1) Much of Wednesday night’s debate between Republican Gabriel E. Gomez and Edward J. Markey pivoted on Markey’s voting record and what he has or has not done during his almost 37 years in Congress. Here’s a look at a few of those exchanges and the accuracy of their claims.
GOMEZ: “The reality is over the last 20 years, you have not authored a single piece of legislation that has been signed into law. Now, in the private sector where I come from, the last thing you would do is ask for a raise or a promotion.”
MARKEY: “Mr. Gomez, you couldn’t be more wrong. Just in the last couple of years, I passed a bill that created the requirement that we actually have a plan to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. That’s now a law. That’s my bill. I passed a law that created an onramp to the wireless world for the deaf and the blind in our country.”
Has Markey authored a piece of legislation in the last 20 years that has become law?
Yes. A number of Markey’s legislative ideas have become law over the last two decades, including legislation on issues ranging from technology to national security to medical research.
The substance of a number of Markey’s bills has been signed into law after being folded into other pieces of legislation. And legislation Markey has cosponsored has been signed into law as recently as this month.
Gomez advisers said their candidate meant to say Markey has not been the primary sponsor of legislation that has become law in the last 20 years. And indeed, extremely narrowly defined, no piece of legislation that Markey has been the primary sponsor of has been directly signed into law by the president in about 20 years, according to congressional records.
But longtime observers of Congress said, judging a member by that metric is a fundamental misunderstanding of how ideas make their way into law.
“It’s often true for senior members active legislatively: They don’t get in the business of introducing bills in their name,” said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has been studying Congress for more than 40 years. “They shape the bill in committee and subcommittee. . . . They help build it.”
“Bill sponsorships are one of the least worthwhile measures of congressional activity,” he added.
Former US representative Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, said Gomez’s attack was “just politics.”
Davis, who served with Markey from 1995 to 2008, said he had big philosophical disagreements with Markey. But “he certainly got things done,” Davis said. “He was an effective legislator.”
What about that law on Alzheimer’s; is that Markey’s law?
Broadly speaking, yes. The official sponsor of the 2010 Alzheimer’s legislation that became law was former US senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana. Markey introduced very similar legislation in the House of Representatives around the same time it was introduced by Bayh in the Senate. Bayh said that Markey’s description of his role in the legislation was accurate. “That’s a fair characterization,” Bayh said.
2) During a discussion on health care, the debate turned toward the so-called medical device tax, a tax embedded in President Obama’s health care law. The Affordable Care Act includes a provision for a 2.3 percent excise tax that manufacturers pay on their sales of certain medical devices. The tax is particularly controversial in Massachusetts, where there are many medical device manufacturers.
GOMEZ: “One of the most egregious parts of the Affordable Care Act is the medical device tax. Now you voted for it. Then you had a chance to repeal it, and you didn’t vote to repeal it.”
MARKEY: “I opposed putting the medical device tax in the bill in the first place. I’m working to repeal it. I don’t want to repeal it because you have to find an equivalent amount of money to repeal it. And so, for me, I want to repeal it. My amendment on the Senate floor will be to reduce the tax breaks which the oil companies get, so that we can give back the tax break to the medical device industry.”
Did Markey vote for the Affordable Care Act, which included the medical device tax and then vote against a bill that would have repealed that tax piece?
Yes. Markey voted in favor of the health care bill, calling it “the proudest vote of [his] career.” He then voted against a piece of legislation in June 2012 that would have repealed the medical device tax part of the law.
Did Markey oppose putting the medical device tax in the bill in the first place?
It appears he did. Markey’s congressional office provided a 2009 letter to the Globe, signed by Markey and other US Representatives from Massachusetts, asking Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House, to ensure that the medical device tax “does not appear in any health care reform proposal considered by the House.”
3) Early in the debate, the candidates sparred over the issue of benefits to aging Americans, with Markey accusing Gomez of trying to reduce Social Security payments.
MARKEY: “Mr. Gomez supports a cut in Social Security benefits for our seniors.”
Has Gomez said he supports a cut in Social Security benefits for seniors?
No. Gomez has not said he supports a cut in Social Security benefits for seniors. The Markey campaign said Thursday that Markey was referring to Gomez’s support of using a formula known
as “chained CPI” or chained consumer price index, to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries.
That’s the shift in the way the entitlement program measures inflation that was included in President Obama’s budget proposal this year, but has been criticized roundly by congressional Democrats.
“He was referring to his support for chained CPI and his willingness to raise the retirement age,” spokesman Andrew Zucker said.
But is chained CPI a benefit cut?
That depends on whom you ask. The AARP and many Democrats say that it is, and Markey’s campaign said in an e-mail that it believes chained CPI will result in seniors receiving lower benefits.
Others disagree. A deficit-
reduction advocacy group headed by former senator Alan Simpson and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles published a report asserting that the current gauge “overstates” inflation.
“Using chained CPI to index spending programs and provisions in the tax code to inflation is not a ‘benefit cut’ or a ‘tax increase,’ but rather a way to ensure that the promised increases in benefits and adjustments in the tax code to keep pace with inflation are calculated more accurately,” the group said.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that chained CPI would translate to Social Security spending $127 billion less from 2014 to 2023, savings that the White House has called crucial to tackling deficit reduction.