It was hard to keep up with all the charges and countercharges in Monday night’s Senate debate at University of Massachusetts Lowell. US Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, often accused each other of misrepresentation, as they traded jabs on her legal work, his tax votes, and a host of other issues. Here, we take a look at the veracity of four of the competing claims.
ISSUE: Would the Buffett Rule fund the government for a day as Brown suggested?
When Warren criticized Brown for opposing the so-called Buffett Rule, a bill that would raise taxes on the wealthy, Brown defended his stance, saying: “The Buffett Rule — it funds the government for a day. It makes a great sound bite, but it funds the government for a day.”
FACTS: True, but there’s more to the story.
The Buffett Rule, championed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, would impose a 30 percent minimum tax on people with incomes over $1 million a year — guaranteeing that the rich pay the same tax rate as their secretaries.
It would raise about $5 billion in revenue annually, assuming that Congress lets the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. That is enough to fuel the federal government for about 11 hours, according to a Washington Post analysis.
But that doesn’t mean the Buffett Rule is just a sound bite, as Brown suggests, Joseph Rosenberg, a research associate at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, told the Globe on Tuesday.
“It’s not going to all of a sudden fix all the problems with federal fiscal policy but, at the same time, it’s hard to argue that it’s meaningless or completely inconsequential,” Rosenberg said.
“There’s no single policy that is large relative to the size of the economy, or the size of the entire federal government, but any little bit makes a dent,’’ he added. “What we really need is a bunch of little pieces to make up a comprehensive solution.”
ISSUE: Did mine workers support Warren in the LTV Steel case?
Warren asserted that coal workers supported her when she represented LTV Steel, a former industrial conglomerate, in its fight against a congressional requirement that it pay millions of dollars into a fund for its retired coal miners’ health care.
“The coal workers have said I was on their side, not Senator Brown,” Warren said. “And he can’t change the facts.”
FACTS: Warren’s assertion is misleading.
The mine workers union argued at the time that if companies like LTV Steel avoided paying into the fund, as Warren had advocated, the fund could collapse, jeopardizing benefits for thousands of workers.
“No exception should be made to this act,’’ Richard Trumka, then president of the United Mine Workers, told a congressional panel in 1993. “When it unravels, you will have roughly 200,000 miners and beneficiaries out there that will lose their health care.’’
Trumka is now president of the AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Warren in the race. But Trumka has not disavowed his 1993 testimony. He now says Warren would be a better labor ally than Brown in the Senate.
ISSUE: Did Brown march in lock step with Republicans to oppose President Obama’s jobs bills?
Warren blasted Brown for opposing Obama’s jobs bills, saying he “voted in lock step with every other Republican.” That prompted Brown to protest: “She’s obviously misstating the facts. These were rejections by both Democrats and Republicans.”
FACTS: Both candidates are right, but Brown’s assertion is misleading.
Republicans, including Brown, did vote in lock step to block the bills, as Warren said. But his statement that there were “rejections by both Democrats and Republicans” could leave voters with the misleading impression that both parties came together to scuttle Obama’s jobs bills.
In fact, only a few Democrats crossed over to join the GOP in the votes.
On Oct. 20, 2011, for example, Brown and every other Senate Republican voted to block an Obama jobs bill that would have funneled $35 billion to the states for teachers, police officers, and firefighters, to be paid for by a surtax on the those earning more than $1 million annually. Just two Democrats — Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — joined the GOP in that vote.
On Nov. 3, 2011, Brown again joined every other Senate Republican to block one of the president’s jobs bills that would have spent about $50 billion on transportation and infrastructure projects, to be paid for by a surtax on the wealthy. Just one Democrat — Nelson — joined the GOP in that vote.
ISSUE: Did Brown vote 50 percent of the time with Senate Democrats?
In his closing statement, Brown sought to burnish his bipartisan credentials by asserting, “I’m 50 percent with my party, 50 percent with the other party.”
FACTS: It depends on how you count the votes.
A Congressional Quarterly analysis found that Brown voted with the Republican leadership 54 percent of the time. But that calculation included dozens of amendments that had no chance of passing.
As the Globe reported in May, on the most important, news-generating votes since he arrived in office in early 2010, Brown joined Republican leaders 76 percent of the time, according to an analysis by Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan organization.
But Brown repeatedly points to the Congressional Quarterly study to assert that he is a truly bipartisan senator; Democrats meanwhile hold up the Vote Smart study to assert that, on matters of consequence, he is a more reliable Republican vote.