Right-wing media smear Democrats with allegations of “special deals” in health bill

Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked health care reform and smeared Democrats with baseless allegations that the Obama administration has attempted to buy votes or has cut “special deals” or “bribes” for health care reform.

Smear: Rep. Gordon traded his vote for NASA administrator job

Human Events reports “rumor” that Rep. Gordon was promised a NASA job. In a March 17 article, Human Events reported that there was a rumor that Rep. Bart Gordon “has been promised the job of NASA administrator”:

“Most interesting rumor from the Hill yesterday: Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) who announced his retirement from Congress has been promised the job of NASA administrator in exchange for his vote.”

The article did not cite a source for the rumor.

Gordon: “If it was offered to me, I would not accept.” According to The Hill, Gordon denied that any offer was made, reportedly saying: “If it was offered to me, I would not accept.”

Smear: Tennessee received special funding for Medicaid treatments to bribe Gordon

Fox repeats GOP claim that “Gordon changed his vote ... after he got $100 million for Tennessee hospitals that treat the poor.” On the March 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Brian Wilson said: “Deals still alive for the moment? Well, Republicans claim that Democrat Bart Gordon changed his vote from 'yes' -- from 'no' to 'yes' after he got $100 million for Tennessee hospitals that treat the poor.”

Under bill, $100 million would go to Medicaid hospital reimbursements that TN -- unlike most other states -- would otherwise be deprived of. A March 19 Nashville Business Journal article reported that Tennessee's entire House delegation -- consisting of both Democrats and Republicans -- sought a $100 million fix to replace Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) reimbursements that Tennessee would otherwise not receive. The article reported:

The imbalance has existed since Tennessee gave up its payments when it created TennCare in the 1990s -- and it has been similarly addressed by lawmakers in the past. Early last year, a $32.8 billion bill to insure poor children included a provision extending DSH payments to Tennessee hospitals by $30 million a year for two years.

In a May 2009 letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting the DSH funding, Tennessee's congressional delegation stated that the state “is one of only two” with “no DSH payment.”

Changes to Senate bill would give DSH payments to states that otherwise would receive no payments after FY2011. The House Rules Committee summary of the changes describes Sec. 1203:

Sec. 1203. Disproportionate share hospital payments. Lowers the reduction in federal Medicaid DSH payments from $18.1 billion to $14.1 billion and advances the reductions to begin in fiscal year 2014. Directs the Secretary to develop a methodology for reducing federal DSH allotments to all states in order to achieve the mandated reductions. Extends through FY 2013 the federal DSH allotment for a state that has a $0 allotment after FY 2011.

Smear: Nebraska will get a “new” VA hospital in exchange for health vote

Wash. Times: Health-vote ally Nelson to get new VA hospital for Nebraska. The Washington Times reported that “the Obama administration has delivered another budget plum to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and the state of Nebraska, adding more than a half-billion dollars for a new veterans hospital in Omaha,” and falsely claimed that the “Veterans Administration made the budget switch during internal deliberations in 2009 at a time when the White House was wooing the moderate Democrat to vote for President Obama's health care overhaul bill.”

Omaha World-Herald: VA was “signaling a new hospital” in Omaha “months before the critical health care votes in the Senate.” On March 20, the Omaha World-Herald reported that August 2009 Senate testimony from Donald Orndoff, director of the office of construction and facilities management for the Veterans Administration, “directly contradicts a report in Friday's Washington Times that VA officials had told the Senate during that month that they were recommending a renovation of the existing Omaha hospital, not a much more costly new one,” and that “it indicates that VA officials were signaling a new hospital was likely to be funded months before the critical health care votes in the Senate.”

Smear: Connecticut hospitals get special funding under health bill

Fox cited Connecticut provision as a “special deal” that is “still in the bill.” Fox News has repeatedly claimed that the health care reform legislation includes a “hospital handout” that Sen. Chris Dodd inserted as a “special deal” that is “still in the bill” for Connecticut hospitals.

Connecticut would reportedly have to compete for the hospital funds. The Hartford Courant reported that Connecticut would have to compete for the funds, and Dodd reportedly said that at least 14 other states could apply for the grant. Text of the Senate health bill as passed states that the $100 million grant for “infrastructure to expand access to health care” “may only be made available by the Secretary of Health and Human Services upon the receipt of an application from the Governor of a State” that meets certain requirements.

