Flip on the TV these days and it seems like every channel is airing the fierce cage match between Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy. It remains to be seen if either candidate is bruised by the slugfest, but there’s little question that accuracy in political ads has taken a few body slams.
In this column, we’ll break down a McMahon spot that revisits earlier attacks on Murphy’s attendance record at committee hearings and accuses the three-term congressman of voting to cut Medicare and raise taxes on the middle class.
Is it true? Depends how far you’re willing to stretch the language.
McMahon’s ad, titled “Summarize,” begins by touting her work record – and work ethic. “Linda McMahon showed up for her job, and created more than 600 good Connecticut jobs – marketing, accounting, IT and more,” the announcer intones. “But newspapers say Chris Murphy skipped nearly 80 percent of his job in committees. And when he did show up, he voted to cut Medicare by $716 billion, and to increase middle-class taxes.”
It’s not a major point of the ad, but the 600 figure is likely a little overstated. At the time McMahon stepped down as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, the company’s worldwide employee count was probably closer to 575 and never peaked higher than about 600 during her tenure. And with affiliates in several other countries, some number of those were not “Connecticut jobs.” Nevertheless, McMahon, as a key executive at WWE, can certainly take credit for hundreds and hundreds of Connecticut jobs.
But the meat of the ad is the attack on Murphy. The commercial is a bit cheeky in attributing the statistic on Murphy’s hearing record to newspapers – specifically an article two weeks ago in The Courant – and then engages in tortured grammar to say that Murphy “skipped 80 percent of his job in committees.”
The Courant, in a previous Claim Check, confirmed McMahon’s assertion that Murphy had missed a large percentage of his committee hearings (The Courant’s analysis found he missed 76 percent). But the paper did not characterize the importance or relevance of the statistic.
Some maintain that missing committee hearings is a grave offense for a member of Congress. Others say the hearings are rarely essential to understanding the issues before a committee or to doing the work of a committee member. That’s not a debate Claim Check participates in, and it is inaccurate to claim that The Courant said Murphy “skipped 80 percent of his job” with regard to the committees.
The ad also plays with language in its representation of Murphy’s voting record. McMahon’s claim that Murphy voted to cut Medicare by $716 billion is based on his support for the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare. That $716 billion figure has become a popular political ping-pong ball. But as several fact-checkers have written before, nothing in the healthcare law cuts funding from the Medicare budget, which is expected to consistently increase over time. Instead, the $716 billion is a 10-year estimate of the savings that would be generated by various provisions of the law — most of which represent reductions in reimbursement rates to medical providers and to private insurers under the Medicare Advantage program. Those savings do not come from cutting Medicare benefits.
The claim that Murphy voted to increase middle-class taxes is based on Murphy twice voting against Republican proposals to extend the Bush-era tax rates. Republicans generally supported extending the lower rates for all taxpayers, while Democrats, including Murphy, generally pushed to extend the rates for all but the highest-earning taxpayers.
In December 2010 – with the tax cuts set to expire on Jan. 1 – Murphy and other Democrats in the House approved The Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010, extending the cuts for couples making up to $250,000 in taxable income and individual taxpayers earning up to $200,000. But Republican leaders in the Senate blocked that proposal and successfully pressed for a bill that extended the lower rates for all taxpayers.
Murphy voted no on that bill, and had Murphy’s side won the vote, tax rates for all filers, including the middle class, would have risen – at least temporarily – if Congress failed to rush through a new vote before the year’s end.
But the debate in 2010 – as it is today – was solely over extending the rates to the wealthy, and, while politically irresistible, it is sorely lacking in context to summarize Murphy’s action as voting to “raise taxes on the middle class.”
As in past ads from both sides of this race, this spot contains a variety of statements that are not false or made up, but are not entirely accurate either. That is, of course, a popular realm for political ads, and for the cumulative spinning in this commercial, we rate this ad Somewhat Misleading.