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House Democrats Cry Foul Over Rejected Mailings

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Rep. Gerry Connolly criticized the House franking commission for rejecting a flier he created about proposed changes to Medicare.

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.

Five Democrats wrote to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday asking him to intervene. They say Republicans on the House franking commission, which screens the content of mass mailings paid for with Congressional funds, have become more sensitive since the May 24 special election in New York. Democrat Kathy Hochul made opposition to the plan authored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a central element of her successful campaign for the New York seat.

Republicans, on the other hand, say Democrats were similarly critical during the debate over the health care overhaul.

At issue is the ability to send provocative communications using Congressional funds. The franking commission reviews official mail, email and social media for overtly political or inflammatory content.

The commission returned a flier to Rep. Gerry Connolly on May 29 over objections to language stating that the GOP budget would “end” Medicare. The commission asked the Virginia Democrat to rephrase the passage to say the plan could “change” or “could privatize portions” of the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled.

Connolly called the action “Orwellian in nature.”

“It is the most extreme censorship I have ever encountered,” he told Roll Call. “And it’s all because they have been taking heat on Medicare.”

Similarly, the commission asked Rep. Ed Perlmutter to strike the words “eliminate” and “dismantle” in favor of the word “change” in a flier about the Medicare proposal. The commission also asked the Colorado Democrat to remove references to Ryan, replace “voucher” with “premium support system” and change “privatize” to “revise government program with support from private insurance companies.”

Connolly said he is fuming, particularly because the commission allowed similar language before the New York special election. Democrats widely credit the Medicare issue for turning the tide against Republican Jane Corwin, who had been favored to win the House seat.

In April, before the election, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) submitted a leaflet that depicted a tombstone emblazoned with “RIP Medicare.” It also referenced Ryan and said his plan would “kill” Medicare. The mailer was approved, along with communications from Democratic Reps. Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), David Wu (Ore.) and Bill Owens (N.Y.) that made similar references to the program’s “end.”

“They actually previously approved communication that certainly did refer to the voucher system and did refer to the Ryan plan. So what’s changed?” Connolly asked. “This is way overstepping the bounds of the franking commission.”

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