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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Midterm Mudslinging Not Yet Over

An ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee continues the relentless effort to tie Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to President Barack Obama, who is not very popular in Louisiana. But the ad stretches the facts on several points.

  • The ad accuses Landrieu of “weakening immigration,” based on her vote to block an amendment aimed at curbing Obama’s use of executive orders to address immigration. But Landrieu also voted to allow consideration of such a bill weeks later, and she has stated her opposition to addressing immigration by executive order.
  • The ad accuses Landrieu of “raising our taxes,” based on her vote for the Affordable Care Act. The law includes about $1 trillion worth of new taxes — with the heaviest burden falling on high-income taxpayers — but it also includes over $1 trillion worth of health care tax credits. So, the law includes both tax increases and tax cuts.
  • The ad also accuses her of “taking away our Second Amendment rights,” based on her support for a bill that would expand background checks to include sales by unlicensed individuals at gun shows and over the Internet. Despite the ad’s sweeping claim, Landrieu has been a staunch protector of a citizen’s right to own guns.

Wait, you say, aren’t the midterm elections over? Not in Louisiana, where the top two vote-getters on Nov. 4, Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, will compete in a Dec. 6 runoff.

Landrieu got the most votes in the Nov. 4 election, edging out Cassidy 42.1 percent to 41 percent. But polls suggest Landrieu will have a tougher time in the runoff, as many of the 13.8 percent who voted for tea party Republican Rob Maness are expected to switch their allegiance to Cassidy. One bad sign for Landrieu: the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recently cancelled $1.8 million worth of TV ad time it had reserved to support Landrieu.

The NRSC Attack

Two days after the Nov. 4 election, the NRSC launched its latest ad attacking Landrieu as a rubber stamp for President Obama, whose job approval rating is low in Louisiana.

“Do you agree with your spouse 97 percent of the time? Your kids? The ref at the game?” the narrator in the ad asks. “Chances are, no. But amazingly, Mary Landrieu has agreed with Obama 97 percent of the time, including on destroying our health care, raising our taxes, weakening immigration and taking away our Second Amendment rights.”

It’s true that, in 2013, Landrieu voted with Obama 97 percent of the time, while Cassidy backed Obama just 8 percent of the time, according to CQ Weekly. But as far as party loyalty, CQ found Landrieu was less likely to back her fellow Democrats in the Senate (which she did 90 percent of the time) than Cassidy was to back his fellow Republicans in the House, which he did 96 percent of the time. Which begs the question: Does Cassidy agree with his spouse and kids 96 percent of the time? But we digress.

 ‘Weakening Immigration’

We’ll start with the weakest of the ad’s claims, that Landrieu agreed with Obama on “weakening immigration.” As backup, the NRSC points to a procedural vote cast on July 31, blocking the Republicans’ ability to add an amendment to an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to respond to a surge of unaccompanied children from Central America being apprehended at the southwest border. The Republicans had hoped to add an amendment from Sens. Jeff Sessions and Ted Cruz that sought to block Obama from carrying out his promise to take executive action to protect many immigrant families from the threat of deportation.

Minutes later, Landrieu also voted against the underlying $2.7 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill. It was one of the few instances in which Landrieu parted ways with the Obama agenda this year.

Landrieu, July 30: I stand willing to work with members of both parties to craft a solution that addresses the emergency of unaccompanied children crossing our southwest border. However, I cannot support spending significant taxpayer money without strong accountability and clear goals to ensure that we get the results we all want. Unfortunately, the proposal before the Senate does not go far enough to ensure that these children are reconnected in the countries of origin with safe and protective families.

But there’s a gaping hole in the NRSC’s argument. It ignores Landrieu’s vote on Sept. 18 on yet another procedural vote aimed at blocking Republicans from forcing consideration of the Sessions-Cruz amendment to block executive-action protections for immigrants living in the country illegally. The vote this time fell 50-50, and prevented consideration of the Republican amendment. But Landrieu voted for the motion, along with all Senate Republicans.

