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Henry J.  Gomez
By Henry J. Gomez December 15, 2011

Republican challenger Marisha Agana says U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan contributed "billions" to the national debt

Since arriving in Congress after a hard-fought 2002 campaign, Tim Ryan hasn’t had to break much of a sweat to keep his seat representing the heavily Democratic 17th District.

He plans to compete for sixth term next year in the reconfigured 13th District, part of a Republican-drawn map that eliminates two Ohio seats because of slow population growth.

And though the Niles Democrat’s Youngstown-Warren base remains intact, the district now includes more of Akron and Summit County to the west, as well as a portion of Stark County. Two candidates have filed signatures to challenge him in the primary, but conventional wisdom says Ryan will cruise into the 2012 general election. Which brings us to Marisha Agana.

Agana, a pediatrician from the Warren suburb of Howland Township, is running for the seat as a Republican. Despite the political makeup of the district, she is positioning herself as an unquestionable conservative and casting Ryan as an unabashed liberal.

"Our Democratic incumbent is a prime example of the problem throughout Congress," Agana said in a news release announcing her candidacy. "The American Conservative Union gives Ryan a dismal 0.0 percent rating for the billions he has contributed to our national debt."

The second part of Agana’s statement caught PolitiFact Ohio’s eye.

As congressional campaigns ratchet up in the coming months, candidates are sure to use such partisan rankings in hopes of defining their opponents as too liberal or too conservative. But given Ryan’s pro-gun and anti-abortion proclivities, we wondered if Agana’s was playing fair.

First, some background on ACU. The Alexandria, Va., advocacy group bills itself as the nation’s "oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization." In February, ACU released its annual congressional ratings, based on how the 435 House members decided on 24 issues in 2010.

"The votes selected in this edition of the ACU Ratings of Congress are not always considered the ‘most important’ votes as defined by others," the group says on its website. "Instead, the votes selected are chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them."

Congressional representatives are rated based on how often they vote in accordance with ACU beliefs on those selected topics. Votes tracked in 2010 ranged from the establishment of Native Hawaiian sovereignty to the extension of unemployment benefits. (ACU opposed both.)

Ryan’s votes on all 24 measures put him at odds with the group, earning him a 0 percent.

Historically, though, Ryan has a slightly better record on ACU issues. In 2009, when he was in agreement with the organization on one of 25 votes, he received a 4 percent rating. Overall, for the eight full years he has served in Congress, Ryan has an 13.25 percent rating.

Agana obviously was referring to Ryan’s most recent 0 percent rating. She also attributed the goose egg to the "billions he has contributed to our national debt." Not only does that claim contain hyperbole that might give the impression Ryan alone has contributed billions of dollars to the national debt, it also is far less verifiable. And we checked with ACU spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, who said that the ratings are based on votes in "three main areas."

Besides fiscal issues, which would include the debt, ACU also looks for "strong national defense" votes and "social/traditional values," Campbell said via email.

"As many of the votes we rate are related to spending and fiscal discipline, it is not inaccurate
to say the congressman received a 0.0 score in 2010 because of his contribution to the national debt," Campbell added. "However, last year, he also received a 0.00 percent rating across the spectrum of other issues important to conservatives," including the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" repeal.

Most of the votes ACU rates could be classified directly or indirectly as a fiscal issue because of spending requirements and the impact on the budget. But as even Campbell acknowledges, Ryan’s votes on these issues do not represent the entire reason he received a 0 percent rating.

Agana paints Ryan with too broad a brush in her statement. While it’s true his most recent ACU rating was 0, Ryan has a higher lifetime score than all but two Ohio Democrats ranked in 2010: Rep. Zack Space, who lost a re-election bid last year, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo.

Ryan is no conservative, but he is more moderate than Agana implied.

As for the "billions" of dollars for which Agana holds Ryan directly responsible, spokeswoman Patricia Brant told PolitiFact Ohio that the campaign was stating a simple "cause and effect." Brant said votes on certain fiscal issues added billions of dollars to the federal deficit. The national debt is the accumulation of annual budget deficits.

But for PolitiFact Ohio, simplicity should not come at the expense of accuracy. Agana’s statement is an exaggeration. Her words exclusively tagged Ryan, one of 435 congressional representatives, with adding billions of dollars to the debt.

While there is some truth at the core of her argument, Agana played too fast and loose with the facts. On the Truth-O-Meter, her claim merits a rating of Mostly False.

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Republican challenger Marisha Agana says U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan contributed "billions" to the national debt

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