House Democrats say GOP censoring Medicare mailings

House Democrats on Wednesday charged House Republicans with trying to censor outgoing Democratic mailings that criticize the Republican plan to change the Medicare program.

During a speech on the House floor, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) on Wednesday ripped Republicans for “blatant and transparent censorship.”

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“I’m not allowed to refer to changing Medicare to a voucher system, even though [Budget Committee Chairman Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.] himself referred to it as a voucher system. I must now call it a premium support system,” he said. “This censorship would make former Soviet censors blush.”

Over the last couple of months, Ryan has strongly disputed claims that his plan would change Medicare into a voucher system.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) also complained that Republicans are working to ensure that the Franking Commission, which oversees member mailings, blocks certain communications and even demands changes when the language is not favorable to the GOP’s 2012 budget plan.

“The Republican-controlled Franking Commission, which controls content of mailings from congressional offices, is now dictating that any reference to the end of Medicare be cut out from correspondence,” Yarmuth said. “Whenever the word ‘end’ is used, they say we have to use the word ‘change.’ ”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office tackled the controversy on Wednesday, issuing a release titled, “Let’s Be Frank: GOP’s New Message Strategy is Censorship.” 

However, the six-member Franking Commission has not officially voted on approving the Medicare mailers.

House Administration Committee Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) told The Hill that “it hasn’t gone to that level; most of it is done on the staff level.”

Lungren learned that the staff has been at an impasse over the wording in the mailers for several weeks and is “hopeful that we’ll work something out.”

He confirmed that Republicans faced a similar situation in the previous Congress when Democrats were running the lower chamber. Democrats had issues with GOP mailers on healthcare reform. That standstill lasted “an extended period of time ... and we finally did work it out.”

Franking Commission member Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) agreed that most of the work on approving mailers is done on the staff level.

“The Franking Commission is almost entirely staff-driven; the members on rare occasion adopt a new rule or policy, but you can see how it would work better if it’s … staff-driven and staff on both the Democratic and Republican sides have got to approve every mailing,” Sherman said. 

The Franking Commission is a bipartisan panel made up of three Republicans and three Democrats. The commission is meant to ensure that taxpayer-funded mailings are free of political propaganda; staffs from both parties generally work with each other on mailings from both parties.

The commission has on numerous occasions required alterations to Republican mailings, including many that complained about “government-run” healthcare.

Nonetheless, Connolly and four other Democrats on Tuesday wrote a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urging him to end what they see as recent examples of Republican staffers on the commission trying to enforce tougher rules. The letter said this apparent change is also delaying franking decisions.

“Given this abrupt and inconsistent new interpretation of the established Franking guidelines, we surmise that there is a deliberate, strategic attempt to censor any member communication that echoes the widespread public criticism of the Republican plan for Medicare,” the letter said. “This politically motivated censorship undermines our ability to execute one of our primary roles and diminishes the credibility of this institution.”

This story was originally published at 12:50 p.m. and has been updated.

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