The online banner ads being run by the National Republican Campaign Committee — targeting 20 Democrats — are examples of how the political parties are turning the sequester into another political blame game.
NRCC communications director Andrea Bozek suggested the ads were in response to robo-calls launched by the NRCC’s opposite number, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which she said contained “lots of Pinocchios.” These calls target 23 Republicans:
Hello. This is Jennifer calling from the DCCC. On March 1st, America’s middle class is going to pay a terrible price because Congressman _____ backed a sequester plan that will eliminate more than 2 million jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into a recession.
But Congressman ________ refuses. He won’t compromise on a solution for the middle class because he is protecting tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected. These cuts will be devastating and could set us back for a generation.
Unfortunately, Congressman _______ is siding with the worst kind of Tea Party dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, instead of solving problems and protecting the middle class.
Press 1 right now if you’d like me to connect you directly with Congressman ________ to demand that he gets behind a plan to end the sequester and put the middle class ahead of millionaires and corporate special interests.
Note how each side wants to tag the other with the origin of the sequester, with the NRCC calling it “Obama’s sequester” and the DCCC saying the Republican lawmakers “backed a sequester plan that will eliminate 2 millions jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into recession.”
At this point, it’s really a fairly useless discussion. We have previously ruled that the sequester was suggested first by the White House, but the final deal has bipartisan fingerprints, as lawmakers in both parties supported it.
Let’s take a look at other elements of each side’s attacks.
First, the DCCC robo-call claims that 2 million jobs are at risk. The DCCC cites a study by George Mason University, but that study is a bit out of date (it studied the effect of the higher, pre-fiscal cliff sequester plan), and it covers a two-year period, making it much larger than the official Congressional Budget Office estimate of 750,000 jobs potentially lost. Interestingly, the official release by House Democrats on their alternative bill also cited the CBO’s 750,000 figure.
As for that alternative bill, we looked deep in the text of the bill, offered by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), for “smart cuts.” But the only real change in spending would be to end the direct payment program for farmers — a plan long proposed by the Obama White House. (Similar cuts appear in a sequester bill offered by Senate Democrats, but that also included defense cuts.)
As one of our colleagues wrote, “Van Hollen’s bill would essentially give the budget — and the U.S. economy — some breathing room in 2013 and postpone deficit reduction until later on.” In response, DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said: “We didn’t say that it cut multiple programs. We said there were smart cuts. Cutting direct farm aid is a smart spending cut.” He also said cutting oil subsidies could be considered cutting wasteful spending.
Nevertheless, most listeners to those calls would likely assume “smart cuts” referred to a bevy of programs, not one big cut in one program. As Bozek put it, “Why aren’t they outlining what they would cut? In the DCCC robo-call they say we need smart spending cuts.”
But the NRCC grabs this fact — that Democrats have not really outlined many places where they would cut — and descends into silliness.
Each of these banner ads highlights some small aspect of federal spending, originally underscored in the 2012 “Wastebook” released by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). We take no position on whether these programs are useful or not, but the problem is that much of this spending is not determined by congressional votes.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) is targeted for supposedly refusing to cut funding for robotic squirrels. But this concerns a $325,000 project competitively awarded by the National Science Foundation to San Diego State University, which has already resulted in two academic papers.
The Climate Change musical — which Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) is accused of not cutting — is another NSF grant, intended to “help the public better appreciate how science studies the Earth’s biosphere and to promote an inquisitive curiosity about our place in the natural world.” The funding came from a program designed to encourage scientific learning in formal and informal settings.
Another program under attack — $1.6 million in new video games underwritten by NASA that Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) supposedly failed to cut — was featured in a recent Washington Post report. The article noted that this was a unique private-public partnership, with the government putting up only about 15 percent of the $10 million cost of the games. So one could make a case that NASA has already found a way to save taxpayer money for this sort of educational effort.
In many ways, the NRCC attacks remind us of a Four-Pinocchio ad aired in 2011 by the over-50 organization AARP, which drew on similar small-fry examples of supposedly wasteful spending. The NRCC ads are not quite as bad — the AARP suggested such cuts would help balance the budget — but it certainly is rather misleading.
The Pinocchio Test
Neither congressional campaign organization covers itself with glory here.
The DCCC claims that Republicans backed a plan that would kill 2 million jobs, without mentioning that Republicans had their own alternative plan to replace the sequester. One could quibble whether the 750,000 figure should have been used instead of 2 million, but it also is misleading to claim Democrats offer “smart cuts” when in effect their alternative bill just targets one spending program.
The DCCC robo-calls earn, by a hair, Two Pinocchios.
Meanwhile, the NRCC attack crosses into the line of Three Pinocchios.
That’s because the GOP organization claims that the Democratic lawmakers are refusing to cut spending over which they have little or no control. Many Republicans also voted to support funding for the NSF, NASA and other government entities, so by the NRCC’s definition they have failed to “cut funding” for these programs as well.
Moreover, these itty-bitty programs would do little to make up the $85 billion sequester hole that would need to be replaced.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker