David Schweikert said he’s not making allegations about U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell — he’s simply talking about a voting record that is too liberal for Arizona’s 5th Congressional District. But Mitchell said his independent record is being distorted.
Attack #1: Mitchell is an Obama-Pelosi puppet
Mitchell’s greatest asset has been his ability to demonstrate independence from Democratic leadership that is generally unpopular in his conservative district. Schweikert has taken every opportunity to undermine that image.
The congressman’s votes for the health care bill, for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and for the Troubled Asset Relief Program put him in league with most vulnerable Democrats across the country. Schweikert has repeatedly cited those votes as proof that Mitchell is out of touch with the district, in which Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 40,000.
But Mitchell has voted against other Democratic bills that were unpopular with conservatives, such as the auto industry bailout and the “cap-and-trade” carbon emissions bill. Mitchell votes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 80 percent of the time, while the average Democrat votes with her about 96 percent of the time, according to the website OpenCongress.org.
Schweikert’s campaign, however, said Mitchell’s 80 percent average is misleading. Schweikert said that 42 percent of Mitchell’s votes against Pelosi were minor procedural issues, such as votes against adjournment, votes against adopting the minutes or ‘no’ votes on bills in committees that he later voted for when they went before the full House. The votes were essentially meaningless, Schweikert said, and were designed to bolster Mitchell’s moderate credentials.
“It’s basically meant to design a mail piece,” Schweikert said.
Mitchell said there were good reasons for the votes Schweikert questioned. He voted against adjournment because he felt that Congress still had work to do, he said, and some of his ‘no’ votes in committee on bills that he later supported were meant to kill rule changes that he felt were unfair. Pelosi barely got enough votes to adjourn in late September after Congress failed to extend the Bush tax cuts, with Republicans opposing adjournment as a bloc.
“These aren’t just procedural. Otherwise, why do the Republicans vote against these things?” Mitchell said.
The National Journal in February listed Mitchell as the fourth most-independent Democrat in the House of Representatives — and his voting record makes him the most independent Democrat in Arizona’s congressional delegation. Mitchell recently snagged an endorsement from the Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Attack #2: Mitchell voted to cut $500 billion from Medicare
Mitchell’s vote for President Obama’s health care law is one of the cornerstones of the Republican campaign against him, and an ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee said his vote cuts $500 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years.
The claim that Medicare will lose a half-trillion dollars is essentially a half-truth. The bill doesn’t cut benefits to Medicare recipients, but it does slash reimbursements to Medicare providers, which experts say was a continuation of a decades-old trend.
“I would never vote for anything that would weaken or lessen benefits to Medicare,” Mitchell said.
Congressional Democrats backed the cuts in the hope that the 30 million additional patients whom Medicare is projected to take on over the next decade will offset the difference. But John Rivers, former president of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said it’s impossible to tell if that prediction will come true until the law is fully implemented in 2014, and possibly for years after that.
Some polls show that 50 percent of Medicare recipients believe their benefits are being cut by the health care law, Rivers said, and misinformation has dominated the public discourse.
There is one area where those cuts might reduce benefits — seniors who use the Medicare Advantage plan. Rivers said Congress has essentially deemed Medicare Advantage to be too profitable for providers, and physicians may respond by withdrawing from the program, he said.
Schweikert’s claim that more physicians are choosing not to take Medicare patients because they’re worried about reduced reimbursement, however, is true, Rivers said, because many doctors worry that they’ll have to treat patients below cost.
“I would say it’s very commonly assumed and very commonly believed in the health care field in Arizona,” Rivers said.
Attack #3: He voted to raise taxes
A Schweikert ad states that “Congressman Mitchell voted to raise our taxes,” followed by an attack for “rubber-stamping” the health care bill. Another ad, by the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Mitchell voted for the health care law, “that costs a trillion dollars.”
The footnote on that ad cites a 2009 vote on the health care law, which included a number of tax hikes, as well as tax credits.
The law imposes a 3.8 percent tax on capital gains, dividends and other investments; imposes an excise tax on high-end “Cadillac” health care plans; and increases various other taxes on things like medical devices and tanning salons. It also levies fines against employers who don’t offer health coverage and individuals who don’t have insurance.
So a vote in favor of the health care law does impose taxes on certain people and industries.
Mitchell defends his health care vote, but said he has not supported any tax hikes or the elimination of tax cuts. He wrote a letter to Obama in January urging the president to extend the Bush tax cuts.
Mitchell campaign spokeswoman Melissa Hodgdon pointed out that only people who make more than $250,000 will see their Medicare taxes go up. Most people, she said, will benefit because they’ll no longer be paying “hidden taxes” to pay for emergency room treatment for people without health insurance.
“If the uninsured show up in emergency rooms because they’re not getting any preventative care, they get treated and they don’t pay, we all end up paying higher insurance premiums,” she said.
Schweikert’s campaign said Mitchell’s vote on the health care bill is more than enough to raise serious questions about his position on taxes.
“You need look no further than one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history,” Schweikert spokesman Oliver Schwab said. “Do you need 10 examples when one will just do?”
Harry Mitchell – Democrat
Age: 70 (born:7/18/40, Phoenix, AZ).
Arizona since: Birth.
Occupation: High School teacher 1964-92.
Marital: Married (Marianne, retired teacher).
Education: M.P.A., 1980; B.A., political science, ASU, 1962.
Political experience includes: State senator, 1998-06; Tempe mayor, 1978-94; Tempe City Council, 1970-78.
Memberships have included: Tempe Community Council; Childsplay; Salvation Army; St. Luke’s Hospital Advisory Board; Tempe CVB Board; Compadre H.S. Advisory Board; Jobs for Arizona Graduates; founding member, Tempe Sister Cities.
Issues: Did not respond to issue questions.
Campaign fundraising update
Total raised: $1,894,085
Total spent: $1,731,808
Cash on hand: $296,241
Reporting date: Sept. 30