The 2016 Senate race in Florida officially kicked into high gear March 23 when U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, became the first major candidate to announce he will run for Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat.
Murphy, 31, has built a reputation as a middle-of-the-road Democrat, but he could face a challenge on the left from U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando. If Rubio runs for president, Murphy is still certain to face a heavyweight on the GOP side -- potentially Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera or CFO Jeff Atwater. Murphy has said he will run whether Rubio runs or not.
On the day of Murphy’s announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee unveiled a website attacking his positions on several topics, including the Affordable Care Act and health care for members of Congress:
"Murphy voted to keep Obamacare the law of the land but also voted to allow members of Congress to receive taxpayer-funded health care for life!"
Did Murphy vote for permanent health care for members of Congress, including himself? Actually, no. Members of Congress do not get health care for life, and Murphy has never voted to give them health care for life.
Instead, the NRSC is twisting generic votes in favor of the health care law into an entirely new -- and false -- attack.
Murphy and the Affordable Care Act
Murphy won his first race for Congress against Allen West in 2012, so he wasn’t in office when Congress approved the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
On the campaign trail in 2012, Murphy said he supported the health care law, but also thought it could be improved. He criticized some of the requirements on businesses, such as the requirement for filing complicated 1099 forms, which was later repealed.
While in office, he has taken votes related to the health care law -- for example, he joined most Democrats in opposing a bill which would have prevented the IRS from enforcing any portion of Obamacare.
The NRSC pointed to a few votes by Murphy including on May 16, 2013, to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Murphy voted against it -- as did all but two Democrats while Republicans overwhelmingly supported it. The bill passed the House 229-195 but never passed the Senate.
So what would repeal have to do with members of Congress getting their own insurance?
The health care law requires members of Congress to obtain health insurance through an online marketplace, such as healthcare.gov. Previously, lawmakers bought insurance through the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program, in which federal employees younger than 65 chose a plan and split premiums with the federal government. If Congress ever repealed Obamacare, members would go back to the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program.
But here’s the problem with the claim: Members of Congress don’t get to use the federal health plan forever. Instead, it’s similar to getting insurance through work. When they lose the election -- essentially losing their job -- they have to find a new way to get health insurance.
The NRSC also cited Murphy’s vote 2014 against a congressional resolution that included repeal of the health care law. Democrats including Murphy unanimously voted against it.
Included along with the resolution is a "policy statement on responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars" that states: "Retirement benefits for Members of Congress should not include free, taxpayer-funded health care for life."
By voting against the resolution, "Patrick Murphy voted to allow Members of Congress to receive taxpayer funded healthcare for life," NRSC spokesman Matt Connelly told PolitiFact Florida.
But unlike the earlier vote, this one has an added wrinkle in that it carried no power.
Both Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense and Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Government Affairs Institute, said that the House budget resolution doesn’t have the weight of law and it doesn’t go to the president for signature.
Murphy’s spokesman Richard Carbo told PolitiFact Florida that "essentially, the so-called 'ban' is nothing more than words on a page."
"It was a bogus and misleading claim then, and it is a bogus and misleading claim now," said Jonathan Oberlander, professor of social medicine and health policy and management at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "Obamacare actually gives all Americans the opportunity to obtain what members of Congress already have: access to decent, affordable health insurance."
As a side note, attacks about Congress voting for "free health care for life" are not exclusively made by Republicans. Health care experts we interviewed in 2013 debunked a similar claim by Democrats that repeal of the health care law would lead to free insurance for life for Congress. And Democrats used that attack line again in 2014. We rated both those claims as Pants on Fire wrong.
The NRSC said that Murphy "voted to allow members of Congress to receive taxpayer-funded health care for life."
The NRSC cites votes Murphy took against repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Even if those votes led to actual repeal -- which they didn’t -- members of Congress would not get free healthcare for life.
This was a misleading claim when Democrats tried their versions of it in the past -- and it’s just as misleading now.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.