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The facts behind tax ads from Allen and Robb 

Analyzing the Ads

If the word "Robb-speak" is starting to sound as familiar as "Rudy," there's good reason. The U.S. Senate race is heating up, and the candidates are in the midst of a sustained television advertising bombardment.

"Robb-speak" is the catchword, and taxes are the subject of three separate ads.

Republican challenger and former Gov. George Allen struck first, attacking incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb's votes on the marriage penalty, Social Security taxes, the gas tax and even statements he's made on Virginia's car tax.

Robb fought back with an ad of his own explaining his actions, and Allen has launched a second attack. All three ads were paid for by state party organizations.

The back-and-forth sometimes takes on the tenor of a playground quarrel: Chuck Robb calls himself a fiscal conservative — typical "Robb-speak," opened the first pro-Allen ad.

"Isn't it sad how some politicians twist the facts and take votes out of context?" Democrats fired back.

"Chuck Robb wants the facts — that's Robb-speak," Republicans replied.

Details can get lost in exchanges like these, so here are some of the facts behind the claims in this round of ads:

MARRIAGE PENALTY

The claims:

"Robb voted seven times to continue the marriage tax penalty." — Allen ad

"Not true. Robb voted six times to end the tax." — Robb ad

The facts:

Robb did vote seven times against mostly Republican bills that would end the so-called marriage penalty, a feature of the federal income tax code that results in some married couples paying more taxes on their combined income than they would if they were unmarried and filing individually.

He also voted six times for alternative Democratic bills that also would end the marriage penalty. Robb contends the Democratic versions were targeted to people who needed help, while the Republican versions would have helped couples who aren't paying a marriage penalty.

SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE

The claims:

Robb voted to "raise taxes on Social Security recipients struggling to make ends meet." — Allen ad

"The Social Security vote? It was actually a budget bill, needed to strengthen Medicare." — Robb ad

"The record states (his vote) slashed Medicare funding billions." — Allen ad

"Raid(ed) billions from Social Security for other programs." — Allen ad

The facts:

This exchange is about Robb's vote for the 1993 budget bill, which reduced the deficit by nearly half a trillion dollars over five years through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Among other things, the bill raised taxes on higher-income Social Security recipients, with the proceeds earmarked for Medicare.

The GOP claim that the vote hurt "struggling" seniors is somewhat disingenuous, because the legislation allowed Social Security recipients to be taxed on up to 85 percent of their benefits only if they are earning at least $34,000 a year — $44,000 a year for couples.

Social Security benefits weren't taxed at all until 1983, when the law called for taxing up to 50 percent of benefits for singles living on at least $25,000 a year and couples living on at least $32,000 a year. Today, roughly one out of four Social Security recipients pays taxes on his or her benefits.

The 1993 Social Security tax increase was said to shore up Medicare because it dedicated a reliable revenue stream to the program. But the same budget bill also cut Medicare by $55.8 billion, mostly by reducing the amount Medicare would pay health-care providers for their services.

The Republican ad's claim about Robb raiding Social Security also is based on Robb's support of the 1993 budget bill, as well as a 1998 House Appropriations Committee chart outlining borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund.

The chart shows borrowing beginning in 1984 when Congress was under Democratic control and a Republican was in the White House, peaking at around $80 billion in 1997 under a Republican Congress, then dropping off to zero.

The borrowed money is part of the national debt.

THE GAS TAX

The claims:

Robb "pushed a radical new gas tax of fifty cents per gallon."' — Allen ad

"The gas tax Allen refers to Robb is now against. It was proposed seven years ago, after the Gulf War, to protect American soldiers." — Robb ad

The facts:

Robb introduced gas-tax bills in 1992 and 1993. The first bill called for a study of "revenue-neutral" legislation shifting taxation from the income tax to the motor fuels tax "in order to reduce the threats to national security and the environment posed by over-reliance on imported fuel."

The second would have raised the tax from 2.5 cents per gallon to 52.5 cents per gallon over five years, with its stated purpose being "to reduce the federal budget deficit and encourage energy conservation." The bill did not pass, and Robb never introduced it again, which is the basis for his claim that he is now against such an increase.

THE CAR TAX

The claims:

Robb "called eliminating the car tax `irresponsible." — Allen ad

"Fighting to keep the car tax." — Allen ad

The facts:

Robb doesn't respond to this claim in his television ad, but his campaign spokesman calls the part about fighting to keep the tax "preposterous."

Republicans base their claims on a quote printed in the Roanoke Times in August of 1997: "I regret that the response to (Jim Gilmore's tax cut plan) was so positive that it required a slightly less fiscally irresponsible approach (by Don Beyer)."

During Gilmore's campaign, critics of his car-tax cut said it would be fiscally irresponsible because of its huge cost to state government, now estimated at $1.1 billion a year when fully phased out in 2002. That's more than the state spends running its prison system.

Landmark News Service
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