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FactChecking the Kentucky Senate Race

In what has shaped up as the most expensive Senate race in the country, Kentucky voters have a stark choice between Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

After seven years as Senate minority leader, McConnell now sees an opportunity — should Republicans recapture the Senate — to finally set a Republican agenda as majority leader and combat what he describes as Obama’s liberal program. In ads, McConnell and his allies have repeatedly portrayed Grimes as a proxy for Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.

Grimes, meanwhile, says after nearly three decades of McConnell in the Senate, it is time for a change. In ads and speeches, she has tagged McConnell as out of touch with Kentucky values and a key contributor to Washington gridlock.

Against that backdrop, the two candidates have launched a fierce battle on issues ranging from the Affordable Care Act and Medicare to jobs and coal. Too often, though, facts have taken a backseat to the political narratives.

Claim: McConnell voted “two times against the Violence Against Women Act.”

Facts: He did. But McConnell has never opposed the central purpose of the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, he was a co-sponsor of the original bill in 1991, and he has twice supported its reauthorization.

senatebattleIn a campaign ad, Grimes highlighted two of McConnell’s votes against Democratic measures. McConnell voted against a Democratic-sponsored massive crime bill that included the Violence Against Women Act, because, he said, it also contained a ban on assault weapons.

More recently, McConnell voted against reauthorization of the law in 2012 and 2013, because he opposed Democratic expansions of the bill that included provisions for same-sex couples and immigrants. In both cases, McConnell supported Republican alternatives to those bills that he believed would have strengthened the Violence Against Women Act.

Full story: “Playing Politics with Violence Against Women,” July 31

Claim: Grimes was “silent as Obama attacked coal.”

Facts: Grimes has been critical throughout her campaign of Obama administration regulations on the coal industry. In fact, in the very newspaper article cited in the TV ad’s small print, Grimes is quoted as saying, “I will not stand idle as overreaching regulation adversely impacts jobs and middle-class families.”

During her first campaign rally in Lexington on July 30, 2013, Grimes said: “I’m here to tell you I don’t always agree with the president. I think he is wrong on coal.” In September 2013, when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new greenhouse gas rules for future power plants, Grimes said the rule left her “deeply disappointed.”

And in June, when Obama proposed new regulations on existing coal plants, Grimes ran a radio ad saying the regulations “are impossible to achieve” and will cost more coal jobs. That was the same month that the pro-McConnell group Kentucky Opportunity Coalition aired this TV ad accusing Grimes of being “silent” on Obama’s “new attack on coal.”

Full Story: “Correcting Kentucky Claim on Coal,” June 9

Claim: McConnell saved 99 percent of Kentuckians from “Obama’s tax increases.”

Facts: The actual figure is closer to 1 percent to 2 percent.

This claim, made in a McConnell TV ad, is based on the compromise he helped craft to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. As part of the deal, Bush-era tax cuts that were set to expire were permanently extended for individuals making less than $400,000 and couples making less than $450,000. But the McConnell ad suggests Obama wanted the income tax rate to rise for everyone, when in fact the president only called for allowing the higher tax rates to kick in for individuals making more than $200,000 or couples making more than $250,000.

McConnell and other Republicans can credibly claim to have increased the threshold from $200,000/$250,000 to $400,000/$450,000. But that’s all. That translates to saving 1 percent to 2 percent of Americans from “Obama’s tax increases.”

Full story: “McConnell’s Bloated Tax Boast,” April 23

Claim: McConnell voted to raise Medicare costs by $6,000.

Facts: McConnell did no such thing. Nor did any other Republican.

The Grimes ad cites McConnell’s 2011 procedural vote to advance a nonbinding budget resolution that had been drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan. That budget blueprint advocated phasing out traditional, government-administered Medicare and replacing it gradually with a “premium-support” system of government-subsidized private insurance. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of that plan indicated that a 65-year-old enrolled in the “premium-support” plans in 2020 would pay $6,000 more than under traditional Medicare.

But anyone already on Medicare — including the elderly man in Grimes’ ad — would not have been affected. Ryan’s premium-support plan pertained to those who were younger than 55. Additionally, the CBO has effectively retracted its $6,000 estimate, saying its 2011 report was a “rough analysis” based on assumptions that have turned out to be incorrect.

McConnell’s 2011 vote was on a motion to proceed to consider the Ryan budget. The motion failed on a mostly party-line vote, so there was no Senate vote on the Ryan budget itself.

Full Story: “Medicare Ghost Stories,” July 9

Claim: Obamacare — which Grimes supports — “cuts $700 billion from seniors’ Medicare.”

Facts: The Affordable Care Act doesn’t slash $700 billion from the current Medicare budget; instead, this is a cut in the future growth of spending over a decade.

Furthermore, the reductions apply to payments made to hospitals and other non-physician providers, and it remains to be seen whether those would translate into reduced services. Finally — and most ironic — that same $700 billion in “cuts” is part of the Ryan budget plan that McConnell voted to consider.

Full story: “Medicare Ghost Stories,” July 9

Claim: McConnell said it’s not his job to bring jobs to Kentucky.

Facts: McConnell doesn’t dispute saying it and no recording exists, but he claims that he misunderstood a reporter’s question and that his words have been misinterpreted. There is some evidence to support McConnell’s defense.

A laid off coal miner in a Grimes TV ad poses a question to McConnell: “Why’d you say it’s not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?” McConnell was quoted as saying, “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job.” But the comment came on the same day that he was in his home state to speak about jobs. So, the theme of McConnell’s speeches that day — four of them in all — was about the very issue (jobs) and the very industry (coal) that concerns the man featured in the Grimes ad. The speech McConnell delivered made clear that McConnell considers the protection of coal jobs, and fighting Obama’s regulations of coal mining, a key responsibility of his job.

Moreover, there have been numerous instances that show the senator considers creating jobs part of his job. He has supported approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, passage of trade legislation, and funding for job training and workforce development programs.

Full story: “Parsing McConnell’s Job Description,” July 25

Claim: McConnell voted to “raise his own pay four times.”

Facts: This claim simply ignores numerous votes McConnell has cast over his long career to prevent pay increases for members of Congress.

The ad — by the Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA — cites McConnell’s vote against a 2009 appropriations bill with a provision eliminating the pay raise scheduled to take effect in 2010. And the ad cites votes he cast in 2001, 2002 and 2003 to block amendments to bills that would have prevented pay raises in fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004.

That’s all true, but the ad disregards votes McConnell cast before and since that have or would have denied annual pay increases. Most recently, he supported measures that successfully blocked pay increases in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He also voted in 2007 to block a pay raise and, going back even further, McConnell, in 1995, voted for a budget resolution with a provision (later dropped) that would have frozen member pay for seven years.

Full story: “Cherry-Picking McConnell’s Pay Raise Votes,” June 21, 2013

– The Staff of FactCheck.org