Proposed UConn hospital part of Republican Gov. Rell's health care proposal. Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, has reportedly proposed a $352 million University of Connecticut Health Center that would rely on $100 million in federal funds that Connecticut would have to compete for under the provision inserted by Dodd.

Smear: “Louisiana Purchase” was a “corrupt” deal

Right-wing media call the Louisiana Medicaid fix “corrupt.” Following the inclusion of a provision that provided funding for Louisiana's Medicaid program, right-wing media outlets portrayed it as “corrupt,” while the AP called it one of “a rash of ethics lapses” which “has given Democrats an election-year headache.”

Fix urgently needed to fix state's Medicaid problems, a result of Hurricane Katrina, and state's GOP lawmakers say fix is necessary. The Times-Picayune reported on January 22 that "[Sen. Mary] Landrieu [R-LA] secured a provision, which she priced at $300 million, to fix the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage [FMAP] for Louisiana." The article explained that the “FMAP refers to the percentage of a state's payments under Medicaid that are covered by the federal government. Louisiana usually gets a higher match because of how poor the state is, but because of all the recovery and rebuilding money that poured in after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, state per capita income spiked long enough to throw the formula out of kilter and threaten to blow a hole [in] the state budget.”

Moreover, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's fiscal year 2010-2011 budget proposal says that the “Louisiana state government faces significant, multi-year budget challenges, compounded by a faulty federal FMAP formula that, if not corrected in Washington, D.C., will cost the state approximately $500 million a year in Medicaid funding, impacting services for the poorest in our state, and often those who need care the most.”

Smear: Right-wing media baselessly allege Obama admin. “bribed” Dems with water allocation

Right-wing media outlets claim Obama “bribed” California Dems for votes. The Wall Street Journal claimed that an Interior Department decision to increase water allocations to California's Central Valley was “apparently the price for Democrats Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa to vote something other than their consciences” on health care reform. Glenn Beck claimed the Democrats are “so far past the line of evil,” they are “using water as a weapon” to get health care votes, while Sean Hannity said, “I'm guessing” the health care vote and water allocation announcement “are closely linked.”

Right-wing allegations of bribery ignore reporting that the allocation increase is due to more winter rain. In a March 17 article, the Journal noted that California's Central Valley had been experiencing severe drought, and that, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the “increase is made possible in part because winter rains have helped replenish the state's biggest reservoir, Lake Shasta, which now stands at 81% of capacity, compared with 55% a year ago.” The article further reported that Salazar “said he moved up the announcement by a week or so 'because people on the ground and farming need to have certainty.' ” The Journal reported that Salazar's announcement “further eas[ed] drought concerns in a state where El Niño rains have raised the mountain snowpack after three severely dry years.”

Both representatives have denied allegations of bribery. Both Cardoza and Costa have denied allegations that their votes were influenced by water allocations: Costa called the accusations “laughable, and certainly false,” and Cardoza stated that he is “not satisfied with the water allocation.”

Smear: Obama bribing Rep. Matheson by appointing his brother to appeals court

Weekly Standard's McCormack, others accuse Obama of “selling judgeships for health care votes.” A March 3 Weekly Standard post by John McCormack was headlined “Obama Now Selling Judgeships for Health Care Votes? Obama names brother of undecided House Dem to Appeals Court.” Hot Air blogger Allahpundit headlined a post on the subject “Brother of Democrat who's undecided on ObamaCare nominated for federal judgeship.” The post further stated, “His exact words this afternoon: 'I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform.' And so he will, so he will." In a March 3 post headlined “If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bribe 'Em: Obama Now Trading Judgeships For Votes,” RedState's Lori Ziganto wrote, “Chicago-style politics once again coming home to roost.”

