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Cherry-Picking Toomey’s Votes

A liberal political action committee uses the old trick of cherry-picking votes, making it seem as if Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania chose to give tax breaks to “the super-rich and corporations” instead of funding education.

There wasn’t any either-or vote, and, in fact, Toomey has voted for both education funding and tax increases for the wealthy.

The group, End Citizens United, starting airing its TV ad against Toomey on Aug. 23, and says in a press release that it will air through Sept. 5 in the Pittsburgh, Harrisburg-Lancaster and Wilkes Barre markets.

The ad says, “In Washington, Senator Toomey makes choices. Like fund education? Or tax breaks for the super-rich and corporations? Hint — millionaire Toomey chose the tax breaks.”

But as the backup material for the ad makes clear, Toomey wasn’t faced with a “choice” between one or the other.

The education vote was actually a party-line vote against an amendment for a larger education bill, which Toomey supported. The amendment, sponsored by the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, called for the establishment of public preschool for low- and moderate-income families, funded by both the federal government and the states. Not a single Republican voted for it, and not a single Democrat voted against it. (Three senators did not vote.)

Casey’s amendment would have provided grants to states for pre-K programs, with a requirement for states to put up 10 percent of the funding in the first year, increasing to 40 percent in the fifth year (with some reduced matching rates for states that met certain requirements). The federal money for the proposal amounted to nearly $27 billion over five years, offset by a “fair share tax” on those whose adjusted gross income was more than $1 million a year.

The larger bill was the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. And Toomey, along with most Democrats and Republicans, voted for that bill. It passed with an 81-17 vote.

Education Week wrote that the passage of the legislation “proved a rare example of bipartisan politicking, with co-authors Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., carefully ushering the measure through the amendment process and floor debate with little to no drama.” Among the education funding mechanisms in the bill, said Education Week: “[I]t would list early-childhood education as an allowable use of funding for a broad swath of programs.”

The legislation was an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which was enacted under President George W. Bush. In signing the bill into law, President Barack Obama said: “This bill makes long-overdue fixes to the last education law, replacing the one-size-fits-all approach to reform with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education.”

A year earlier, Toomey, in another sweeping bipartisan vote, supported the reauthorization of a block grant program for states to help low-income families with child care expenses.

Tax Breaks for the ‘Super-Rich’?

As for “tax breaks for the super-rich and corporations,” End Citizens United points to Toomey’s vote on a Republican proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, even for the top income tax brackets. That plan also would not have extended some tax breaks that were in the stimulus law, such as an expansion of the earned income child tax credit.

The GOP plan failed. But, in the end, Toomey did vote for a tax hike for those upper-income earners. In an 89-8 vote on New Year’s Day 2013, the Senate passed the so-called fiscal cliff legislation that allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire for individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000.

So, “millionaire Toomey,” as the ad calls him, voted for a tax increase on millionaires, and those earning about half that in annual income. (Toomey is the 151st wealthiest member of Congress, with a net worth of $1.62 million, according to Roll Call.)

The backup for the ad also cites Toomey’s support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget plan, which would have cut both spending and taxes. But the vote in May 2012 was on a nonbinding resolution, which wouldn’t by itself have enacted the spending or tax provisions. Senate Republicans that day voted on several budget proposals that were more for show than anything else —  including one by Toomey to balance the budget in eight years. As Bloomberg News reported: “The U.S. Senate rejected five competing budget plans as Republicans attempted to embarrass Democrats for failing to adopt a budget this year. Taking advantage of an obscure Senate rule, Republicans today forced votes on their budget plans as well as one modeled on President Barack Obama’s tax-and-spending request.”

In terms of tax breaks for corporations, the PAC points to Toomey’s vote against 2012 legislation that would have stripped tax breaks from oil companies and extended tax subsidies for renewable energy. Roll Call wrote that “Republicans argued that the bill would result in higher gas prices as a result of oil companies passing on their higher tax bill to consumers.”

At any rate, the vote didn’t represent a choice between tax breaks for corporations and education funding, as the ad implies.

End Citizens United, as the name says, is dedicated to reversing the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which said corporations and labor unions could spend unlimited amounts for independent expenditures in elections. The group faults Toomey for voting against Democratic measures to require more disclosure of donors to interest groups. And it ties Toomey to the Koch brothers and their nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors and has spent about $137,000 in the Pennsylvania Senate race against Democrat Katie McGinty, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Freedom Partners, a Koch-backed super PAC, has spent $5 million against McGinty.

All told, outside groups have spent $34.3 million in what is now the most expensive Senate race in the 2016 cycle.