"Bill Nelson voted for higher taxes 150 times."
Connie Mack on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 in in a debate in Davie, Fla.
Connie Mack says -- repeatedly -- that Bill Nelson voted for higher taxes 150 times
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is a big fan of tax increases, says his Republican rival U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers.
"Bill Nelson voted for higher taxes 150 times, 150 times," Mack said during a debate at Nova Southeastern University in Davie Oct. 17. "I voted to cut taxes … if you voted for higher taxes 150 times, it's time for you to go."
Later in the debate Nelson said that Mack’s claim was "simply not true."
"Outside fact-check organizations have said it's not true," Nelson said. "You haven’t talked about all the tax cuts I voted for."
Mack repeated the claim again: "Senator, your propensity to vote for higher taxes is shocking, absolutely shocking. Like I said, if you voted for higher taxes 150 times, it’s time for you to go."
We fact-checked this claim by Mack in August and rated it False. We will summarize what we learned from our earlier research.
Double-counting votes and other tallying tricks
Mack’s campaign sent us a list of what they characterized as at least 157 votes in favor of higher taxes during Nelson’s Senate career, which started in 2001. (They sent us a similar list again the night of the debate.)
About half of the votes on the list are Democratic budget resolutions, which set non-binding parameters for considering tax and spending legislation. So it's technically incorrect to say the budget resolution raised, lowered or even kept taxes the same. The documents cannot change tax law.
Mack’s tally counts multiple votes on the same budget resolution. For example, Mack cites nine votes Nelson took in 2008 about Congressional Resolution 70, a five-year budget plan.
Mack also counted multiple votes on actual legislation. It’s common for senators to take multiple votes as both parties engage in maneuvering and introduce competing amendments.
For example, in 2001 Mack counts 15 of Nelson’s votes against H.R. 1836 -- the $1.35 trillion in tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush. That counts as one example of Nelson opposing tax cuts -- not 15 examples.
Which brings us to another point: Is opposing a tax cut the same as "voting to raise our taxes?" Mack’s list counts several examples of Nelson opposing tax cuts. Some are minor, such as Nelson’s vote to table an amendment to get rid of the medical device tax in 2010.
We sent Mack’s list to a three federal budget experts, who generally agreed that a vote against a new tax cut doesn’t equal a tax increase.
Joshua Gordon, policy director of the Concord Coalition, a group that urges deficit reduction, said Mack’s long list was "ludicrous."
"Voting to lessen the size of a tax cut in a budget resolution is not voting for a tax increase," he said. "So, I would argue the methodology represents a crazy way to look at this issue."
Nelson supported some tax cuts
Mack’s statement omits that Nelson has sometimes voted in favor of tax cuts. Here, we will focus on the Bush tax cuts.
Nelson opposed a $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001 because he said it didn’t do enough to reduce debt or help low- and middle-income taxpayers. He also said that as a congressman he had voted for President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts and that led to huge deficits.
"I don't want to see Congress make that mistake again," Nelson said in 2001.
In 2003 on the second round of Bush tax cuts, Nelson voted against the $350 billion package on the conference report. But in 2006 and in 2010 Nelson, supported extending the tax cuts.
This year, he went along with Obama’s plan and voted in July to keep tax cuts only for those earning less than $250,000, though he had said he would have preferred keeping the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning up to $1 million.
"His favored position, and one he still holds, is to let the Bush cuts expire on those making more than $1 million," said his Senate spokesman Dan McLaughlin.
Nelson called for other tax cuts at times. During his first Senate term he bucked his party in favor of repealing the estate tax and in 2007 he sponsored an amendment to reduce the tax on large cigars.
Some of Nelson’s votes cited by Mack would only affect certain businesses -- for example he voted in favor of repealing exemptions for oil and gas companies in 2010. He took many votes in favor of eliminating corporate tax breaks to pay for projects such as port security.
Mack’s spokesman told us that the largest tax increase Nelson voted for was "Obamacare." The health care law did raise taxes on the wealthy and health insurance companies. (Read about those provisions in a fact-check we did on a claim by Rush Limbaugh.)
In an interview on debate night, Mack campaign consultant Gary Maloney defended including the budget resolutions and said they are important because they bind congressional committees on their spending and build in assumptions of revenue, taxes and spending. "A vote for a budget that assumes higher taxes is a vote that is designed to produce a revenue bill that will raise taxes," he said.
Mack said, "Bill Nelson voted for higher taxes 150 times."
Mack arrives at that figure through some tricks: He counts non-binding resolutions and duplicative votes on the same bill. He counts a vote against a tax cut as a vote for a tax increase, even though it’s not the same thing. And Mack failed to tell debate viewers that Nelson has also voted in favor of tax cuts or extending tax cuts.
In the list of votes that Mack supplied to PolitiFact after the debate, he included a note that explained it included non-binding votes and other caveats. But during the debate, Mack didn’t explain any of that -- he just repeated the claim without further explanation.
We rate this claim False.