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Rep. Lucy Kay McBath, D-Ga., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. (AP) Rep. Lucy Kay McBath, D-Ga., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. (AP)

Rep. Lucy Kay McBath, D-Ga., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 23, 2020

Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath cherry picks in attack on Karen Handel over CDC funding

If Your Time is short

  • McBath cites a Handel vote for a large budget bill. The vote isn’t proof that Handel supported any particular measure in the bill.

In a new ad, Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath points a finger at her competitor, saying former GOP Rep. Karen Handel’s actions in Congress hindered the nation’s ability to respond to COVID-19. 

"Karen Handel slashed the Centers for Disease Control's ability to fight diseases, cutting millions in research funding," the ad’s narrator says over flashing images of a tired medical worker, an empty laboratory and a patient lying in a hospital bed, her eyes closed.

The ad ends by stating McBath believes the CDC should be protected, "not gutted."

But the attack misses due to cherry-picking: What McBath points to as evidence is Handel’s vote for a massive spending bill to avert a government shutdown, not an up-or-down vote on money for the CDC.

A competitive rematch

This is not the first time McBath and Handel are running for the same seat. Handel served in the House from June 2017 to January 2019, after winning a special election. McBath defeated Handel in Handel’s bid for re-election in November 2018.

The McBath-Handel rematch is one of 18 pivotal House and Senate contests up for election on Nov. 3 that PolitiFact is tracking. It is rated "lean Democratic" by the Cook Political Report, meaning it’s a competitive race but that the Democrat appears to have the advantage.

In this campaign, we’ve rated one McBath attack on Handel as Half True; a Handel claim about McBath as False; and an attack by the National Republican Congressional Campaign on McBath as False.

McBath’s evidence

McBath’s ad cites Handel’s vote in February 2018 for a budget bill, that cleared the House on a 240-186 vote and was signed into law byinto law three days later by President Donald Trump. The measure provided continuing appropriations for numerous federal agencies into March 2018, including the agriculture, commerce, defense, energy, health and human services, interior, justice and transportation departments. The bill was a stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown and keep the government running for six weeks. 

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The bill called for a reduction of $1.35 billion over 10 years in the CDC’s Prevention and Public Health Fund which, at the time, accounted for 12% of the CDC’s budget. 

According to the CDC, the fund must be used "to provide for expanded and sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs to improve health and help restrain the rate of growth in private and public health care costs."

But a vote for a massive budget bill hundreds of pages long isn’t proof that a representative is voting for, or against, any single provision in the bill. In other words, this was not an up-or-down vote on one portion of the CDC’s budget any more than it was a vote on $14 million in hurricane assistance for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, or on $1 million for the office of the inspector in the Economic Development Administration, both of which also were in the bill.

Handel’s campaign acknowledged that Handel voted for the bill that reduced the Prevention and Public Health Fund, but argued that overall, the CDC’s operating plan for fiscal 2019 showed an increase in funding in most areas.

It’s worth noting that federal support to build state and local capacity to manage a new viral crisis fell by 50% after 2003. The decline in federal aid spans three presidencies and many sessions of Congress. President Trump sought $100 million in cuts that would have made the situation harder. But Congress ignored the president’s budget plans and largely kept the flow of dollars steady, even increasing them slightly.

Our ruling

McBath claimed in an ad that Handel "slashed the Centers for Disease Control's ability to fight diseases, cutting millions in research funding."

What Handel voted for was a big stopgap funding measure that kept numerous government agencies funded for six weeks and averted a shutdown. It was not an up-or-down vote on CDC funding, though it did include a reduction in one of the CDC’s funds.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

YouTube, Lucy McBath "Gutted" ad, Sept. 28, 2020

Interview, Lucy McBath campaign staffers Ayesha Syed and Jake Orvis, Oct. 19, 2020

Email, Karen Handel campaign spokesman Brian Robinson, Oct. 19, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FY 2019 Operating Plan, accessed Oct. 20, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Prevention and Public Health Fund," July 13, 2018

Congress.gov, "H.R.1892 - Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018," accessed Oct. 17, 2020

Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, XXX, February 2018

NPR, "House Passes Funding Extension After Trump Says 'I'd Love To See A Shutdown,'" Feb. 6, 2018

New York Times, "Trump Threatens Shutdown as Negotiators Close In on Budget Deal," Feb. 6, 2018

Health Affairs, "New Budget Bill Eliminates IPAB, Cuts Prevention Fund, And Delays DSH Payment Cuts," Feb. 9, 2019

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More by Tom Kertscher

Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath cherry picks in attack on Karen Handel over CDC funding

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