A TV ad is accusing Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, of playing a "shell game" with his older constituents’ health insurance.
But the House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC sponsoring the commercial, plays a few plays some Three-Card Monte of its own in backing up the claim.
The 30-second commercial shows a cartoonish Brat sitting at a gambling table playing monte with three half walnut shells. The narrator says:
"The Washington shell game; Dave Brat’s pretty good at it.
"Brat took over $300,000 from insurance and financial interests and voted to raise our health insurance premiums.
"Older Virginians would pay up to five times more.
"AARP calls it an ‘age tax.’
Brat even voted to charge seniors more for their medicines.
Dave Brat and Washington interests play their game. We get shell-acked."
"Brat took over $300,000 from insurance and financial interests and voted to raise our health insurance premiums. "
This refers to Brat’s vote on May 4, 2017 for the American Health Care Act, a Republican effort to repeal and replace major parts of Obamacare. The bill passed the House that day on a 217-213 vote, only to narrowly fail in the Senate in July.
The bill would have ended tax penalties for people who go without health insurance. Some would win, others lose under the measure. It would have allowed insurance companies to offer young adults lower-cost, less-comprehensive policies than were permissible under Obamacare. Conversely, it would have let the companies charge higher premiums to Virginians between 50 and 64.
By lumping in the same sentence the vote and the money Brat "took," the ad suggests there was a quid pro quo for congressman’s vote. But Jeb Fain, spokesman for the PAC, was cautious when asked if that is the intention. "Voters deserve to know how closely Dave Brat’s voting record aligns with the priorities of the special interests that fund his campaigns," he emailed to us.
The PAC, in print that appears on the ad, credits the "over $300,000" figure to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit group that tracks political money. It’s a padded number. To get it,, Fain said the PAC counted all campaign money Brat has received during the last three elections from these broad interests:
- Securities and investment
- Miscellaneous finance
- Commercial banks
- Finance/credit companies
- Credit unions
- Savings & loans.
If you isolate donations from insurance companies - which by far had the greatest stake in the bill - the result is hardly eye-popping. Brat has received $50,525 from them during the last three campaigns. That’s about 1 percent of $5 million he has raised from all sources.
"Older Virginians would pay up to five times more."
The narrator’s statement is clarified by print on the screen reading, "Virginians aged 50-64 pay 5X more." But he omits some important information.
Under Obamacare, health insurers already were allowed to charge 3 percent more for enrollees between 50 and 64 than for young adults. The bill Brat supported would have let that difference to go up to 5 percent. The, increase for seniors under the Republican bill, while significant, would not have been quite as steep as the ad suggests,
"Brat even voted to charge seniors more for their medicines."
This trumped-up claim stems from a Jan. 11, 2017 House vote on an amendment to a bill Republican-backed bill that would have limited the government’s ability to enact regulations.
House Democrats, in a last-ditch effort to thwart the legislation, offered an amendment. It would have exempted from the bill any regulations that would "significantly reduce" prescription costs for senior citizens, and would have sent the bill back to committee for study of the proposal.
Republicans dismissed the amendment as a delay tactic on the anti-regulation bill. Democrats, however, insisted the amendment receive a recorded vote. It failed. All 233 Republicans present, including Brat, voted against it. All 190 Democrats supported it. Six minutes later, the House passed the unencumbered regulation bill behind the muscle of another unanimous Republican vote.
The PAC cites Bratt’s opposition to the amendment as proof that he voted "to allow drug companies seniors to charge more for their prescriptions." That’s a disingenuous stretch of a vote against a parliamentary tactic that would have sidetracked the regulation bill.
We should note that amendment Brat opposed received no coverage the next day in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
The House Majority PAC accuses Brat of selling out senior citizens for corporate campaign contributions. But the evidence put forth is contrived.
House Majority PAC, "Shell Game," Sept. 12, 2018.
Center for Responsive Politics, Dave Brat campaign data, accessed Sept. 18, 2018.
New York Times, "House passes measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act," May 4, 2017.
Phone and email interviews with Jeb Fain, communications director for House Majorirty PAC, Sept. 14, 2018.
Congressional Record, pages 370-371, Jan. 11, 2017.