In an effort to shed more light on the candidacy of Jim Renacci (R), who is the primary challenger to incumbent John Boccieri (D) for Ohio's 16th congressional district, we poured over every statement Mr. Renacci made during a Sept. 20, 2010 debate in Wooster, Ohio, sponsored by the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce. Ideally, the local media would do this work, but since they either don't have the time or the will to do so, we will fill this void.
The debate featured the three candidates named on the ballot — Boccieri, Renacci and Jeffrey Blevins (Libertarian). What we discovered is that a great many of the accusations that Renacci makes are exaggerations, distortions or downright falsehoods. But was most surprising is that taking Mr. Renacci at his word for some of his policy positions leads one to an unusual conclusion — that he supports many Democratic ideas. Read on to learn more.
Renacci wasted no time in uttering his first falsehood — in fact, it came in his first sentence. He opened by stating:
"I'm a business man of 27 years, not a politician."
Well, according to his own website, Renacci served two terms as President of Wadsworth’s City Council from 1999-2002, and then served as Mayor of Wadsworth from 2004-2008. Unless you obtain these positions in Wadsworth by being randomly selected, Renacci ran for office and was elected — thus making him a politician. So don't fall for the old "I'm not a politician" line in this case, because it is false.
Right after this statement, Renacci then accused Boccieri of:
"voting 94% of the time with the Nancy Pelosi agenda."
This statement, which he made repeatedly throughout the debate and along with ads from the Republican Party and outside groups, has been made countless times on the campaign trail, needs to be more closely examined. Fortunately, PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize winning website that examines statements from politicians and evaluates their truthfulness, specifically looked at this claim. They rated the claim as Barely True, which PolitiFact defines as "The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."
Please refer to the PolitiFact article about this claim for more specifics, but to summarize, the 94% number comes from a Washington Post database that represents "the percentage of votes on which a lawmaker agrees with the position taken by a majority of his or her party members," rather than the frequency with which they vote with a particular party leader. In other words, Boccieri is voting with his fellow Democrats 94% of the time, not Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Why is this not the same? Because House speakers seldom vote. In fact, Pelosi has voted a mere 94 times in the past two years, while Boccieri has cast 1,550 votes.
So how did Boccieri vote with Pelosi during the times she actually voted? PolitiFact did the math, and found that Boccieri voted with Pelosi in 77 out of 91 votes (they ignored three "quorum calls"), an agreement ratio of 84.6 percent. Much different than the exaggerated 94% that Renacci keeps stating.
It is also interesting to note that Minority Leader John Boehner (R), using the metric that Renacci is using (saying that a vote for your party is the same as a vote for your party's leader), has voted with Pelosi 52% of the time — a majority. The same is true of Mike Pence (R), someone that Renacci spoke highly of later in the debate. (source)
Finally, why are Republicans so intent on tying Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, to candidates all around the country? What is so bad about the first woman Speaker of the House?
Increased health care costs to employers ultimately are passed onto consumers through increased cost of their products. What is your plan to limit increases in health care costs and provide affordable solutions for employers and their employees.
This question, as you can imagine, produced a number of ridiculous statements from Mr. Renacci.
"We all know that John Boccieri voted for the Obama-Pelosi health care plan."
Can Republicans stop acting like they are in grade school. Obama-Pelosi health care plan. Really? The same goes with ObamaCare, which Renacci used later in the debate. These are nothing more than Frank Lutz phrases ginned up to scare and confuse voters. The bill is called the Affordable Care Act. While the final bill obviously contains a lot of policy ideas that both Pelosi and President Obama wanted, anyone who followed the health care debate at all realizes how many changes were made to the bill in Congress, especially the Senate. The final bill that passed did not have a public option, something President Obama had pushed for and Pelosi voted for and passed in the House version of the bill in November 2009. Heck, even former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is also a doctor, said he would have voted for the health care bill. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said he supported the Democratic efforts to overhaul the health care system.
One of the certainties of the plan as it was passed that it will drive costs up.
I've seen increases in health care costs anywhere between 28% and 69%.
