Even in the run-up to the Sept. 14, 2010 primary, most voters probably paid little attention to Republican Rebecca Kleefisch or any of the candidates for the get-no-respect position of Wisconsin lieutenant governor.
Since her victory, Kleefisch has proven hard to ignore.
First, Kleefisch garnered headlines when she revealed she had been diagnosed with colon cancer in the weeks before the primary, had surgery and was declared cancer free. Then, with that in the background, she took center stage in a campaign ad with running mate Scott Walker that assails Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett.
Little surprise the ad focuses on health care.
In the ad, Kleefisch talks directly to the camera:
"Thanks to the highest quality health care system in the world," she says, "I won my battle with cancer. I can watch my little girls grow up. Tom Barrett supports a government takeover of our health care. A plan that would increase costs, lower quality and put government in charge of our health care choices. As a mother and a cancer survivor, that’s unacceptable."
As Walker enters the shot and nods in agreement, Kleefisch concludes: "Scott and I and our families think you should be in charge of your health care decisions."
Strong words. Powerful message. But is it true?
The ad drew cheers on the right and howls from the left, in part because while Kleefisch attacks a "government takeover" of health care, her own coverage comes through a state-government plan that covers she and her husband, state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and their family.
We’ve been here before, when it comes to the charge that the health care reforms -- "ObamaCare" to critics -- amount to a government takeover. But this ad has a bit of a wrinkle, since it also points back to Barrett’s time in Congress and an earlier health-care reform effort.
Let’s sort it all out.
The Walker campaign starts by pointing to Barrett’s support for the Obama-led reforms.
It cites a Aug. 31, 2010 story from the Capital Times that includes this line: "Unlike his opponents, Barrett touts his support of the federal health care reform bill. For those who call for its repeal, he says he has a few questions." The story then quotes Barrett: "Why do you want to take health insurance away from a sick 3-year-old who may now, for the first time, be able to have health insurance? Or why do you want to take health insurance away from a 23-year-old woman who has diabetes but wants to go to college?"
The Walker campaign also points to the fact that, as a U.S. House member from Milwaukee in 1993, Barrett was a co-sponsor of Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated health-care proposal.
Finally, to support the "government takeover" charge, Walker campaign spokesperson Jill Bader points to a chart from the conservative Heritage Foundation that predicted the percentage of national health care spending under government control would pass 50 percent by 2013.
Let’s look at the evidence, piece by piece:
The Obama reforms: Leaving aside, for the moment, whether Barrett supports all or some of those reforms, PolitiFact National and its state affiliates have ruled repeatedly on the government takeover charge and found it ridiculously false -- a Pants on Fire. In truth, the health care law creates a market-based system that relies on private health insurance companies.
To be sure, government regulation of the existing system increases under the new system. More people will be covered. The government will create exchanges to provide coverage for Americans who have trouble getting it now. Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program for the poor, will be expanded.
It is not, as the ad suggests, a single-payer system with government running the sole plan. Indeed, the lightning-rod "public option" -- which would have added a government-run plan to the mix -- was dropped from the bill before it passed. Coverage would be paid for the same way it is now, by private employers and individual premiums.
Universal coverage advocates such as Citizen Action of Wisconsin say the national changes mean nearly half a million Wisconsin residents will now have access to private health insurance as Kleefisch and her husband already do.
As for the Heritage Foundation chart cited by the Walker campaign, the study notes its projection that government spending on health care will now exceed 50 percent of the market sometime in 2013 is part of a decades-long trend. Indeed, even without the Obama-backed reforms, the government was on track to pay more than half sometime in 2014.
The Hillary Clinton plan: Before Obama’s plan, there was the 1993 plan that grew out of Clinton’s work on a health care task force as first lady. Critics shorthanded it "HillaryCare."
Two national health care experts -- one deeply involved in work on Clinton’s health care proposal -- told PolitiFact Wisconsin that the Clinton approach was more aggressive and far-reaching than Obama’s plan. A third, Robert Moffit from the conservative Heritage Foundation, judges them equally far-reaching.
Clinton’s plan had national spending limits and tried to build a new insurance market with an aggressive regulatory structure, said Judith Feder, a former high-ranking Clinton administration official who is now a professor in Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.
Both PolitiFact National and the New York Times have described Hillary Clinton’s plan, which was dead on arrival in Congress, as a "radical" proposal.
But neither Feder nor Robert Blendon, a Harvard University professor of health policy and political analysis, think "government takeover" fits the Clinton plan -- or the Obama one.
Neither do we.
Let’s return to the TV ad, which emphasizes Barrett supports such a plan:
At a news conference after the ad debuted, Barrett said it is "not true at all" that he supports a government takeover of health care and said he had never supported a single-payer system.
Coverage of Barrett’s 1992 congressional bid in the Milwaukee Journal shows that Barrett endorsed universal coverage -- that is, efforts to cover everyone -- but he rejected a government-run system.
But to Kleefisch, Barrett’s view that he does not favor a takeover is undermined by his support for the Clinton plan and his views on the Obama-led reforms.
In an Oct. 14, 2010 interview with conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes on WTMJ-AM (620), she put it this way: "He’s a liar."
Barrett spokesperson Phil Walzak responded: "Every plan Tom has forwarded has private insurance as the centerpiece. They are trying to generate false fear on this issue."
As for the Obama-led reforms now in place, Walker has argued they should be repealed and the state should join a lawsuit against them. Barrett has rejected the idea of joining the suit but has said Wisconsin's next governor needs to find ways to make sure the law is implemented fairly for the state.
Where does that leave us?
With the emotional emphasis provided by cancer survivor Rebecca Kleefisch, the Republican ticket echoes the GOP attacks used against Democrats across the country and characterizes the Obama-led health care reforms as a "government takeover." But repeating a falsehood -- however often and however loudly -- does not make it true.
The Obama reforms would expand the government’s role, but a key principle of the plan is to rely primarily on private health insurance to provide coverage. The government "exchanges" would encourage private insurers to compete for workers from small businesses who currently may not have coverage.
As for Barrett, they argue that Barrett backed the whole bill, but provide evidence only that he talked up some aspects of it months after it passed. On the support of Hillary Clinton’s plan in 1993, Barrett was a co-sponsor, and some experts say it went further than Obama’s plan. But it still would have retained a private-insurance based system. It didn’t amount to a takeover either.
Can we light two matches? We rate the claim Pants on Fire.