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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Falsehoods Flying in Connecticut Senate Race

Linda McMahon falsely claims in a TV ad that Rep. Chris Murphy “voted to raise middle-class Social Security taxes.” The ad cites two votes on end-of-year tax deals — but neither bill would have increased the payroll tax that funds Social Security:

  • Murphy voted against the 2010 tax deal that extended the Bush-era tax cuts and reduced the Social Security payroll tax for one year. But voting against cutting Social Security taxes is not the same as voting to raise them.
  • A year later, Murphy voted against a Republican version of a bill to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut for another year. But he voted for the bipartisan compromise bill that became law and extended the tax cut through 2012.

The ad also rehashes the shopworn claim against Democrats who voted for the health care law when it says Murphy “voted to cut Medicare for current recipients by $716 billion.” As we’ve said, the “cut” is a reduction in future spending over 10 years and most of that comes from reducing payments to Medicare providers, not in benefits for “current recipients.”

It also distorts the facts when it says Murphy has been “raking in a million dollars in salary” — which is the total each rank-and-file House member received from 2007 to 2012.

Social Security Tax

Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration in Connecticut. But the Senate race between McMahon and Murphy has been surprisingly close, accompanied by a bevy of false claims and counterclaims.

Last month, we wrote about a Democratic super PAC’s TV ad that falsely claimed McMahon’s tax plan would hurt the middle class, even though her plan would reduce the tax rate only for middle-income taxpayers. This time, we find fault with a McMahon ad titled “No Plan.”

The ad opens by accusing Murphy of “lying to you about Linda McMahon and Social Security.” That’s a response to Murphy’s bogus charge — as we will explain later — that McMahon has “radical plans to end Social Security.” The fact is that Murphy didn’t vote to raise Social Security taxes on the middle class and McMahon doesn’t have a plan to end Social Security.

The ad claims that Murphy “voted to raise middle-class Social Security taxes.” He didn’t. The ad cites two votes, and we’ll take them one at a time.

In December 2010, the House voted to reduce the employee portion of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for one year. The vote was part of a larger tax cut deal that was worked out between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders to extend the Bush tax cuts. Obama wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 families earning less $250,000, but he agreed to the tax deal after Republican resistance to raising taxes on upper-income taxpayers. In exchange, Obama pressed for and received the Social Security payroll cut.

Murphy did vote against the final legislation that Obama signed, so McMahon could say Murphy voted against cutting Social Security taxes. But she can’t say he “voted to raise middle-class Social Security taxes.” His vote against the tax cut deal would have kept the payroll tax at the same rate. It’s also worth noting that two weeks earlier, Murphy did vote for the Democratic version of the bill, which would have also cut the payroll tax but would not have extended the Bush tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers.

A year later, in December 2011, Congress was debating an extension of the payroll tax holiday that was set to expire at the end of the month. McMahon cites Murphy’s vote against the GOP version of the payroll tax extension, but that bill contained so many provisions opposed by Democrats that Obama had already threatened to veto it.

On Dec. 23, the House and Senate unanimously and without a recorded vote agreed to extend the Social Security payroll tax until March 1, 2012. The ad doesn’t mention that. Nor does it mention, more important, that Murphy voted for the bipartisan compromise worked out between Democrats and Republicans to extend the lower tax rate through the end of 2012, rather than let it expire as scheduled on March 1.

Congressional Salary

The ad is also misleading when it says Murphy has been “raking in a million dollars in salary” in Congress. As the announcer says this, the text on the screen reads: “Congressional Chris Murphy: $1 Million in Taxpayer-Funded Salary.” Murphy’s annual salary has never been close to $1 million, although viewers might be left with that impression.

In tiny print, it says “Congressional salaries 2007 through 2012.” Like all rank-and-file members of Congress in office during that period, Murphy has been earning $174,000 a year since 2009, and in the years prior, he was earning slightly less. He’s earned $1,030,500 over the course of his six years in the House.

So, it’s true that Murphy has been paid by taxpayers for serving in Congress. But it proves nothing else.

$716 Billion ‘Cut’?

McMahon also accuses Murphy of voting “to cut Medicare for current recipients by $716 billion.”

However, as we have written before, the Affordable Care Act calls for a $716 billion reduction in the future growth of Medicare spending over 10 years, with most of that — about $415 billion — coming from a reduction in the growth of payments to hospitals through Medicare Part A. And Medicare Part A’s trust fund, as we’ve explained before, is in trouble financially. It’s set to be insolvent in 2024, even with these spending cuts. Without them, the trust fund wouldn’t be able to fully pay projected benefits in 2016, the Medicare trustees estimate.

For more on Medicare, please read our Aug. 22 article “A Campaign Full of Mediscare.”

Is Murphy ‘Lying’?

Ironically, the ad starts out by asking, “Why is Chris Murphy lying to you about Linda McMahon and Social Security?” — before proceeding to make false claims itself. But McMahon is right to claim that her views have been misrepresented by Murphy.

Murphy’s website features a false claim that McMahon has “radical plans to end Social Security.” The claim was also repeated in a joint ad from Majority PAC and Connecticut’s Future PAC, and The Hartford-Courant found it was false in a “Claim Check” article.

The claim centers on an out-of-context quote. Murphy has claimed that McMahon favors a sunset provision — which would force Congress to reauthorize Social Security after a given amount of time — but there is no such proposal.

During an April 2012 town hall discussion organized by the Connecticut Second District Tea Party Patriots, McMahon said that “I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation, so that you take a look at it 10, 15 years down the road to make sure that it’s still going to fund itself.”

But as The Hartford Courant explained in its “Claim Check” article:

But there is no McMahon sunset proposal. What McMahon said was that at the time Social Security was enacted — in 1935 — there should have been a mechanism to revisit the law and see if it was financially sustainable. Voters are free to disagree with that sentiment and hold the position that Social Security, once enacted, was rightly protected from subsequent review. But McMahon’s comment does not indicate support for imposing a sunset provision right now on the 77-year-old program, and it is an even more-absurd stretch to proclaim that McMahon has a plan that would “end Social Security.”

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. McMahon’s complaint that Murphy is “lying” to Connecticut voters about her and Social Security rings hollow when she proceeds to do the very same thing.

— Michael Morse and Eugene Kiely, with Rina Moss and Nathan Emmons