Monday, December 11, 2017
Politics

PunditFact: Abortion-funding measure holds up AG confirmation vote

A clause about abortion funding in an otherwise noncontroversial sex trafficking bill has stopped the Senate from voting to confirm Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama's nominee for attorney general.

On Fox News Sunday, liberal Juan Williams and conservative Karl Rove debated who's to blame.

Here's the relevant part of the back-and-forth between Williams and Rove. Rove claimed that Republicans are simply trying to extend a prohibition against using federal funding for most abortions that has been in place for nearly 40 years.

Democrats claim the prohibition isn't needed in this particular piece of legislation (it's in others), and Williams and others have accused the GOP of quietly inserting the abortion language to try and score political points.

"The Republicans hid this language," Williams said.

"It was right there in the bill. And the Democrats voted for it," Rove countered. "Juan … it's dangerous for you to keep doing this kind of stuff and for me having to correct you. The language was in the bill. The Democratic sponsor admits it was in the bill, and she voted for it."

Rove's claim rates Mostly True.

The abortion-related provision is called the Hyde Amendment, which first passed about 40 years ago and is named after the original sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. The amendment bars federal funding for most abortions. The bill doesn't plainly say anything about abortion or the Hyde Amendment. Rather, it says: "Amounts in the Fund, or otherwise transferred from the Fund, shall be subject to the limitations on the use or expending of amounts described in sections 506 and 507 of division H of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014." (Those sections of the appropriations act are Hyde limitations.)

Senate Democrats didn't put two and two together until after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it unanimously in late February.

The Democrats accused the Republicans of hoodwinking them. The Senate debated a version of the bill last year, and that version did not include Hyde Amendment language, and they said Republicans didn't let them know about the change.

In January, a Republican Judiciary Committee staffer emailed the Democratic counterpart a summary of changes, but the list did not mention the addition of the abortion language, according to the Washington Post.

So who was Rove referring to when he said "The Democratic sponsor admits it was in the bill, and she voted for it"?

A spokesman for Rove told us he was referring to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — a member of the Judiciary Committee and one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.

Klobuchar's office released a statement on March 18 saying that a staffer in Klobuchar's office had known about the insertion of the Hyde Amendment before the Senate Judiciary Committee vote but "did not inform the senator."

"The senator was not aware that the provision was included," when she voted for the bill in committee, the statement said.

So, yes, Klobuchar's office says a staffer knew the measure was in the bill. And Klobuchar did vote for it.

But Rove is pushing things by linking the two events so closely together. There is no evidence Klobuchar knew the measure was in the bill and voted for it anyway — which is what one might interpret Rove's statement to mean.

And Klobuchar has voted to block a final vote on the bill since the provision became widely known.

Fox News Sunday also interviewed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is considering running against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders, who often cites statistics that highlight income inequality, offered this one in his interview with host Chris Wallace: "99 percent of all new income today (is) going to the top 1 percent," Sanders said.

That rates Mostly True.

Sanders' office told us the senator was talking about pretax income growth from 2009-13 during his Fox interview. A Sanders spokesman highlighted a New York Times article in January by Justin Wolfers, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.

Wolfers based his calculations on the work of Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, who uses pretax income reported on IRS filings in his studies of top incomes, including capital gains. Saez and French economist Thomas Piketty have written about the disparate recovery from the recession among America's two big income classes for several years. Saez found most recently that the top 1 percent captured 91 percent of all income gains from 2009-12.

Using Saez's preliminary 2013 numbers, Wolfers stretched the window to account for an average of 2012-13 incomes. (He used an average for those years because tax rates on top earners increased in 2013, prompting some to shift more income to 2012.)

The takeaway?

The average income for the richest 1 percent of Americans, excluding capital gains, rose from $871,100 in 2009 to $968,000 from 2012-13, he wrote. The 99 percent, on the other hand, experienced a drop in average incomes from $44,000 to $43,900, Wolfers said. The calculation excludes government benefits in the form of Social Security, welfare, tax credits, food stamps and so on.

"That is, so far all of the gains of the recovery have gone to the top 1 percent," Wolfers wrote.

Sanders spokesman Jeff Frank said his office double-checked the statistic with Wolfers, who double-checked his own work with Saez.

Saez told PolitiFact that the key to understanding the statistic is knowing that it's measuring pretax, pregovernment benefit income.

"That's the key stat to think about how the market allocates incomes in the first place," Saez said. "Anybody should be worried that the recovery from the Great Recession has been so skewed in terms of market incomes."

The caveat, economists including Saez said, is that if you include taxes paid by Americans and the government benefits they receive, the disparity isn't as great. That data may be considered equally valid. But economists say specific data does not yet exist.

Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.

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