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Club for Growth: Chafing Chafee's Record

The Club for Growth launches misleading attacks at Sen. Chafee's record on taxes and "wasteful" spending.

August 19, 2006

Modified: August 19, 2006

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The Club for Growth is running a TV ad attacking Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, claiming he voted for wasteful spending projects such as a "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. In fact, Chafee didn't vote specifically for any of the items mentioned. All were relatively tiny line items in massive spending bills that easily passed the Senate.
The ad also says "Chafee voted for higher income, Social Security and gasoline taxes."  But mostly that refers to votes Chafee cast against cutting taxes, not for raising them.


On Aug. 17 the Club for Growth, a political action committee advocating low taxes and "pro-growth economic policies," released a 30-second ad it calls "Too Taxing," which is running statewide in Rhode Island. The ad targets Chafee for what it calls a"wide world of wasteful spending."  The Club for Growth has publicly endorsed Chafee's more conservative challenger in the state's Sept. 12 Republican primary, Steve Laffey.

Club for Growth ad "Too Taxing"

Announcer: Lincoln Chafee's Wide World of Wasteful Spending. Chafee voted to spend $200 million on the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska,
(On Screen: 2005 Senate Roll Call Vote 220)
Announcer: $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa,
(On Screen: 2004 Senate Roll Call Vote 3)
Announcer: and a half million on the Montana Sheep Institute.
(On Screen: 2004 Senate Roll Call Vote 215)
Announcer: Then Chafee voted for higher income, Social Security, and gas taxes.
(On Screen: 2004 Senate Roll Call Vote 130, 2005 Senate Roll Call Vote 74, 2000 Senate Roll Call Vote 183)
Announcer:Over a trillion dollars in higher taxes.
(On Screen: 2001 Senate Roll Call Vote 170)
Announcer: Lincoln Chafee's spending is just too taxing.  Club for Growth PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Pork Projects?

The ad criticizes Chafee for voting to fund three projects, the so-called Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere," an indoor rain forest in Iowa, and the Montana Sheep Institute.  The Bridge is actually two bridges; one designed to connect Ketchikan, AK to sparsely populated Gravina Island and another to connect the Port of Anchorage to the little-used Port McKenzie.  While Chafee did vote for the final Conference Reports that included all of these projects, what the ad fails to mention is that they were part of massive spending and appropriations bills, not independent legislative actions. Specifically:

    T he Alaskan bridge was part of the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, & Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005" which authorized funding for U.S. highways through 2009.  It was an 800-page bill that approved $286.4 billion in spending.  The $200-million bridge made up only 0.07 per cent of that bill – or about seven pennies for every one hundred dollars spent.

      The $50 million "indoor rain forest" in Iowa comprised only 0.02 per cent of the $328 billion Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

      The $500,000 for the Montana Sheep Institute made up only 0.00013 per cent of the $388 billion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004, which provided funding for the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Energy amongst others. That's 13 cents out of every $100,000 spent.

A Double Standard?

The Club for Growth seems to be applying a double standard to Chafee's vote on the bill containing the Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere."  Of the twelve candidates the Club lists on their website as "recommended," only one is a current member of Congress, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX).  And Cuellar voted for the identical Conference Report that the ad attacks Chafee for supporting. If Chafee's vote constitutes part of a "wide world of wasteful spending" then the same would go for the Club-endorsed Cuellar.

Votes for "Higher" Taxes?

The ad goes on to say that Chafee voted for "higher" income, Social Security, and gasoline taxes. This claim is misleading, and uses deceptive wording that we've discussed before when President Bush used a similar tactic to attack his Democratic rival John Kerry.

Chafee did not vote for an increase in Social Security or gas taxes, he voted against cutting them. And the Club points to only a single instance in which Chafee actually voted to raise the federal income tax, when he was the lone Republican to vote for an amendment to raise the top rate by one percentage point for five years to pay for increased military expenditures in Iraq. Only taxpayers with a taxable income of $319,000 or higher would have been affected.
But the other votes cited by the Club weren't tax increases at all. In 2005, Chafee voted  against an amendment that would have repealed a 1993 tax increase on Social Security benefits, and in 2000 he voted against an amendment that would have reduced the federal gasoline tax to zero for a period of 150 days.

The ad's final claim is that Chafee voted for "over $1 trillion in higher taxes." That refers to 2001 when he voted against final passage of the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA).  This was the first of President Bush's major tax cut initiatives. 

Voting to maintain current tax policy is not a vote for increasing taxes.  Had the ad said that Chafe voted against cutting taxes rather than for "higher" taxes, it would have been accurate.

-by James Ficaro


U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No.  220
U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote  No.  3
"Bush signs highway bill," Journal of Commerce Online, 10 Aug 2005
U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No.  215
U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Vote No. 453
Victoria Parker-Stevens, "Bill includes highway, bridge repairs for city," Carlsbad Current-Argus, 9 Dec 2004
U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 130
"Sen. Lincoln Hails Passage of Final Appropriations Package," State News Service , 27 Jan 2004.
U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 74
U.S. Senate, 106th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 183
U.S. Senate, 107th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 170

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