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Fact Check: 'Misleading' Ad Claims Tillis Voted Against Pay Raise For Military

Thom Tillis 2016 Gage Skidmore
Gage Skidmore
/
Flickr
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Committee.

A new ad by the left-leaning group VoteVets claims Republican U.S. Sen. Tillis of North Carolina isn’t doing enough for the military, while at the same time highlighting the military career of his Democratic opponent, Cal Cunningham. The ad claims Tillis voted against a pay raise for the military while voting in favor of a pay raise for members of Congress. WRAL’s Paul Specht joins us to assess that claim.

Marshall Terry: So, Paul, let's start with the pay raise for members of the military. Is it true that Tillis voted against that?

Paul Specht: It is true that he was voted against a massive budget bill that he disagreed with that included raises for members of the military. But if you look at the bigger picture in terms of military pay, you would see that Tillis has voted for pay increases.

In fact, our fact check highlights his subcommittee's efforts to secure funding for military raises just three or four months prior to that budget vote. And so in that way, the ad does not capture the full context of Tillis' record.

Terry: And what about the second claim made that Tillis voted for a pay raise for members of Congress? Is that true?

Specht: That's also very misleading. Now, Congress can set its own wages. However, they've chosen to freeze their normal — their automatic — cost-of-living raises for each of the last 10 years. So for 10 years, pay for Congress has been the same. That same massive budget bill froze congressional pay once again.

And so the what the ad is saying, what VoteVets told us, is by voting against the budget bill, by voting against the freezes for Senate pay, that Tillis wanted to give himself a raise. But that is obviously a big oversimplification of what was in this bill and why Tillis voted against it.

Terry: So, both of the claims made in this ad come from the same large budget bill that Tillis voted against, so why did Tillis vote against the bill?

Specht: That's right. Tillis voted against this bill because it was a massive budget bill. It was worth a total of $1.3 trillion, and Sen. Tillis was one of several Republicans to vote against it. In fact, President Trump wasn't happy with it either. He signed it, but he said he would never sign another bill like that one again.

And so Tillis was not necessarily out of line with his party. It had bipartisan support, but it also had some detractors. Tillis said he opposed it because of the price tag, not because of any raises for senators and not because of raises for military members, either. And again, that funding had already been secured.

Terry: What can you tell us about the group behind this ad, VoteVets?

Specht: VoteVets is an advocacy group that highlights military records, and they tend to be a little more left leaning. And so in this race, they are highlighting the military career of Cal Cunningham, Tillis' Democratic opponent.

And so that's what this ad aimed to do is say "Cunningham is a vet who will do more for the military than Tillis, and Tillis has not done enough to date." That was their argument. But as we found, you know, they're really cherry picking facts from this bill to try to mislead the public about Tillis' record.

Terry: So, how did you rate these claims, then?

Specht: We rated them mostly false, and that means that there's an element of truth here but that the claim ignores a lot more context that would paint a more accurate picture. And so with military raises, for example, Tillis secured funding for military raises just three months before this omnibus bill happened.

And then on the side of congressional pay, whether or not Tillis wanted to raise his own pay, it's true that he voted against a bill that would freeze congressional pay. However, there is no other record of Tillis trying to give himself a raise. And in fact, the more important point here is he did not get a raise. Pay for senators and Congress members has been the same since 2009 because they routinely freeze their own pay. And because of all that, this ad is misleading, and that's why we rated it mostly false.

Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.

Specht: Thank you.

These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.