Raleigh, N.C. — Congressman Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, and Republican rival David Rouzer both referenced their faith in God as they made opening remarks during this week's "On the Record" program.
From that point on, the two men spent much of their time on WRAL's weekly public affairs show repeatedly accusing each other of bearing false witness about the other's records.
"My faith has affected everything that I do," McIntyre said, making note of his participation in the Congressional Prayer Caucus. Meanwhile, Rouzer said "the Lord's given us an opportunity to make a real change for the betterment of our country with this election."
Host David Crabtree moderated what amounted to a debate between McIntyre, who is seeking his ninth term, and Rouzer, a two-term state senator hoping that newly redrawn district lines will allow him to win the seat for the GOP.
McIntyre and Rouzer share views on a number of issues, so much of the campaign has been focused on contrasting the two men's personalities and voting records. Politico says the race is the fifth most expensive congressional race in the country this year, and much of that money has been spent on intensely negative television spots. Those campaign ads, both from the candidates themselves and the national parties, have traded charges about being soft on immigration enforcement, favoring overseas outsourcing of jobs and threatening health care programs for the elderly.
Those same charges and the generally acrid campaign environment was on full display during the debate.
When asked after the debate if he believed Rouzer was intentionally misleading voters about his record, McIntyre said, "Absolutely." One of Rouzer's main lines of attack was that McIntyre voted more liberally than the conservative image he projects would lead voters to believe. Citing endorsements by the NRA, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and other conservative groups, McIntyre says it is "materially dishonest" to suggest his voting record is as liberal as Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's.
"Come on, let's get real," McIntyre said.
For his part, Rouzer said after the debate that it was the Democrat who did not tell the whole truth. In one example, McIntyre suggested that Rouzer had been a lobbyist for Japan and had helped send American jobs overseas.
"Japan Tobacco is allowing farm families to stay on the farm," Rouzer said. "If he's going to say that I did work for Japan, he ought to be honest and say Japan Tobacco. That's different than saying I worked for Japan or am trying to take jobs away from this country."
Many of the accusations traded during the program were similar to aspersions cast in campaign ads. The following is a fact check of some of the most headed exchanges on this week's program.
McIntyre and Pelosi?
"My opponent in this race has been in Congress for 16 years," Rouzer said during his opening statement. "During that time, we've accumulated $11 trillion more in debt. In addition to that, he voted four straight times for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker. And while she was speaker, he voted with her more than 90 percent of the time." Piling on the criticism, Rouzer touted his own sponsorship of a bill that restricts how and when state agencies can pass new rules. "While (McIntyre) has been in Congress, he's not been able to pass one bill of which he was the primary sponsor and gotten it signed into law."
Does McIntyre vote lockstep with Pelosi?
Among conservatives, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi's name is a political epithet and saying someone votes like her 90 percent of the time is a lowdown thing to say. But is it true in McIntyre's case?
Up to a point.
After the debate, McIntyre said that Rouzer was being "mathematically misleading" because U.S. House speakers don't cast votes on all bills before the body. McIntyre suggested that Pelosi's votes that year were mainly procedural. By that measure, he said, even some hardcore Republicans would be labeled liberals.
FactCheck.org vetted a similar claim about members of Congress in 2010, and it did note that speakers limited their votes.
"By tradition, speakers don’t vote on everything. Pelosi largely limits her votes to substantive bills, skipping the less controversial or less important bills," fact checkers for the site wrote. That contradicts what McIntyre said regarding the importance of votes, but confirms his assertion about the math.
Other fact checkers have used Open Congress.org to compare McIntyre's and Pelosi's voting records since 2007. That website calculates McIntyre votes for Pelosi 67 percent of the time, or roughly the same amount of time he votes with the majority of members in his party. It's also worth noting that National Journal's rankings of partisanship, which are based on selected votes, place McIntyre in the middle of both the liberal and conservative scales. From 2009 through 2010, his conservative ranking was actually slightly higher than his liberal ranking.
So it's true that McIntyre voted for Pelosi to be speaker, but the impression that he votes in lockstep with the Democratic leader is a mischaracterization of his record.
