Ads from two Democratic-aligned super PACs distort Dr. Mehmet Oz’s positions on taxes, Social Security and Medicare, and abortion.
- An ad from Senate Majority PAC says Oz would “hike taxes on working families” based on Oz’s vague comments praising a plan from Sen. Rick Scott that included a (since deleted) provision that said, “All Americans should pay some income tax … even if a small amount.” Oz has not endorsed that aspect of Scott’s original plan, and he vows to cut taxes.
- Ads from SMP and FF PAC attack Oz for supporting a plan that would “end” Social Security and Medicare — referring again to Scott’s plan, which would “sunset” all federal programs in five years unless Congress reauthorized them. But Oz has not expressed support for doing that. He says he wants to “strengthen” Social Security without “taking away benefits.”
- An ad from FF PAC claims that if you vote for Oz, “he’ll let politicians take away the right to choose, with no exceptions.” Oz opposes abortion, but has consistently said he supports exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. Oz also says he opposes a national abortion ban, and that such decisions should be left up to states.
The Pennsylvania Senate race between Oz and Democrat John Fetterman to replace Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is not seeking reelection, has been the most expensive race this year, and has attracted by far the most outside spending, according to Open Secrets.
Outside groups spent over $98.5 million on the Pennsylvania race from the May 17 primary through Oct. 14, Open Secrets reported.
The Democratic-aligned FF PAC and Senate Majority PAC, the third largest outside spender, are among those groups spending money attacking Oz, although outside groups have spent more money opposing Fetterman than Oz since the primary election, Open Secrets reported. (We have previously written about some of the misleading ad attacks on Fetterman.)
The ad from SMP claims Oz “praised a plan” that could “hike taxes on working families.”
The thin reed on which this claim rests is a favorable — albeit a general and guarded — comment Oz made about Scott’s vision for what Republicans should do if they take control of Congress after the 2022 elections. Scott, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, unveiled “An 11-Point Plan to Rescue America” in February.
The SMP ad is referring specifically to a provision in Scott’s plan that stated, “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”
Although Scott never detailed exactly how that might work, the Tax Policy Center said if a minimum tax of $100 for unmarried filers (and $200 for couples filing jointly) were imposed, it would generate $100 billion in new taxes in 2022 alone. “More than 80 percent of the tax increase would be paid by households making about $54,000 or less, and 97 percent would be paid by those making less than about $100,000,” TPC said.
Scott later said in an op-ed for the Daily Caller on April 11 that a minimum tax would not fall on retirees nor on any workers who “are already paying into the system, whether through income tax, payroll tax, state and local taxes.” That would seem to exclude almost all workers.
In June, Scott revised his “Rescue America Plan,” adding a 12th point, but taking out the part that said, “All Americans should pay some income tax.”
But more importantly, Oz never publicly signed on to that original part of Scott’s plan.
The ad relies on comments Oz made about Scott’s plan during an interview on the Chris Stigall podcast on April 5.
“I like Rick Scott, a senator from Florida,” Oz said. “And he’s been a wonderful adviser, just starting giving me insights about the human elements of being a candidate. But he also has a vision for what the party can do going forward. And listen, we may not all agree on the specifics of the vision. But you want to have a game plan, something that you’re aiming toward, and I think he’s tried to do that. And these are the earlier steps that need to be taken, so when we take back the Senate in November, we have a very clear view of what to do.”
In his remarks, Oz never mentioned one way or the other whether he specifically supported the minimum income tax mentioned by Scott. In fact, Oz couched his comments with the caveat, “we may not all agree on the specifics of the vision.”
Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit group led by Grover Norquist, lists Oz among those who have signed its pledge to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
At a GOP forum in March, Oz said, “I would not raise taxes. We need more value for the taxes we’re already paying.” And in a campaign ad released in September, Oz promised, “I’ll cut your taxes.”
Social Security and Medicare
The ads from FF PAC and SMP also rely on Oz’s comments about Scott’s plan to claim Oz would jeopardize Social Security and Medicare. One FF PAC ad says that if voters support Oz, “He’ll support a plan that would take away Medicare and Social Security with no replacement.” Another FF PAC ad says Oz has shown “support for a plan that would end Social Security and Medicare.”
The SMP ad warns that “Oz praised a plan that could end Social Security and Medicare as we know it.”
Back in April, we wrote about misleading Democratic claims that Scott’s plan would “end” Social Security and Medicare. As we explained then, Scott wrote in his plan that he wants all federal legislation to “sunset” in five years, and “[i]f a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” He never mentioned Social Security and Medicare specifically, but since those were created by federal legislation, Scott later agreed they would be included.
