A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the Louisiana Senate Race


As the campaigns head into the home stretch, the Louisiana Senate race has shaped up as one of the least positive in the country. Small wonder. Louisiana has become one of the key battlegrounds in the Republican Party’s efforts to regain control of the Senate.

The seat has been held by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu since 1997, but polls show she is vulnerable in this red state. Landrieu faces Republicans Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness in the Nov. 4 election, but if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will square off in a Dec. 6 runoff. Polls show Cassidy leading Landrieu in a head-to-head race.

Over the last two weeks, the Wesleyan Media Project found just 18 percent of the ads in the Louisiana Senate race were positive, with the rest split almost evenly between contrast and negative ads. In the prior two-week period, there wasn’t a single positive ad aired in the race.

Where there are negative and comparison ads, fact-checkers often find themselves very busy. And that has certainly been the case in Louisiana.

 

Claim: Cassidy “voted for a plan that would cut veterans benefits.”

Facts: This is inaccurate. An ad aired separately by both Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA, two Democratic-aligned groups, cites Cassidy’s February 2012 vote for a Republican-sponsored bill that would have changed the budget process in a way that may or may not have resulted in budget cuts.

senatebattleSpecifically, the Baseline Reform Act would have changed how the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determines baseline projections used to measure the impact of changes in law. But, as CBO explained in its analysis, the bill “would not affect direct spending or revenues. Any impact on the budget would depend on the extent of future legislative actions by the Congress and the President.”

Cassidy is a Republican who supports cutting spending. Neither side disputes that. This ad, however, is wrong when it says Cassidy’s vote for the Baseline Reform Act “would cut veterans benefits.”

Full Story: “Democratic Assault on Cassidy’s Record,” Sept. 3

 

Claim: Cassidy sponsored a plan “called ‘Obamacare lite’ ” that would have set up “government-run health care” in Louisiana.

Facts: That’s pure invention; Cassidy’s bill did nothing of the sort.

Senate Majority PAC’s ad refers to S.B. 307, a bill that Cassidy introduced in 2007 when he was a Louisiana state senator. The bill had one pale similarity to what eventually became the federal Affordable Care Act — it would have set up something called a “Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange” within the state Department of Insurance. But Cassidy’s state-run exchange would have been nothing like the ACA. It didn’t include any new regulations on doctors, hospitals or patients, contrary to the ad’s claim that it amounted to “government-run health care.” The ACA, of course, isn’t “government-run health care” either, despite the many times Republicans have tried to brand it as such.

Cassidy’s bill led to nothing. It died quietly in committee without receiving even so much as a public hearing.

Full Story: ” ‘Cassidycare?’ Come On!” June 11

 

Claim: “Cassidy even said the government should automatically register us in Obamacare if we don’t sign up.”

Facts: Cassidy actually called for repealing the law and enrolling the uninsured in a scaled-back GOP alternative.

A Senate Majority PAC ad refers to remarks that Cassidy made on March 20 to the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. In those remarks, Cassidy did indeed argue for automatically signing up uninsured people for his Republican alternative to the ACA — not Obamacare.

Full Story: ” ‘Cassidycare?’ Come On!” June 11

 

Claim: “Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights.”

Facts: A TV ad by the National Rifle Association stretches Landrieu’s voting record to the breaking point to support its implication that she has supported policies that would prevent homeowners from being able to protect themselves against violent intruders.

The NRA cites Landrieu’s vote for a proposal that would have expanded background checks to private sales by unlicensed individuals at gun shows and over the Internet. It also cites her votes to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court — both of whom the NRA contends have been hostile to gun owners’ rights — and votes cast in 1999 and 2004 for amendments to close the so-called “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks on firearm transactions at gun shows.

Landrieu has co-sponsored and voted for legislation to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons in states other than their own, has repeatedly opposed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and has voted to prevent the seizure of firearms during a state of emergency. She also praised a decision by the Supreme Court to repeal a ban on carrying handguns in Washington, D.C., and voted in 2009 to “restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia” and to repeal its ban on semi-automatic weapons.

In other words, Landrieu has been an advocate for people — like the woman featured in the NRA ad — being able to keep firearms in their homes for protection.

Full story: “NRA’s Ominous But Misleading Appeal,” Oct. 3

 

Claim: Landrieu voted “to give benefits to those here illegally” instead of “fully funding veterans benefits.”

Facts: There was no such vote. Cassidy’s ad is referring to a procedural vote that prevented all Republican amendments to a bipartisan spending bill. As for the “veterans’ benefits,” Cassidy voted for the same cuts in a House version of that spending bill, and both candidates later voted to restore those reductions.

First of all, Landrieu never voted “to give benefits to those here illegally,” as the ad claims. The procedural vote that blocked Republican amendments to a bipartisan budget bill prevented a vote on an amendment from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions that would have restored a cut in the pensions of working-age military retirees and paid for it by taking away child tax credits from some immigrants living in the country illegally. Democrats have historically opposed such efforts, arguing that the chief beneficiaries of the child tax credit are the children of immigrants in the country illegally — and most of those children, they note, are legal citizens by birth.

But the Sessions amendment on military pensions never got a vote. And the point became moot when less than two months later both Landrieu and Cassidy joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House and Senate to restore the pension cuts before they ever had a chance to kick in.

