Democrats – and now Republicans – use budget for campaign attacks

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

It’s 2012 and Democrats are slamming a Republican congressman running for re-election for living the good life on the taxpayer dime and putting “himself first.”

The ad — paid for by the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee — shows a photo of Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble over stock images of private jets and champagne.

“Imagine you could travel first class and make taxpayers foot the bill,” the ad’s narrator says. “Reid Ribble voted to allow members of Congress to travel first class, even lease private jets, all at taxpayer expense.”

That leaves the viewer asking: why in the world would this congressman vote for a bill allowing something like that?

The answer: He didn’t really.

But like every other Republican in the House, Ribble voted against the alternative budget proposed by House Democrats for fiscal 2013. Inside that budget, Democrats inserted language that seems to have been added solely for the purpose of using against Republicans in TV ads.

On page 83 of that budget, the Democrats write that, “it is the policy of this resolution that no taxpayer funds may be used to purchase first class airfare or to lease corporate jets for Members of Congress.”

It’s a classic political maneuver: since Republicans are guaranteed to vote against the House Democratic budget, you put proposals inside of it that would be embarrassing for them to be accused of voting against.

Despite the efforts by Democrats in 2012, Ribble won re-election. But other Republicans who faced these attacks over the House Democrats’ budget didn’t fare so well.

During the 2012 campaign, Democrats slammed Republican Texas Rep. Quico Canseco for being more “interested in the perks and privileges of office than helping the middle class or our servicemen and women.”

“Canseco voted for the perks that come with office, including taxpayer money for first-class air travel and keeping a taxpayer funded gym, barber shop and beauty salon, but he voted against increasing combat pay for military men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) wrote on its website.

Canseco ended up losing his 23rd Congressional District seat to Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego.

Is this misleading? Asked about the ads on Monday, Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the DCCC, said of Republicans, “We will hold them accountable for these misplaced priorities whenever we see them.”

“Last year House Republicans had to choose between slashing benefits for the middle class and seniors or tightening their own belt on perks and privileges and they unfortunately asked the middle class to go first,” he said.

Democrats are no longer alone in employing this strategy. After seeing their candidates get beaten up over items from the 2013 budget, the Republicans added into their 2014 budget that, “No taxpayer funds may be used to purchase first class airfare or to lease corporate jets for Members of Congress.”

They’re now using that line to hit Democrats who voted against the Republican budget. Targeting Georgia Democrat John Barrow, the NRCC on Monday said he “voted to protect first-class airfare for himself and other Washington politicians,” for example.

Why would Republicans now do this?

“House Democrats would rather manipulate their budget for political gain than actually balance it,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, the Deputy Policy Director of the National Republican Congressional Campaign committee. “Republicans are no longer going to sit back and let these attacks go unanswered.”

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