These were two statements made by Renacci in relation to the health care bill. First of all, the assertion that the health care plan will certainly cause costs will go up is false. Predicting what costs will be in the future, particularly when they are affected by a new piece of legislation, is always speculative, but the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan organization that projects costs going forward, estimates that health care premiums will go down or hold steady for most people going forward. The CBO estimates that 4 out of 5 people who get their insurance through their employer will see savings between 0 and 3 percent range by 2016. Low-income people who qualify for new credits to buy insurance would see the biggest drops. The CBO does say that people who buy insurance on their own, but who don't qualify for government subsidies, could actually see their premiums rise by as much as 10 to 13 percent, but that's largely because they'll be getting beefed-up policies that would pay for more basic services, especially preventive care.
Where Renacci gets the figures of health care costs rising between 28% and 69% is anybody's guess. But this does raise an important point that I think a lot of voters who oppose the health care bill miss. It is natural to initially think when you hear that the Affordable Care Act costs approximately $940 billion that there is no way the government can afford to do this. But there is two points to remember.
- The cost of the bill is stretched out over 10 years, so the average cost of the bill is $94 billion a year. But to put this in better perspective, let's look at the year 2016, the first year when the bill is fully functional. That year, the bill's cost will be about $160 billion, According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, total health-care spending that year will be about $3.7 trillion. In other words, the bill's spending is equivalent to about 4 percent of what we'll spend in health care in a year, and it will be covering 30 million people. (source)
- The other point that is tough to grasp is that you can spend money on something while simultaneously saving money. Let's use this example. Say you have old, drafty windows in your house. A window expert looks at them and determines that you are wasting about $300 a hear in heating costs because the windows are drafty. He recommends you get new windows to fix this problem. The windows cost $500 to replace. While the windows will cost more than the money lost on the old windows in the first year, it will save you money by the second year and every year after that. If you ignored the cost savings of installing the new windows and just looked at the cost of the windows itself, you may have said you couldn't afford to get the windows.
The same is true with the health care plan. What people forget is that health care costs are out of control right now. So the debate shouldn't be about the cost of the health care bill. It should be about the projected cost of health care over the next decade without the health care bill and with the health care bill. And on that score, the health care bill wins easily. The Affordable Care Acts will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next 10 years, and could save another $1 trillion dollars the decade after that, according to the CBO.
One final point. Renacci seems to be implying that provisions of the health care bill itself are currently driving up premiums. If this is actually happening to anyone that Renacci has talked with, they should contact the Department of Health and Human Services, because they are likely using the health care bill as an excuse to raise costs. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the projected health care cost increases are primarily due to advances in medical technology, and an older workforce. The article reports that the increasing costs associated with an aging workforce has been exacerbated by the economic downturn because business "are hiring fewer younger people," whose premiums typically "absorb the costs of older employees."
Renacci went on to say this:
We need to repeal and replace that health care bill. We need to replace it with a bill that takes cares of cost. 85% of the problems are costs. We have one of the greatest health care systems.
His comment about taking care of costs puts him oddly in agreement with Boccieri, who voted against the House bill but in favor of the Senate version of the health care bill because the CBO said the Senate bill would lower costs more. We just demonstrated how the health care bill attacks the problem of costs, so Renacci's complaint makes no sense. He then follows this up with a doozy, saying that we have one of the greatest health care systems. That is just patently ridiculous. As we already talked about, America spends way more on its health care than any other country. And what do we have to show for it? Well, the U.S. currently ranks 49th in the world for both male and female life expectancy combined. About 1 in 8 U.S. births are premature, compared to only 1 in 18 babies in Ireland and Finland. And the Institute of Medicine says a lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States.
Renacci then offered up a standard Republican complaint of the medical system:
We practice defensive medicine. We really need a comprehensive plan to address tort reform.
First of all, in states where tort reform has been adopted, little to no difference in rising health care costs has been noticed. This is true in Ohio, where in 2004, the year tort reform was passed, the average premiums for employer-based family health plans were $9,590. By 2008, the premiums had risen to $11,425. Second, the Affordable Care Act did include tort reform legislation, as detailed by the Wall Street Journal. Ironically, the GOP.gov website listed the government's efforts to "to explore alternatives to tort litigation" as one of the "159 Ways the Senate Bill Is a Government Takeover of Health Care."
With our unemployment tracking higher than the national average, what in your opinion are the key initiatives that should be supported to improve the job picture in the 16th district.
Another theme that Renacci has been hitting on consistently during the campaign is the number of jobs that have been lost since Boccieri took office.
Over the last two years that Mr. Boccieri in office, we have been hemorrhaging jobs in the 16th district. We have gone from almost 6 1/2 to 12 percent when talking about job creation.
