HELENA — This 30-second spot by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s campaign, criticizing Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., first aired in Montana last week.
Ad content: Whitefish resident Lisa Jones, who had cancer, appears on camera and criticizes Rehberg for his votes on health funding and tax policy. Tester appears briefly in the ad’s opening.
Script: Tester: “I’m Jon Tester, and I approved this message.” Lisa Jones: “It’s been a year since they found the cancer. So it’s very personal to me that Congressman Dennis Rehberg voted to eliminate funding for breast-cancer screenings. Even from the clinic that saved my life — while protecting tax breaks for multimillionaires. Talk about wrong priorities. Congressman Rehberg’s been back in Washington for a long time. But if he got his way, I don’t want to think about what I would have missed.”
Analysis: The ad bases its claim on Rehberg’s 2011 vote for the House Republican majority’s budget resolution, HR1, which passed the House and proposed many cuts in public health programs for fiscal year 2011 — but did not eliminate funding for breast-cancer screening. The House passed a budget compromise measure in April 2011 that restored most of the public-health cuts, but Rehberg voted “no” on that bill.
The proposed 2012 budget from the appropriations subcommittee chaired by Rehberg also called for many of the same health-program cuts, but it still had funds for cancer prevention programs.
The final 2012 budget restored most of that health-program spending, and Rehberg did vote for that final budget. He also has supported funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pays directly for breast-cancer screening.
The HR1 cuts to which the ad refers are elimination of federal funds for family planning clinics (known as Title X funding) and cutting $1.3 billion in grants to community health clinics. The latter grants included funding for the Flathead Community Health Center in Kalispell, where Jones says she had an exam that led to discovery of her cancer. The center also gets Title X money, which makes up about 11 percent of its budget.
The executive director of the Kalispell center has said that if the first cut went through, the center would have been in danger of closing.
An April 2011 compromise measure restored that money for fiscal 2011. Rehberg voted against that bill.
Title X funding helps pay for contraception for low-income women and related family planning services. Two dozen clinics around Montana get some of the money, including the Flathead health center. Clinic officials say the Title X services often draw women to the clinic not only for contraception, but also for general health exams, which include breast exams.
However, Title X funding doesn’t pay directly for “cancer screening,” and neither does the community health center money — although the money does fund services that could lead to a woman discovering that she may have cancer, as did Jones. Women who visit the Kalispell health center must go elsewhere for a mammogram or cancer screening tests.
Rehberg supported funding for the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which helps low-income women pay for screenings. HR1 proposed cutting overall CDC funding, but Rehberg’s subcommittee budget included cancer-prevention funds at CDC for fiscal 2012.
As for Rehberg “protecting tax cuts for millionaires,” Rehberg has routinely voted against attempts by Democrats to increase the income tax rate for the wealthiest taxpayers, and voted for two major tax cut bills in the 2000s that cut rates for top earners, as well as other taxpayers.