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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 20, 2012

Connie Mack said Bill Nelson voted to raise taxes 150 times

In the contest between Bill Nelson and Connie Mack for U.S. Senate, Nelson brought up Mack’s past work promoting Hooters and his altercations at bars about two decades ago.

Mack’s response? Nelson voted to raise your taxes 150 times.

Mack, a Republican congressman from Fort Myers, made the assertion in a video rebuttal to Nelson’s ad. Here’s the script:

"Sad, 40 years in politics and this is what Bill Nelson wants to talk about. Even if it were all true, and it's not, who cares. After all, Bill Nelson and I are candidates for the United States Senate and there are real differences between us. Bill Nelson cast the deciding vote for Obamacare and voted to raise our taxes 150 times - I voted against Obamacare and to cut taxes. I want to talk about what really matters - fixing our economy, creating jobs and tackling our deficit. Bill Nelson, like a typical career politician, wants to talk about Hooters and what I did as a kid. Let’s get serious: Our country is in crisis. It’s time to debate the issues that matter, not this nonsense".

There are a lot of interesting claims in Mack’s statement. But that big number caught our eye: Has Nelson voted to raise our taxes 150 times?

We already fact-checked whether or not Mack worked as a promoter for Hooters and had a history of fighting at bars, a claim we rated Mostly True. And we’ve also picked apart a claim by a group that claimed Nelson, a Democrat, cast the deciding vote for the Affordable Care Act and ruled that Mostly False.

Here, we get serious and focus on taxes.

Mack’s campaign sent us a list of what they characterized as at least 157 votes in favor of higher taxes during Nelson’s Senate career, which started in 2001. We sent the list to Nelson’s Senate office and asked if they disagreed with the characterization of any votes, and we did our own research.

Double-counting votes and other tallying tricks

About half of the votes on the list are Democratic budget resolutions, which set non-binding parameters for considering tax and spending legislation. So it's technically incorrect to say the budget resolution will raise, lower or even keep taxes the same. The documents cannot change tax law.

Mack’s tally counts multiple votes on the same budget resolution. For example, Mack cites nine votes Nelson took in 2008 about Congressional Resolution 70, a five-year budget plan.

Mack also counted multiple votes on actual legislation. It’s common for senators to take multiple votes as both parties engage in maneuvering and introduce competing amendments.

For example, in 2001 Mack counts 15 of Nelson’s votes on H.R. 1836 -- the $1.35 trillion in tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush. That counts as one example of Nelson opposing tax cuts -- but not 15 examples.

Which brings us to another point: Is opposing a tax cut the same as "voting to raise our taxes?" Mack’s list counts several examples of Nelson opposing tax cuts. Some are minor, such as Nelson’s vote to table an amendment to get rid of the medical device tax in 2010.

We sent Mack’s list to a few federal budget experts including Jason Peuquet, research director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan public policy think tank; Joe Rosenberg, research associate at the Tax Policy Center, an independent policy analysis group that includes tax analysts who have worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations; and Joshua Gordon, policy director of the Concord Coalition, a group that urges deficit reduction.

We asked the experts to look over the list and give us their general thoughts. All three generally agreed that a vote against a new tax cut doesn’t equal a tax increase.

Gordon called Mack’s list "ludicrous."

"Voting to lessen the size of a tax cut in a budget resolution is not voting for a tax increase," he said. "So, I would argue the methodology represents a crazy way to look at this issue."

Nelson supported some tax cuts

Mack’s statement omits that Nelson has sometimes voted in favor of tax cuts. Here, we will focus on the Bush tax cuts.

Nelson opposed a $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001 because he said it didn’t do enough to reduce debt or help low- and middle-income taxpayers. He also said that as a congressman he had voted for President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts and that led to huge deficits.

"I don't want to see Congress make that mistake again," Nelson said in 2001.

In 2003 on the second round of Bush tax cuts, Nelson voted against the $350 billion package on the conference report. But in 2006 and in 2010 Nelson, supported extending the tax cuts.

This year, he went along with Obama’s plan and voted in July to keep tax cuts only for those earning less than $250,000, though he had said he would have preferred keeping the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning up to $1 million.

