Democrat Jim Marshall is in the fight of his political life this year in his Middle Georgia congressional district.
Republicans have tried to unseat Marshall in the past. And they have always failed. But the GOP hopes a fired-up base this year coupled with GOP state lawmaker Austin Scott of Tifton, the Republican nominee for the 8th District, can finally topple the seemingly indestructible Marshall.
A former Army Ranger and winner of two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, the 62-year-old Marshall is firing back with a campaign video in which he attempts to distance himself from national Democrats and run-amok federal spending.
"In Congress, both sides are addicted to deficits, so I’ve opposed every budget Republican and Democrat," Marshall says in the ad.
That’s a bold claim. And it should be simple enough to check out, we at PolitiFact Georgia innocently reckoned. Then we waded into the morass of the federal budget process with all its nuance, double talk, triple talk and outright mendacity.
Here’s how a couple of experts describe Uncle Sam’s budget:
"The term ‘budget process,’ when applied to the federal government, actually refers to a number of processes that have evolved separately and that occur with varying degrees of coordination," said James V. Saturno of the Congressional Research Service.
Said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: "There is no ‘The Budget’ when you talk about federal spending."
Marshall spokesman Doug Moore said Marshall was talking about the annual "budget resolution," which outlines federal spending for five or more years. It is the blueprint for most federal spending. And Marshall has indeed voted against the budget resolution every year.
"This [the budget resolution] is your only opportunity to weigh in on mandatory spending," Moore said. "If you don’t like the debt the country will take on, you vote against the budget. If you think that the priorities are out of alignment, you do it here."
Moore points out that the budget resolution covers mandatory federal spending, or about two-thirds of the total budget -- everything from Social Security to Medicaid.
Congress also votes on about a dozen separate appropriations bill every year. Those bills fund discretionary federal spending. They account for about one-third of the budget and fund everything from military operations to road building.
Scott’s campaign manager, Joby Young, agreed Marshall has voted against budget resolutions. But Marshall has voted in favor of all but five federal spending bills during his eight years in Congress, Young said.
Moore said Scott’s campaign is cherry-picking votes in an attempt to discredit Marshall, a co-founder of the Balanced Budget Caucus and a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats.
The yearly spending bill is where the budget rubber meets the road, Scott’s campaign argues, and it is where Marshall should be held accountable.
"The budget resolution is nonbinding and does not become law," Scott campaign spokesman Sam Ray said. "Jim Marshall has voted for 87 percent of the appropriations measures which did become law and spent trillions."
Ray added, "He is voting against the playbook but running all of the plays."
Congressional voting records show that Marshall voted for the $787 billion stimulus and the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. But he voted against President Barack Obama’s health care proposal and Obama’s proposed budget.
So where does this leave us on Marshall’s claim that he has opposed all budgets -- regardless of the party proposing them?
We talked to budget experts from think tanks of various stripes, from left-leaning to Libertarian to conservative -- the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the New America Foundation.
The experts concurred that the budget resolution is an important part of the budget process. But they also concluded that strictly talking about the budget resolution without discussing the underlying spending bills omits critical context.
Marshall’s statement is accurate, but it leaves out important details that could lead viewers of his campaign video to a different conclusion. We rate his statement Half True.