Fact Check: The Fourth And Final Davis-Londrigan Debate | WGLT

Fact Check: The Fourth And Final Davis-Londrigan Debate

Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis and Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan debated Monday for the last time before Election Day, accusing one another of lying about who’s funding their campaigns, whether pre-existing conditions will be covered, and who really benefits from the tax cuts.

They even disagreed over the accuracy of media fact-checkers.

Davis and Londrigan are locked in one of the tightest races in the country. The 13th Congressional District has attracted national interest and millions of dollars in out-of-state money. Davis is a top target for Democrats looking to win the House. Republicans have called on heavy-hitters like Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Marco Rubio to protect Davis.

Illinois Public Radio reporters are following the race closely and offer this fact check on the final debate. Or as Londrigan put it Monday night...

“The facts are the facts, and you’ve been checked.”

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTORS

What They Said

Davis said most of the individual contributions to Londrigan’s campaign in July, August, and September came from out-of-state Democrats looking to impeach President Donald Trump.

“Over half the money she raised in the last quarter came from two states alone: California and New York,” Davis said. “They don’t care about the farmers of Central Illinois. They don’t care about the steelworkers who work in Granite City. They don’t care about the jobs that have been created here in Central Illinois at Bridgestone here in (Normal). What they care about is removing Donald J. Trump from the White House.”

Reality

Mostly true. Londrigan’s campaign has recently seen a significant uptick in individual contributions from out-of-state donors. That’s not entirely surprising, given the national implications of a race Democrats hope to win. They need to win two-dozen seats nationwide to take the House.

"The facts are the facts, and you've been checked."

Londrigan’s campaign reported around $1.4 million in individual contributions in July, August, and September, according to Federal Election Commission data. About a third of that came from Illinoisans. Nearly half (49 percent) came from Californians and New Yorkers. So Davis is close, though it’s impossible to know whether they donated just to hopefully impeach Trump.

This represents a big jump in out-of-state contributions for Londrigan. Earlier in the campaign, from 2017 through June 2018, that California and New York money represented only around 7.8 percent of total individual contributions to Londrigan’s campaign.

An important caveat: Davis’ own campaign leans heavily on out-of-state contributions, too. In the third quarter of 2018, Davis raised $702,906—around 71 percent from political action committees and other groups. Half of those PACs are based in D.C. and Virginia.

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TAX OVERHAUL

What They Said

Davis touts the tax overhaul passed by Republicans in 2017 as one of the signature achievements of this Congress. He said it’s boosted the economy and led to record low unemployment.

At Monday’s debate, Londrigan criticized Davis again over the tax bill.

“That $2 trillion tax scam was a corporate giveaway. We all know that,” she said. “It went to the wealthiest among us. 83 percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest, corporations, and special interests. It was not a middle-class tax cut.”

Reality

This is still misleading. Londrigan has repeatedly used the “83 percent” figure. Illinois Public Radio fact-checked this exact claim (finding it misleading) on Oct. 19 after a previous Davis-Londrigan debate.

The 83 percent figure originated in a December 2017 report from the Tax Policy Center, showing the wealthiest taxpayers will get 83 percent of the benefit of the tax bill starting in 2027.

That’s true “only because most of the individual income tax changes expire by then,” FactCheck.org wrote. Between now and then, it’s much lower than 83 percent. In 2018, roughly 21 percent of the tax cut benefits go to the richest 1 percent, a much smaller figure, though still a disproportionate share. Just 11 percent will go to the middle one-fifth, AP reported.

If Congress doesn’t take further action and the individual income tax cuts do expire, then yes, this 83 percent figure might become true. But Davis has repeatedly expressed support to make those tax cuts permanent, even passing a bill in the House to do that. (It hasn’t passed the Senate.)

Davis also repeated his own misleading claim that the tax overhaul has already been 88 percent paid for through new revenue it’s helped generate. We fact-checked that last time around.

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HEALTH CARE

What They Said

The candidates were asked how proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act would affect health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Davis said the promises that were made when Obamacare passed—that families would save money and if you like your doctor you can keep him or her—were not kept. He said the intent of the language in the American Health Care Act—the failed GOP-led effort to repeal and replace the ACA—was to protect the 10 essential health benefits of Obamacare.