WH, Judge McConnell and Sen. Bennett debunk Matheson smear. Noting that McCormack's “report raises the question but doesn't answer it,” Politico's Chris Frates reported that Rep. Matheson's spokeswoman “called the question 'patently ridiculous,' saying there was no deal made between her boss and the president that guaranteed Scott Matheson's nomination in exchange for Rep. Matheson's vote.” Frates later noted that a “White House official calls the charge 'absurd.' 'Scott Matheson is a leading law scholar and has served as a law school dean and U.S. Attorney. He's respected across Utah and eminently qualified to serve on the federal bench,' the official said.” Likewise, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Robert Bennett (UT), and former Judge Michael McConnell -- an appointee of former President Bush -- who last occupied the seat to which Scott Matheson has been named, definitively debunked the smear.

Smear: WH “threatening to close” Offutt Air Force Base “to extort” Ben Nelson's vote

Goldfarb promotes “presumably pretty well sourced” senators' call for investigation. The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb's wrote that "[t]wenty Republican senators have requested that the Senate Armed Services Committee launch an investigation into reports that the Obama White House threatened to close Nebraska's Offutt Air Force base unless Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson fell into line on health care. Those reports first appeared on this blog. In the letter to Senators [Carl] Levin and [John] McCain, the committee chairman and ranking member, the 20 ask that 'a hearing be held as to whether the BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] process has been compromised."

Nelson spokesman and White House: “The rumor is not true.” The Omaha World-Herald reported on December 15 that Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson said, “The rumor is not true,” and, “This misinformation is coming from inside-the-Beltway partisans who only want to derail health care reform.” Moreover, in a December 15 blog post, White House Communications director Dan Pfeiffer stated:

Proving that they will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to undermine health reform, some blogs opposing reform are now trafficking an absurd rumor that Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base is being threatened over Senator Ben Nelson's vote on the Senate reform bill.

To be perfectly clear: these rumors are completely baseless and false.

Thanks for your time.

Smear: Bank of North Dakota given special exemption to ensure passage of health care reform

Wallace cites “one deal for the one bank in North Dakota as a ”special deal" that is “still in the bill.” A March 19 Power Line post stated, “Although the package nationalizes the student loan system, one bank -- the state-owned Bank of North Dakota -- would be allowed to continue making student loans. Such a deal for North Dakota's Democratic congressional delegation facing massive opposition to Obamacare back home.” On the March 21 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), "[D]idn't Speaker Pelosi end up using a lot of taxpayer money to buy votes for this bill?" Wallace listed what he claimed were “special deals” that would ensure passage of the health care reform bill, citing as an example “the one deal for the one bank in North Dakota.”

Manager's amendment removed state-owned bank provision. A proposal that would have exempted state-owned banks from a provision to eliminate federal subsidies for private lenders -- originally contained on Page 145 of the reconciliation bill -- was removed from the reconciliation bill that will be voted on by the House. From the manager's amendment:

Page 145, beginning on line 18, strike section 2213 (and redesignate the succeeding section accordingly).

Politics Daily: “Special Provision for North Dakota Bank Removed From Health Bill.” A March 18 Politics Daily article reported that “Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) Thursday sought the removal of a special provision he had written into the package of fixes to the Senate health care bill that would have applied only to the Bank of North Dakota. The provision would have allowed the Bank of North Dakota to continue to originate and service student loans even though a pending overhaul says that all such loans will originate through the U.S. Department of Education, beginning July 1.”

Smear: Stupak bribed with airport funds

Right-wing media accuse administration of bribing Stupak for health care vote. Numerous right-wing media figures seized on Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-MI) announcement that three airports in his district had received federal grant money for airport improvements and baselessly claimed the Obama administration bribed him with these funds for his vote on health care reform. For instance, a blog post on Andrew Brietbart's Big Journalism called Stupak a “cheap date” and explained: “Considering what it took to get him to vote for the U.S. Senate health care bill, that's a fitting way to describe Slick Stupak.” Glenn Reynolds questioned whether the funds were “a Stupak Payoff” and Betsy McCaughey said “it seems to me as if it may have had something to do with his decision,” adding that “they're buying votes for their bill with our money.”

FAA approved grants in 47 states -- not just Stupak's district. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the grants as a part of its Airport Improvement Program (AIP). For fiscal year 2010, the FAA approved grants in 47 states, and in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Guam.

Airport Improvement Program has existed since the early 1980s. According to the FAA, the AIP program was established in 1982. The program “provides grants to public agencies -- and, in some cases, to private owners and entities -- for the planning and development of public-use airports that are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS).” The NPIAS “identifies public-use airports that are important to public transportation and contribute to the needs of civil aviation, national defense, and the Postal service.”

