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Fact check: Breaking down Dana Balter's ad targeting John Katko for Congress

Fact check: Breaking down Dana Balter's ad targeting John Katko for Congress

Balter ad

A screen shot of Dana Balter's new TV ad in the 24th Congressional District race. 

Democratic candidate Dana Balter released her first TV ad of the general election campaign in the 24th Congressional District, and it includes a few major claims about Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko's voting record. 

Katko's vote for 2017 tax law

In December 2017, Katko was one of four New York Republicans who voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It remains one of President Donald Trump's signature legislative achievements of his first term. 

In the ad, Balter's campaign claims that the tax law "made the super-rich and made corporations richer, while raising taxes on working families." 

The ad cites the Tax Policy Center's analysis of the tax law that was released in 2017. In its report, the Tax Policy Center concluded that the legislation would "reduce taxes on average for all income groups in both 2018 and 2025." It also acknowledged that high-income households would receive larger tax cuts (as a percentage) compared to low- and middle-income earners. 

While the tax law permanently reduced corporate taxes, it set an expiration date for the individual income tax cuts. When the income tax cuts are due to expire after 2025, the Tax Policy Center estimated that 53% of taxpayers would pay more in taxes.

Katko's vote against prescription drug price reform bill

House Democrats passed a prescription drug price reform bill in December 2019. Most Republicans, including Katko, opposed the measure. 

In Balter's ad, the campaign claims that Katko "voted with his party leaders to block Medicare from negotiating lower prescription drug prices." 

This isn't the first commercial to focus on this vote. Earlier this year, Democratic- and Republican-aligned groups released TV ads either criticizing or praising Katko's vote on the bill. 

In an interview with The Citizen in January, Katko explained his stance. He labeled the Democrats' proposal as "highly partisan" and claimed it would stifle innovation. 

Katko specifically mentioned the provision regarding Medicare's ability to negotiate prescription drug prices. He expressed concern about that portion of the bill because of the penalty pharmaceutical companies would face if they don't enter negotiations with Medicare. The penalties, which could be as high as 95% of a pharmaceutical company's gross annual sales, would be "catastrophic to research and development," Katko said. 

Katko's vote to 'sabotage the Affordable Care Act'

Balter's campaign again cites the vote for the tax law in making this claim — that Katko sided with Trump to "sabotage the Affordable Care Act, which would end protections for preexisting conditions." 

The Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care also known as "ObamaCare," prohibits health insurance companies from refusing to cover people with preexisting medical conditions. While there have been disagreements about the 2010 law, members of both parties (including Katko) support that provision. 

The 2017 tax law, which Katko supported, contained language that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. The health care law required Americans to be insured or they would pay a fine. 

Because of that change, several Republican attorneys general filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. The brief is one of the sources cited by Balter's campaign. 

Conclusions

Balter's campaign claimed that the tax law supported by Katko "made the super-rich and corporations richer, while raising taxes on working families." Many agencies and think tanks have concluded that the tax law largely benefits corporations and the wealthy. However, the claim about raising taxes on working families lacks key details.

As the Tax Policy Center's own analysis shows, the 2017 law reduced taxes for all income groups. The claim about tax hikes is tied to the expiration date of the cuts. It is true that if the cuts expire and aren't renewed, taxes will increase for millions of Americans. But that hasn't happened yet. The tax cuts remain in effect. 

Katko did vote with nearly every House Republican when he opposed the Democrats' prescription drug price reform bill. Balter's campaign claimed that Katko voted with the GOP to "block Medicare from negotiating lower prescription drug prices."

Based on the bill being considered by the House at the time and Katko's stance, that's an accurate claim. Katko argues that the penalty is too harsh for companies that don't negotiate drug prices with Medicare. He thinks it would harm research and development. 

Regarding the final claim in Balter's ad, this is the most complex of the three assertions. There is no doubt that the tax law led to the legal challenge that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It's a central part of the case against the health care law that because the individual mandate has been eliminated, the entire law should be thrown out. 

After his vote for the 2017 tax law, Katko told The Citizen that he supports the elimination of the individual mandate. 

"I don't think there is a time or a place where we should impose mandates on people where basically if they don't do something that is strictly a voluntary thing like get insurance, they are going to be penalized for it," he said. "I just don't think we should do that. I've voted that way in the past and my vote on this bill is consistent with that." 

Katko does support repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, but he has opposed past attempts by Republicans to repeal the health care law without a replacement. And in 2019, he broke with his party to support the House Democrats' rules package. Among the rules he supported was the language that allows the House to intervene in the legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act. 

In a statement at the time, Katko urged Democrats to "fight for those with pre-existing conditions — not abuse their power to explore or revisit decided legal challenges within the Affordable Care Act." 

In April 2019, Katko was one of eight Republicans who voted for a House resolution that asked the Department of Justice protect individuals with preexisting conditions, end "any and all efforts to destroy Americans' access to affordable health care" and reverse its position in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. 

Because Balter has frequently expressed that she believes Katko's vote for the tax law sabotaged the Affordable Care Act, The Citizen won't make a judgment on this subjective argument. Instead, we present the facts for readers to decide. 

Balter's ad states that Katko intentionally voted for the tax law to bring down the Affordable Care Act. But his public statements show he has opposed the lawsuit challenging the 2010 health care law. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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