Politicians rarely lie.
They don’t always tell the whole truth, either.
Most of the claims you’re hearing in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Pat Roberts and independent Greg Orman, for example, aren’t false. But they’re often incomplete — the two candidates in the Nov. 4 election providing just one side of an issue or position, potentially deceiving voters.
These are eight claims made during the candidates’ three debates, with a closer look at the issues:
Pat Roberts: “The House has passed over 350 bills, all of which are stuck in the Senate, where now good legislation goes to die. The choice is clear: I am the only candidate on this stage who will vote to put Harry Reid out to pasture and break the gridlock.”
The House, controlled by Republicans, has passed 368 measures so far this year, the official record shows. The Democratic-controlled Senate has approved 63 House measures, a pretty poor record.
But the House hasn’t passed many Senate measures either. Of the 293 items the Senate has passed, the House has approved just 20.
The truth? Bills die in both houses of Congress. Votes are now routinely taken for political reasons, and each party votes accordingly. Indeed, some bills pass in one chamber precisely because they’re expected to perish in the other.
Orman has said he won’t vote for Reid as majority leader under any circumstances. And changing the Senate’s leadership might not break the gridlock: Without 60 votes, Republicans there will have difficulty stopping Democratic filibusters.
Greg Orman: “Sen. Roberts … voted against the farm bill … he voted against funding for NBAF (the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility under construction in Manhattan, Kan.).”
Roberts did vote against the latest farm bill (more on that below), but he has voted for other farm bills in the past and wrote much of that legislation. He has been chairman of the agriculture committees in the House and the Senate and is considered a congressional expert on farm policy.
Roberts did not directly vote against funding NBAF. Instead, early this year, he voted against an overall $1.1 trillion spending bill that included more than $400 million for the bioresearch laboratory. There was no stand-alone floor vote on NBAF funding.
Had Roberts’ position prevailed, the NBAF project would likely have stalled. He said he needed to “send a signal” that he thought federal spending is too high.
Pat Roberts: “In the farm bill, we achieved the number one priority of farmers and ranchers in Kansas; that was crop insurance. Yes, I voted against the farm bill because it was — once again we’re seeing farmers now farm for the government as opposed to the market.”
These back-to-back sentences ignore the obvious: crop insurance is a government program, just like the rest of the farm bill. Taxpayers subsidize crop insurance premiums for farmers and they subsidize excess losses for the private insurers taking part in the program. No federal government, no widespread crop insurance.
Crop insurance cost taxpayers an average of $10 billion over the last three years, money that typically goes to the biggest farm operations.
The idea of the farm bill is to insulate farmers from the free market. Roberts’ own measure to bring free market forces to agriculture — a law called Freedom to Farm — did not work.
Finally, it’s a stretch for the incumbent to claim credit for saving crop insurance, then oppose the bill containing crop insurance.
Greg Orman: “In terms of the young adults and the children at our southern border, I think we need to address that at its source. I think we needed to go to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and we need to talk to parents there. We need to advertise to them, we need to let them know: Please do not send your children through that treacherous trip through Mexico to the United States because when you get there, we’re going to process them and we’re going to send them home. Ultimately, that is the best way to ensure their safety.”
Current law allows the federal government to detain, process and eventually repatriate almost all of the undocumented immigrant teenagers who have recently flooded the southern border of the United States. Between October 2013 and this past August, more than 66,000 undocumented immigrant children had been detained.
Republicans have blamed the administration for the crisis, suggesting the White House “encouraged” the refugee stream by allowing other undocumented school-age children to stay in this country.
It isn’t clear, though, that sending the refugees home or convincing parents to keep their children in Central America is “the best way to ensure their safety.”
At least some of the refugees appear to have made the trip because of the fear of violence in their home countries.
“Children, single women and women heads of household with young children are … prime targets for violence and exploitation by the organized crime syndicate, gangs and security forces,” representatives of the Episcopal Church told Congress last summer.
Pat Roberts: “I really believe in education. Local control is best control. And that is because we have the knowledge and we have the hands-on experience. We don’t need more federal mandates telling our kids how much to eat in a school lunch.”
The federal government provides some of the funding for the national school lunch program and has long set general standards for the food that school districts can serve as part of that program. New rules aimed at improving the meals’ nutritional value were recently imposed.
But “while school lunches must meet federal meal requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities,” the USDA says.
There are no federal rules telling students how much to eat.
Roberts may well believe in local control of schools. But he voted for No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration effort to set national standards for district improvement, requiring testing of students that some educators have criticized.
Greg Orman: “The First Amendment thing that Senator Roberts is referring to is overturning Citizens United. And obviously he doesn’t want to overturn Citizens United because his buddies from Washington have flown in and are now spending millions of dollars on campaign ads.”
Citizens United refers to the U.S. Supreme Court decision giving free speech rights to corporations. Orman has said the decision should be reversed.
It is true that outside groups have spent money — around $4 million so far — supporting Roberts or opposing Orman.
But virtually none of that spending has come from corporations or was legalized by the Citizens United case. Most of the spending against Orman has come from political action committees, which existed before that decision and can legally advocate for and against candidates.
Repealing the Citizens United decision would not change the laws surrounding PACs, super PACs or even groups establised under 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code, the “social welfare groups” now spending millions in races across the country.
Pat Roberts: “With Obamacare taking money away from Medicare, that’s a mistake. The Medicare reimbursement to our health care providers is causing a crisis to the rural health care delivery system. We have to save Medicare.”
Few public policy issues are more subject to misleading and incomplete claims — from Democrats and Republicans — than Medicare, medical insurance for seniors. This statement is no different.
The Affordable Care Act cuts future spending increases in Medicare, including something called Medicare Advantage, a supplemental program. The savings are used for some of the costs of the ACA, also known as Obamacare.
But Republicans — including Roberts — have offered and supported budgets that also restrain growth of Medicare and Medicare Advantage spending. Those savings generally are used to reduce the federal budget and the federal tax burden instead of funding health coverage for uninsured Americans.
Both parties have supported reining in the growth of Medicare.
In 1995, as a member of the House, Roberts voted for a Republican budget bill that cut the growth of Medicare spending by $270 billion over several years.
It also isn’t clear that falling Medicare reimbursement rates are the only thing threatening rural health care.
It is true that spending less on Medicare patients can make it harder to provide care in all hospitals, not just those in rural areas. But many rural hospitals also treat Medicaid patients and those without insurance. Medicaid is health insurance for the poor.
Federal payments to those hospitals are being cut because the ACA expands Medicaid, potentially increasing insurance reimbursements to those hospitals.
Kansas has not expanded Medicaid. That, arguably, has a similar financial effect on some rural hospital budgets as reducing Medicare reimbursements.
In any case, Pat Roberts repeatedly says that federal spending is too high and that “we’re going to have to address all of the entitlement programs,” as he put it in a debate.
That almost certainly means Congress will again consider cutting the growth of Medicare spending.
Greg Orman: “I am not taking money from PACs because I want to go to Washington and represent only the citizens of Kansas.”
The latest record analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows no political action committee donations to Orman.
But a new super PAC — the Committee to Elect an Independent Senate — has spent more than $500,000 on Orman’s behalf.