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Discussing a hotly contested provision of federal health care reform, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Neumann resorted to fiery rhetoric to brand President Barack Obama and his entire administration.
Neumann was interviewed June 20, 2012, by conservative talk show host Jay Weber on WISN-AM (1130) in Milwaukee. He criticized the part of Obama's reform law that requires what he called "abortion-inducing drugs" be included in insurance plans offered by religious institutions.
As The New York Times explains, the Obama administration announced in January 2012 that as part of the rollout of the reform law most health insurance plans will be required to cover contraceptives for women free of charge. The announcement set off a political firestorm among religious and conservative groups, who denounced it as a threat to religious freedom, the newspaper said. The rule does not apply to church organizations themselves, but instead to affiliated nonprofit corporations, like hospitals, that do not rely primarily on members of the faith as employees.
Back to the interview.
"You always have to look at motive. Don't you think that one big reason that (U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen) Sebelius and Obama even imposed this mandate is that they want to get anyone other than government out of the health care business? I think that they're hoping the Catholic Church says we have no choice other than to close our hospitals."
"Well, I think that's true. I think Barack Obama and his team believe that the federal government is best prepared to handle virtually everything in our lives. I mean, they're socialists in every respect of the word and I think they'd like to take over everything in our lives if they could, including health care."
So, Neumann, a former House member, is claiming Obama and his team are "socialists in every respect of the word." Having cast himself as the most conservative candidate in the GOP primary, he goes to the opposite end of the spectrum by using socialist.
While Milwaukee had a socialist mayor (Frank Zeidler) as recently as 1960, these days those are fighting words.
So let's see what this is all about.
Twice before, our colleagues have rated statements calling Obama a socialist -- and both times issued ratings of Pants on Fire.
1. Texas Gov. Rick Perry
At a January 2012 debate for Republican presidential candidates, GOP Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Obama a socialist. Two months earlier, when Perry told Fox News he thought Obama was a socialist, he explained his claim by saying: "When you talk about printing money and spending government money, and trying to spend it out … kind of redistribute the wealth -- the best I can tell, that's socialism."
PolitiFact National pointed out in rating Perry’s debate claim that Obama's tax policy "relies on the same progressive approach that has been the cornerstone of American tax policy since the federal government first collected an income tax in 1863, an approach embraced by Republicans and Democrats."
Our colleagues continued:
"To the extent the government then gives some of the money to the less-wealthy through various programs, you could say the income is being redistributed. But that concept has been embraced by Republicans and Democrats for well over a century. That's a far cry from true socialism, which is defined as support for "governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods."
2. Texas congressional candidate Roger Williams
Two weeks before Neumann’s claim, Texas Republican Roger Williams vowed that if elected to Congress he would "fight a president who's, quite frankly, a socialist."
PolitiFact Texas concluded in rating Williams’ statement that "certain Obama policies may have expanded government" and that "some perceive the health care law as government asserting more control over health care."
But that's not even equivalent to the dictionary definition of socialism that Williams’ own campaign provided: "any of various social systems based on shared or government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of good."
Now back to the statement at hand.
Neumann went even further than the two Texans, claiming that not only Obama but "his team" are socialists.
Neumann campaign manager Chip Englander also offered a definition of socialism, saying in an email it is "economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of means of production and distribution of goods."
Obama, through his votes as a U.S. senator or in his time as president, "has used government money to buy some of the largest companies in the United States and took an active role in the management of the companies," Englander said, citing General Motors, Chrysler and AIG.
But that argument doesn't go far.
In the Perry item, conservative economist Bruce Bartlett told PolitiFact National that "although it is true that the federal government did come to own some private businesses as a consequence of bailout policies initiated by the George W. Bush administration such as TARP, the Obama administration sold many of them -- such as its shares in GM -- as quickly as feasible. A true socialist would have held onto them."
Englander also argued that with health care reform, Obama "advocates the government distributing $1.7 trillion worth of health care services. Presumably he has an economic policy that is going to collect this $1.7 trillion from one group of people and/or businesses and redistribute it to another."
But our national colleagues addressed this, as well, saying:
"The health care law relies largely on the free enterprise system, an economic approach that Perry usually speaks about fondly. To increase health care coverage for the uninsured and people in small business, the law sets up exchanges to encourage private health insurance companies to compete. (In 2010, we chose the Republican claim that the law was a ‘government takeover’ as our Lie of the Year.)"
When we asked for a response to Neumann's claim, Obama Wisconsin campaign spokeswoman Gillian Morris simply cited the two Pants on Fire items.
We share our colleagues' view that while Obama's policies may have expanded government, they don't justify this "ridiculous hyperbole."
Words matter, and Neumann’s statement takes the hyperbole even further, branding not only Obama but also his entire team as socialists.
Neumann’s statement is false and ridiculous -- our definition of Pants on Fire.
WISN-AM, Jay Weber interview (at 3:20) of Mark Neumann, June 20, 2012
PolitiFact Texas, "Roger Williams says Obama is a socialist," June 8, 2012
PolitiFact.com, "Rick Perry says Barack Obama is a socialist," Jan. 8, 2012
Email interview, Mark Neumann campaign manager Chip Englander, June 21, 2012
Mark Neumann campaign, news release on Obama health law and abortion-inducing drugs, June 20, 2012
Email interview, President Barack Obama Wisconsin campaign press secretary Gillian Morris, June 21, 2012
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