Sen. Moolenaar: ‘The ad he is using is very deceitful’
State Sen. John Moolenaar voted against a state-run Obamacare exchange in 2011 and against the Medicaid expansion in 2013. So why is he being accused of helping put those laws into place in a new campaign ad from his Congressional primary opponent?
Both of these bills were highly contentious and the legislative battle over them highly publicized. A new TV ad aired by the campaign of former businessman Paul Mitchell, one of three candidates running in the 4th Congressional District Republican primary on Aug. 5, focuses on legislation that came after the passage of Medicaid expansion and the rejection of a state-run Obamacare exchange.
The 30-second ad attacks Sen. Moolenaar, R-Midland, claiming that when he voted for House Bill 5014 on Nov. 10, 2011, it was a vote to “create a Michigan Obamacare exchange” and when he voted for Senate Bill 763 on May 6, 2014, it was part of his leading “efforts to pass the budget that expanded Medicaid and funded Obamacare.”
As the ad levels its charges, the words “Mackinac Public Policy Center” appear on the screen, indicating that as the source of the claims. That would be www.MichiganVotes.org (MVO), a resource featured on the Mackinac Center for Public Policy website that can be used by readers to see how lawmakers voted on various bills. According to the Mitchell campaign, the allegations in the ad are based on the MVO site’s brief descriptions of the bills in question.
When Capitol Confidential asked Jeff Timmer, spokesman for the Mitchell campaign, about the right to interpret the meaning of any legislative vote, Timmer insisted the ad had nothing to do with any sort of interpretation.
“In this instance there is no interpretation, it is just black letter how they were described,” Timmer said.
Jack McHugh is the senior legislative analyst with the MCPP and MVO editor who writes all of its bill descriptions.
According to McHugh: “Budgets typically pass with votes from lawmakers who may have opposed the creation of individual line-items contained in that budget. It’s up to voters to decide if a lawmaker’s vote for a budget constitutes his or her support of every item in that budget. A campaign may say that it does, but that’s not the purpose of MichiganVotes.org.”
Ray Hamman, leader of Independents for Responsible Government and editor of the Michigan Tea Party Scorecard, told Capitol Confidential that the two bills referenced in the Mitchell campaign ad weren’t used for the Scorecard.
“We tend to not score on those kinds of messy budget bills,” Hamman said. “They are just too complex.”
Sen. Moolenaar maintains that the Mitchell campaign’s ad is misleading.
“I think most people would recognize that I was an outspoken leader among those opposing the Obamacare exchange and Medicaid expansion,” he said. “The ad he is using in very deceitful. I am a constitutional conservative who is endorsed by the Tea Party Express, Congressman Dave Camp and Right to Life.
“It is unfortunate that Paul Mitchell and his campaign have gone into the mud with this kind of untruthful ad,” Sen. Moolenaar continued. “I believe people think there is already too much double talk in Washington and here we see him using an ad that implicates others in a dishonest way.”
Capitol Confidential asked Timmer if it was the Mitchell campaign’s contention that all lawmakers who voted yes on Senate Bill 763 were supporting Medicaid expansion; and that all lawmakers who voted yes on House Bill 5014 were supporting the Obamacare exchange.
“Yes,” Timmer said.
If that contention is accepted for Senate Bill 763, it would mean that 32 of Michigan’s 38 state senators supported Medicaid expansion. If it is accepted for House Bill 5014, it would mean 28 of the 38 voted for the Obamacare exchange.
Sen. Moolenaar said House Bill 5014 was about the exchange that was to be operated by the federal government, which was going to come to Michigan as a result of the state Legislature refusing to approve the state-operated exchange that the Obama administration and Gov. Rick Snyder wanted.
“That legislation was about bringing the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH) in compliance with federal law,” Sen. Moolenaar said. “It wasn’t about the Obamacare exchange that was hotly debated and that we had a choice over and which we ultimately rejected. This was the one the federal government was going to come in and operate.”
Capitol Confidential asked Timmer a few other questions about the ad.
Q. Your claim that Sen. Moolenaar supported — or as your ad stated — “led the charge” for the Medicaid expansion is based on his sponsorship of the DCH budget that included the federal dollars for Medicaid expansion and was voted on this spring?
Timmer: “Yes, his sponsorship of the bill and work at the subcommittee level.”
Regarding this point, Sen. Moolenaar, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on the DCH budget, told Capitol Confidential he had refused to allow the Medicaid expansion dollars to be included in the bill at the subcommittee level.
“I won’t do it,” he said.
The history of Senate Bill 763 that appears on the Michigan Legislature’s website shows it going directly to the Senate’s full Appropriations Committee on Feb. 11, 2014, and skipping Sen. Moolenaar’s subcommittee.
Q. To your knowledge, has the Mackinac Center ever written or stated that voting yes on that appropriation bill was the equivalent of supporting the exchange or Medicaid expansion?
Timmer: “Yes, this was taken straight from what was written on the site. You (Mackinac Center) said ‘most of this budget consists of Medicaid health care subsidies, including the ‘Obamacare’ expansion.’”
Q. Are those who view the ad and see “Mackinac Public Policy Center” spelled out on the screen supposed to interpret it as meaning MCPP interprets the votes referenced the same way your campaign is interpreting those votes?
Timmer: “It is supposed to be a source . . . a resource where someone could go and see the votes for themselves.”
Q. So you maintain that your ad is in no way misleading?
Timmer: “Absolutely not.”
Q. Could it be argued that a Democrat who voted in favor of Medicaid expansion and then voted against the appropriations bill (Senate Bill 763) opposed the exchange and Medicaid expansion?
Timmer: “Actually, yes, that would be a mirror image example or a version of the sort of inconsistency Moolenaar showed by supporting this.”
Here is how MichiganVotes.org describes Senate Bill 763, the appropriations bill for DCH for the upcoming fiscal year:
"This would appropriate $17.492 billion in gross spending, compared to $15.385 billion originally authorized for the previous year, before that amount was increased by the legislature's adoption of the federal health care law Medicaid expansion. Of this, $12.023 billion is federal money. Most of this budget consists of Medicaid health care subsidies, including the "Obamacare" expansion."
Editor's Note: The subhead of this article has been edited for clear attribution.