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By Janie Har March 10, 2013

Kurt Schrader supports $85 billion sequester, but won't cut $1.6 million for video games?

Since just before the sequester set in March 1, the National Republican Congressional Committee has been filling email in-boxes in Oregon with allegations that U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader has shirked his fiscal duties by siding with fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama.

An email from an NRCC spokeswoman had this subject line: "Kurt Schrader’s priorities: A robotic squirrel." That was followed by a press release sarcastically thanking Schrader for standing by while the government wastes money "on frivolous programs like the production of a musical about climate change and a menu of foods people could eat on Mars – yes, the planet Mars."

Those were followed by a limited-distribution online banner ad that reads: "What?! Kurt Schrader supports Obama’s sequester … but won’t cut $1.6 million to fund new video games."

By this point, PolitiFact Oregon can’t stop giggling. A musical about climate change? A robo-squirrel to pick up robo-nuts? A new menu of what we might eat on Mars, maybe while playing new video games? We were intrigued to find out more, even though we know that campaign blasts from the major parties tend to be over the top.

For those of you not keeping up with sequester news: A long, long time ago, Obama and Congress agreed to across-the-board federal cuts if they couldn’t agree on a more measured way to reduce spending and balance the budget. Well, guess what? They couldn’t agree -- Obama and Democrats want new revenue; Republicans do not -- so the country is in sequestration mode, with $85 billion in automatic cuts between now and Sept. 30, 2013.

Republicans are using the impasse to drum up public support for their cause and against Democrats. The National Republican Congressional Committee -- which is chaired by Oregon’s very own Rep. Greg Walden -- wants to take out Schrader in 2014. Other Democrats, including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, are being similarly targeted nationally.

Now that we have the background, let’s try to unwind the statement. Is it true that Schrader supports Obama’s sequester, but refuses to cut $1.6 million for video games?

According to an NRCC statement, Schrader voted for the sequestration bill, and voted against legislation that would have replaced it. That’s accurate-ish. Schrader joined his party in voting against two GOP-backed bills last year that would have replaced the across-the-board cuts with deep cuts to entitlements and social programs.  

But let’s not forget this: The 2011 bill creating the sequester law was backed by 174 Republicans, including Walden, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner. To single out Schrader -- and other potentially vulnerable Democrats -- as supporting the sequester ignores an awful lot of Republicans who voted for the sequester bill, and blames Democrats for failing to vote for a replacement budget dictated by Republicans.

Now on to the fun stuff.

All four items highlighted by the NRCC come from the annual "Wastebook" put out by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. His office identified about $18 billion worth of wasted -- in his opinion -- tax dollars in 2012. The programs are included regardless of home state or party backing.

For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is spending about $1 million a year -- out of a $17 billion budget -- to develop food items for a 2-1/2-year trip to Mars in the 2030s.

The robo-squirrel reference comes from a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to researchers in California who are studying how a robot squirrel might fake out a non-robot rattlesnake. A New York City-based theater also received nearly $700,000 from the NSF to create a musical about climate change and biodiversity.

And, finally, NASA is spending $1.6 million to develop video games and other entertainment as a way to get more students interested in science, math and technology.

The point being made by House Republicans is obvious: The White House need not furlough airport security workers when there are so many other places to cut.

Yet $18 billion plucked from a "waste book" is not close to $85 billion. And, seriously, Congress doesn’t go back and comb through individual budgets and kill off low-level programs a senator deems frivolous. The broader NSF and NASA budgets were approved by both Republicans and Democrats. There is no either-this-or-that choice to make in the here-and-now, and to suggest that Democrats could cut a Mars-related project for more airport securityis misleading.

Certainly Republicans are making a valid point that the two sides could make targeted, intelligent reductions, but that’s not the hang-up in the standoff. The hang-up is over money. Republicans do not want to raise taxes.  

In a response to PolitiFact Oregon, NRCC spokeswoman Alleigh Marré said that Schrader voted twice against sequester replacementbills. Did those bills, we asked, include a line item reduction of $1.6 million for NASA’s video games? The response: No, they did not.

In case you’re wondering, Schrader’s office declined to comment on how the congressman truly feels about video game development, Mars food items and other spending choices mocked in the Wastebook. His office says he opposes the sequestration as bad policy that doesn’t address long-term cost drivers, like health care.

Of course he does. We can’t think of anyone who thinks across-the-board cuts is a good way to budget. And despite the NRCC’s assertion that this is Obama’s sequester, PolitiFact has ruled that the sequester is the baby of both parties. (And no, Obama can’t blame Congress either.)

The NRCC’s online ad states: "Kurt Schrader supports Obama’s sequester … but won’t cut $1.6 million to fund new video games."The statement is inaccurate in many ways. This is not Obama’s sequester, as PolitiFact has ruled. Schrader voted for the 2011 bill authorizing sequestration, along  with many Republicans. He voted against two sequestration bills pushed by Republicans that would have sheltered defense at the expense of human services and entitlement programs.

Neither of those bills included a line item calling for $1.6 million to be taken out of NASA’s budget for video games. Schrader was not in a position to cut -- or to not cut -- that money with his sequestration-related votes. Clearly the ads are meant to showcase extreme examples of budget fat. But in doing so, the NRCC has jumped into spacey nonsense. We find the claim not only false, but ridiculously so.

We rate the statement Pants on Fire.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

NRCC, "Obama and Schrader Agree: Protect Martian Menus and Robotic Squirrels While Scaring American Families With Threat of Cuts," Feb. 28, 2013
Email from Alleigh Marre, "Kurt Schrader’s priorities: A robotic squirrel," Feb. 28, 2013
NRCC, "Thanks a lot, Kurt Schrader: Obama’s Sequester set to hit today thanks to Schrader’s continued support for higher taxes and wasteful spending," March 1, 2013
NRCC, "NRCC Paid Online Banner Ad Targets Kurt Schrader for his Support of Obama’s Sequester: Ad Focuses on Schrader’s Support for Wasteful Washington Spending," March 4, 2013
NRCC, online ad, March 4, 2013
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, "Wastebook 2012," Oct. 15, 2012
Associated Press, "NASA builds menu for planned Mars mission in 2030s," July 17, 2012
The Washington Post, "From ‘Angry Birds’ to multi-player video games, NASA ramps up investment in educational technology," Sept. 2, 2012
The Hill, "NRCC hammers Democrats on sequestration in new Web ads," March 4, 2013
The Oregonian, "GOP targets Kurt Schrader as 2014 campaign for control of the House lifts off," March 4, 2013
Email from Cody Tucker, spokesman for Rep. Kurt Schrader, March 5, 2013
Emails from Paul Gage, chief of staff, Rep. Kurt Schrader, March 7, 2013
Emails from Alleigh Marre, NRCC spokeswoman, March 6, 2013
PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says Congress owns sequestration cuts," Oct. 24, 2012
House Republican Majority, H.R. 6684, "Spending Reduction Act of 2012," Dec. 20, 2012
H.R. 6684, December 2012
H.R. 5652, May 2012
S. 3729, 2010

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