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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NRCC Distorts McIntyre’s Fiscal Record

The National Republican Congressional Committee distorts Rep. Mike McIntyre’s record on balanced budgets and congressional pay in a TV ad:

  • The ad says McIntyre “took a 30 percent pay increase.” It wasn’t a single pay raise. Congressional pay has gone up 30 percent over 17 years, while the Consumer Price Index rose 46 percent. Congressional pay hasn’t kept pace with inflation because Congress voted six times in 17 years to reject automatic cost-of-living wage increases. McIntyre voted against pay raises in all six years.
  • The ad also says McIntyre “voted against balanced budgets,” citing his opposition to GOP-drafted budget resolutions for fiscal years 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2014. But the ad cherry picks four votes over 17 years. It ignores his support for other bills, such as the GOP-drafted “Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011,” and his long support for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The NRCC also says McIntyre “charged us for his anniversary in a five-star Italian hotel” in 2011. That’s misleading. McIntyre was one of six House members who traveled to Russia and Europe as part of an official congressional delegation. His wedding anniversary did fall during the 10-day trip, but he didn’t travel to Italy for his wedding anniversary and the government did not pay for his wife’s expenses.

‘Wasting Our Money — On Him’

McIntyre, a Democrat in the swing state of North Carolina, has been on the NRCC’s target list for the past two campaigns, with the party increasing its spending to defeat him with each passing election. The NRCC spent $1.6 million in a failed attempt to defeat him last year, and nearly $400,000 in 2010. Already he’s in the NRCC’s crosshairs — more than a year before the 2014 general election.

The latest ad, released Aug. 20 and titled “Free Spending,” seeks to portray McIntyre as wasting tax dollars on himself. In one of its claims, the ad says that McIntyre “even took a 30 percent pay increase.” The use of the singular phrase “a 30 percent pay increase” leaves the false impression it was a large, single pay hike. The screen displays these words, “McIntyre congressional salary increased from $133,600 to $174,000.” The ad never says over what time period or what role McIntyre had in increasing congressional pay.

The fact is that McIntyre — like all rank-and-file members of Congress — is entitled by law to a $174,000 annual salary, which is up from $133,600 when he first took office in January 1997. The 30 percent increase occurred over 17 years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator shows that $133,600 in 1997 had the buying power of $194,455.02 — so the current congressional salary hasn’t kept up with inflation, even though the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 established an annual adjustment formula to congressional pay. Why? That’s because Congress on occasion has voted to reject the automatic pay increases — which brings us to McIntyre’s role in congressional pay.

McIntyre routinely votes to block automatic pay increases — sometimes with success, sometimes not.

Since McIntyre joined Congress in January 1997, Congress has enacted legislation to delay or deny the annual adjustments eight times covering six fiscal years: 1999, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, as illustrated in Table 3 of a June 20 CRS report on the history of congressional pay. McIntyre voted against pay raises for each of those six years, although in three cases he voted against final passage of larger bills that contained language delaying or denying Congress a pay hike.

Here’s McIntyre’s voting record on congressional pay during those six years (the bills or resolutions became law unless noted otherwise):

July 30, 1998: He voted for the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (aka the Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act), which denied a congressional pay raise in fiscal 1999. The vote was 391-25.

Dec. 8, 2006: He voted for a continuing appropriations resolution that delayed a pay raise for fiscal 2007 from taking effect until Feb. 16, 2007. That delay was made permanent by passage of the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution Act of 2007 (aka the Further Continuing Appropriations Act), which “prohibits the percentage salary adjustment scheduled to take effect for 2007 for Members of Congress from taking effect.” The House passed that bill 286-140 on Jan. 31, 2007. McIntyre voted for it.

Feb. 25, 2009: He voted for the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which included language to prevent the automatic pay increase from taking effect as scheduled in 2010.

April 27, 2010: He voted for a standalone bill that rejected the cost-of-living pay raise scheduled for fiscal 2011, as did virtually all of the House members. The bill passed 402-15.

Dec. 21, 2010: He voted against the Continuing Appropriations and Surface Transportation Extensions Act, which extended the congressional pay freeze through Dec. 31, 2012.

Feb. 1, 2012: He voted for a standalone bill that would have extended the congressional pay freeze through Dec. 31, 2013. The measure passed 309-117, but it did not become law.

Sept. 13, 2012: He voted against a continuing budget resolution that funded government for the first six months of fiscal 2013, through March 27, 2013. That law also temporarily extended the congressional pay freeze.

Jan. 1, 2013: He voted for the Congressional Pay Freeze and Fiscal Responsibility Act “[t]o prevent the 2013 pay adjustment for Members of Congress.” It passed 287-129, but did not become law. Instead, the pay freeze was contained in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. McIntyre voted for the House version of that bill, but against the final version of the bill with the Senate amendments.

McIntyre’s opposition to congressional pay raises also extended to years when the idea wasn’t so popular with Congress and efforts to block the increases failed.