The Hill noted that Landrieu, as well as Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kay Hagan — all of  whom were embroiled in tough reelection bids — broke ranks with their party to back the motion. One could argue that it was a political calculation. Nonetheless, Landrieu can rightly claim to have supported it.

Landrieu also has stated publicly that she opposes the president tackling immigration reform via executive order. At a press conference after a debate on Oct. 14, Landrieu told Breitbart News that she supported the bipartisan Senate immigration bill passed in 2013 that provided a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. “So, I do not support executive action,” Landrieu said. “I support congressional action. I have already voted for that bill.”

‘Raising Our Taxes’

The ad’s claims about Landrieu agreeing with Obama on “destroying our health care” and “raising our taxes” both refer to Landrieu’s vote for the Affordable Care Act.

We’re not going to get into the debate about whether the Affordable Care Act is “destroying our health care,” as that amounts to political opinion. The ad, does, however, cite a Dec. 30, 2013, story in The Advocate that reported that 92,793 insurance plans in Louisiana were discontinued because they did not meet the law’s minimum coverage standards. However, after Obama allowed insurance companies to continue to offer older plans that didn’t meet ACA standards for one more year, about 31,000 of the original number were able to keep their insurance plans.

Also worth noting, Landrieu introduced the Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act, which would have gone even farther than Obama did. It sought to require insurance companies to offer renewals of the canceled plans, rather than giving the companies the option to renew them.

The Hill, Nov. 5, 2013: “We said to people that if they have insurance they like, they can keep it,” Landrieu said. “We didn’t say that if they have insurance they like that doesn’t meet the standards or that meets the minimum standards, they can keep it.

“We said, and the president said over and over, that if people have insurance, and they like the insurance they have, they can keep it. That is my bill. That is the single focus of my bill.”

The bill did not advance out of committee.

The claim that Landrieu supported “raising our taxes” also relates to her vote for the Affordable Care Act. It is accurate to say that the bill includes $1 trillion worth of new taxes over the 2013-2022 time period, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of a proposal to repeal the law.

An analysis from the House Ways and Means Committee provides a rough breakdown of those new taxes. Much of the new tax burden — $318 billion — will fall on high-income earners. For example, the ACA includes an additional 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax and a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income — both for individuals making more than $200,000, and couples making more than $250,000. There is also a tax on so-called “Cadillac” high-cost health care plans beginning in 2018; a tax on drug manufacturers; a tax on manufacturers of certain medical devices; a tax on health insurance providers; and, of course, taxes related to the employer and individual mandates.

However, the law also will provide more than $1 trillion worth of health care subsidies, over that same period of time, that will come via refundable tax credits. In an Aug. 14, 2013, report, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that “about half (48%) of people now buying their own insurance would be eligible for a tax credit that would offset their premium.”

In other words, the law cuts two ways — increasing taxes for some, but decreasing taxes for others who qualify for health care subsidies. The NRSC ad only refers to one side of the equation.

‘Taking Away Our Second Amendment Rights’

So, how did Landrieu take away people’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms?

The NRSC ad cites her vote in favor of an amendment crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican, in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that would have expanded background checks to private sales by unlicensed individuals at gun shows and over the Internet.

In a vote of 54 to 46, the Manchin-Toomey amendment failed to garner the 60 votes needed to move forward — despite Landrieu’s support.

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action argues that a vote for the Manchin-Toomey amendment “constitutes a vote to take away gun rights.”

NRA-ILA, Oct. 3: Currently, gun owners in most states enjoy the right to privately transfer firearms. They often do so by facilitating such transfers at gun shows and by advertising through online and print publications. The private transfer restriction amendment would have outlawed this activity, making firearm transfers more difficult, and therefore less likely to occur.

As we wrote when the NRA made a similar claim in an earlier ad attacking Landrieu, it’s a long stretch from a debate about the inconvenience of background checks at gun shows to the blanket claim that Landrieu wants to take away people’s Second Amendment right to own a gun.

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 voted to prevent the seizure of firearms during a state of emergency. Landrieu 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, she has consistently shown support for protecting Americans’ right to own guns.

— Robert Farley