GOP censors House Dems’ Medicare message

The word “censorship” is often misused, but in a case like this, it fits.

Democratic House Members are lashing out at Republican leadership over rejected mass mailings, saying their messages lambasting the GOP budget plan and its effect on Medicare are being censored.

They say Republicans on the House franking commission, which screens the content of mass mailings paid for with Congressional funds, have become more sensitive after Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) won a special election May 24 after campaigning against the plan authored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Five Democrats wrote to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday asking him to intervene.

Members of Congress are entitled to use public funds to send mailings to their constituents. A franking commission reviews the mailings for potential abuses — lawmakers can’t use these materials for explicit campaign purposes, for example — but it takes quite a bit to have a piece rejected.

Suddenly, that’s changed.

House Dems routinely used these mailings to criticize Republican plans to “end” Medicare, but after the Democratic win in upstate New York, the House GOP is now preventing Dems from sending materials with identical language.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), for example, was told his mailing wouldn’t be sent unless he changed the language to say the GOP plan would “change” or “could privatize portions” of Medicare. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) ran into the same problem, except this time, the franking commission prohibited the use of the word “voucher.” They’re not alone.

Keep in mind, the Dems’ messages were entirely accurate. Republicans, however, are saying the Democratic mailings can’t go out unless Dems use the specific wording the GOP prefers.

Connolly called this “Orwellian,” adding, “It is the most extreme censorship I have ever encountered.”

Also note when the policy changed. In April, Dem mailings were approved with the word “end” and “voucher.” Hell, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) had a leaflet with a tombstone emblazoned with “RIP Medicare,” and it was approved to.

But when Kathy Hochul won, suddenly, the GOP decided it was time to start dictating to Dems which words were permissible, and which weren’t. Republicans just don’t have a leg to stand on here — if certain words were permissible before May 24, there’s no reason to censor those identical words after May 24.

Democratic Reps. Connolly, Perlmutter, Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), and Joe Courtney (Conn.) have not only written to House Speaker John Boehner about this, they’ve also presented a detailed case noting that “the documentation in question uses terminology and phrases that have been approved in previous documents.” The Dems added, “The rising lack of popularity of the House Republican Plan for Medicare hardly justifies the use of the Franking Commission to obstruct legitimate communication between Members and the Americans that we serve.”

Even for House Republicans, this is a cheap move.