Baldwin Consistently Supported Higher Taxes Despite Obfuscation From Fact Checkers

Alan Nguyen | Freedom Partners Senior Policy Adviser

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has staked out her opposition to the unified framework for tax reform with the excuse that it doesn’t do enough to help working families, which begs the question: what is Baldwin’s record on working families?

Freedom Partners recently launched a campaign highlighting Baldwin’s support for higher taxes for ordinary Americans at every step of her public career, in clear contrast with her public concern for “reward[ing] hard work, rais[ing] incomes and help[ing] working families keep more of what they earn.” Nowhere is that made clearer than her vote to increase taxes by $5 trillion for the American public – so stunningly at odds with her carefully cultivated public concern for the 99 percent that the liberal Senate Majority PAC and now fact checkers are scrambling to give her cover.

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Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget – “We Also Spread The Pain”

In 2011, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which Baldwin was a vice chair, released “The People’s Budget” – their budget plan for FY2012 that, in their words, “protects the American people.” Baldwin was one of only 77 people in the House to vote for this budget plan, as 347 representatives –  including even a majority of Democrats – refused to support it.

The CPC claimed their budget raised taxes by $3.9 trillion – a staggeringly high amount regardless of circumstance. As PolitiFact Wisconsin pointed out at the time, though, “according to experts, the caucus plan would have raised taxes by some $5 trillion more than Obama.” Even Andrew Fieldhouse of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, whom the CPC relied on to provide a technical analysis of the budget, admitted that the $3.9 trillion figure did not include a tally of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire; that was instead counted as savings and not as the clear tax increase that it is.

Fieldhouse, in an unusually candid exchange with The Atlantic, explained: “The Bush tax cuts were unaffordable and they didn’t work. They’re still unaffordable, and they still won’t work. The Congressional Progressive Caucus raises taxes on the rich, but we also spread the painWe don’t pretend you can have deficit reduction that holds harmless 97 percent of the country. Liberals are overselling how much we save by just letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich.” The Atlantic’s back-of-the-envelope tally of the tax increases included in the CPC budget? $7 trillion.

Call In The Cavalry: PolitiFact Wisconsin Versus PolitiFact Wisconsin

As Freedom Partners highlighted Baldwin’s vote to raise taxes by $5 trillion, the Senate Majority PAC predictably swooped in to defend her record. Less overt cover, though, came from PolitiFact Wisconsin writer Tom Kertscher in trying to discredit our claim, giving it a rating of “Half True.”

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(Tom Kertscher, “Koch-Backed Group Is Half True In Claiming Tammy Baldwin Voted For $5 Trillion In Higher Taxes,”PolitiFact Wisconsin, 11/1/17)

“Tax Increases” Versus “Tax Collections”:

PoltiFact reasoned, in part, that there’s a difference in tax increases and tax collections: “Baldwin voted for a 2012 federal budget that would have raised taxes by $3.9 trillion over 10 years … There were estimates that total tax collections — another possible measure of ‘higher taxes,’ as stated in the ad — under budget Baldwin voted for would have been $5 trillion higher than under the budget proposed by the Obama administration.” These estimates came from a 2012 fact check of a similar claim published in PolitiFact Wisconsin and written by the same author.

As PolitiFact wrote in 2012, the caucus plan would have “raised taxes by some $5 trillion more than Obama”:

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(Tom Kertscher, “GOP Group Says Tammy Baldwin Proposed $3.9 Trillion Tax Hike That Nancy Pelosi Opposed,”PolitiFact Wisconsin, 11/2/12)

Five years later – and one day before publishing a “Half True” fact check of our claim – PolitiFact edited the 2012 fact check to instead say that they were “total tax collections”:

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(Tom Kertscher, “GOP Group Says Tammy Baldwin Proposed $3.9 Trillion Tax Hike That Nancy Pelosi Opposed,”PolitiFact Wisconsin, 11/2/12, Edited 10/31/17)

What PolitiFact apparently forgot to do was edit yet another line where the author unambiguously wrote that Baldwin actually supported a larger tax increase than the $3.9 trillion the National Republican Senatorial Committee claimed at the time:

