Jim Matheson was one of 16 House Demos who joined with Republicans to pass the Medicare Act.

Utah Republicans and GOP 2nd Congressional District candidate John Swallow are starting another round of TV ads and mailers attacking Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson for what turns out to be his support of initiatives by President Bush and congressional Republicans.

The new ads concern the GOP-backed Medicare and drug prescription reforms.

The ads come just days after 76,000 GOP fliers — which the State Republican Party blames on the National Republican Campaign Committee, and vice versa — were mailed attacking Matheson for supporting an immigration reform bill. The flier failed to note the bill is sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Cannon, both R-Utah, as well as Bush.

In a new TV ad, Swallow now complains that Matheson "did little to help seniors" with prescription drug bills and provided "$500 billion for the big drug companies" by a vote he cast in roll call number 669 on Nov. 22, 2003.

The Utah Republican Party also mailed a flier this week attacking the same vote by Matheson, saying he "voted to line the pockets of the big drug companies with a $500 billion plan that does little for seniors." And, it says, if you can't afford your drugs in the United States, you should "hit the road, Jack," and buy them in Canada.

What the ads do not mention is that vote was on passage of the Republican-backed Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act. Bush and GOP leaders fought hard for that sweeping reform of Medicare, which included the first-ever prescription drug benefit for seniors.

Matheson was one of only 16 Democrats in the House who joined with 204 Republicans to pass that bill on a close 220-215 vote. Utah's two other House members, Republicans Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop, also voted for that bill.

Swallow said regardless of how other Utah congressmen or even the president may have acted on the bill, he opposes it. And so Matheson's vote for the bill is fair game, says Swallow.

"I will always vote what's best for people of the district," he said. "I had serious questions even the day it passed. It cost us way too much. It helps drug firms, not seniors."

He adds that as a candidate, he's free to say how he'd vote. "I can't speak to why" the Utah Republican Party would send out a flier criticizing Matheson for voting like Utah's GOP senators and House members.

The state party flier "was not a reflection on Republicans in general in Congress but the differences personally between" Swallow and Matheson, said Spencer Jenkins, state GOP executive director. He added that the new flier, like the immigration flier, was produced by Salt Laker Peter Valcarce with, Jenkins believes, input from the NRCC.

The McCain-Feingold campaign reform law says independent groups can't run pro- or anti-candidate TV ads 60 days before the general election. And before that deadline, one senior citizen group ran ads complimenting Matheson for this very vote.

Now two senior groups — the Seniors Coalition and United Seniors Association — are sending fliers into 2nd District homes again thanking Matheson for his Medicare votes.

Even more ironically, the ads by Swallow and the Utah Republican Party adopt old arguments made by Democratic leaders against that bill.

For example, during Senate debate of that bill, liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., thundered that the bill was "a Trojan horse to reshape Medicare" that was "a product of the right-wing ideology" to benefit the wealthy.

Yet Swallow has run a TV ad complaining that Matheson votes like Kennedy — even showing the aging pol in the ad.

Congressional Democrats had also complained that the Medicare reform bill would send many seniors to Canada to seek cheaper drugs there, a complaint echoed by the new GOP and Swallow ads. Also, those ads blast Matheson for a vote he cast against allowing reimportation of cheaper Canadian drugs.

While most Republicans indeed supported drug reimportation on that vote in July 2003, what the ads fail to say is that joining Matheson in opposition that day were Cannon and Bishop.

In short, Swallow and Republicans are attacking Matheson for two roll calls where he voted exactly the same way as Cannon and Bishop — and in one of those instances he was among a handful of Democrats who helped Republicans to a win on health care reform.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com; bbjr@desnews.com