While the unemployment rate has certainly been higher in the two years (2009-10) Boccieri has been in office than it was in the year previous, claiming the unemployment rate doubled is quite an exaggeration. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for Ohio's 16th district in 2008 was 6.35% (23,900 unemployed out of a labor force of 375,500). Over the two-year period of 2009-10, the unemployment rate was 10.31% (77,200 unemployed out of a labor force of 748,900). And if you just look at this year, the unemployment rate, through the month of July, is 10.26% (38,500 unemployed out of a labor force of 375,300). Now if you double the unemployment rate of 2008, you end up with an unemployment rate of 12.7%. That is a full two points higher than the current unemployment rate, which is a pretty significant mischaracterization. And if you take into account that the economy was bleeding over 500,000 jobs a month when Boccieri took office in January 2009, laying all the blame for job losses over the last two years on the 111th Congress is quite an exaggeration.
Sticking with his consistent theme of the importance of small businesses, Renacci stated:
67% of the jobs created in this country and in this district are created by small businesses.
We would need further clarification from Renacci about exactly what he was referring to with this statement. It is true that small businesses (firms with 500 employees or less) have created about 65% of the 15 million new net jobs between 1993 and 2009, but it should also be pointed out that when looking at the entire job picture, small business employ about half of the workforce. So if Renacci was referring specifically to the role small businesses are currently playing in hiring, he is accurate. If he is talking about overall employment, he overstates the role of small businesses.
Central to Renacci's economic argument is the following:
Businesses will not hire right now because they are concerned about predictability and certainty -- ObamaCare (raise costs between 28% and 60%); cap & trade (the CBO says it will be $1,200 increase per family and some studies say a cost to a business owner will be as high as 30%); taxes - has already approved $1.4 trillion in new taxes.
We've already talked about the notion that the health care bill has or will raise costs is false. As for the assertion that the CBO said cap & trade would increase the average family's utility bills by $1,200 seems to be come from nowhere. State Senator Bob Gibbs, who is running for Congress in the district to our south, made a somewhat similar claim, stating that cap & trade would cost families $1,761 a year. PolitiFact gave this assertion its worst rating of Pants on Fire. The CBO actually analyzed the bill that passed the House last year, and estimated that "the average per-household loss in purchasing power would be $90 in 2012 and $925 in 2050 and would average about $455 per U.S. household per year over the 2012–2050 period." So the CBO did find that there would be an increase in costs to the consumer, but it falls well short of Renacci's claim. In addition, the CBO has estimated that the cap & trade bill is a wash when it comes to job creation/loss, which is a far cry from the claims of this bill being a "job-killer."
Finally, Renacci's claim that Boccieri and the Democrats have already approved $1.4 trillion in new tax cuts is a case of needing to look a little closer at the details. It is true that President Obama's budget calls for an increase of $1.1 trillion in taxes, but this is spread out over the next 10 years. But this is not the important distinction. What needs to be pointed out is that the tax increases only come from couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 by not renewing tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush. In fact, Obama proposes to lower taxes on middle-class families and many businesses to the tune of $330 billion over the next 10 years. On top of that, Obama only proposes to increase the tax rate on the top income bracket to 39.6%, which is well below the 50% the rate was under President Reagan and significantly lower than the 91% they were under President Eisenhower.
Question 4:What single policy change is most important to restore our economy?
Mr. Renacci claims:
The No. 1 concern that most Americans have is our out of control spending.
Well, it is hard to completely refute this statement by Renacci, as a lot depends on the exact question asked of the public, but a recent poll conducted by Newsweek seems to fly strongly in the face of Renacci's claim that the No. 1 concern of Americans in government spending. When asked this question: "Which one of the following do you think should have the higher priority for policy-makers in Washington right now," the answers were as follows:
37% Reducing the federal budget deficit
57% Federal spending to create jobs
6% Don't know
This is a full 20% percent more of the public, or a solid majority, that would like to see more government spending, not less, particularly if it means creating jobs. In other words, the public seems to be asking for another stimulus bill.
What role do you think quality education plays in creating jobs in Ohio?
In response to this question, Renacci had this to say:
Education needs to be moved back to the local level. States and local government need to be the ones who understand what is being taught in schools are how we are teaching our children. This is something that can't be done from Washington, D.C.