For example, a group of House members sought to block an automatic 2.7 percent congressional pay raise in 2000 — which at the time would have raised the salary to about $145,100, beginning in January 2001. The July 20, 2000, vote was on a procedural motion that came during debate on the Treasury-Postal Services Appropriations Act. The motion passed 250-173. “A yes vote endorsed a congressional pay raise,” according to an item that appeared in the Washington Post. McIntyre voted no. He cast the same “no” vote in 1997.

In addition to criticizing McIntyre for receiving a government paycheck, the ad also criticizes McIntyre for taking government-paid trips and leased cars.

The ad says McIntyre “leased three cars and gave us the bill” and “charged us for his anniversary in a five-star Italian hotel.” The Myrtle Beach Sun News reported in 2006 that McIntyre was one of 136 House members who in 2005 leased cars at the government’s expense. The paper said he leased a Chevrolet Trailblazer, a Pontiac Grand Prix and a Pontiac Bonneville at about $13,000 a year. So that’s true, and the congressman defended the leases as a necessary part of constituent service.

But the claim that he “charged [taxpayers] for his anniversary in a five-star Italian hotel” is misleading.

The Huffington Post article cited by the NRCC said McIntyre and his wife, Dee, were part of a CODEL — Washington jargon for a congressional delegation — that went to Rome; Tbilisi, Georgia; Vilnius, Lithuania; Moscow; and Lisbon in 2011. There were six House members on the trip, which lasted 10 days. The article notes: “According to the itinerary, Dee and Mike McIntyre will celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary in Rome.” Later, it says, “After flying overnight to Rome, the coterie will check in Saturday for two nights at a 5-star hotel on the famous and expensive Via Veneto.”

The McIntyre campaign does not dispute Huffington Post’s account. But it tells us in a statement that the congressman and his wife personally “paid for any expenses incurred by the government on behalf of Mrs. McIntyre.” That would be consistent with House rules on foreign travel announced May 14, 2010, by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The policy states that spouses of House members may go on the trip but “at no cost to the federal government.”

The campaign also says McIntyre was invited by then-Rep. Dan Burton, who at the time was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Europe and Eurasia subcommittee, “to meet with foreign ministers, Members of Parliament, ambassadors, business leaders, and economic development officials to discuss a host of important issues related to trade, national security, jobs, and international relations.” McIntyre is a senior member of the House Armed Services and a member of the Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Balanced Budgets

The ad also says: “For nearly 20 years, he’s voted against balanced budgets, while our debt skyrocketed.” On the screen, viewers see the total national debt quickly spin from $5.3 trillion, which is where it was when McIntyre entered Congress in 1997, to the $16.7 trillion that it is today.

The NRCC cites McIntyre’s votes against the House budget resolutions for fiscal years 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2014. These are nonbinding statements of policy drafted by the party in power that guide the appropriations process. They are not required to be signed into law by the president and, in fact, they are not required at all. The fiscal year 1999 House budget resolution cited as one of the “balanced budgets” that McIntyre opposed was never adopted by Congress, as the Congressional Research Service explains in a report on the history of budget resolutions. The proposed tax cuts and spending cuts contained in the House budget resolution went beyond what had been agreed to in the 1997 balanced budget deal, the New York Times reported at the time. It was one of those classic inside-the-beltway battles between the House and Senate over the size of tax cuts and spending cuts that resulted in a stalemate.

Congress is at a stalemate again over the fiscal 2014 budget resolution. The NRCC cites McIntyre’s vote against the House budget plan for fiscal 2014 as further evidence that he’s voted against balanced budgets, because the plan calls for deep spending cuts and no tax increases to balance the budget in 10 years. But no House Democrat voted for the GOP plan, and the Senate and House have yet to reconcile their competing budget visions. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the stalemate once again “shows just how optional a budget can be.”

The fact is that McIntyre is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of self-described conservative Democrats. The Almanac of American Politics (2012) describes McIntyre as “a centrist” and “one of the House Democrats most likely to break ranks.” He was one of just five Democrats, for example, to vote for the Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011 — a Republican-drafted bill that among other things would have required passage of a balanced budget amendment before raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Despite the ad’s depiction of debt clocks that spin out of control, McIntyre has voted against raising the debt limit far more frequently than he has voted to raise it. There have been 12 votes to raise the nation’s borrowing limit since 1997, according to a May 22, 2013 Congressional Research Service (table 2). The House had roll call votes on nine of those occasions. McIntyre voted against the raising the limit seven times and voted for it twice. Both times the debt ceiling language was part of larger bills: the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more commonly known as the stimulus bill).

In addition to being a Blue Dog, McIntyre is a founding member of the Balanced Budget Amendment Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members who support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. McIntyre cosponsored a Balanced Budget Amendment Act on his first day as a congressman in 1997, and since then he has cosponsored 10 resolutions in six years to require a balanced budget amendment: twice in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, three times in 2011, and twice in 2013. He voted in 2011 for the constitutional amendment, which gathered 261 votes but fell short of the two-thirds majority required to pass.

We take no position on whether members of Congress are underpaid or overpaid, or whether congressional rules on leased cars and foreign travel are good or bad. And the NRCC has a point that the federal debt has “skyrocketed,” as the ad says. But the ad also ignores McIntyre’s voting record on balanced budget bills and congressional pay and, in the process, distorts his record.

— Eugene Kiely