Is McIntyre's record light on accomplishments?
The first thing to be said here is that comparing work in the state General Assembly and the U.S. Congress is not a fair comparison. While it is not easy to get a bill through either body, shoving legislation through the federal body is a far more difficult task. Seniority matters a lot in terms of whose name goes on a final bill. And frequently, Congress will roll a number of pieces of legislation into one bill so that the standalone measure doesn't pass.
So while it's true that none of the bills McIntyre filed as a primary sponsor has made it into law during the current session of Congress, the same can be said of other lawmakers, including Rep. Howard Coble, the longest-serving House Republican in North Carolina history.
McIntyre can point to having run some successful amendments to bills, some of them significant pieces of legislation. And when asked for his signature legislative accomplishment, McIntyre's chief of staff points to the tobacco buyout.
"After introducing a tobacco buyout bill in 2002, Mike worked in a bipartisan fashion with tobacco state congressional colleagues to pass this historic measure in 2004. The final bill, named the Jenkins-McIntyre bill, was a historic accomplishment that other lawmakers before had not been able to achieve," reads McIntyre's website. News reports from the time seem to validate this claim, noting McIntyre's part in pushing the buyout.
None of this says the McIntyre is the most powerful member of Congress. However, the claims that he has never gotten a bill for which he was the primary sponsor through Congress is true without being meaningful and does not give credit where it is due.
A question Crabtree asked about taxes and the economy quickly veered toward a discussion of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law pushed by President Barack Obama.
"Obamacare is a huge impediment to the economy," Rouzer said. "We need to repeal it."
On this point, he and McIntyre seem to agree. "I voted for repeal. I voted against it in the first place."
This glimmer of comity didn't last, as Crabtree asked about alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.
"(Rouzer's) alternative I don't think accurate describes what I would do," McIntyre said. "The first thing I would not do is turn Medicare into a voucher system. We've got to protect Medicare," McIntyre said. "The budget he supports would turn it into a voucher system and put your Medicare dollars you have earned at risk and take away your guaranteed economic benefits for your health care."
After a commercial break, Rouzer wheeled around the Medicare issue.
"All this nonsense of how we're going to add costs to seniors and Medicare is not true. If you do not make changes to Medicare goes bankrupt in 12 years. And that's their plan for Medicare," Rouzer said.
In response, McIntyre doubled down on the idea that Republican plans for Medicare would end guaranteed benefits.
"Plus," McIntyre said, "it costs seniors $6,400 more a year, money that many, many of our seniors do not have."
Rouzer shot back, "That's a lie, Congressman. That is a flat out lie....It does not affect one person who is 55 or older."
Would Republican plans end guaranteed benefits for Medicare? Would seniors really pay $6,400 more annually for health care?
In a word, no. FactCheck.org calls the claim "out of date," while PolitiFact rates it as "half true." Both groups were vetting an Obama campaign claim very similar to what McIntyre said on air. Here's what PolitiFact said:
"The Obama ad would have been more accurate if it had specified that it was referring to a previous Ryan plan for Medicare rather than the current one. We simply don’t have enough details to know how much extra money seniors might have to pay under the current Ryan plan."
The same holds true for McIntyre's statement.
The bigger problem with much of the campaign discussion about Medicare – from McIntyre and others – is the inference that various plans would take benefits away from seniors. Virtually all political leaders working on this problem stay away from scenarios that change how benefits are administered for retirees already on the program. Rather, Ryan's plans and others change how those who have not retired yet would receive benefits. And as FactCheck notes about the latest version of the Ryan budget, "Ryan made his Medicare proposal considerably more generous when he unveiled a new budget plan in March for fiscal year 2013. A key difference is that the new Ryan plan wouldn’t force Julia and other future seniors to accept subsidized private insurance. The current plan allows her to choose “a traditional Medicare fee‐for‐service plan” if she prefers."
Stimulus and Death Taxes
"My opponent here voted for the failed Obama stimulus," Rouzer said during another exchange on the economy. "He voted to keep in place the death tax, which he fails to mention."
