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Republican Anna Little wants to kick U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez out of office this year, but she doesn’t seem to know much about the Democratic senator’s record when it comes to increasing the federal debt.
On her campaign website -- "Little for Senate" -- the former Monmouth County freeholder sounded the alarm about Menendez’s spending habits with a message entitled "Stop Debt! Stop Bob Menendez!"
"Bob Menendez just voted to increase the government's debt ceiling to $1.9 TRILLION! In his 19 years in Congress, Menendez has helped overspend America over $15 TRILLION into debt," the message continued. "Who will pay? Your children? Your grandchildren? Menendez doesn't seem to care."
After reviewing Menendez’s voting records, PolitiFact New Jersey found that Little’s statement is far from the truth. The senator voted against the most recent debt ceiling increase and he has opposed some of the legislation that experts say contributed to the rising federal debt.
However, Menendez has voted for other bills -- such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus) -- that helped put the nation in greater debt. Menendez served as a congressman between 1993 and 2006, when he joined the Senate.
Larry Cirignano, Little’s campaign manager, acknowledged that the message should not have said Menendez just voted for a debt ceiling increase, but he maintained that Menendez is "spending money we don’t have."
Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said the senator has always taken the nation’s deficit seriously, but he believes the issue must be addressed in a way that protects the middle class and "asks the wealthiest Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share."
First, let’s explain the most recent debt ceiling increase.
In early August, President Barack Obama and Congress reached an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling by up to $2.4 trillion for a new limit of about $16.6 trillion. But Menendez voted against that deal.
The senator supported a previous debt ceiling increase of $1.9 trillion, but that vote occurred about two years ago. Little’s statement claims Menendez "just voted" for a debt ceiling increase, giving readers the impression that she is referring to the most recent increase.
Now, let’s turn to Little’s other claim that "Menendez has helped overspend America over $15 TRILLION into debt."
The total federal debt has exceeded $15 trillion, the result of military conflicts, legislative actions and overall economic conditions. We focused on Menendez’s voting record in regard to previous debt ceiling adjustments and certain legislation that contributed to the higher debt.
In both categories, Menendez comes away with a mixed record.
Before the most recent debt ceiling deal, there were 16 debt limit adjustments during Menendez’s tenure. Menendez supported 11 of those measures, and rejected five.
The nonpartisan Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative in April identified various legislative actions that contributed to debt increases between 2001 and 2011. Those changes include tax cuts enacted in 2001, 2003 and December 2010; the Medicare Part D program; and the stimulus.
Of those five examples, Menendez voted against three of them -- the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003; and the Medicare Part D program. But he supported the stimulus bill and the December 2010 tax legislation.
Two experts we contacted also pointed out how the weak economy contributed to the higher debt, given the reduction in federal revenues and greater spending on items like unemployment benefits.
Jason Peuquet, a policy analyst with the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, added in an email: "But one of the largest single factors has been the economic downturn, which is difficult to assign blame for."
On her campaign website, Little claimed Menendez "just voted" for a debt ceiling increase and that he "has helped overspend America over $15 TRILLION into debt."
But Menendez voted against the most recent debt ceiling increase, and he has a mixed record in regard to past legislative actions that contributed to the higher debt. For example, he rejected tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, but supported the stimulus bill in 2009 and tax cuts in December 2010.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
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Anna Little For U.S. Senate website, accessed Dec. 29, 2011
PolitiFact New Jersey, New Jersey Rep. Jon Runyan claims debt ceiling compromise links "a debt ceiling increase to spending cuts for the first time ever,"Sept. 9, 2011
PolitiFact New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance says government debt has grown by $3.4 trillion during the first 29 months of the Obama administration, July 28, 2011
Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative,Fiscal Facts: The Great Debt Shift, April 2011
U.S. Senate, Vote Summary for Budget Control Act of 2011, accessed Jan. 1, 2012
Associated Press, Frank Lautenberg, Robert Menendez among 26 U.S. Senators to reject debt deal, Aug. 2, 2011
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Robert Menendez, accessed Jan. 1, 2012
Congressional Research Service, The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases, Sept. 9, 2011
LIbrary of Congress, Public Laws search page, accessed Jan. 1, 2012
Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update, August 2011
PolitiFact Florida, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says nonpartisan CBO faults Bush tax cuts for debt crisis, July 25, 2011
Congressional Budget Office, Changes in CBO’s Baseline Projections Since January 2001, May 12, 2011
PolitiFact Ohio, Rep. Dennis Kucinich says Bush tax cuts caused a substantial part of the deficit, April 29, 2011
Congressional Research Service, The Bush Tax Cuts and the Economy, Dec. 10, 2010
Email interview with Jason Peuquet,The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Jan. 3, 2012
Email interview with Alan Blinder, Princeton University Department of Economics, Jan. 3, 2012
Congressional Research Service, Votes on Measures to Adjust the Statutory Debt Limit, 1978 to Present, Aug. 9, 2011
Phone and email interviews with Larry Cirignano, campaign manager for Anna Little, Jan. 4-5, 2012
Email interviews with Tricia Enright,spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Jan. 4-5, 2012
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