A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Truth-Twisting Tweets


In tweets to her followers, Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley claims her Republican opponent for U.S. Senate voted to “kill Medicare” and to “effectively ban contraception.” Both statements are untrue.

Sen. Dean Heller supported failed Republican legislation that would have substantially changed Medicare — in 2022 — to a program that subsidizes private insurance plans for seniors. But the entitlement would not have ended. Heller also voted for the so-called “Blunt amendment,” which would have allowed an employer to deny coverage of specific items or services contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. The failed proposal went well beyond repealing President Barack Obama’s controversial “contraception mandate.” But the Republican-backed bill would not have banned anything.

Berkley isn’t the only politician to mis-tweet falsehoods. As we’ve noted before, spreading disinformation via Twitter is thoroughly bipartisan.

Our thanks to Jodi Stephens of Reno, Nev., who tweeted Berkley’s claims to us via @Spin_Detectors. Spin Detectors is a project through which we ask our readers to help us monitor political claims and campaigns across the country. Stephens is executive director at the Nevada Senate Republican Caucus.

Medicare Mis-Tweet

Berkley, a seven-term Democratic congresswoman, is in a tight race with Heller. And she’s been making misleading claims that he voted to “end” or “kill” Medicare since at least August. Berkley is referring to Heller’s support in 2011 for a budget plan introduced by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan dubbed “Path to Prosperity,” which outlined changes to Medicare. Heller voted for the budget plan in April 2011, when he was still a Nevada congressman. He supported the bill again in May after he was appointed to the Senate to replace Ensign, who resigned amidst an ethics investigation.

Berkley, March 3: Don’t think Nevadans forgot @DeanHeller voted to kill Medicare twice #secondthought

(The #secondthought hash tag, which Berkley has been placing at the end of her Twitter attacks against Heller, is referring to the senator’s recent statement that he “never had a second thought” about voting for the Blunt amendment.)

Medicare would not have ended under Ryan’s plan. And it would not have changed for anyone until 2022. People who turn 65 that year would be given a voucher to purchase private health insurance — in lieu of the current fee-for-service program — from a Medicare exchange set up by the government. Here are more of the plan’s main bullet points:

  • The exchange would offer plans only to seniors, and those plans would be required to provide a certain level of standard benefits. Insurance companies would be required to cover anyone who wanted a plan and to charge the same premium for those of the same age.
  • The average subsidy, or “premium-support payment,” as Ryan called it, would be $8,000 in 2022. Those with higher incomes would pay more out of their own pocket, and the payments also would be different, depending on health status.
  • Low-income seniors would get government-financed medical savings accounts, with $7,800 deposited into the account in 2022.

Ryan’s budget proposal, like the federal health care law, called for reducing the future growth of Medicare spending, which is projected to go up every year. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the typical Medicare beneficiary would spend more on health care under the proposal. But the entitlement program wouldn’t end.

Banning Contraception?

Berkley, March 2: @DeanHeller voted effectively to ban contraception without a #secondthought

Heller did not vote to ban contraception use. He supported Blunt’s Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would have allowed employers to deny coverage of “specific items or services” contrary to an employer’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. The bill was in response to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which will require employers to offer free contraception coverage to employees.

Religious entities, such as churches, are exempt from administration’s mandate. And religious institutions, such as church-affiliated universities and hospitals, will be able to opt out of providing contraception coverage, which would be taken up by insurance companies. And while it’s true that Blunt’s bill would go well beyond repealing the mandate, giving employers expanded latitude for denying coverage, the legislation does not ban contraception itself.

— Ben Finley