A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

DCCC Dials Wrong Number

Robocalls offer misleading view of House GOP budget plan.


Summary

Democrats make false and misleading claims about the impact of the House GOP budget plan on Medicare and the federal debt in automated phone calls placed in 13 districts.

  • The robocalls, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, claim the GOP plan "actually increases the debt by almost $2 trillion." That's misleading. It's true that the GOP proposes an increase of $1.91 trillion next fiscal year, compared with where it stands now. But that's smaller than the $2.15 trillion increase projected under Obama's budget.
  • The calls falsely claim that “Medicare will end” under the GOP plan. As we have written before, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the plan would require future beneficiaries now younger than 55 to pay more than they typically would under traditional Medicare. It's accurate to say the GOP plan would alter Medicare profoundly, but it's false to claim that Medicare would cease to exist.
  • The robocalls falsely claim that the House GOP budget plan would end "Medicare to pay for subsidies for Big Oil." The plan proposes no specific changes in existing tax breaks for oil companies.

Analysis

The robocalls, which started on June 9, target 13 incumbent House Republicans. They all contain the same message; only the name of the incumbent is changed. The DCCC's website uses Rep. Jon Runyan, a freshman from New Jersey, as the example, so we will use Runyan's name here.

Increasing Debt?

The Democratic phone calls mention three times that the GOP plan would increase the debt, but they provide an actual figure only once.

DCCC, June 9: For all of Runyan’s talk about reducing the debt, his plan to end Medicare actually increases the debt by almost $2 trillion because of more tax breaks for millionaires and corporations.

This is misleading.

Upon request, the DCCC provided backup documents to support its claims. The Democratic committee cited pages 5 and 6 of the GOP budget bill, which lays out targets for the federal debt for the next 10 years. The GOP's budget projects that the federal debt subject to statutory limits would reach $16.2 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2012. According to the U.S. Treasury, the debt subject to the limit stood at $14.29 trillion as of the close of business June 9 (the most recent day for which the daily Treasury statement was available online as of this writing). That's "almost" $2 trillion, to be sure. But the fact is the president's proposed 2012 budget would require the debt ceiling to be increased even more — to $16.44 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget office. That's a $2.15 trillion increase.

The DCCC also stated in its backup that the total increase over 10 years would be $8.8 trillion under the GOP budget resolution. That's true enough. It would increase $13.3 trillion under Obama's budget, according to CBO's figures.

Ending Medicare?

The DCCC also falsely claims four times that Medicare would end under the GOP budget plan. Here's how the phone calls begin:

DCCC, June 9: Hi, I’m calling from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about Congressman Jon Runyan’s vote to end Medicare and increase the debt. 

We have written about this claim before, when Democrats and Republicans were both distorting the Medicare issue in a hotly contested special election in New York.

Briefly, here's what the GOP Medicare plan would do: For those 55 and older, the plan would have no effect on Medicare. For those younger than 55, the proposal would create an exchange where seniors would choose from a variety of government-approved health plans. According to CBO, the proposal “includes rules that would govern the Medicare exchange — including requiring insurers to issue insurance to all people eligible for Medicare who apply.” The CBO also says "a typical beneficiary would spend more for health care under the proposal."

Bottom line: Medicare would remain an entitlement program, but it would also be more costly to future beneficiaries. It would not end.

Big Oil and Medicare

The Democrats also falsely claim that the House GOP budget plan would end "Medicare to pay for subsidies for Big Oil."

DCCC, June 9: We must cut spending and tighten our belt, but Runyan made the wrong choice.  Ending Medicare to pay for subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for millionaires, while increasing the debt! 

The plan proposes no specific changes in existing tax breaks — or subsidies, as the Democrats call them — for oil companies or any other industry. It calls for changes in the tax code to broaden the tax base and reduce corporate and individual tax rates, but it leaves the specifics up to the tax-writing committee, the House Committee on Ways and Means.

It is true that the Senate Democrats sought to repeal certain tax breaks for major oil companies — an effort that failed on May 17, with most Republicans voting against it. As a result, the tax breaks will continue, at least for now. But the Democrats present listeners with a false dichotomy — making it appear as if there are only two choices: end Medicare or end tax breaks for oil companies. In fact, the savings from the Medicare changes would slow federal spending and the growth of the federal debt — as CBO said in its review of the plan. The savings would not go exclusively to pay for tax breaks for oil companies or any other current federal programs.  

Separately, Rep. Paul Ryan, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee and architect of the GOP budget plan, expressed support for repealing certain oil industry tax breaks in an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour:

ABC News, May 1: "Would you back ending subsidies to oil companies?" Amanpour asked.

"Oh yes," said Rep. Ryan. "I think we should clean up all those loopholes. And don't forget, there's a lot of corporate welfare spending that is in our budget put in there by both political parties because of powerful interests. We want to get rid of all that."

As we said, Ryan's plan leaves specific tax changes to the tax-writing committee, while the proposal for Medicare is quite specific. But the fact is that his plan is silent on tax breaks for the oil industry, and any attempt to portray the House budget plan as ending Medicare to pay for Big Oil subsidies would be wrong.

Updated, June 17: We updated this article to clarify that we were talking about the GOP Medicare plan when we wrote, "Briefly, here's what the GOP plan would do: For those 55 and older, the plan would have no effect on Medicare." We changed the phrase "GOP plan" to read "GOP Medicare plan." The GOP budget plan, which includes the Medicare plan, would reduce benefits for some future beneficiaries who choose the prescription drug coverage because it seeks to repeal the health care law's expanded prescription benefits.

— by Eugene Kiely and Scott Blackburn

Sources

"DCCC Launches New Automated Phone Calls in 13 Districts on Republicans Voting to End Medicare." Press release. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 9 Jun 2011.

U.S. House "H.Con.Res.34" 11 Apr 2011.

U.S. Congressional Budget Office. "CBO's Estimates of Federal Debt Under the President's Budget for 2012." Mar 2011.

U.S. House. H.R. 1954, roll call vote #379. 31 May 2011.

U.S. Congressional Budget Office. "H.R. 1954, A Bill to Implement the President's Request to Increas the Statutory Debt Limit on the Public Debt." 24 May 2011.

Department of the Treasury. Letter to House Speaker John Boehner et. al. 2 May 2011.

Jackson, Brooks. "Test Market for Spin." FactCheck.org. 19 May 2011, access 6 Jun 2011.

U.S. Congressional Budget Office. "Long-Term Analysis of a Budget Proposal by Chairman Ryan." 5 Apr 2011.

Hulse, Carle. "Senate Refuses to End Tax Breaks for Big Oil." New York Times. 17 May 2011.

U.S. Senate. S. 940, roll call vote. 17 May 2011.

"This Week with Christiane Amanpour." ABC News. 1 May 2011.