Washington Post Says Landrieu Lies in TV Ads

Fact Checker – Cutting Social Security to fund tax cuts for the rich?

By Glenn Kessler

Rep. Bill Cassidy’s “record is crystal clear: voting to cut Social Security benefits to pay for tax breaks for millionaires like himself.”

– voiceover of new ad sponsored by the campaign of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)

This tough new ad from Landrieu — who faces a runoff election against Cassidy — uses clips from a Cassidy speech to make him appear seriously unhinged. Readers can judge for themselves how out of context the clips are (the ad directs viewers to the full speech), but The Fact Checker was interested in the small bit of policy substance highlighted in the ad: “His record is crystal clear: voting to cut Social Security benefits to pay for tax breaks for millionaires like himself.”

There are three key elements to this claim: that Cassidy voted to cut Social Security benefits, that he voted to use the savings from Social Security to fund tax cuts and that he, as a “millionaire,” would benefit from those tax breaks.

On Social Security, the RSC budget plan would have slowed spending from the program’s trust funds by gradually raising the retirement age and changing the method of calculating cost-of-living adjustments. Specifically, the budget would have changed the formula to something called that chained consumer price index, a proposal President Obama also embraced until recently.

Okay, if the Social Security changes are intended to extend Social Security, then how does it pay for a tax cut for the rich? That’s where the logic of Landrieu’s ad starts to fall apart. The RSC budget calls for a revenue-neutral tax plan so in theory no savings from Social Security are needed to pay for any revenue loss.

The Landrieu campaign justifies this line by saying the budget was intended to achieve balance over 10 years, so the $137 billion in Social Security savings is used to help achieve balance. The campaign also argues that the tax plan has not been proven to be revenue neutral but instead relies on optimistic assumptions.

Once again, we should note that all of this would have become clear if actual legislation had been drafted and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. But this is just a budget blueprint, so the Landrieu campaign is layering assumptions upon assumptions.

Another assumption is that Cassidy would benefit from these tax changes. The ad labels him “a millionaire” — and he has an estimated net worth of nearly $1.6 million — but his disclosure statement suggests that he earns relatively little income from his investments. Much of his income is from his congressional salary, which at $174,000 a year puts him well below the income level that would be affected by such proposals such as restoring George W. Bush-era tax cuts for people making more than $400,000 a year.

On several levels, this claim falls short. Whatever one thinks of Cassidy’s Social Security proposals, they are aimed at helping preserve the system, not funding tax cuts for the wealthy. Landrieu has to go through several leaps of logic to tie those benefit changes to tax cuts for the wealthy — and then to assume Cassidy would benefit greatly.

The Landrieu campaign earns Three Pinocchios – Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.


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