He said his top priority was to protect coverage for pre-existing conditions for people who “don’t deserve to be turned down for coverage” and that he has always fought to “make sure there are layers upon layers of protections for preexisting conditions.”

Davis said the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found the AHCA would lower premiums for people who acquire health insurance on the individual marketplace.

In response, Londrigan cited a Washington Post Fact Checker article, calling out Davis and other Republican politicians for incorrectly citing one of their articles to say it supports their claim that coverage for pre-existing conditions will not be taken away by the American Health Care Act.

Davis said the Washington Post fact checker is “obviously politically biased” for questioning his intent in writing the AHCA legislation.

Reality

Former President Barack Obama’s claim, "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," was deemed by Politifact the 2013 Lie of the Year. So that portion of Davis’ claim is true.

But while it may have been the intent of Republican lawmakers to protect essential health benefits, lower costs, and retain protections for people with pre-existing conditions, none of those goals are likely to be achieved in the GOP-led efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare with the American Health Care Act, according to the CBO’s report.

Davis’ statement, citing the CBO, that the AHCA would lead to lower premiums for people, is misleading.

Younger, higher-income people in some areas would receive financial assistance that would result in paying lower premiums, on average, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of the AHCA, based on the CBO’s projections.

However, older, lower-income people and those who live in areas with higher premium costs would receive less financial assistance, and would thus pay higher premiums. (See the KFF’s interactive map to learn more).

Davis’ statement suggesting essential health benefits would be protected under the AHCA is likely false as well.

The CBO determined the AHCA “would probably limit the scope of benefits insurers would be willing to provide” by allowing states the option of redefining those benefits:

“Insurers generally would not want to sell policies that included benefits that were not required by state law because such plans would attract enrollees who would use those benefits and thereby increase the insurers’ costs.”

And while it may have been Davis’ intent to protect insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions under the AHCA, the CBO finds that if states took advantage of certain waivers allowed under the bill, including one that would allow insurers to charge more from people with greater medical needs, the insurance markets could blow up.

These changes could lead to such high costs that people with pre-existing conditions would be unable to obtain coverage.

Davis’ claim that the Washington Post Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, has questioned his intent in writing the AHCA legislation, is also false. Rather, Kessler called Davis and six other Republican lawmakers out for twisting one of his fact-check articles to say it supports Davis’ claim that people with pre-existing conditions will be protected under the AHCA.

In a debate hosted by WILL on October 18, Davis said: “The lies about preexisting condition coverage being taken away have been scored a Four Pinocchio by The Washington Post.”

The Washington Post article Davis cited here focuses on a statement from Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., about how many people have pre-existing conditions, not whether the AHCA would harm them.

Furthermore, it was published before the CBO’s critical report on how people with pre-existing conditions were likely to be affected if the bill became law.

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What They Said

Londrigan said Davis lies when he claims she supports a $32 trillion “Medicare-for-all” plan, when in fact she supports Medicare as a public option for rural and small communities and small business owners.

Davis said Londrigan’s plan would make Medicare “even more insolvent” by offering to expand it without any real plan. He said Londrigan has said that she’s “open to looking at universal health care down the road.”

Reality

Experts agree that a single-payer health care system, also known as Medicare for All, would cost an ‘enormous’ amount, according to an analysis by Politifact Wisconsin, although Business Insider reports the $32 trillion price tag commonly referenced by politicians like Davis would actually be less than what the U.S. currently pays for healthcare.

But Londrigan has never specifically endorsed the idea of Medicare for All. Rather, Londrigan has repeatedly said she supports a public Medicare option that would allow people to buy into the federal health insurance program that is currently limited to people over age 65 and younger people with certain disabilities.

The effect of a public buy-in plan for Medicare on the current Medicare program would ultimately depend on which of the many public plan proposals takes effect.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently completed a side-by-side comparison of eight legislative proposals related to expanding Medicare that highlights similarities, differences, tradeoffs and potential implications.

Londrigan’s campaign manager Emma Brown said Londrigan supports Medicare X, which Kaiser Family Foundation has said will “not affect benefits under the current Medicare program” or affect the Medicare trust fund, which finances health services for Medicare beneficiaries.

In this case, Davis’ claim that Londrigan’s Medicare public option plan would make Medicare “even more insolvent” is false.

