Saturday, March 8, 2014
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.
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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.
Canter pointed to the benefits of the law that would go away if it were repealed and not replaced -- free preventive care for those on Medicare and the closing of a coverage gap for those getting prescription drugs, for example. In May, Bloomberg reported a study saying seniors would pay $20,000 more for medical care if it were repealed.
Summers hasn't said he wants to change Medicare like Ryan, who wants to privatize much of it. He has told the Press Herald that he differs with the Ryan plan on large Medicare cuts, which Brandewie reaffirmed Friday. But that's a big part of Ryan's plan: Bloomberg has said Medicare reductions total about $200 billion of the plan's projected $5 trillion spending reduction in its first 10 years.
Verdict: Summers hasn't indicated that he wants to cut Medicare, but repealing the Affordable Care Act will have that effect on benefits unless it is immediately replaced with something. In effect, if it cuts benefits, it cuts Medicare.
We rate this statement true.
• "Privatize Social Security"
Summers said in 2008 he supports some privatization in Social Security. He does now too for future beneficiaries, but not those currently receiving benefits from the system, his campaign says.
Summers also answered a questionnaire in 2008, saying he supported allowing workers to put a portion of their payroll tax into a private account. Brandewie said the answer in 2008 applied to future beneficiaries, and Summers believes the same thing now.
Summers will protect Social Security "for those who've paid in and who are current beneficiaries," Brandewie wrote in an email. But because the system is unsustainable, "he's open to changes to new workers down the road," which includes "the option (to) put partial amounts into private savings accounts."
Ryan's budget plan also "could allow" for some Social Security privatization, according to the Miami Herald. The DSCC didn't cite that as an issue in its ad.
Verdict: Summers' campaign supported it in 2008, and he does now. It isn't full privatization for workers benefiting from Social Security, but it means he thinks those down the road should be able to privatize some of that money. The DSCC is right.
We rate this statement true.
• "Protect tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas."
Canter, saying this was another claim relating to the Ryan budget, cited a March article in the Wall Street Journal that said Ryan's budget plan would lower the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
The newspaper reported that under current law American companies "pay the tax rate of the country where the outpost is located and then, if they bring those profits home, often pay some U.S. taxes as well." Under the Ryan proposal, companies essentially would pay just the tax rate of the country where the profits are earned.
But Summers also parts here. In an email, Brandewie said Summers "does not support that element of the Ryan plan." On taxes, he supports "closing all the loopholes and special exemptions, and lowering everyone's rates."
Verdict: The Democrats had reason to believe Summers supported this because of his assents to the Ryan plan, but he never came out publicly for or against it. We have to strike another compromise here: Summers hasn't been clear on how he differs with Ryan on his plan.
We rate this statement half-true.
This ad, relating to Summers' positions, is a mess, since his campaign revealed publicly for the first time to us his opposition to nitty-gritty parts of Ryan's plan.
Its claim of Summers' positions on health care cuts and Social Security are and have been demonstrably true, while its Head Start claim is based on egregious oversimplification of estimates without qualifiers. On the rest, the ad is off-base, but partly because Summers' stance on the Ryan plan hasn't been fleshed out in such detail. We have to call those pieces washes.
We rate this ad half-true.
Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be reached at 621-5632 or at: