ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The campaign for Betsy Dirksen-Londrigan, the Democrat running for the Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, is mounting a legal challenge to an attack ad that paints her healthcare plan as “radical” and “too expensive.”
An attorney for Dirksen-Londrigan issued cease and desist letters to television stations via email on Thursday afternoon demanding they discontinue the ad spot because of misleading statements contained in it.
“This advertisement is false,” the letter reads. “For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should immediately refuse to continue to air this advertisement.”
The advertisement in dispute was produced and paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican affiliated super PAC run by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The legal challenge underscores a sharpening debate over the future of healthcare in America in this contest. During her primary campaign and at town halls since her nomination, Dirksen-Londrigan repeatedly resisted pleas from progressive voters in the district to adopt a single-payer stance. While she occasionally spoke favorably about the intentions of such an idea, she made it clear to her liberal backers that she would not immediately support such a plan, and instead would back a public option.
Set to ominous music, the attack ad paints Dirksen-Londrigan, a longtime aide to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), as a radical liberal who promotes a Medicare-for-All plan made famous by the Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during his 2016 run for president.
“Londrigan’s radical health care plan could put government in control of your care, cost $32 trillion, and nearly double the national debt,” the advertisement says.
The $32 trillion cost estimate refers to a study from the Urban Institute, which examined the ramifications of a single-payer system, not the public option. Dirksen-Londrigan’s campaign manager Emma Brown says the ad intentionally distorts her words to scare voters.
“It’s clear that Paul Ryan’s super PAC knows Rodney Davis’s disastrous healthcare record has landed him in real trouble in Central Illinois,” Brown said in an email. “This ad is a desperate, fraudulent attempt to distract voters from that truth.”
The friction in the back-and-forth appears to hinge on what the public option could become, not what the legislation is in it’s current form.
Attorney Mike Kreloff wrote the letter for the Dirksen-Londrigan campaign. Kreloff argues that “the impact of a ‘public option’ versus a ‘single payer’ system are drastically different’; therefore, CLF’s ad is an inaccurate distortion of Londrigan’s record.”
Kreloff cites a 2009 study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that “found [the public option] would cost less than 3 percent of what CLF claims.”
However, Dirksen-Londrigan does not support the 2009 version of the public option. In February, she told the Champaign News-Gazette that “stabilizing the ACA is a critical step forward, then introducing a public option for health insurance, such as Medicare X, can provide much needed affordable access to health care.”
In a similar questionairre with the State Journal-Register, Dirksen-Londrigan said “There are good options, such as Medicare X and Medicaid-for-All being discussed, but we have to get the right representation in Congress to make a ‘public option’ reality.”
“Just because you don’t call what you support ‘Medicare-for-All’ doesn’t mean it isn’t,” Davis campaign spokesperson Ashley Phelps responded. They argue that because Dirksen-Londrigan has spoken favorably about the Medicare-for-All plan in the primary, she could one day support it in Congress.
“Medicaid and Medicare are fundamentally different programs,” Brown explained. “Expanding Medicaid has helped cover hundreds of thousands of folks in Illinois. She was discussing a proposal to create a public option by allowing people to buy into Medicaid programs that already exist in their states. She has also stated her preference for something like Medicare X, which would provide an option to compete with private insurers and keep costs down. She has not supported any Medicare for All proposals.”
The Dirksen-Londrigan campaign did not directly answer whether or not she would ever support a single-payer system.
A left-wing blog describes Senator Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) ‘Medicare X’ plan as the “road to single-payer,” which is how the public option has traditionally been described by prominent Democrats who support moving incrementally toward single-payer instead of lurching in that direction all at once.
The attack ad warns that approach “could end employer-provided insurance – and end Medicare as we know it. Even doubling your income taxes wouldn’t be enough to pay for her radical plan.”
The first sentence makes a warning wrapped in a prediction and hinges on the word “could.” We rate the second sentence false because it uses analysis of a very different piece of specific legislation.
That citation for that misleading claim links to a study conducted by the libertarian Mercatus Center that is funded by the Koch brothers network. The study examined Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan, and warned it would require “historic tax hikes.”
However, the Mercatus study cited in the ad did not evaluate the cost or benefits of ‘Medicare X,’ which is the plan Dirksen-Londrigan says she supports.
Her campaign says the spot should come down, and hit back with an attack on Davis’ record.
“While this group lies about Betsy, here are the facts about Rodney Davis: he voted for a health care repeal bill that would have left tens of thousands of his own constituents without health care, weakened protections for those with pre-existing conditions and charged older Americans more for their care. This is who Rodney Davis has shown himself to be, a career politician who will say anything to distract from his record and try to get re-elected.”
“Facts are stubborn things,” said Michael Byerly, a spokesman from the Congressional Leadership Fund. Then, in the very next sentence, he quickly pivoted away from talking facts and turned to talking points, repeating spooky, unfounded predictions that rely entirely on the scope of the word “could.”
“Betsy Londrigan knows that her radical government-run health care plan could cost $32 trillion, nearly double the national debt, and end Medicare as we know it. Illinois families can’t afford Betsy Londrigan in Congress,” Byerly said.