PoliGraph: DCCC ad leaves out important details

If you’ve been filling up at gas stations in Minnesota’s third congressional district, you may have noticed this political ad at the pump:

“Congressman Erik Paulsen voted to cut taxes for millionaires and end your Medicare.”

The signs are part of a media blitz paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the fundraising arm for Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The effort targets 44 Republicans including U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen.

The DCCC’s ad treads a fine line between accurate and misleading.

The Evidence

The DCCC ad focuses on a budget resolution written by Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the House in April.

Paulsen voted for the resolution. It’s important to know that the bill is basically Congressional guidance for spending and revenue changes. So even if Ryan’s plan had passed the Senate – which it didn’t – it would not have cut taxes or changed Medicare.

It’s true that the resolution included a provision to lower the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, which could have affected the nation’s top earners.

The second part of the DCCC’s ad – that Paulsen voted to “end your Medicare” – is more nuanced.

The Ryan plan would have changed Medicare for those currently younger than 55, not seniors already enrolled or about to enroll in the program, as the DCCC ad implies.

Furthermore, Ryan’s plan would not have ended Medicare per se, but it would have changed it dramatically for those 55 or younger.

Currently, the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating Medicare patients. Ryan’s plan would have replaced the system with a voucher program. Beneficiaries would have used the cash to buy a private health insurance policy best suited for their medical needs.

Ryan also proposed linking the value of those vouchers to the Consumer Price Index, which has lagged behind increases in the cost of medical care. Over time, the payments Ryan proposed would buy less coverage as a result, and seniors would end up paying extra for coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Experts PoliGraph spoke with are split on whether the DCCC’s claim is fair. Some, including Richard Kaplan, an elder law expert at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, say that Ryan’s plan would have meant big changes to the current program, but it still would have provided government support.

Meanwhile, Karen Davis, a health policy expert with the Commonwealth Fund, agrees with the ad because Ryan’s plan would have gutted Medicare’s financial commitments and made the current program unrecognizable.

The Verdict

It’s true that Paulsen voted for a budget framework that proposed cutting taxes for the nation’s wealthiest and big changes to Medicare.

But the DCCC ad leaves out some important nuances, including the fact that Ryan’s proposal wouldn’t have affected those currently enrolled or about to enroll in Medicare. Furthermore, the Ryan proposal didn’t “end” Medicare; it changed it dramatically.

For leaving out some important details, PoliGraph says this ad is misleading.


The Star Tribune, Democrats hit Paulsen at the pump, by Jeremy Herb, Aug. 23, 2011

The DCCC, DCCC Launches ‘Accountability August’: Republicans’ Choosing Millionaires over Medicare, Aug. 9, 2011

The Washington Post, Votes on the FY 2012 Budget Resolution, accessed Aug. 24, 2011

The Path to Prosperity: Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Resolution, April 2011

The Congressional Budget Office, letter to Rep. Paul Ryan, April 5, 2011

ABC News, House passes Paul Ryan budget proposal in partisan vote, by John Parkinson, April 15, 2011

Health Affairs Blog, Vouchers or premium support: What’s in a name?, by Henry Aaron, April 6, 2011

The Internal Revenue Service, 2011 tax rate schedules, accessed Aug. 24, 2011

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan Plan’s “Path to Prosperity” Is Just for the Wealthy, by Chuck Marr, April 6, 2011

The Wall Street Journal, GOP Aim: Cut $4 trillion, by Naftali Bendavid, April 4, 2011

Interview, Jesse Ferguson, spokesman, DCCC, Aug. 24, 2011

Interview, Henry Aaron, the Brookings Institution, Aug. 23, 2011

Interview, Karen Davis, the Commonwealth Fund, Aug. 24, 2011

Interview, Richard Kaplan, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Aug. 23, 2011

Interview, Jack Hoadley, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Aug. 24, 2011

  • Seed

    Using Rep. Ryan’s logic, the World Wildlife Fund could increase the population of pandas by calling rabbits pandas. But to stay with Rep. Ryan’s logic, we’d have to up our killing of rabbits.

  • Jamie

    // “Congressman Erik Paulsen voted to cut taxes for millionaires and end your Medicare.” //

    There is nothing whatsoever misleading about that statement. I haven’t seen the ad, so maybe Richert is referring to other things in the ad. But this statement is absolutely true. “End your Medicare” means end Medicare as you know it. The plan would have indeed ended Medicare.

  • Roman

    A question for the fact checkers:

    If Minnesota Public Radio shut down and the next day KQRS decided to call itself Minnesota Public Radio while maintaining its format and entirely commercial nature would that mean MPR (who created this website) didn’t actually go out of business at all?

  • Ralph Crammedin

    Citing the DCCC ad as “misleading” is misleading.

    You concede that Paulsen’s vote expressed an intent to cut taxes for millionaires. You have a Medicare “expert” comment that Paulsen’s vote intended to make the current program “unrecognizable.” Yet you quarrel with the ad’s accuracy in identifying the intent of Paulsen’s vote? You are claiming a logical impossibility.

    Catharine, I have no choice but to assign a failing grade (F) to your review. Your label of “misleading” has so substantially misconstrued the essential message of the DCCC ad as to make it unrecognizable.

  • Josh

    Count me among those who find your verdict objectionable.

    I personally take exception to this important item from your article:

    “But the DCCC ad leaves out some important nuances, including the fact that Ryan’s proposal wouldn’t have affected those currently enrolled or about to enroll in Medicare. ”

    No, but it WOULD have affected every single earner under age 55, including those who have been paying into the system for over 30 years in exchange for a certain agreed-upon form of coverage that would be summarily eliminated.

    You also gloss over the fact that the private coverage that Ryan’s vouchers would supposedly help underwrite may not be available. A great many seniors will not be coverable under private insurance. So these seniors will have spent their working lives paying into a system which gives them absolutely no return for their dollar.

    You have conveniently omitted these fact, and thus I have to give your analysis a “Pants on Fire.”