With over a year to go before the 2014 election, political ads have already hit the airwaves. So buckle up because it is going to be a bumpy ride.
One “goosey” ad already has the campaign of Sen. Mark Pryor calling foul. The piece — from the campaign of Republican Rep. Tom Cotton who is challenging Pryor for re-election — is called “Good for the Gander.”
“What’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander but not in Washington,” states the ad as a honking goose walks across the screen in front of pictures of the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Pryor, and President Obama. “Mark Pryor cast the deciding vote to make you live under Obamacare, but Pryor votes himself and everyone in Congress special subsidies so they are protected from Obamacare.”
The ad continues what will be a recurring theme for Cotton’s campaign — connect Pryor to the unpopular President Obama and his unpopular policy of Obamacare every chance he gets. But Pryor’s campaign claims that this latest connection goes too far.
“Folks here in Arkansas know Mark to be a reliable and responsible voice for hardworking families in our state, and it’s disappointing that Congressman Cotton chose to kick off his Senate campaign with false attacks that cheapen the office he’s so hungry to take,” said Jeff Weaver, Pryor for Senate campaign manager. “Mark will always level with Arkansans, but Congressman Cotton has spent the past month spreading these false attacks in every television interview, tweet and Facebook post, and even on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Now that his attacks have been debunked and discredited, it’s time for Congressman Cotton to do the honorable thing and take down his false campaign advertisements.”
Weaver is referring to the fact-checking website called PolitiFact in which the Tampa Bay Times rates various political ads and statements from politicians. They rated Cotton’s ad false based primarily on two factors.
First, they held that Pryor did not “cast the deciding vote” for Obamacare. They point instead to Nebraska Sen. Bill Nelson, who was the final hold out in the Senate and ended up signing on only after being given a deal known as the “cornhusker kickback.” However, the Affordable Care Act passed the Senate by only 60 votes without a vote to spare. So in that respect, every senator who voted for the bill — including Pryor — can be considered the deciding vote regardless of the sequence of events.
The second point of contention regards the claim that Pryor voted for a “special subsidy” for Congress. To understand that claim, you have to go back to a provision added during the debate over the actual legislation in 2009.
Republicans were working hard to defeat the health care bill just as Democrats were pushing hard to pass it. During this debate, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley challenged Democrats that if they liked their proposal so much they should require themselves and their staff to purchase health care under the new health care exchanges. Democrats conceded the point and put such a provision — Section 1312(d)(3)(D) — into the law.
But as the law becomes less theoretical and moves to implementation this year, Congress became less willing to follow through with the requirement. However, since passing an amendment to the Affordable Care Act would be almost impossible, President Obama stepped in with an executive fix. The Office of Personnel Management issued a rule that allowed the same tax dollars being spent to fund the current federal health insurance for members of Congress and their staff to be used as a subsidy to pay the premiums on the new exchanges.
The Cotton ad is referring to a party line vote Pryor cast last month against a bill that the Republican controlled House passed that would have blocked the OPM rule. The bill is part of the ongoing budget battle currently underway in Washington.
PolitiFact argues the subsidy is “not so special” as it simply redirects current tax funds to pay for the change. However, that strikes me as more of an opinion than finding of fact. But to get technical, one definition from Merriam Webster of “special” is “designed for a particular purpose or occasion.” Under that definition, the subsidy is special as it is designed for the particular purpose of funding the premiums for members of Congress and their staffs under the new requirements of Section 1312(d)(3)(D) of Obamacare.
The attack ads are not going to let up anytime soon. It appears that while the hard-hitting ad for Cotton presents Pryor’s vote in a negative light, it cannot truly be labeled as false. Look for both campaigns to stretch the facts without squarely hitting the false button for the next year and change.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.