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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

DCCC’s Troop Pay Deception

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California is suing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee over an ad accusing him of turning his back on pay for troops while voting to guarantee his own pay. We find the ad’s claims to be distorted and misleading.

  • The ad says Denham “voted against a measure to guarantee our troops would still receive their pay” had the government shut down in 2011 during the debt-ceiling showdown. Actually, Denham voted in favor of a Republican troop-funding bill, and voted to kill a Democratic troop-funding measure that Republicans said was redundant and a “dilatory” tactic.
  • The ad also claims Denham voted to “protect his own paycheck” in the event of a shutdown. But that’s misleading, too. Denham actually voted in favor of a Republican measure specifying that members of Congress and the president wouldn’t be paid during the period in which the government wasn’t operating. What the ad refers to is his vote against a Democratic amendment to that measure adding that any loss of pay couldn’t be restored retroactively. Neither measure became law.

Voting Against Pay for Troops?

The ad’s narrator says that “with a government shutdown looming in Washington,” Denham “voted against a measure to guarantee our troops would still receive their pay.” But that’s not what really happened.

Before a pending government shutdown on April 9, 2011, Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky introduced a bill, H.R. 1363, to provide funding for the Defense Department for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The “troop funding bill,” as Republicans called it, also included a continuing resolution to fund other government agencies for an additional week through April 15, 2011, while members of the House and Senate worked on a final budget agreement.

In a statement, Rogers said that “our troops and their families deserve to have the financial security we promised them while we continue to work towards a final budget agreement.” Denham voted in favor of the bill, which passed with 247 votes in the House, including 15 votes from Democrats.

What Denham voted against was a procedural motion brought by Democratic Rep. Bill Owens of New York during the floor debate on the legislation. Owens was seeking an amendment to the legislation, which he said would “ensure that the members of the armed services will be paid in the event of a government shutdown.”

But Rogers called the motion “nothing more than a dilatory tactic,” saying that the bill that he sponsored already “provides the essential funds for our men and women who are in harm’s way on three battlefields around the world.” And considering that the White House had indicated that President Obama would veto the Republican’s bill — because it also contained a provision banning taxpayer funding of abortions in Washington, D.C. — it’s not clear how Owen’s amendment would have guaranteed pay for troops any more than the so-called “troop funding” legislation offered by Rogers.

Protecting His Own Pay?

The ad’s narrator also claims that Denham, while voting against pay for the troops, “did vote to protect his own paycheck.” But, again, that’s not accurate.

On March 30, 2011, House Republicans introduced H.R. 1255, also known as the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act.” The bill stipulated that if the Senate didn’t pass its own budget plan for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year by April 6, 2011, then H.R. 1, the Republican budget plan that passed the House back in February 2011 — but failed in the Senate — would become law. The bill also stated that members of Congress and the president wouldn’t be paid during the period in which the government wasn’t operating.

Some questioned whether the bill, which was considered to be purely “symbolic,” was even constitutional, considering that it takes both houses of Congress to pass a bill into law. But the House passed it anyway on April 1, with only Republicans, including Denham, voting in favor.

Democrats had tried to add an amendment to the bill stipulating that members wouldn’t be paid during a government shutdown, and, in addition, wouldn’t receive any retroactive pay, either. But the constitutionality of the Democrats’ proposal was also questioned, and the motion was denied by a vote of 237 to 188, with Denham voting in the negative.

So that’s what the DCCC is referring to when it says that Denham “voted to protect his own paycheck.” But the truth is that, while Denham voted against the Democratic proposal, the bill that he did vote in favor of aimed to cut off members’ pay during a government shutdown.

Going to Court

Denham’s camp has filed a nine-page lawsuit against the DCCC and Sacramento television stations for airing the ads, according to the Fresno Bee. But it may not amount to much. The DCCC is still standing by the ad, for one, and it’s not likely that a court case could go through all of the necessary procedures before the Nov. 6 election. Furthermore, in court, Denham’s attorneys would have to prove that the DCCC knew the claims in the ad were false and that it acted in a reckless manner. Neither of which is easy to do in a libel suit.

— D’Angelo Gore