The US Chamber of Commerce has promised to mount “the most significant political effort in its 100-year history” to influence this fall’s Congressional races—and, not surprisingly, it’s looking to be a daring exercise in dishonesty as well.
The Chamber rolled out a national television ad last week hitting Democrats who voted for healthcare reform, and now Senator Bill Nelson, who is facing a tough re-election campaign in Florida, is marshaling his lawyers to have the ad pulled from the air waves because of dishonest claims.
The spot contains a particularly explosive charge, particularly in Florida—and one that Republicans have often repeated: “Seniors will see $500 billion in Medicare cuts to fund Obamacare.” See the ad here, as tailored for Nelson:
Nelson’s legal team is warning Florida television stations not to run the ad because the claim about Medicare cuts is literally untrue—the program is still going to get bigger every year; the $500 billion is just a reduction in expected growth. But it’s fundamentally even more dishonest than confusing cuts and reductions in growth.
The clear implication of the ad is that “Obamacare” will reduce Medicare services for seniors. The truth is that spending on Medicare is actually increased under the bill in several key areas: it will, for example, increase spending on preventive services and close the so-called “donut hole” of Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.
The bill aims to slow the growth of Medicare by increasing premiums to wealthy seniors, reducing payments to the semi-privatized Medicare Advantage program, establishing a review panel to oversee reimbursement rates and slowly decreasing payment rates to healthcare providers.
One might make the case that these measures harm seniors to a greater degree than increasing preventive care and prescription payments—I’m not sure that’s convincing, but it would at least be honest, so long as the growth reductions weren’t presented as cuts. But the Chamber ad does neither, and Nelson’s team is begging local television stations to be the arbiter of these claims—something it claims is all the more important in the post–Citizens United era. From the campaign’s news release:
In the wake of the recent Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court allowed unlimited and undisclosed corporate money to be spent on such ads, TV stations have a greater responsibility to protect the public from the spread of false and deceptive information, Kendall Coffey, a lawyer for Nelson wrote in a letter to the stations today.
“On behalf of our client, we respectfully insist that you take this inaccurate ad off the air immediately,” Coffey wrote. “As a media outlet, this station has a duty to protect the public from the spread of false information and deliberate deception.”
The ad—which will inevitably be reproduced by journalists covering this dispute (ahem)—may end up bamboozling some Florida seniors, but it also telegraphs the defensive and ultimately weak position of Republicans.
It’s the GOP, of course, which twice passed Paul Ryan’s budget out of the House of Representatives, which ends Medicare as we have always known it. At least two of Nelson’s potential opponents voted for or support that budget. The Chamber might get by for a bit by muddying the waters, but if the heart of the current attack campaign is to essentially criticize the Republican philosophy on Medicare but pretend it’s one held by Democrats, that's not strong political ground to stand on.