in the suspicious e-mail message. I want to suggest that this is potentially bad advice. Spam e-mails of all kinds use links to take people to sites that automatically install viruses, rootkits, worms, etc. Advising people to click on such links could produce very bad results. It would be better advice to tell people to click on no links sent in e-mails at all, unless they are sure those links have been put into the e-mail by a trusted source; it’s not even a good idea to click on them if the e-mail comes from a friend, or some other trusted source, when those links were inserted by someone else, for instance in a forwarded message.

Stuart Campbell
Sonoma, Calif.

In the "E-mails" edition of the "Just the Facts" vidcast you suggest clicking on the links in chain emails to check if those websites support the email’s claims. As a general rule, you should avoid clicking links in any email, especially spam or chain emails. Sometimes links don’t lead to where they say. For example this link says it leads to your website, but it really leads to Wikipedia: http://factcheck.org/

This technique, called "phishing," is often used by identity thieves who send spam emails with a link to a bank’s website that really leads to a imposter website that looks exactly like the bank’s. Links in chain emails could direct you to websites that look like reliable sources, but are really imposters with faulty information. Or worse, they could install viruses on your computer. You can usually tell where a link actually leads by putting your mouse over it, but it’s best to copy the link and paste it into the URL or to find the website with Google.

Matthew Rice
Gaithersburg, Md.