Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Reviewing the key claims in the U.S. Senate race

Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin exchanged remarks in the final US Senate debate, on Oct. 26, 2012
Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin exchanged remarks in the final US Senate debate, on Oct. 26, 2012

In the days leading up to Tuesday's election, the Truth-O-Meter has tilted toward False in  Wisconsin's crucial and highly competitive U.S. Senate race.

But we still found more than a kernel of truth in the key claims made by Republican Tommy Thompson and his Democratic rival Tammy Baldwin.

For a change of pace, we’ll start this review by replaying some of the more accurate talking points trotted out by the candidates, allies and political enemies.

True
Accurate with nothing significant missing

Baldwin: Federal law adopted "under Tommy Thompson's watch" prohibits the government from negotiating for "better prices" on prescription drugs for senior citizens. True. Her reference was to the Medicare Part D prescription program, which Thompson lobbied for as U.S. health and human services secretary, and which includes the prohibition she stated.

Thompson: "Donna Shalala left me with 12 million doses" of smallpox vaccine and "I created enough" in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to vaccinate "every man, woman and child against smallpox in America." True. Thompson didn’t technically "create" the stockpile, but we found he boldly shot for the moon on its size, sold the idea to Congress and then personally drove the move to a successful conclusion in just a few years -- even if some of it carried the element of luck.

Mostly True

Accurate but needing clarification or more information

Baldwin: Thompson's tax plan "amounts to an average tax cut of almost $87,000 for the top 1 percent." We rated it  Mostly True based on calculations by tax experts, though Thompson's plan was missing some details that prevented a full analysis of its impact.

Thompson: Baldwin ranks "as the most liberal member of the House." We found it Mostly True based on three major vote rankings in 2010 that put her in a group considered "most liberal."

Thompson: "During my tenure as governor, Wisconsin’s overall tax burden went down." We found it Mostly True based on frequently cited studies, our own calculations and observations by experts.

Thompson: Baldwin wants a "completely government-controlled" health care system that goes "far beyond 'Obamacare'" and is "a Medicare system for all." Mostly True, we found. Baldwin hasn’t advocated for socialized medicine. But she has pushed "Medicare for all" legislation and she supports a single-payer system and a public insurance plan option -- government elements that go beyond President Barack Obama’s reform law.

Half True
Partly accurate but missing important details, or taking things out of context

Club for Growth: Thompson supported "Obamacare," President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. Half True. Thompson never came out clearly for or against what became law, which he now says he wants to repeal. By supporting some aspects of reform, he made it possible for Club for Growth, during the GOP primary, to claim he supported the law -- and for himself to deny he supported it.

American Crossroads: Baldwin "voted to cut $700 billion from Medicare spending." PolitiFact National rated a nearly identical Mitt Romney claim Half True. That amount -- $716 billion -- refers to Obamacare’s reductions in Medicare spending growth over 10 years, primarily paid to insurers and hospitals. But the statement gives the impression that the law takes money already allocated to Medicare away from current recipients.

Majority PAC: Thompson "made millions from corporations who outsource American jobs and now he's trying to lavish huge tax breaks on them." We rated that claim from the Democratic group Half True. Thompson was paid $1.5 million, but that doesn’t match the "millions" claimed in the ad. He supports a tax break for U.S. companies' profits from overseas, but it's possible the tax break could lead to more American jobs.

Baldwin: Thompson "wants to give a new $265,000 tax cut to millionaires like himself while raising taxes on the middle class." Half True, we found. There is no real dispute that Thompson’s own plan and the plan he endorsed by U.S. rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, would yield a big tax cut, on average, for million-dollar earners. And the $265,000 figure is from calculations by a respected group. The impact is far less clear for the middle class.

Thompson: Baldwin "has had not one positive ad" in the campaign for U.S. Senate. Half True, we found. That was true at the time for the general election, and it’s reasonable to assume that’s the period Thompson was referring to. But a longer view of the campaign, including the primary period, provides a very different picture.

Baldwin:  Thompson "said" he wants to "do away with Medicare." Half True. Thompson did say that; but Baldwin’s claim ignored the fact that he was talking about a dramatic transformation of Medicare in order to save government health care assistance to seniors, not end it outright.