Trying to figure out exactly what Renacci is saying here isn't easy, but this seems to be a standard conservative position that removing government's role in something will make it better. I guess you could call it deregulation of the education system. Of course, I'm not sure how government is interfering with our schools. Does Renacci propose cutting of federal grants to schools? Does Renacci believe that the government should remove laws that protect against discrimination and insure an education for every American? Is he really advocating a kind of "every child for him/herself" mentality for our education system? Kind of an odd position to be taking considering he went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a public school.
Do you support or oppose the estate tax?
This one was a softball question for a conservative like Renacci. As you knew he would, he managed to slip in twice during his answer the phrase "death tax," another Frank Lutz word term meant to scare voters. Here is how Renacci answered this question:
I stand with the farm bureau and with small business with a 100% repeal of the estate, or death tax, as you would call it.
The government takes anywhere between 45 and 55 percent (in estate taxes)
It is important to make two points when it comes to the estate tax. First, the estate tax rates over the last nine years were set by the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001. As it so happens, the estate tax rates were phased down over several years and eliminated entirely for those who die in 2010, but it’s set to return in 2011 at levels that prevailed before 2001. So if Congress does nothing between now and Dec. 31 of this year, then someone who dies in 2001 with an estates worth more than $1 million would be subject to taxation at rates as high as 55 percent on amounts over that threshold. (source)
But this is unlikely to happen. The House, including Boccieri, already voted and passed a bill last December that would have permanently exempted estates of up to $3.5 million from taxation (effectively, $7 million for couples). The top rate would have been 45 percent. There has been trouble reconciling this bill with one from the Senate, so the exact rate of the estate tax next year is unknown.
The other point to make is that the estate tax only applies to millionaires, and if legislation is passed in the next two months, multi-millionaires, and the tax is only on the amount of money pass the designated threshold. To give you an idea of how few people the estate tax affects, if the bill that Boccieri voted for in the House became law, taxes would be levied on only 6,400 estates nationwide in 2011 -- about three-tenths of one percent of all those who die that year. If Congress doesn't act at all, 44,200 estates would pay taxes-- still only 2 percent of deaths expected in 2011. (source)
We will give credit to Renacci for stating the figures right in terms of the percentage that the government does take in estate taxes. But he didn't put the number of people that would be affected by the estate tax in any type of context, allowing the voter to think they might be subject to this tax, when the chances are slim to none.
What are your plans to stimulate economic development in this region and can those plans be accomplished without increasing the national debt?
Renacci didn't really have a plan to detail, he just gave the same three reasons he gave before as to why the economy is struggling:
ObamaCare is taking 28% to 69%. Taxes - if you don't know what your taxes are next year, you're not going to hire anybody. Cap & Trade - if you don't know what your utility bills are going to be, you aren't going to hire.
The only thing he said that even resembled some sort of policy was his desire to "bring jobs back with certainty and predictability." As we already detailed, the idea that health care costs are rising is false. The tax rates for next year have yet to be determined because Congress has yet to vote on a bill that would address the expiring Bush tax cuts. The main reason Congress hasn't acted yet is the same reason Congress hasn't acted on a lot of things — Republican obstruction. The same goes with the cap & trade bill. While the House has already passed its version of an energy bill, any efforts to do the same in the Senate are basically dead. And regardless of what happens, the changes in taxes, utility rates, etc., has almost nothing to do with the economy. The reason that employers aren't hiring is that consumer demand isn't there. And the best way to drive up consumer demand is to get more people employed. It would help if large, wealthy corporations would choose to invest their money in their business instead of just holding onto the money. And if history is any guide, the best way to get the wealthy to spend their money is to raise their taxes, not lower them.
The current stimulus program may fix unemployment in the short term, but what do you propose to maintain job growth in the long term?
It was clear from the start that Renacci was going to attack the stimulus bill, and the charges he levied were way off the mark. Here is his first miss:
The current stimulus program is money borrowed from China.
Another scare tactic from Renacci that is demonstrably false. While it is likely that a portion of the money used in the stimulus came from Chinese investors, most of the money came from right here in the United States. Rising domestic demand for U.S. debt allowed the government to sell more than $1.7 trillion of Treasurys during fiscal 2009. Those sales paid for billions of dollars of stimulus spending.
Renacci's next statement also made little sense:
When Boccieri took over unemployment was appx. 6 1/2 % now it as 12%; that is what the stimulus has gotten us.
