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After a barrage of fighting words from incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, Democratic congressional hopeful Gwen Graham has come back swinging in the tight race to represent a northern Florida district.
First, Southerland called Graham a "Washington lobbyist," an attack that focused on what the just-out-of-law-school attorney was doing 25 years ago. We ruled that claim Mostly False.
Now the daughter of Bob Graham, the former governor and U.S. senator, has dug into the first-term congressman’s voting record and accused him of being obstructionist.
"Believe me, I can handle Congressman Southerland’s campaign of lies and put-downs," Graham said in a recent television commercial. "But his vote for the government shutdown? Now, that’s a problem. He cost taxpayers $24 billion. His shutdown hurt businesses and families, seniors and even our veterans. And when both parties finally got together to fix it, Congressman Southerland voted to keep the shutdown going."
Graham’s mention of the shutdown refers to the battle between Oct. 1, 2013, and Oct. 16, 2013, when congressional Republicans refused to fund President Barack Obama’s health care law and Obama refused to sign spending bills unless they included funding for the law. With the two sides in deadlock for more than two weeks, annual spending bills did not move through Congress and to the president’s desk. Without money to fund its operations, the federal government reduced its activities to those of protecting lives and property; many federal workers were furloughed, and many federal services were dormant.
Democrats have tried to blame the GOP for the shutdown, with some success. But is Graham correct that Southerland tried to keep the unpopular gridlock going even when his Capitol Hill cohorts tried to compromise?
The short answer: Basically, yes.
During the runup to the shutdown, the GOP-led House, stacked with tea party-backed junior representatives like Southerland, strategized to "defund Obamacare" -- that is, not pass any spending bill that gave money for the president’s signature health care legislation.
The battle was joined in earnest on Sept. 20, when the House voted, 230-189, to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit only if Affordable Care Act funding was stripped out of the spending bill.
Southerland released a statement that day reading, "I do not want to see a government shutdown." He called the vote "a decisive step forward in our fight to ensure that the federal government is properly funded" while ensuring "our nation’s credit rating will be protected, while moving one step closer to a permanent delay and dismantling of government-run health care."
He then went on to vote for three House bills stripped of Obamacare funding prior to Oct. 1, which his campaign manager Luke Strickland said was proof Southerland "didn't support and didn't vote for the government shutdown." It was well-known that the Democratic-held Senate would not accept such a bill sent from the House, and the bills went nowhere.
Negotiations broke down and on Sept. 30, the federal government was shuttered. The House made several attempts to pass spending measures with similar provisions against Obamacare, but they continued to get bounced by the Senate. (Southerland, like most of his Republican colleagues, repeatedly approved these attempts.)
Finally, after 16 days, the Senate passed a spending bill that raised the debt ceiling and funded the government through Jan. 15, 2014, by a bipartisan vote of 81-18. (Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was one of the Republican’s in the nay column; when he tried to say he voted to fully fund the government, we ruled the claim Mostly False.)
The House soon relented, voting 285-144 for H.R. 2775, with 87 Republicans in support. But the key to checking Graham’s claim is that Southerland did not cross the aisle. Had enough additional Republicans joined him in voting no, the shutdown would have continued.
Southerland’s campaign manager noted that while the lawmaker voted for several measures to fund essential services and to create the working group that focused on finding a compromise, his convictions led him to vote against the bipartisan bill that ended the stalemate.
"After all of the uncertainty caused by the shutdown, Steve believed we needed a long-term solution that addressed the root causes of the crisis, not another stopgap that could have put us right back in the same boat months down the road," Strickland told PolitiFact Florida.
It’s not like Southerland’s ashamed of his anti-Obamacare position. His online House profile boasts that he has voted to "to repeal, replace, and defund Obamacare over forty times."
He did speak about the vote after H.R. 2775 passed and the government reopened. He said he "fought tooth and nail from day one to avert a shutdown" and blamed the Senate for rejecting the House spending bills. Southerland said the end result wasn’t something he could stomach, but he didn’t mention the looming specter of default that overshadowed the faceoff.
"I had no choice but to oppose (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid’s bill because it provides short-term spending without addressing the long-term drivers of this shutdown, including an exploding national debt and glaring inequalities under the president’s health care law," Southerland said. (For the record, the bill was hammered out by Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.)
"I simply can’t justify to my constituents a system where corporations and labor unions deserve a one-year compliance delay and government officials get special premium subsidies while average American families receive neither," Southerland continued. "I hope both parties in Washington learned a lesson from this shutdown and we get serious about addressing these issues before again bringing the nation to the brink."
Graham said Southerland "voted to keep the shutdown going."
The ad refers to an Oct. 16, 2013, no vote Southerland cast against a bipartisan Senate bill that funded the government and ended the shutdown. By the time it reached the House floor, it was clear to lawmakers that their vote would effectively be deciding whether to end the shutdown or not. If more Republicans had joined Southerland in voting no, the shutdown would have continued. Regardless of Southerland’s personal feelings about a shutdown, Graham is focusing her attack on his vote -- and his vote was a clear "no" to ending the shutdown.
We rate the claim True.
Gwen Graham campaign commercial, "Fresh," Sept. 25, 2014
CNN, "House GOP launches shutdown battle by voting to defund Obamacare," Sept. 20, 2013
U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland press release, "Southerland Votes to Prevent Government Shutdown, Defund Obamacare," Sept. 20, 2013
Freedom Works, Senate roll call 218, Oct. 16, 2013
Freedom Works, House roll call 550, Oct. 16, 2013
Sunshine State News, "Steve Southerland Against Shutdown Deal, Feels Heat from the Democrats," Oct. 17, 2013
Tallahassee Democrat, "Saying No," Oct. 17, 2013
Business Insider, "Here Are The 144 Republicans Who Voted To Send The US Into Default," Oct. 17, 2013
Washington Post, "Federal shutdown ends; Obama signs bill," Oct. 17, 2013
Huffington Post, "Steve Southerland Becomes First Target Of Democrats Post-Shutdown," Oct. 21, 2013
PolitiFact Florida, "Steve Southerland says Gwen Graham 'was a Washington lobbyist'," Sept. 23, 2014
PolitiFact Florida, "Marco Rubio says he never favored a government shutdown and voted to fully fund the government," Oct. 23, 2013
Tampa Bay Buzz blog, "Gwen Graham's new ad blames Southerland for gov't shutdown," Sept. 25, 2013
Freedom Works, H.R. 2775, accessed Sept. 29, 2014
U.S. House of Representatives, Roll Call Votes, 113th Congress -- 1st Session (2013), accessed Sept. 29, 2014
Vote Smart, "Steve Southerland's Voting Records," accessed Sept. 29, 2014
U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland home page, "Health Care," accessed Sept. 29, 2014
Interview with Eric Conrad, Graham campaign spokesperson, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview with Luke Strickland, Southerland campaign spokesperson, Sept. 30, 2014
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