Democratic candidate Dana Balter is renewing claims against Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko that he "sold out" Medicare and Social Security by supporting the 2017 tax law and other measures in Congress.
Balter, D-Syracuse, released a new TV ad Tuesday that features four central New York seniors. The main argument in the ad is that by voting for the tax law, Katko set the stage for cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
The theme of the ad is similar to one Balter released in the final days of the 2018 campaign. In that ad, she made an identical charge — that Katko "sold out" Medicare and Social Security.
With the new ad airing on Syracuse-area TV stations, The Citizen reviewed the claims in the commercial.
Analyzing the ad
The ad opens with a blunt message: "John Katko and Donald Trump sold out our Social Security and Medicare." The ad cites two news articles that were published on CNBC's website and U.S. News and World Report.
The CNBC story is about a Republican member of Congress calling for Medicare and Social Security reform due to tax law's impact on the deficit. Estimates show that the tax law will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit. The U.S. News and World Report story is titled, "After Tax Overhaul, GOP Sets Sights on Medicare, Social Security."
Two other sources are cited in the ad at the same time the claim is made. One is a vote on a resolution that preceded debate and consideration of the balanced budget amendment proposed by Republicans. Katko supported that measure, records show. The other is a letter released by AARP opposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
In the letter, AARP wrote that the balanced budget amendment would "likely harm Social Security and Medicare, subjecting both programs to potentially deep cuts without regard to the impact on the health and financial security of individuals." Because a balanced budget amendment would require spending to not exceed revenue in a fiscal year, AARP explained that fluctuates in revenues and spending would cause Medicare and Social Security benefits to fluctuate, too. Such a scenario could lead to "sudden or deep cuts," according to the organization.
The ad continues with another Balter supporter stating, "They gave huge tax cuts to the rich adding trillions to the national debt. They want to pay for it by cutting Social Security and Medicare." This is another reference to the tax law and the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that it will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. And the same sources mentioned above — the two news articles, AARP's letter and Katko's vote — are cited again.
A Balter supporter adds, "And John Katko voted with Donald Trump to block Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. Have you seen these prices?" The campaign cites Katko's vote against the House Democrats' prescription drug price reform bill that passed in December 2019.
The legislation includes a provision that would allow Americans with private insurance plans to access drug prices negotiated by Medicare. Balter's campaign has mentioned this in another ad that was released in July.
Katko explained his vote in January and noted that he supports a competing prescription drug price reform bill in the House. He said the Democratic proposal is "highly partisan" and agreed with the pharmaceutical industry's position that the bill would "stifle innovation and growth."
Katko's Medicare and Social Security positions
In interviews and public statements, Katko has said he supports preserving Medicare and Social Security.
During a telephone town hall in 2018, he was asked about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's comments at the time that Medicare and Social Security are the "real drivers of the debt" and that "entitlement reform" is necessary to lower the deficit.
Katko was asked if he opposes McConnell's position that there should be cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Katko responded, "Heck yes." He added later that he wouldn't support any cuts to the programs and he doesn't support changes for people who are at or near the retirement age.
What Katko has said is that he would be open to changes for new, young workers who are beginning to pay in Medicare and Social Security.
"Let's say you're 18 years old and you have your whole life to plan for (retirement) like we all did," he said on the call. "If Medicare and Social Security look different for them than it does for us? That's OK because they have their whole life to prepare for it. But I don't think it's fair to do any sort of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, certainly for the retired individuals or anybody that's in the workforce now."
Balter's ad claims that "John Katko and Donald Trump sold out our Social Security and Medicare." This is a subjective argument, not a statement, so The Citizen won't rule on whether it's factual. But a key point to consider is that despite comments made by top Republicans, there hasn't been a large-scale Medicare or Social Security reform package. After the tax law was signed in December 2017, some Republicans mentioned "entitlement reform" as a next priority.
But in 2018, an election year, they punted. And then House Republicans lost the majority, which dealt a blow to any hopes the GOP might've had that they could reshape the social insurance programs.
The ad repeats an earlier claim about giving "huge tax cuts to the rich adding trillions to the national debt." A Tax Policy Center report found that while taxes would be reduced among all income groups, with larger tax cuts going to higher-income earners.
After the passage of the tax law, Balter's campaign says Katko and Trump wanted to "pay for it by cutting Social Security and Medicare." There are public statements by Republicans, including Trump, about the need for "entitlement reform" or cuts to Medicare and other programs. With projections that the tax law would add nearly $2 trillion to the deficit, Republicans argued that Medicare and Social Security should be addressed.
When that's applied to Katko, though, there's a gray area. While Balter's campaign points to his vote for the balanced budget amendment as an example of his support of Medicare and Social Security cuts, his public statements indicate he doesn't support cuts. But Katko has publicly supported changes to the programs for new workers beginning to pay into Medicare and Social Security.
It is true that Katko voted against the House Democrats' prescription drug price reform bill that included a provision to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices for Americans on private insurance plans. Katko explained his vote by saying that he felt the bill was "highly partisan" and shared the pharmaceutical industry's stance that it would harm research and development.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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