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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Misleading Attack on McConnell

A conservative group misleadingly claims Sen. Mitch McConnell “funded the implementation of Obamacare.” McConnell voted to fund the government — including the department responsible for the Affordable Care Act. But he also voted for an amendment to that very bill that would have barred ACA funding. The amendment failed, but the final bill cut funding for some ACA programs.

In a fundraising email sent to its supporters, the Senate Conservatives Fund also says McConnell negotiated a deal with President Obama that “raised taxes on 80% of Americans.” That refers to the so-called fiscal cliff compromise legislation that allowed a temporary payroll tax reduction to expire.

The Senate Conservatives Fund is a political action committee dedicated to electing conservative politicians to the U.S. Senate. It is allied with former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who now heads the conservative Heritage Foundation. Although conservative, the group is not averse to taking on Republicans, as its website makes clear: “We do not support liberal Republicans and we’re not affiliated with the Republican Party or any of its campaign committees.”

The email from Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, argues that McConnell is “failing conservatives” and urges him to use his clout as the Senate Republican Leader to defeat the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill.

Senate Conservatives Fund email: As you may know, Senator McConnell has negotiated three deals with President Obama this year that:

1. Raised taxes on 80% of Americans;
2. Suspended the debt ceiling; and
3. Funded the implementation of Obamacare

McConnell has repeatedly stated his opposition to the health care law and his desire to see it repealed “in its entirety, root and branch.” Still, the Senate Conservatives Fund cites McConnell’s vote in March for the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act” as evidence that McConnell “[f]unded the implementation of Obamacare.” The bill — commonly known as a continuing budget resolution — avoided a government shutdown by providing funding for six more months.

The continuing resolution funded the entire federal government — including the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency primarily responsible for overseeing the Affordable Care Act. However, the bill also extended a 0.189 percent across-the-board rescission (see page 216) in the department’s budget. It also cut funding for some ACA-specific programs (see page 228), including $200 million from the Community-Based Care Transitions Program and $10 million from the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Furthermore, the resolution denied the $949 million requested by the White House Office of Management and Budget to help the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services establish new federal health insurance exchanges, as well as $29 million requested by CMS (see page 6) for health care fraud and abuse control. The denial of the federal exchange funding was initiated in the House, and according to Politico, “the Democratic-led Senate didn’t push the issue” — leaving that and other cuts in place.

Also, McConnell had earlier voted in favor of Sen. Ted Cruz’s amendmentto that very same bill that would have “prohibit[ed] the use of funds to carry out the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The amendment failed by a 45-52 vote.

As for the claim that McConnell “raised taxes on 80% of Americans,” it’s true that about 77 percent of Americans saw their taxes go up in 2013. However, this was largely due to the previously scheduled expiration of a temporary payroll tax cut.

In 2010, Congress reduced a payroll tax that workers pay on income up to $106,800 from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for 2011. The payroll tax “holiday” — championed by Obama — was billed as a temporary measure to goose a failing economy. It was extended for an additional year with bipartisan support. The Senate voted 89-10 on Dec. 17, 2011, to extend the payroll tax holiday for the first two months of 2012 and then on Feb. 17, 2012, voted 60-36 to extend it for the remainder of the year. McConnell voted for the extension both times.

However, by the end of that year, with the provision again set to expire, there proved little interest in Congress in extending it. As a result, the temporary tax cut was left out of the fiscal cliff deal and was allowed to expire.

Even Grover Norquist — president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform — said he did not consider a legislator who allowed the payroll tax cut to expire to be in violation of the group’s pledge against raising taxes. Norquist said it was “always a temporary measure.”

Americans for Tax Reform, Jan. 13, 2012: Because it was always a temporary measure, opposition to this extension cannot fairly be called support for a tax increase.

As for the claim that McConnell worked with Obama to suspend the debt ceiling “this year,” the Senate Conservatives Fund acknowledges it goofed on the date. The group said it meant to refer to a debt limit increase that McConnell negotiated with Obama in 2011. Earlier this year, McConnell voted against the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” which temporarily suspended the debt limit.

— Zachary Piaker, with Robert Farley