We already talked about how this unemployment figure is an exaggeration and a poor measure of what has happened the last two years in terms of job growth. But Renacci has taken it to another level here. He is saying the stimulus bill itself has caused a near doubling in the unemployment rate in the 16th district. That is so laughably ridiculous that this statement should disqualify Renacci from ever becoming a member of Congress.
By any measure you want to use the stimulus package, or the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, has been a huge success. Taken as a whole, the CBO estimates by the time the all the money is spent from the stimulus plan, approximately 3.7 million jobs could be attributed to the Recovery Act. The CBO says the stimulus plan alone created up to 2.1 million jobs in the fourth quarter of 2009. Closer to home, nearly 26,000 jobs have been created in Ohio as a result of the stimulus plan, while 7,300 jobs were created in the 16th district in 2009.
Renacci then closed with this gem:
If we are going to do these kind of stimulus programs, they have to be directed to produce jobs.
Besides the fact that this statement really makes no sense, he seems to be agreeing that the stimulus bill was a good idea, since it created so many jobs.
Renacci began his closing statement predictably enough, repeating the exaggerated claim that Boccieri has voted with Pelosi 94% of the time. But then he veered sharply off course, even for him, providing the most memorable portion of the debate for those in attendance. He fired off these three provocative statements:
Mr. Boccieri has stood in front of you once already and he told you that he "will not vote for cap & trade"
He also told you that he will not vote for health care for the first time around because it was too expensive, yet when it got to a point when the vote was needed, he voted for health care
Mr. Boccieri has lied to you twice.
Let's take the last accusation first. It is pretty rare to hear one politician call another a liar, particularly in Renacci's case, as we have already documented his propensity to be wildly off-base with some of his assertions. It is probably helpful to clearly define what a lie means. According to Webster's online dictionary, to lie means "to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive."
With the cap & trade bill, we have heard repeatedly from Renacci that Boccieri told voters that he wouldn't vote for cap & trade. We are unable to verify this statement. An extensive search of the web does not find any instances where Boccieri is quoted as saying this, but that doesn't mean he didn't. But even if he did, Boccieri's ultimate vote in favor of cap & trade legislation hardly qualifies as a lie. In order for Boccieri to have lied about his position you would have to believe that when he told voters that he would vote against cap & trade, he actually knew that he would vote in favor of it. That seems pretty unlikely.
With health care, here we have a case of a Republican once again seeing the world as black and white instead of different shades of gray. This is certainly true when it comes to governing, as almost nothing is ever black and white. Boccieri voted against the House version of the health care bill because he felt it didn't go far enough to control costs. When he was presented with the Senate version of the health, he felt that enough cost controls had been added, and the bill would do more to go after fraud, waste and abuse. These were two different bills. I know this is something conservatives have trouble grasping, but creating legislation is a sausage-making process that sometimes leads to different conclusions (and therefore votes) depending on the bill's final language.
As for the notion that Boccieri voted for health care in the end because Pelosi needed his vote is both irrelevant and likely wrong. If Boccieri did vote for the bill because Pelosi asked for his support as a Democrat, is this supposed to be a revelation? As if Republicans haven't voted in lockstep on almost every piece of legislation the last two years? And since Renacci's positions are identical to your standard conservative Republican, it is pretty easy to assume he would do the same. But we were pretty confident that Boccieri was going to vote for the Senate version of the health care bill in January 2010 — a full two months before his final vote. Why? Because a member of his campaign staff said so in an email sent on January 9:
The Senate version of the health care bill looks a lot better than the House version. The overall cost is lower. The mandates aren't as strict, there is no public option, and we are working to fix some issues with medical equipment suppliers and the cuts to Medicare and Medicare Advantage. The Senate version was always going to be the framework for the final bill so we look for the conference committee version to be similar. John wants to vote for health care reform and we are definitely moving in that direction.
Everything in this statement meshes with what Boccieri said publicly about his reasoning to vote against the House bill and for the Senate bill.
To summarize this very long piece on Renacci's statements from the Sept. 20 debate, two things are very clear. One is that Renacci doesn't really stand for much, other than the standard Republican talking points. You could tell this by being in the audience. He only seemed comfortable when attacking Boccieri. When asked for policy positions, he struggled to articulate anything. The second is that most of his criticisms, which are the basis for his entire campaign, are either exaggerations or outright false. So taking these two things into account, it becomes very difficult to build a case for Renacci serving as a representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.