But Scott said he didn’t want to end those programs, and he doesn’t know any Republican legislators who do. There is also no indication that Congress would take away either program “with no replacement,” as the FF PAC ad says.
Rather, Scott said he wants to “review,” “fix” and “preserve” those social programs so that they are financially solvent for the long term. He did not detail exactly how he hoped to change the programs, and whether that might mean fewer benefits. Nonetheless, New York Times congressional correspondent Jonathan Weisman noted that Scott’s plan “would leave the fate of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to the whims of a Congress that rarely passes anything so expansive.”
But again, Oz never mentioned, let alone endorsed, the “sunset” provision of Scott’s plan.
In written answers provided to AARP, and published on Sept. 28, Oz promised, “I would oppose legislation that cuts critical programs like Social Security for our senior citizens across Pennsylvania. We can look at ways to strengthen the program, but that should not include taking away benefits from our seniors.” As for Medicare, Oz wrote, “We can expand Medicare Advantage plans. These plans are popular among seniors, consistently provide quality care and have a needed incentive to keep costs low.” (Medicare Advantage plans, however, generally cost the government more. “In 2022, that additional cost was about 4 percent, down from a peak of 17 percent in 2009,” The Commonwealth said in a “policy primer” on Medicare Advantage.)
It’s worth noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that if Republicans get control of the Senate, “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half of the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of a Republican Senate majority agenda.”
The ad from FF PAC begins with a narrator saying, “If you give Mehmet Oz your vote, he’ll let politicians take away the right to choose, with no exceptions.” Another FF PAC ad attacks Oz for his “extreme agenda, like banning abortion.”
Throughout the campaign, Oz has staked his position as “100% pro-life,” as his campaign website puts it. In a video posted to that campaign website, Oz says, “I’m pro-life. Life starts at conception. And that’s how I feel.”
In interviews, Oz has been more specific, saying in a Dec. 1, 2021, interview with WGAL in Pennsylvania, for example, “I’m pro-life with the three usual exceptions, especially the health of the mother, but incest and rape as well.” Although Oz said “health of the mother” in that instance, he has on many other occasions throughout the campaign said that he supports exceptions only for rape, incest and to protect “the life of the mother.”
As we wrote in a story during the primary campaign, that hasn’t always been Oz’s position. As recently as a May 21, 2019, interview on “The Breakfast Club” radio show Oz said he was “really worried about” so-called “heartbeat laws” being considered by some states that would ban abortion after six or eight weeks into a pregnancy. At that stage, he said, “most women don’t know they’re pregnant. … So you’re asking women to decide almost instantaneously if they are pregnant or not.”
Oz also seemed to challenge the foundation of heartbeat laws, saying, “I mean, there are electrical changes at six weeks. But the heart’s not beating.” Oz went on to say that he “wouldn’t want anyone in my family to have an abortion” and that he had told his children, “I love the lives they’re creating so much that I personally wouldn’t want it. But I don’t want to interfere with everyone else’s stuff.”
Oz said then that the “rule that most Americans seem to support is, if the child was viable outside the womb, then you don’t want to kill that child. If the child was not going to be able to survive outside the mom, then the mom runs the show.”
As we said, Oz now says he believes life starts at conception, and says he personally opposes abortions after that point, with the three exceptions he noted.
He has also made it clear he believes that is a state, not a federal issue. (The Supreme Court in June overruled Roe v. Wade, holding that the “Constitution does not confer a right to abortion … and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” So, essentially, jurisdiction on abortion went back to the states.)
“And I also feel very strongly that the federal government should not, I repeat, should not get involved in states issues around abortion,” Oz said in an interview with NBC News on Oct. 14. “You should have local values percolating through local medicine, expressed through your local government. That’s how we make decisions around issues that are completely around our personal values. I don’t want the federal government dictating to Pennsylvanians what women here are going to do. Let Pennsylvania voters and their legislators and their doctors figure that out and come up with solutions.”
Asked specifically if he supported a bill introduced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in September that calls for a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Oz said, “I’m telling you I don’t want any federal rules limiting what states do with abortion. It should be up to the states. That’s the exact purpose of the place we’re in right now in America, to allow local people, local values and their local communities to make these decisions.”
The FF PAC ad is carefully worded, saying that Oz would “let politicians take away the right to choose, with no exceptions.” If that’s what states decide, Oz says he’s OK with that. But we think many viewers will be left with the mistaken impression that that is Oz’s position.
Again, Oz’s position is that he opposes abortion, but he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. And he does not support a push by some Republicans to enact a federal abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, saying he thinks that’s a decision states should make individually.
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