Tom Cotton Blasts Mark Pryor on Health Law in 1st TV Ad

LITTLE ROCK — Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton is using the first television ad of his bid against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor to accuse the two-term lawmaker of wanting to exempt Congress from the federal health care law — a spot that Pryor's campaign quickly derided Monday as "blatantly false."

Cotton campaign manager Justin Brasell said Monday that the campaign began running the ad Saturday morning in the Little Rock area and had bought $67,845 worth of air time over the next week. Brasell said the campaign may purchase more time later to run the 30-second spot longer.

"Mark Pryor cast the deciding vote to make you live under Obamacare. But Pryor votes himself and everyone in Congress special subsidies so they're protected from Obamacare," the narrator says in the spot. "Exemptions and special subsidies for Mark Pryor, higher insurance premiums for you."

The debate centers on a part of the 2010 overhaul that requires members of Congress and their staff to purchase their insurance through the exchanges set up under the law. The law, however, did not say what would happen to the employer contribution that Congress and its employees currently receive.

The Office of Personnel Management in August proposed that the federal government will continue to pay its standard share of premiums. That proposal, however, has been met with criticism from Cotton and other Republicans who have called it a special subsidy for Washington.

The claim that this amounts to an exemption for Congress has been disputed by FactCheck.Org, which notes that the contribution doesn't change the requirement that Congress and its staff participate in the exchanges.

Cotton has backed legislation to block the government from continuing that contribution and has said he and his staff won't accept it. Pryor and the Democratic-led Senate have rejected Republican efforts to strip the contributions as part of a spending bill. The federal government has been shut down for the past week over the GOP efforts to block funding or delay the health law.

"Only Congressman Cotton is arrogant enough to think that Arkansans won't see his blatantly false political attack for what it is: a weak attempt to distract from his irresponsible votes to gut Social Security and Medicare, kill the Farm Bill and end affordable student loans on behalf of his Washington special interest handlers," Pryor campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement released by the campaign.

Pryor has criticized Cotton for opposing an initial version of the Farm Bill and only backing it after funding was stripped out for food stamps. He also has criticized the Republican challenger for opposing a measure that would lower the costs of college borrowing for millions of students and for supporting the House Republican budget plan in March that would turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for beneficiaries born in 1959 or later.

Cotton, a first-term lawmaker representing south Arkansas, announced in August he was challenging Pryor and is the only Republican running. Pryor has run two statewide ads since launching his re-election bid earlier this year. Republicans widely view Pryor as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election next year.

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