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Truth Test: Political Attack Ads

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – In our first “Truth Test” of the 2010 fall election season, Eyewitness News found that some of the television commercials attacking candidates in Pennsylvania’s Senate race contain some questionable claims.

First, let’s look at an ad paid for by Democrat Joe Sestak that attacks Republican Pat Toomey on his record, specifically his friendliness with Wall Street. The ad says that Toomey worked on Wall Street, went to Congress and voted for Wall Street, then “got rich as Wall Street’s top lobbyist. Following that is a very favorable account of Rep. Joe Sestak’s service in the Navy. He rose to become a three star admiral.

The first two claims made against Toomey are true. He worked as a trader on Wall Street and, as a fan of limited government, many of his congressional votes were probably cheered by Wall Street executives, including his vote in 1999 for financial deregulation.

However, the claim that Toomey was Wall Street’s “top lobbyist” is misleading. According to records filed with both the House and the Senate, Toomey has never been a registered lobbyist.

The Sestak campaign points out that Toomey did lead the Club for Growth, a political advocacy group that works to support candidates in favor of lower taxes and limited government. That group runs television commercials, makes phone calls, writes letters and in general tries to publicly pressure lawmakers into voting the way it wants.

That, however, is different from the traditional view of lobbyists meeting behind closed doors with politicians.

Now, let’s look at an ad that attacks Joe Sestak, largely for voting for health care reform. This ad was paid for by Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a group affiliated with former Bush advisor Karl Rove.

The ad says health care reform includes $525 billion in “job killing taxes” and will increase premiums $2,100 on “hard hit families.”

The tax claim is an exaggeration. The reform bill does include about a half-billion dollars in new taxes and fees to pay for itself over the next ten years, however a big chunk of that increase is an increased Medicare tax on the wealthy: individuals making more than $200,000 per year or couples making more than $250,000. It’s not clear if that tax will kill jobs as the ad suggests.

The claim about higher premiums for “hard hit families” is misleading. According to the same source cited in the commercial, that increase will only affect 17 percent of families – those that purchase insurance on their own. And, more than half of those families, 57 percent, will qualify for government subsidies to pay those premiums which will dramatically cut – not increase – the cost.

The last claim in the ad says that health care reform will “gut” Medicare by more than $500 billion and 850,000 seniors in Pennsylvania could lose their Medicare plans.

This is also an exaggeration. What the bill does is reduce future spending increases in Medicare by $500 billion – in other words Medicare just will not grow as fast as it would have before reform. That’s hardly “gutting” Medicare.

As for the seniors who could lose their Medicare plans, we’re talking about privately-run Medicare Advantage plans – plans that are designed to supplement Medicare coverage. Health care reform does cut government payments to those plans over time, which means some of them could fold or cut back coverage options. But the bottom line, Medicare itself will continue to stay in existence.

Reported By: Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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