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i9 Fact Checker: Ad wrongly claims Sen. Ernst is lying on cutting benefits

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 6:35 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - We’re less than two weeks away from Election Day and candidates are making their final pitches to Voters. Iowa’s Senate race has received national attention because Democratic Challenger Theresa Greenfield and Republican Joni Ernst are in a statistical tie in multiple polls.

Source: This ad called “Repeatedly” is from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DSCC is the campaign arm for the democratic party in the Senate.

A key to this ad is a statement Sen. Joni Ernst made to Iowa AARP that “I never once voted to cut benefits for seniors on Social Security and Medicare.” The ad accuses Ernst of lying, which we’ll address at the end, citing these claims.

Claim #1: “The Truth? Ernst voted repeatedly to cut Medicare by over 400 billion dollars.”

Analysis: The ad cites two budget votes Ernst supported in 2015 and 2017.

In the 2015 Budget, under then-President Barrack Obama, Ernst voted in favor of a budget that included spending $430 less on Medicare over ten years. But the budget overview describes that as a “strengthening” of Medicare by saving money through lower costs, restructured debt payments, and other efficiencies. It makes no mention of specifically cutting benefits.

In the 2017 vote, the budget sent to President Donald Trump included a $473 billion reduction in Medicare spending. But it gave little details in how it would achieve those cuts, simply stating the “Medicare spending is on an unsustainable course”.

“Given this untenable situation, the budget resolution supports work by the authorizing committees to recommend legislative solutions extending Medicare’s solvency in the near term, while pursuing policies that place the program on a sustainable long-term path,” the budget committee’s report wrote while offering no specifics on what would be cut from Medicare.

The day before the 2017 vote, Senate Democrats forced a vote to restore $473 Billion in cuts to Medicare by closing tax loopholes to the 2017 Budget. Ernst voted against that amendment.

Conclusion: Ernst did vote to cut spending on Medicare at least twice. The question is whether those cuts in spending are a savings or truly cuts in benefits, as implied by the ad saying Sen. Ernst lied when she said she never voted to cut benefits. Medicare doesn’t have defined benefits payments to seniors, so a cut would come in the form of less access to care or higher out of pocket costs. It’s easy to presume, as the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities did, that these spending cuts would have some impact on access and coverage under Medicare. However, none of Ernst’s votes specify a cut in benefits under Medicare as the ad implies. That’s why this claim gets a ‘B’.

Claim #2: “And she supported plans that would cost seniors six thousand dollars more each year for health care...”

Analysis: The ad is citing a 2011 report from Democratic Senator Bob Casey on the Republican budget plan that passed the House of Representatives that year.

The plan called for ending Medicare’s role as an insurance provider and instead offer seniors payments to be used to purchase private health insurance. Any costs beyond that Medicare payment would be an individual expense.

The Democrat report predicts the 2011 plan will add just under $6,000 in out-of-pocket health expenses for the traditional Iowan over 65-years-old in 2022. A report from the Congressional Budget Office found similar findings.

It’s worth noting Joni Ernst wasn’t serving in the Senate until 2015. She never had the opportunity to vote for the plan in 2011 because she was in the State Senate.

However, Ernst did vote against a 2011 resolution in the State Senate that opposed those provisions in the 2011 budget plan.

Conclusion: Ernst never had an opportunity to vote on this specific plan, which is important to the accusation that Ernst is lying when she says she never voted to cut benefits. Her vote against an impotent resolution in the Iowa Senate opposing the plan suggests she supported it but is not a very strong endorsement. That’s why this claim gets a ‘B’.

Claim #3: “..and cut our social security benefits”

Analysis: The ad is referring to Sen. Ernst’s support for a proposal to allow parents to use their social security benefits to pay for 12 weeks of maternity or paternity leave. In exchange, those individuals would delay retirement benefits or take reduced benefits to cover the costs. It’s important to note that the proposal makes it optional for each recipient.

The Urban Institute, a Washington D.C. Think tank, reported a person opting to take the maternity/paternity benefit would lose up to 25 weeks worth of retirements or see a 3% reduction in benefits.

Conclusion: This proposal would alter Social Security but only for those who opt for maternity/paternity benefits instead. Calling it a cut is a stretch, especially for recipients who opt out of the parental leave option since the benefits would simply come at a different time. Furthermore, even if you consider this a cut, Ernst never voted on this plan as the tone of the ad implies. That’s why this claim gets a ‘D’.

Claim #4: Joni Ernst. Caught lying again. ‘I never once voted to cut benefits for seniors on Social Security and Medicare’.”

Analysis: This brings us back to the overarching claim of the ad: that Sen. Ernst is lying when she says she never voted to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits. However, the citations in the ad offer little evidence.

As we note in Claims 2 and 3, Ernst never voted on the proposals cited. For Claim 1, while Ernst did vote to cut Medicare spending, neither of the votes cited detail specific reductions to Medicare benefits.

Conclusion: The ad does not cite anywhere that Ernst voted to cut Social Security benefits, the keyword there being “voted”. Her votes to cut Medicare spending do not specifically cut benefits and the budget under President Obama even suggests the savings will strengthen Medicare. However, cuts in spending would likely have some ripple effect on coverage, that’s why this claim gets a ‘D’.

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