Local Elections

Fact Checker: Third-party ads attack Tester and Rehberg


Fact Checker: Third-party ads attack Tester and Rehberg 9-20-12

BOZEMAN, Mont. - The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Sen. Jon Tester and Congressman Dennis Rehberg is being closely watched by the entire country. That's because Republicans need to flip four seats to take control of the Senate, and they think they have a good shot here in Montana.

Third-party advertisements attacking each candidate are all over the airwaves. I fact checked two of the most recent to see how they hold up under scrutiny.

The first attacks Rehberg, and was paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"Rehberg opposes the Buffett Rule that would force millionaires to pay taxes at the same rates as the rest of us," the ad says. "Higher tax rates for you. Lower tax rates for millionaires like him."

I dug into Rehberg's annual financial disclosure statements, and they show he does qualify as a "millionaire."

It's also true he voted against the so-called Buffett Rule, which would have increased taxes on investments to 30 percent.

The rule is named after billionaire Warren Buffett, who says he pays a smaller percentage in taxes than his secretary, because his money comes from investments rather than salaried income.

Rehberg openly acknowledges he voted against the Buffett Rule, saying it might be "good politics," but that it wouldn't create jobs.

Instead, he supported another bill that would have cut taxes by 20 percent for all businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

Democrats said that would unfairly give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, while Republicans like Rehberg argued it would stimulate the economy, support small businesses and help generate new jobs.

The second ad attacks Tester, and was paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which endorses Rehberg.

"Senator Tester cast a deciding vote for government mandated healthcare, which will cost over $1 trillion, and $716 billion in Medicare cuts," says the ad.

It's true that Tester voted for the Affordable Care Act, which is estimated to cost about $1.1 trillion.

However, non-partisan fact checkers like politifact.com and factcheck.org agree that the plan does not call for cutting $716 billion from traditional Medicare.

Rather, the plan tries to gradually bring down future increases in health care costs, partly by curbing growth in provider payments. That means some hospitals will see Medicare payments grow more slowly.

The plan also reduces the amount the federal government spends funding Medicare Advantage -- a program in which Medicare beneficiaries can get private insurance, paid for by government subsidies.

Overall spending on Medicare itself will actually increase and traditional Medicare benefits will not be cut.

In fact, the Affordable Care Act added free preventative care and increased prescription drug coverage for Medicare patients.

To dig into these ads, I checked congressional records, including roll call votes and financial disclosure reports.

I also consulted non-partisan groups like factcheck.org and politifact.com, and referenced comments candidates have made to various Montana media outlets.

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