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(Tom Kertscher, “GOP Group Says Tammy Baldwin Proposed $3.9 Trillion Tax Hike That Nancy Pelosi Opposed,”PolitiFact Wisconsin, 11/2/12, Edited 10/31/17)

PolitiFact never meaningfully explains the difference between “tax increases” and “tax collections,” how it applies in this case, or – most importantly – why it matters. PolitiFact edited a five-year-old fact check that the same author wrote and in the process left a glaring internal contradiction that undermines his own point. Between the $3.9 trillion in tax increases that the CPC claims and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, $5 trillion is a conservative floor for tallying Tammy Baldwin’s vote to increase taxes on the American people.

One-Year Tax Hike Or 10-Year Span?

As PolitiFact wrote in giving us a “Half True”: “Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce says: ‘Tammy Baldwin voted for $5 trillion in higher taxes.’ … But the ad didn’t make clear that that amount was over a 10-year span, not a sudden increase.”

Let’s put aside the fact that PolitiFact doesn’t explain why this matters or that even the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “Bottom Line” doesn’t “make clear that the amount was over a 10-year span”:

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(“The People’s Budget,” Congressional Progressive Caucus, Accessed 11/1/17)

PolitiFact’s own fact check from 2012 on a fundamentally identical claim from the NRSC never even brings up the need to explain the difference between a one-year tax hike and a ten-year score. The only reason PolitiFact gave the NRSC a “Mostly True” instead of a “True” was because of an additional claim that Nancy Pelosi voted against the budget because it was too extreme:

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(Tom Kertscher, “GOP Group Says Tammy Baldwin Proposed $3.9 Trillion Tax Hike That Nancy Pelosi Opposed,”PolitiFact Wisconsin, 11/2/12, Edited 10/31/17)

PolitiFact is imposing an additional, unexplained condition that it never considered in rating a fundamentally identical claim five years prior.

Does Baldwin Support The Taxes She Voted For?

The last reason PolitiFact gave for rating our claim “Half True” was that Baldwin didn’t necessarily support the tax increases that she voted for: “Voting for the budget didn’t mean that Baldwin necessarily supported all of the tax increases.”

First, this is yet another extraneous condition that PolitiFact is imposing today that it never mentioned in judging a fundamentally identical claim in 2012. Second, the author never explains how any hypothetical reservations about what she was voting for affects the veracity of pointing out that she did in fact vote for this bill. Third, by all appearances PolitiFact never apparently even attempted to reach out to Baldwin to ask her with which tax increases she disagreed.

Fourth – and most importantly – the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget wasn’t a sprawling, last-minute bill that was the result of endless negotiation, horse-trading, and compromise to ensure its passage. It was amessaging bill put forward by a group for which Baldwin was a vice chair to draw a line in the sand between progressives and House Republicans. To suggest that Baldwin didn’t know or didn’t support what she was voting for is beyond disingenuous.

$5 Trillion In Higher Taxes Is An Absolute Floor For Baldwin’s Record

Beyond Baldwin’s single vote to increase taxes by a staggering (conservative estimate of) $5 trillion, Baldwin’s record shows a consistent commitment to higher taxes. As a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, Baldwin supported imposing a county sales tax that has put Dane County taxpayers on the hook for nearly a billion dollars since its passage. As a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, she opposed a plan to cut state income taxes by $130 million. As a U.S. Representative, she voted for a cap-and-trade bill that would have raised $846 billion. She also voted for the Affordable Care Act, which was estimated at the time to raise $498 billion. And as a U.S. Senator, she’s pushed repeatedly for an online sales tax.

Without a real record on tax relief for Americans, Baldwin is instead relying on allies like the Senate Majority PAC and disingenuous fact checkers to distract from past positions that undermine her champion-of-working-families persona. And true to her record, Baldwin remains opposed to a tax reform framework that would unrig a broken tax system and deliver higher wages, more jobs, and tax relief for the American people.

Alan Nguyen is Freedom Partners Senior Policy Adviser