Airports in Republicans' districts-including Boehner's-also awarded funds. The FAA awarded grants to airports in the districts of numerous Republican members of Congress, including Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (OH), Rep. Mike Pence (IN), Rep. Don Young (AK), Rep. Steve King (IA), Rep. Jack Kingston (GA), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN).

Smear: Bayh paid off Ellsworth for vote

Freddoso: Did Ellsworth “sell his 'yes' vote” on health care reform “for $1 million in campaign money?” In a March 23 post on The Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog, David Freddoso baselessly suggested that Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) -- who is seeking the nomination to run for retiring Sen. Evan Bayh's seat -- “s[old] his 'yes' vote on ObamaCare for $1 million in campaign money,” citing a National Journal report that Bayh will contribute $1 million to the Indiana Democratic Party.

Bayh has previously said he would use campaign money “to help whoever our nominee is in Indiana.” On the February 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer asked Bayh -- who announced on February 15 that he would retire from the Senate -- “You have $13 million in campaign cash, what are you going to do with that money?” Bayh responded: “Well, I haven't decided yet. I'm going to take some of it to help whoever our nominee is in Indiana.”

Ellsworth widely reported to be “frontrunner” for the nomination. Ellsworth has been widely reported to be the “frontrunner” for the nomination since Bayh's announcement. Moreover, Bayh's political action committee has previously donated to Ellsworth as well as other Indiana Democratic congressional candidates

Ellsworth's spokesman reportedly said decision to support health care bill “based solely on its merits,” and Ellsworth previously voted in favor of health care reform. In a March 20 article on Ellsworth's decision to support the health care reform bill passed by the House on March 21, The Indianapolis Star reported that “Ellsworth was personally lobbied by President Barack Obama this week” but that “Ellsworth spokesman Jon Kott said the president did not offer the congressman anything in exchange for his support and said Ellsworth's decision on the bill was based solely on its merits.” Ellsworth previously voted for the House health care reform bill on November 7, 2009.

Retiring lawmakers have regularly given unused campaign money to candidates, campaign committees. Politico reported on February 15 that “as he was leaving office in late 2007, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) had $1.24 million in cash in the bank. He gave $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee just before exiting the Senate.” The Politico further reported that “former Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) and Jim McCrery (R-La.) have ... dish[ed] out more than $160,000 to the ex-colleagues.”

Smear: Mollohan switched his vote because Justice Department dropped investigation of him

Napolitano: Mollohan “changed his vote to 'Yes'” after Justice Department ended investigation. On the March 23 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed: “Congressman Alan Mollohan, a Democrat of West Virginia has been the subject of a federal investigation by the Justice Department for over a year now involving land deals. Congressman Mollohan voted 'No' on health care first time around. The Justice Department dropped his investigation, he changed his vote to 'Yes.'”

Mollohan voted “Yes” on health care reform both before and after investigation ended. Contrary to Napolitano's claim, Mollohan did not “change his vote” on health care reform. On November 7, 2009, Mollohan voted for the House's health care reform bill. On January 26, the Associated Press reported that the “U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., confirmed” the previous day that “the office has ended its probe” of Mollohan without charges. Mollohan voted for the Senate health reform bill and the reconciliation bill on March 21.

Allegations against Mollohan first leveled by right-wing group which reportedly refused to publically reveal its claims due to questions about their accuracy. On January 27, The Charleston Gazette (WV) reported: “The federal investigation dates back to April 2006, when the conservative-funded [National Legal and Policy Center] filed a 500-page report on Mollohan and his relationship with the Vandalia Heritage Foundation. The center refused to release the report publicly, saying some items it contains might not be accurate.”

Head of group that made allegations: They're “hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Gazette also reported: "'I'd like to have been in the room to have heard why they pulled the plug,' Ken Bohem [sic], chairman of the NLPC, said of the Justice Department's decision on Tuesday. 'A lot of times you get things you know are wrong but are hard to prosecute. Something that's done qrid quo pro [sic], where he did something and a private citizen did something for him, that's hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did one thing for the other.'"