By Peter Urban
Stephens Washington Bureau
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is airing a television advertisement that claims Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., has voted to continue a government shutdown to secure himself a "special subsidy" under the federal health care law.
Cotton for Senate said it has spent $67,845 for the 30-second television advertisement to run this week on broadcast and cable networks in Little Rock.
The television spot highlights two votes cast by Pryor. He was one of 60 Democrats to approve the Affordable Care Act in 2009 — all the votes were needed to pass. Also, last month Pryor voted to "table" a House-approved resolution to temporarily fund the government and strip members of Congress and staff of federal employee health subsidies.
Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Pryor, pointed to a PolitiFact.com analysis that called it a false claim to say Congress is receiving a special deal.
"Only Congressman Cotton is arrogant enough to think that Arkansans won’t see his blatantly false political attack for what it is: a weak attempt to distract from his irresponsible votes to gut Social Security and Medicare, kill the Farm Bill and end affordable student loans on behalf of his Washington special interest handlers," Weaver said.
Cotton is challenging Pryor’s bid for a third term in the Senate.
In a press release announcing the ad campaign, the Cotton for Senate campaign said that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is "already wreaking havoc on Arkansas" even as Pryor praises it as "an amazing success story."
"What he won’t tell you is that while he was the deciding vote for Obamacare and has forced that flawed law on Arkansans, he supported a special subsidy and exemption for Congress. Now he has gone so far as to vote for a government shut down in order to keep his special Obamacare subsidy."
The PolitiFact "Truth-o-meter" said that in reality Congress and their staff are the only Americans required to obtain health insurance by the government exchanges. And, the "sweetheart deal" is simply to have the government — as employer — pick up its share of the cost of health insurance, as it does for other federal workers.
During debate on the Affordable Care Act in 2009, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment to require Congress to get its health insurance through the government exchanges.
While his idea was to have Congress experience the law, it was not his intent to have members lose the employer subsidy. Grassley blamed staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for improperly drafting his proposal.
The text of the law is silent about the employer subsidy and has been interpreted by Republicans to mean that it should not be available. The Office of Personnel Management, however, has issued a rule that would allow the employer subsidy to be made.
Democrats used the "Grassley amendment" to slam some Republicans during the 2012 campaign who voted to repeal Obamacare. They claimed, at the time, that a vote to repeal the law was a vote to give members of Congress "taxpayer-funded health care for life."