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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Begich’s Bogus Tax Boast

Sen. Mark Begich makes the bogus claim in two ads that he “voted against President Obama’s trillion-dollar tax increase.” Actually, he voted against a GOP resolution that set forth Obama’s spending levels for fiscal year 2013 but without the president’s policy language. The Democrats derided the resolution as a political stunt, and it failed 0-99.

The faux budget vote came in May 2012. Less than eight months later, Congress passed bipartisan legislation — the American Taxpayer Relief Act — to address the so-called fiscal cliff that contained some of the same tax hikes proposed in Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget. Begich voted for that bill.

The latest ad, “Two Views,” features Begich’s wife, Deborah, and mother, Pegge, disagreeing over whether the senator is “cheap,” as his wife describes him, or “frugal,” as his mother calls him. Kantar Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads, says the ad ran 18 of 19 days from Sept. 18 to Oct. 6.

At one point, Begich’s mom says: “He voted against President Obama’s trillion-dollar tax increase.” The same claim is made in another ad the Begich campaign calls “Reprise,” which CMAG says ran for more than two weeks through the end of September.

The fine print on the screen of both ads cites Senate roll call vote 97 on May 16, 2012. That was a vote on a motion to advance Senate Concurrent Resolution 41, a nonbinding budget resolution introduced on April 17, 2012, by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. It carried the cumbersome title, “A concurrent resolution setting forth the President’s budget request for the United States Government for fiscal year 2013, and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2014 through 2022.” The resolution did not contain Obama’s policy language — not even on his tax proposals. It simply laid out the spending levels, assuming higher revenues without specifying how they would be achieved.

The GOP-sponsored resolution was dismissed by Democrats as “not even serious,” as Sen. Tom Harkin put it during the floor debate.

Prior to the vote, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad held up the president’s budget proposal and Sessions’ resolution — “what Sen. Sessions describes as the president’s budget” — to make the point that there is a “big difference” between the two. “This is not the president’s budget, so of course we are not going to support it,” Conrad said.

The resolution was defeated 0-99. In a news story on the vote, Politico described it as a “political vote” that is “sure to become fodder for campaign ads.” Indeed, it has.

The president’s actual budget proposal, which was released about three months before the Senate vote on the Sessions resolution, contained roughly $1.5 trillion in tax increases, according to a CNN article cited by the Begich campaign in its supporting document for the “Two Views” ad.

CNN, Feb. 13, 2012: The budget also raises taxes by $1.5 trillion, including a provision to allow the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on families earning more than $250,000 a year, as well as incorporating the so-called Buffett Rule that requires households earning more than $1 million to pay a 30% tax rate.

Less than eight months later, Obama was able to convince Congress to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers.

In a bipartisan compromise, Obama and Republican leaders agreed to allow the top income tax rate to return to the pre-Bush level of 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent, for individuals earning more than $400,000 and families earning more than $450,000. They also agreed to increase the estate tax from 35 percent to 40 percent, and reduce the value of itemized deductions and other tax preferences for those earning more than $250,000 and families earning more than $300,000. The tax increases were part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which addressed the so-called fiscal cliff that threatened to plunge the nation into a recession. The administration said it raised taxes by $618 billion over 10 years.

Begich voted for that fiscal cliff deal, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate 89-8 on Jan. 1, 2013.

Although this is not mentioned in the TV ad, the campaign provides one other piece of evidence for its claim that Begich voted against “President Obama’s $1 trillion tax increase,” and that’s Begich’s vote a year later against the Senate Democrats’ budget proposal for fiscal year 2014. That budget resolution included a $1 trillion increase in taxes, and it passed by the slimmest possible margin, 50-49, on March 23, 2013, without Begich’s vote.

“Joining all Republicans voting no were four Democrats who face re-election next year in potentially difficult races: Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas,” the Associated Press reported at the time.

But that wasn’t a vote against “President Obama’s $1 trillion tax increase.” The resolution was proposed by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee. The White House welcomed the Senate proposal, releasing a statement that said in part: “The President has put a plan on the table that reflects compromise, and he will continue to work with both sides to see if there is an opportunity to reach a solution to our budget challenges. We hope we will find this compromise because that is what the American people expect and what they deserve.”

Ultimately, Ryan and Murray agreed on a bipartisan compromise that did not raise taxes.

The Begich ads could have said that he voted against his own party’s plan to raise taxes $1 trillion. But that’s not what the ads say, and even then, it would have been accurate only in this particular instance. Begich did vote with his party to raise taxes by $1 trillion in the Affordable Care Act. He also, as we mentioned earlier, voted for tax increases in the bipartisan fiscal cliff deal.

— Eugene Kiely

Correction, Oct. 10: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong month for the vote on the budget resolution sponsored by Sessions. It was in May 2012.