McIntyre said that's not true, telling Rouzer, "I sponsored getting rid of the death tax."
Crabtree pressed Rouzer on his description of the stimulus.
"Is there any way of knowing what would have happened had we not had the stimulus?" He asked. "How can you say it failed?"
Rouzer said lower taxes and less government spending creates jobs, not stimulus spending.
"But how did it fail?" Crabtree asked.
"It failed because it added to the debt," Rouzer said. "It failed because we're still in a recession. Have you seen any stimulus job growth? Absolutely not."
Did McIntyre vote to continue inheritance taxes that fiscal conservatives refer to as "the death tax?"
Asked to back up this claim, Rouzer's campaign pointed to several bills, including H.R. 4151 in 2009. U.S. House records do show that McIntyre voted for Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Businesses Act of 2009, which did lock in the current scheme of taxing assets when someone dies.
Republicans sent the following as part of summary for their members at the time:
H.R. 4154 would permanently extend the estate tax on assets transferred following a death at the current level. The legislation would exclude amounts up to $3.5 million and permanently set the tax, commonly referred to as the "death tax," rate at 45 percent. Under current law, the death tax is set to expire in 2010 and then go back into effect in 2011.
Under current law, the tax is set to expire on January 1, 2010, and then come back in 2011, with an exemption of $1 million and a rate of 55 percent. According to reports, H.R. 4154 would reduce revenues by $234 billion over the next ten years by raising the exemption and lowering the tax rate scheduled to take effect under current law.
So while the bill extended what had been the current law, it would have averted the return of the death tax in 2011 in a form that would have targeted more families. The bill McIntyre supported would have collected $234 billion from estates over 10 years.
For someone who would rather see the estate tax phased out, this vote puts you between a rock and a hard place. Voting against the 2009 bill would have allowed the tax to expire for one year, but it would have returned all the stronger two years later. In the alternative, voting for the bill, as McIntyre did, meant you were trading continuation of the tax for ensuring that threshold for taxing estates didn't get lowered.
This is another case where Rouzer's statement is factually accurate but may not tell the entire tale.
McIntyre's retort to Rouzer was that he had sponsored legislation to phase out the "death tax." Asked to back up this claim, McIntyre's campaign sent a list of 12 bills filed over the past 16 years, including four in the current Congress, for which McIntyre had been a co-sponsor.
Did the stimulus fail to create jobs? And did Rouzer balance the state budget?
Writers for the Washington Post, Politico, Slate CNN and FactCheck.org all say that the claim the stimulus created no jobs is spurious. Yes, it added to the debt. Whether the United States is in a recession or not, that's a question for economists to argue over. The technical definition of a recession is "two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country's gross domestic product." By that measure, the U.S. is not currently in a recession. Others define the term more broadly, so Rouzer gets a pass on that one.
One final note: Rouzer claims that he, or at least his Republican colleagues, balanced the state budget. That's true and it's a claim that North Carolina politicians – Republicans and Democrats – have used for decades. It's also no measure of a politician's fiscal prudence, since the state constitution requires that the General Assembly create a balanced budget. Unlike the federal government, North Carolina is not allowed to borrow in order to balance its books.
Both McIntyre and Rouzer say they oppose the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought here while they were children. But each accuses the other of being soft on immigration policy.
"Those who break the law should not be rewarded. And that's why it's interesting my opponent, as a lobbyist, has lobbied for illegal immigrants," McIntyre said. Illegal immigration, he said, costs the state billions of dollars for health care, education and law enforcement. "I have an opponent who has advocated for amnesty for illegal immigrants, including those who committed a crime."
Rouzer shot back, "I'm not the one who has been in Congress and has voted for amnesty. You did in 1997."
That's not true, McInyre said. "That bill he's talking about was for high-skilled tech workers in the Research Triangle Park," McIntyre said, trailing off enough that Rouzer could jump in and appear to finish his sentence.
"That allowed for adjustment of status for those who applied by a certain time," Rouzer said of the 1997 bill.
Did McIntyre vote for immigration amnesty?