Full Story: “False Choice: Veterans vs. Immigrants,” Sept. 19

 

Claim: Landrieu supports “amnesty.”

Facts: Landrieu voted on a bipartisan immigration bill that included an earned path to citizenship, not blanket amnesty.

Cassidy’s ad cites Landrieu’s vote in 2013 for S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, otherwise known as the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill. The bill included a series of border security measures that would have to be achieved before a pathway to citizenship would be available to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally since at least Dec. 31, 2011. The earned path to citizenship included paying fines and back taxes, proving gainful employment, completing background checks, learning English and civics, and going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.

We’ve said numerous times before that such an earned path to citizenship does not meet the strict definition of amnesty, which implies that immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally would be granted immediate, permanent residency without any of the requirements listed above. It’s a distinction Cassidy himself made in a 2013 interview.

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Cassidy doesn’t think border security is a problem.

Facts: A Landrieu ad quotes Cassidy out of context to suggest he’s weak on border security. In fact, he has a history of supporting enhanced border security.

In Landrieu’s ad, Cassidy is heard saying, “Our threat is not the folks coming across the border,” and the narrator responds, “Really? Mary Landrieu thinks that is the threat.” Actually, Cassidy was talking about the biggest threat to Louisiana jobs. He wasn’t saying the problem of immigrants coming across the border was not a threat, but rather that a moratorium on offshore drilling represented a comparatively bigger threat to Louisiana job creation.

Pulling the quote out of context as evidence that Cassidy “opposed a border fence” ignores Cassidy’s history of votes for border security.

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Landrieu “voted to … build triple-layer fencing.”

Facts: This is true, as Landrieu says in her TV ad. She voted to build hundreds of miles of it in 2006 — but seven years later, she called that vote a “mistake.”

In 2006, she voted for an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that provided $1.8 billion to construct 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the southwest border. She also voted that year for the Secure Fence Act, signed by President George W. Bush, that called for “at least two layers of reinforced fencing” for nearly 700 miles. Congress later gave the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to decide what type of fencing was appropriate for different regions along the border, and very little of it has been double- or triple-layer fencing.

But in June 2013, as the latest comprehensive Senate immigration bill was being debated, Landrieu opposed an amendment to the bill that would have required 350 miles of double-layer fencing along the southern border. In a floor speech opposing the amendment, Landrieu said she “voted for the dumb fence once” and wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Landrieu said she supported construction of a “smart fence” utilizing new technology, a combination of a “real and virtual fence that is actually going to work.”

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Landrieu “voted nine times to block amnesty.”

Facts: There were no votes on amnesty, contrary to this claim in a Landrieu ad. Her tortured logic: The current immigration system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” so her votes to overhaul the immigration system were votes to “block amnesty.”

Landrieu’s ad scrolls through vote numbers and dates, but fails to mention those were all votes related to the Gang of Eight Senate immigration bill. Most of the votes were procedural votes related to the bill, but the list also includes votes for border security amendments and her vote in favor of the final bill, which passed 68-32.

The Landrieu campaign quotes some Republicans who argued that the existing, broken immigration policy amounts to “de facto amnesty.” But the fact is those who live in the U.S. illegally were not granted amnesty, and there have been no votes to grant them amnesty. So she did not have the opportunity “to block amnesty.”

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17

 

Claim: Cassidy voted to cut Social Security benefits “to pay for a tax break for millionaires like himself.”

Facts: The proposal would have slowed Social Security spending to prolong the life of its trust funds — not to finance tax cuts.

Landrieu’s claim refers to Cassidy’s votes over the years for the Republican Study Committee’s budget resolutions, most recently for fiscal year 2015. It is true that the RSC budget resolution for fiscal 2015 would have reduced Social Security benefits by changing the method of calculating cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age.

However, the savings would not go “to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut,” as Landrieu says in the ad. The slower rate of spending from the Social Security trust funds would prolong the life of the funds and improve the program’s finances. Moreover, budget resolutions are nonbinding. They do not carry the force of law. An actual “cut” in Social Security benefits would require separate legislation.

Full Story: “Social Security Scare in Louisiana,” Aug. 7

 

Claim: The Koch brothers are “spending millions” to elect Cassidy so he will “fight for them” on issues such as their “fight to let flood insurance premiums soar.”

Facts: Cassidy championed flood insurance legislation that was opposed by Americans for Prosperity — a conservative advocacy group founded by David Koch.

A Senate Majority PAC ad uses guilt by association to tie Cassidy to brothers David and Charles Koch and AFP’s policy position on the National Flood Insurance Program, which is billions of dollars in the red.

Here’s what actually happened: A 2012 law designed to bring flood insurance premiums in line with actual costs threatened to result in “stratospheric” rate hikes for many homeowners in flood-prone areas such as in Louisiana. Late last year, Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York proposed legislation to soften the blow of rate hikes by reinstating grandfathered rates and capping premium increases. AFP and a coalition of other conservative groups opposed the legislation, arguing that it is not “reasonable to leave taxpayers on the hook for insuring private property.” But Cassidy, who co-sponsored the bill, led the charge to pass the legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama.

Full Story: “Guilt by Association in Louisiana,” April 10

— The Staff of FactCheck.org