"His favored position, and one he still holds, is to let the Bush cuts expire on those making more than $1 million," said his Senate spokesman Dan McLaughlin.

Nelson called for other tax cuts at times. During his first Senate term he bucked his party in favor of repealing the estate tax and in 2007 he sponsored an amendment to reduce the tax on large cigars.

Some of Nelson’s votes cited by Mack would only affect certain businesses -- for example he voted in favor of repealing exemptions for oil and gas companies in 2010. He took many votes in favor of eliminating corporate tax breaks to pay for projects such as port security.

Mack’s spokesman told us that the largest tax increase Nelson voted for was "Obamacare." The health care law did raise taxes on the wealthy and health insurance companies. (Read about those provisions in a fact-check we did on a claim by Rush Limbaugh.)

Our ruling

Mack said Nelson "voted to raise our taxes 150 times."

Mack jacks up the number by counting non-binding resolutions, which account for about half of those votes. He also counts duplicative votes on the same bill. And, he counts a vote against a tax cut as a vote for a tax increase, even though it’s not the same thing.

Finally, Mack’s statement fails to acknowledge that there have been times that Nelson voted in favor of tax cuts or extending tax cuts. He recently supported extending tax cuts only for those earning less than $250,000.

The overall message here is misleading. We rate this claim False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV’s U.S. Senate campaign, list of Sen. Bill Nelson’s votes, 2001- July 2012

Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog, "Connie Mack video response to Nelson ad: Senator’s a ‘typical career politican wants to talk about Hooters and what I did as a kid,"Aug. 9,  2012

PolitiFact, "94? Not even close,"Oct. 7, 2008

PolitiFact, "The budget resolution isn’t that clear,"April  14, 2008

PolitiFact, "Adding up Bill McCollum’s votes to raise taxes and fees,"Aug. 10, 2012

PolitiFact,  "Limbaugh, GOP  have it wrong:  health care law is not the largest tax increase ever,"June 28, 2012

PolitiFact, "Bill Nelson says Connie Mack IV has been a "promoter for Hooters with a history of bar room brawling, altercations and road rage,"Aug. 7, 2012

PolitiFact, "Another outside group says Bill Nelson was the deciding vote," July 11, 2012, "Tall Tax Tales," Oct. 22, 2010

Tampa Bay Times, "Tax cut's fate rests with compromise," Accessed in Nexis, May 22, 2001

Tampa Bay Times, "Bush sells tax cut in Florida," Accessed in Nexis, March 13, 2001

Miami Herald,  "Bush tax cut approved -- barely,"  Accessed in Nexis, May 24, 2003

Miami Herald, "Bill Nelson’s tax vote could help the budget -- of Connie Mack’s campaign," July 27, 2012

Tampa Bay Times,"Sen. Bill Nelson fights off GOP  efforts  to tag him a liberal," Feb. 6, 2011

U.S. Senate, Senate amendment 4218 to Congressional Resolution 70, March 13, 2008

U.S. Senate, Senate amendment 4160 to Congressional Resolution 70, March 13, 2008

U.S. Senate, Senate amendment 3537 to H.R. 4872, March 24, 2010

U.S. Senate, H.R. 2, May 23, 2003

U.S. Senate, H.R. 4297, May 11, 2006

U.S. Senate, Senate Amendment 3054 to S. Con. Res. 83, March 15, 2006

U.S. Senate, Senate amendment 4318 to H.R. 4213,  June 15, 2010

The Library of Congress, Senate amendment 2619, Aug. 2, 2007

New York Times Inside Congress, Senate Vote 276 Passes Obama’s Tax Plan, Dec. 15, 2010

Interview, David James, spokesman for U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack, Aug. 3, 2012

Interview, Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Aug. 6, 2012

Interview, Jason Peuquet, Research Director, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Aug. 15, 2012

Interview, Joshua Gordon, policy director for the Concord Coalition, Aug. 16, 2012

Interview, Joe Rosenberg, research associate for the Tax Policy Center, Aug. 16, 2012

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Connie Mack said Bill Nelson voted to raise taxes 150 times

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