Fact-checking Florida's U.S. Senate debate
Last updated Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at 4:55 p.m.
U.S Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Connie Mack IV unleashed a slew of familiar attacks during the first and only debate of their U.S. Senate battle, hitting each other on health care, missed votes and, well, even cows.
The Oct. 17, 2012, debate at Nova Southeastern University provided plenty of fact-checking fodder.
Mack, the Republican challenger, went after Nelson for his support of President Barack Obama’s health care law with talking points we’ve checked before: that he was the deciding vote, and that he "voted to cut $700 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare."
We rated Mack’s $700 billion claim Mostly False, noting that these "cuts" come from reduced payments to insurance companies and hospitals over the next 10 years, and that part of the savings cover lower prescription drug payments for Medicare recipients as well as free preventative care.
Mack stuck to another attack line throughout the night: Nelson voted to raise taxes 150 times.
"Bill Nelson voted for higher taxes 150 times, 150 times," Mack said. "I voted to cut taxes … if you voted for higher taxes 150 times, it's time for you to go."
This claim is False. Mack employs tricky math to get to what he considers 157 votes in support of higher taxes, counting non-binding budget resolutions, duplicative votes on the same bill and even votes against a tax cut.
As part of his effort to paint himself as a "mainstream conservative" and Nelson as a "lockstep liberal," Mack claimed that Nelson has voted "98 percent of the time" with Obama. He repeated it so much that Nelson shot back, "Is that the only line that you have memorized?"
Mack’s figure is consistent with recent Congressional Quarterly data, though it omits the fact that most Democrats and Republicans vote along party lines. We rate it Mostly True.
On the subject of tax breaks, Mack was quick to dredge up a greenbelt exemption Nelson has enjoyed for many years on a family pasture. His claims about Nelson’s pasture qualifying for the assessment for just having six cows were similar to a TV attack ad on the subject by American Crossroads. We rated statements from the ad Half True and Mostly False.
Nelson’s retort fell short. He said, "not only has it been a cow pasture for 60 years, (but) why don’t we ask him why he takes two homestead exemptions, which is directly contrary to Florida’s Constitution that says that a husband and wife can only take one homestead exemption?"
We rated this Mostly False. It’s accurate that Mack and his wife, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, receive two homestead exemptions, one for his Fort Myers condo and one for her California home. And it’s accurate to say Florida law calls for one exemption per "family unit." But Mack himself does not receive two homestead exemptions, and his unique situation has passed the scrutiny of his property appraiser.
Neither candidate could resist dinging the other for being an empty chair in Congress.
"Speaking of votes," Nelson said at one point, "why don’t you explain how you don’t show up to work? Why don’t you explain how this year you have one of the worst voting records? I have missed one vote this year, you have missed 178."
We rated Nelson’s statement Mostly True. His numbers are accurate through the end of September. However, the claim does not factor in Mack’s need to campaign in Florida for his primary. A more apples-to-apples comparison between each candidates’ missed votes would reflect the percentage of missed votes, as the House takes more votes than the Senate.
As Mack, he offered a good retort, saying that, "I’ve got a 94 percent" career voting record in Congress while Bill Nelson has "a 92 percent voting record." When you factor in Nelson's longer career, including his time in the U.S. House, that's True.
We checked a claim from Nelson that Mack voted to redefine "rape" as "forcible rape." The bill in question was intended to limit federal funding for abortion. As part of that, the bill did originally aim to limit that funding from "rape" to cases of "forcible rape." Redefining rape, though, was not its primary purpose. And, this part of the bill was so controversial it was struck from the bill before it came to a vote. So Nelson was wrong to say Mack voted on the language.
Still, Mack was an early co-sponsor when the bill did include language on forcible rape, so we rated that attack Half True.
Nelson also said that Mack's Penny Plan to rein in federal spending would result in cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, as well as defense spending. The plan would cut "over $200 billion out of Medicare, over $1 trillion out of Social Security. ... $3 trillion out of defense," Nelson said. We looked into a report from the Congressional Research Service that outlined how the plan, if applied to all parts of government, would reduce spending and found that Nelson's claim was largely accurate. We rated his statement Mostly True.