Fact-checking Booker, Holt

WASHIINGTON -- With the second (and final) New Jersey Democratic Senate debate set for tonight, there’s a good chance we’ll again hear a couple of the attack lines that have emerged in the final week of an otherwise sleepy contest. Here’s a look at how accurate (or not) they are.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt claims that Cory Booker does not support a carbon tax, breaking up big banks or ending spying on “innocent Americans.” Booker, the Newark mayor, has shot back that Holt and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone voted for a school voucher program in Washington, D.C. – even though they have repeatedly criticized Booker’s support for vouchers in Newark.

First a look at Holt’s argument, which he airs in a statewide television ad assailing Booker’s liberal bonafides.

Holt calls for government to impose a carbon tax, break up Wall Street banks and “stop the government spying on innocent Americans.”

“Cory Booker doesn’t support any of these ideas,” Holt says. “Cory may be the frontrunner in this race – but he’s no progressive.”

The Booker campaign quickly called the ad “bogus” and “misleading.” On the carbon tax and big banks a Booker release says “the mayor has not taken a public position on either issue.”

To which the Holt campaign shoots back: that’s proof that they’re right, that he doesn’t support those steps. Part of supporting an idea, they argue, is saying so.

“If the Booker campaign thought Democratic voters would like his views, wouldn't they share his views?” said Holt spokesman Thomas Seay.

(The wording of the ad seems key here: Holt doesn’t say Booker “opposes” these things, only that he “doesn’t support” them).

Holt’s ad takes a bigger leap on spying. The back-up is that while Holt supports repealing the Patriot Act, Booker does not. Holt argues that this means Booker doesn’t support an end to spying on innocent Americans.

Booker’s campaign wrote that “no one in any election ever has supported ‘government spying on innocent Americans.’”

They also point out that Booker’s Web site says “we need to vigorously guard our 4th Amendment privacy protections while still protecting Americans from terrorism.”

In Monday’s debate Booker said any changes to the Patriot Act need to be done “in a sober manner” since some provisions, he argued, help police protect against attacks. But he added that Washington is “out of balance” when it comes to weighing security provisions against personal liberty.

Booker also threw elbows at Holt and Pallone.

He first pointed out that Holt voted for the Patriot Act (which is easily confirmed – he did, along with the vast majority of Congress in the months after 9/11).

Booker also said Holt and Pallone both voted for plans that would allow Washington, D.C. schools to implement a voucher program for district students.

The liberal congressmen did, in fact, vote for far-reaching bills that funded D.C. government and included vouchers.

But there was more going on in those votes than a straight up or down vote on vouchers – they were each part of much larger packages.

Booker’s campaign points to two specific measures: one, in 2003, included an authorization to begin a voucher program in D.C. public schools. The program was one piece of a $328 billion spending bill that covered a huge range of government. It provided annual funding for national agricultural programs, the state department, department of justice, and many other items – including funding to run the municipal government of Washington, D.C. That’s where the voucher program came in.

Holt voted for the measure, but issued a statement at the time criticizing the voucher portion. Pallone voted against that bill and the Booker campaign has not tied him to that specific vote.

Second, Booker’s team cites a 2004 bill to specifically fund all manner of D.C. government operations, from libraries to police to public schools to sewers, and much more. The bill included money for a voucher program in D.C.

But again, vouchers were a tiny fraction of the overall bill. It included $560 million of federal funds and $8.2 billion in local D.C. money. Of that, around $14 million went to school vouchers.

Pallone and Holt both voted for the measure.

So, yes, they did support a bill that included money for vouchers in Washington, D.C. – as Booker argued. But it was not a single-issue vote.

When given a chance to vote solely on D.C. vouchers Holt and Pallone have both opposed the program.

In 2003, they voted three times to strip funding for vouchers out of the D.C. funding bill or to block the addition of voucher money. (They were outvoted). In 2011, facing a vote on vouchers and vouchers alone, they again voted to block a program in D.C., but were defeated.

Setting aside individual votes, Pallone and Holt have each said unequivocally that vouchers drain funding to traditional public schools and have clearly spoken out in favor of increased funding for all public schools as the best way to improve education for the widest swath of children. Booker has favored vouchers as a way to provide opportunity for poor children stuck in failing schools.

The Congressmen’s statements and other votes should be considered as context to their votes on D.C.’s budget.



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