In 1997, McIntyre voted against a motion that would have told House conferees to reject a Senate measure extending the 245(i) program. In an e-mail, immigration lawyer Elissa Taub explained, "245(i) was a program that was created to allow individuals who were unlawfully present in the U.S. (either because they entered without inspection or overstayed a valid visa) to obtain green cards (permanent residence." In other words, those were not people who sneaked across the border, but came here legally and allowed their paperwork to expire.
Whether that is considered "amnesty" may be a matter of semantics. However, McIntyre's vote for the bill did not stop the anti-illegal-immigration group ALIPAC from endorsing him.
However, Taub said McIntyre's explanation for backing the bill didn't completely wash. She wrote, "245(i) was not specifically enacted to cover highly skilled workers, although highly skilled workers are eligible to take advantage of the program. If it was the Congressman’s aim to benefit a certain group of highly skilled workers who could benefit, then his aim was not incorrect, but that wasn’t the sole or even a primary reason for the legislation."
I asked McIntyre's chief of staff, Lachlan McIntosh to clarify the congressman's remark. He wrote:
"High skilled workers are necessary to fuel the growth and innovation in the pharmaceutical, software, information technology and biotechnology industries in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Section 245(i) allowed companies in the Research Triangle to hire high skill employees that needed to adjust their status as H1-B visa holders. An H1-B visa is a "non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine." Under the visa program, an American company can employ a foreign worker a maximum of six years.
"This legislation, from 1997, wasn't about amnesty. And it passed 288-183. Several NC Republicans voted for including Burr, Coble and Myrick."
Rouzer can certainly point to this measure as giving some leniency to those who violated certain immigration laws. The bigger question may be how strict is strict enough.
Did Rouzer lobby on behalf of illegal immigrants?
McIntyre's counter-charge against Rouzer was first made during the Republican primary by Ilario Pantano, who said Rouzer "advocated amnesty for illegal aliens" during the 2007 Agricultural Jobs Act.
Rouzer says he did, in fact, lobby for that bill and did so at the request of farmers.
Like the 1997 bill McIntyre voted for, this measure allowed for workers that support a key North Carolina industry – in this case farming – to remain in the United States as long as they were still working.
Again, whether one considers this an amnesty bill might be a matter of perspective. During a spring debate against Pantano on a WECT-produced debate, Rouzer said, "This isn't a black or white issue, but there is a path forward ... The path forward is to take those who are working, and let them continue to work. Then it's much easier to identify those who are not here for the right reasons, who are causing trouble, who are driving drunk, and deport them immediately."
In some ways, that sounds very close to what McIntyre had to say about the 245(i) bill.
Was Rouzer a lobbyist for "a foreign country?"
Crabtree asked about charges the pair had traded over Rouzer's lobbying work and whether either one is responsible for shipping jobs overseas. Both men, Crabtree pointed out, have been supportive of North Carolina farm exports.
"That's a different situation than lobbying for a foreign country, for their agenda, instead of for the agenda of our American farmers," McIntyre said.
But Rouzer said his overseas lobbying work was on behalf of farmers.
"Yes, I have done work for Japan Tobacco. But guess what? Japan Tobacco is the No. 1 buyer - foreign buyer - of U.S. Tobacco. I'm not apologizing for that. For you to put in an ad that I was a lobbyist for Japan is 100 percent factually untrue."
Half of Japan Tobacco is owned by Japan's ministry of finance. The government recently sold off a chunk of its stake in the company to help pay for earthquake recovery.
According to business news services such as Bloomberg and Hoovers, the company is profitable and acts as a corporation rather than an arm of the Japanese government. However, until this year, most of the company's top leadership was made up of former Japanese bureaucrats.
Japan Tobacco Inc. acquired the non-U.S. operations of tobacco company R.J. Reynolds in 1999 to form the current iteration of JTI.
So the company definitely has strong ties to the Japanese government. However, to call Rouzer a lobbyist for Japan is a stretch. And it's not clear what lobbying position Rouzer might have advocated for that would have hurt the interest of U.S. farmers.