Brown-Warren Debate Fact Check

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Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren speaks during a debate with Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in Springfield on Wednesday. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren speaks during a debate with Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in Springfield on Wednesday. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Wednesday night’s debate between Republican incumbent Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren focused more on issues than on personal attacks. But they often asserted things that left debate-watchers scratching their heads and wondering, was that true?

Affordable Care Act

One of the hard-fought issues in the debate was the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, and how it affects Medicare. Brown said the bill raises taxes:

The federal bill — which my opponent supports and I don’t — actually raises taxes, 18 new taxes that are about to kick in and some of them are about to now. It also cuts — and I hope the seniors are listening — three-quarters of a trillion dollars from our seniors' Medicare and that’s something I can’t support.

Warren countered:

He raises the same old argument that there will be more than $700 billion taken out of Medicare. That’s the same playbook that Mitt Romney used a week ago tonight. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong tonight.

First, Brown’s assertion about taxes is true, said Stuart Altman, a professor of national health policy at Brandeis University.

"Yeah, there’s a bunch of new taxes," he said. "Now, they go to support the funding for the Affordable Care Act, but they also indirectly help the Medicare program by pushing back the date when the [Medicare] Trust Fund goes bankrupt."

Altman added the taxes mostly fall on high-income people or corporations. But Brown's assertion, that $700 billion will be cut from Medicare and seniors should be worried, is not true, Altman says.

"You can make the case that there was a little truth to the argument that Medicare recipients would receive some reduction, but in general it is a big white lie," Altman said.

Altman said the savings come primarily from hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

"They agreed to take smaller increases in Medicare payments in return for more money from the uninsured," he said, referring to Americans who will gain insurance because of the law.


Student Loan Interest Rates

The debate focused mainly on issues and, because Brown has been in the Senate for two-and-a-half years, he has a voting record that Warren often attacked. Here she is on student loan debt:

Twice last year Sen. Brown voted to let student interest rates double. Why? Because it would have forced to pay for it closing a loophole used by millionaires; in fact it's called the Newt Gingrich loophole.

This is true that Brown voted against two versions of a bill to keep student interest rates low. His explanation is he wanted the bill to be paid for using cost savings, not taxes:

There she goes again with regard to talking about student interest rates. I voted against it because I didn’t want to see our small business owners pay $6 billion for low interest rates.

Brown did support the compromise to keep rates low for students by changing how pension plans calculate interest.

Women's Issues

On women’s issues, Warren came out with this strong attack:

He’s had exactly one chance for "equal pay for equal work" and he voted no. He had exactly one chance to vote for insurance coverage for birth control and other preventive services for women. He voted no. And he had one chance to vote for a pro-choice woman from Massachusetts to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he voted no.

These statements are all true. But Brown says he does support equal pay, just not the proposed bill. And Brown repeated this several times:

We’re both pro-choice, we both support Roe v. Wade.

Brown’s voting record on choice issues is mixed. It’s true, as he said Wednesday, that he fought cuts to Planned Parenthood when the U.S. House tried to strip funding. But in another bill he voted to cut funding entirely to Planned Parenthood. The political arm of Planned Parenthood has endorsed Warren.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life President Anne Fox said Brown has a pro-life record, according to the National Right to Life organization, which scores legislators on bills that are important to them.

"His first year he had 100 percent, and this year he had 80 percent," Fox said. "He does vote pro-life."

Consumer Bureau

One of Brown’s most cutting lines is shaky on the truth meter. When Warren said she fought for a new consumer protection agency, Brown came back with this zinger:

I commend you for your work on that. I voted for it. It never would have passed if I was not the deciding vote on financial reform.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. The Consumer Protection bill, which was part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill, was voted on twice in the Senate. The final bill passed 60-39. Brown was not the deciding vote, but was one of three Republicans who voted in favor of it. But his support was cited by Democrats as important.


  • Monica Brady-Myerov, WBUR reporter


This segment aired on October 11, 2012.


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