The Tea Party movement shook the political world last weekend when two Utah Republicans knocked U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett out of contention for renomination during a state Republican convention. Commentators immediately hung Bennett's defeat on two of his past decisions -- to vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which helped bail out key financial institutions in 2008, and his efforts to co-sponsor a health care bill with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Both actions have been unpopular with Republicans, especially conservatives in the GOP's base.
During a roundtable on ABC's This Week, syndicated columnist George Will took a crack at analyzing Bennett's defeat.
"This is an anti-Washington year," Will said. "How do you get more Washington than a three-term senator who occupies the seat once held by his father, a four-term senator, who before that worked on the Senate staff and then as a lobbyist in Washington? He's a wonderful man and a terrific senator, but the fact is, he's going against terrific headwinds this year, and he cast three votes, TARP, stimulus, and an individual mandate for health care. Now, you might like one, two or all three of those, but being opposed to them is not outside the mainstream of American political argument."
We checked to see whether Bennett did indeed vote for TARP, the stimulus and a requirement that individuals purchase health coverage. Here's what we found:
• Bennett did vote for the TARP legislation (H.R. 1424) on Oct. 1, 2008, along with 33 other Republican senators.
• Bennett voted against President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), on Feb. 13, 2009. Only three Republican senators voted for the bill--Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. (Specter is now a Democrat.)
• The only time that Bennett made a floor vote on a bill containing an individual health care mandate came with the Democratic health care bill. During the vote on final passage on Dec. 24, 2009, Bennett joined every other Republican in voting against the bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590).
It's true that Bennett did co-sponsor the Healthy Americans Act with Wyden, and that measure did include a requirement that most Americans purchase health coverage. But it was significantly different from the main Democratic bill because it relied more heavily on health insurance exchanges. It never reached the floor for a vote, and because Will said that Bennett had "cast three votes," including one for an individual mandate, he was at best only partly accurate in characterizing Bennett's record on that issue.
All told, Will was correct that Bennett voted for the TARP bill. But he was incorrect that Bennett voted for Obama's stimulus bill, and it was inaccurate for him to suggest that Bennett cast a vote for an individual mandate. He actually voted against a bill with an individual mandate, even though he also co-sponsored a bill that included an individual mandate that didn't advance out of committee. We rate Will's characterization of Bennett's votes Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.