Mostly False
Contains element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give different impression

Baldwin: "I led the fight to require the Coast Guard to buy their engines from us, not foreign companies." Mostly False. We found the claim was misleading in suggesting that her fight was successful, when none of the measures she introduced became law.

Thompson: Baldwin "had the opportunity to vote to honor the victims of 9/11 and she voted against it." Mostly False. Baldwin voted against one such resolution, but voted for eight similar ones.

Baldwin: Thompson "personally made over $3 million" from a federal contract granted to his healthcare company, but left 9/11 first responders "without the care they were promised." Mostly False. The Thompson-led company that got the contract had some problems that delayed care for some first responders. But the claim that Thompson personally pocketed millions from the particular contract was unsubstantiated.

Thompson: Baldwin supports a "tax increase that President Obama says" would cost middle-class families $3,000 per year. Mostly False. Baldwin did vote no on a 2010 law that prevented middle class taxes from increasing by $3,000. But she supported extending tax cuts for the middle class and she voted for a another measure, which failed, that also would have prevented the $3,000 middle-class tax hike.

GOP State Sen. Glenn Grothman: Baldwin introduced a bill that would require doctors and other health care workers to ask patients, "including young children, whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or if they know their gender identity." We rated it Mostly False. The bill would have required a federal agency to collect such data, but there was no requirement that doctors or other health care workers question their patients.

False

Statement is not accurate

Workers Voice: Thompson supports a plan for "privatizing Social Security." False. The super PAC, affiliated with the AFL-CIO union, provided no evidence that Thompson backed an earlier Ryan plan that touted private accounts.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: Thompson "admitted" that Washington "changed" him into an insider selling his influence to make millions from powerful special interests. False. The attack jumbles a snippet from an old quote about GOP failings while the party was running Washington and applies it to Thompson's actions after leaving government.

Baldwin: Says she voted against the Medicare Part D prescription drug program "because it was unfunded." False. She cited a number of reasons she opposed it at the time, but not that one.

Pants on Fire

The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim

Thompson: Said his aide "acted on his own" and "was not representing the Thompson campaign" when he sent an email criticizing Baldwin’s sexual orientation. Pants on Fire. The email, meant to draw attention to a video of a Baldwin appearance at a gay pride event, came from the campaign’s chief spokesman on a campaign account at a key political moment in the campaign. It was sent to conservative bloggers and others.

We also tested three issues on the Flip-O-Meter.  It’s used to determine if a candidate has changed position on an issue. We’re not rating the political or policy merits of any switch. We’re looking at whether the candidate has been consistent.

Full Flop
A major reversal of position; a complete flip-flop

Baldwin: We reviewed her position on Iran sanctions. Full Flop. Overall, Baldwin can point to support of a framework of sanctions and of some specific upgrades, but on the major bills, she consistently stood against expansion from 2006 to 2011. After she entered the race, and in one case just three months before  the November 2012 election, Baldwin was confronted with another major sanctions vote. She supported that.
   
All of our experts, whose views on sanctions vary, agreed that it was inconsistent to vote in favor of tougher sanctions in 2012, and was not a logical policy evolution based on the specifics of the bill.

Half Flip
A partial change of position or inconsistent statements

Thompson: We reviewed his position on Ryan’s reform plan. Half Flip. Thompson has praised Ryan’s various Medicare plans since 2011, and for much of the  2012 campaign indicated he fully embraced Ryan’s latest plan.
   
In the last month or so he’s partially changed his approach on Medicare reform, while edging away from Ryan. Really, though, he has only tweaked Ryan’s Medicare plan, and has not renounced Ryan’s budget blueprint.
   
Baldwin: We reviewed her position on a single-payer healthcare system. Half Flip. Baldwin, in her recent statements, did not renounce her support for a single-payer system so much as deflect questions about it.
   
But her line about being content to work now on implementing "Obamacare" is inconsistent with her public vow to push hard to go even further -- to a public option that could lead to a single-payer system. Baldwin did not say she was permanently shelving her prior strategy, but is setting it aside right now.