October 8, 2012

Truth Test: Summers backs Ryan 'goal,' but ad takes some liberties

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee came to Maine this past week with an ad against Republican Charlie Summers, and it begs questions about Summers' support for the aggressive federal budget plan of the Republican vice presidential nominee.

click image to enlarge


TRUTH TEST is a feature of MaineToday Media's campaign coverage in which we cast a critical eye on the truthfulness of advertising and public comments by political candidates and groups.

FOR A ROUNDUP of all the Truth Tests we've conducted during the 2012 campaign season, click here.

The ad makes five claims of fact, saying Summers, Maine's secretary of state, wants to cut Head Start, slash Pell Grants for college students, cut Medicare, privatize Social Security and protect tax breaks for companies moving jobs overseas.

Summers hasn't mentioned those things this campaign season. But he has mentioned support for the budget plan of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who has long had the goal of freezing government spending just below 2008 levels until the country can balance its budget.

DSCC spokesman Matt Canter cited three of the five claims in the ad as Summers' support of the Ryan plan. But in a Friday email, Summers spokesman Drew Brandewie said the candidate supports Ryan's "overarching goal" -- freezing spending near 2008 levels for some ongoing years, but not all of its nuts and bolts.

Those nuts and bolts happen to include four of five criticisms of Summers in the DSCC's ad: Head Start, Pell Grants and tax breaks for companies overseas. He also disagrees with Ryan on Medicare cuts, though that doesn't figure into the ad's citations.

The DSCC takes liberties, especially surrounding Head Start, but confusion comes from unclear Summers statements on the Ryan plan, which we can't penalize the advertiser fully for. 

"Cut Head Start for school kids" 

This estimate is based on cutting a huge pile of money that must be slashed from the federal budget under Ryan's plan exactly evenly across certain government programs. The money must be cut, but Ryan hasn't specified from where. That makes this claim junk.

Even if this weren't a wrong way to interpret this, Brandewie said Summers wouldn't support Head Start cuts.

Many have questioned estimates of deep Head Start cuts in the Ryan plan. The nonpartisan New America Foundation said in August that it can't be known how Ryan would spread those education cuts around. It's an unknown, plain and simple.

Verdict: Since it isn't clear where Ryan's cuts would hit, it's bunk to say Head Start will get hit in any certain way, regardless of Summers' stance on it. It's uncertain, and the DSCC's statement is disingenuous. 

We rate this statement false. 

• "Slash Pell Grants for college students" 

During his unsuccessful 2008 congressional campaign, Summers took an online questionnaire saying he'd support increasing Pell Grant funding. Brandewie said in a Friday email that Summers retains that stance today.

Regarding Summers, his support of the Ryan budget is all Canter said the DSCC was citing here. It's right about Pell Grants getting hit by the Ryan plan, according to an estimate.

The New America Foundation has said in fiscal year 2014, Ryan's plan would reduce current Pell Grant funding by more than $6 billion compared to current law. It would do it a few different ways: making changes to eligibility, ending a piece of the Pell budget funded as an entitlement and freezing the grant's maximum amount for five years.

Verdict: The DSCC could have found his 2008 stance on Pell Grants, but Summers' stated past support for Ryan's plan muddied the water here. Since both sides could have done better to stake out these positions, a half-truth for the Democrats is our only option. 

We rate this statement half-true. 

• "Cut Medicare" 

Canter said the ad cites Summers' desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Ryan's budget document also calls for the law's full repeal, except for its provision to reduce Medicare's future growth by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. The law did that through planned reductions in subsidies to private insurers and reductions in growth rates in payments to health providers.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)