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TRADE WAR

What They Said

When asked about the ongoing trade war with China, Londrigan said Illinois stands to lose $4 billion in exports. Of that, $1 billion worth of Illinois soybeans is at risk.

Davis did not dispute these numbers but applauded the Trump administration for holding China accountable for unfair trade practices. Davis said because of this, Trump has saved the U.S. steel industry.

Reality

Londrigan’s assertion is mostly true. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Illinois stands to lose $4.9 billion in total exports, and $1.3 billion of Illinois soybeans are exported to China every year. Many farmers had already planted crops before the trade war began, but if tensions remain high this may be problematic for farmers next year when deciding which crops to plant and where to sell them.

Farm Bureau economist John Newton said soybean exports from the U.S. to China are down a staggering 97 percent from the same time last year. Newton said exports to other countries are making up some of that difference, but soybean exports from the Mississippi River are still down 36 percent overall. This is hurting soybean prices, which are down about 20 percent over the last six months, according to the Missouri Soybean Association.

Davis’ claim is also mostly true. Numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2017, the bilateral trade deficit with China was at $375.3 billion. Trump said he believes this deficit proves China is guilty of unfair trade practices. Other reports show China steals billions in American intellectual property and subsidizes specific industries, which is against the rules laid out by the World Trade Organization.

But the New York Times reported there are many reasons for trade deficits at a macroeconomic level that are unrelated to any bad behavior by China, including the current strength of the U.S. economy, which allows consumers to buy more goods imported from China and other countries.

Major American steelmakers appear to be benefiting from Trump’s 25 percent tariff. Granite City, Illinois, reopened their facility bringing back hundreds of jobs to the community. So, at least in the short term, the U.S. steel industry is benefitting from these policies.

However, according to an NPR report, “the number of manufacturers that produce steel is dwarfed by the number that consume it” in the U.S. Companies like General Motors and Caterpillar report they are facing higher prices and the tariffs “add a big note of uncertainty to the companies’ bottom lines.”

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GUN CONTROL

What She Said

After another mass shooting last weekend at a synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 dead and six injured, gun control was an important topic at Monday’s debate. Londrigan said 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks. She took that a step further and said 73 percent of National Rifle Association (NRA) members also support universal background checks.

Reality

This is mostly true. Several national polls completed from 2016 through 2017 showed overwhelming support for universal background checks on potential gun buyers. The poll Londrigan is likely referencing was completed by the Washington Post in 2013. Of those who participated in the survey, nine out of 10 supported expanded background checks. The report showed 74 percent of NRA members supported the idea as well.

A more recent national poll completed by Quinnipiac University in February of 2018 showed support for universal background checks reached 97 percent. In all, 66 percent of American voters supported stricter gun laws, while only 31 percent did not – the “highest level of support” measured by the independent poll. It’s important to note, this poll was taken shortly after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead and dozens more injured. Studies show that mass killings evoke the need for policy, and lead to new gun laws.

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What He Said

On gun control, Davis said there have already been positive changes in Washington strengthening firearm laws this year. He said the flaws in the background check system have been fixed and he “proudly led the charge to reinstitute and refund the Secure Our Schools Program.”

Reality

This is at least partially true. Davis is referencing a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill that included some new regulations on guns. The bill was signed into law in March. It added a provision that is intended to close a loophole in the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) that is run by the FBI.

The shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was an example of someone who slipped through the cracks in the system when the Air Force failed to upload necessary data that would have prohibited him from purchasing firearms. The act, referred to as Fix NICS, requires public reporting and includes incentives and penalties to encourage federal and state agencies to remain compliant.

Still, many gun control advocates say this is not enough, and some Democrats pushed for universal background checks, which were not included in the bill.

Davis did advocate for refunding the Secure Our Schools program. His website includes a letter he sent along with Rep. Rick Larson (D-Washington) requesting $150 million for the grant program. The funds can be used to develop safety resources in schools, like drills and training programs, but also physical security measures such as “metal detectors, locks and lighting.” The spending bill appropriated $75 million for fiscal year 2018 and $100 million for fiscal years 2019 through 2028.

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Video: Watch WGLT's Facebook Live video from Monday's debate.