NASHVILLE — In a new television ad, Republican Grant Starrett accuses incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., of having "betrayed" his 4th Congressional District constituents in votes or inaction in the House.
"It's shocking, but true," a female announcer says in the 30-second spot, which began airing this week. "Scott DesJarlais voted for $700 billion in Obama's food stamps. And DesJarlais supported Obama's military cuts. DesJarlais even failed to hold America's largest abortion provider accountable."
Featuring images including armed, masked men in green uniforms marching on a beach and, later, what appears to be a sonogram of a fetus, the announcer goes on to say, "You're paying for welfare and abortions all while we're under attack by radical Muslims. You've been betrayed by DesJarlais."
DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson charged that the ad, now running in the Chattanooga and Nashville areas, is packed with distortions.
"Grant's latest ad simply confirms what most voters already know: he is an out-of-touch, establishment politician from California who couldn't possibly represent conservatives in Tennessee," Jameson said.
Starrett campaign manager Tommy Schultz said the ad is factual and on target.
But Jameson said that while Starrett "may like to claim he is a conservative, there is nothing conservative about attacking Congressman DesJarlais for voting for the largest cut to the food stamp program since the 1990s."
He said his vote for the bill cited by Starrett also would have required drug testing of recipients and mandatory work requirements. "Clearly," Jameson said, "Grant would have joined with Nancy Pelosi in opposing this legislation."
The Starrett ad's food stamp charge, one he talks about frequently on the stump, refers to a 2013 House vote on the five-year, $940 billion federal farm bill, 80 percent of which went for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. The bill failed in the GOP-run House on a 234-195 vote.
DesJarlais voted for the bill, which called for cutting the food stamp funding by an estimated $20 billion. But a coalition of mostly Democrats and some conservative Republicans joined together to torpedo the earlier measure. Democrats disliked the food stamp cuts while some Republicans didn't think the cuts went far enough and also objected to other bill provisions.
After the bill failed on June 20, 2013, the House eventually went along with a Senate version that did less. DesJarlais voted against it.
In a recent interview, Starrett said the congressman "can talk all he wants about how it was a cut. But look at the percentages. It was 1 1/2 percent, right? It's nothing. So if you really want reform of the food stamp program, then you want to go with me, not DesJarlais."
The $700 billion food stamp figure referred to in Starrett's ad is for a 10-year period.
The Starrett ad's jab over military cuts refers to 2015 amendments on a military funding measure that DesJarlais voted for.
At issue in the proposed $578.6 billion spending bill was providing $88.4 billion in funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations. It included a $38 billion boost for the OCO, often referred to as the "war fund." The provision, Defense News reported, resulted in a group of conservative budget hawks, including DesJarlais, and liberal Democrats coming out against it for different reasons.
The OCO is a separate pot of money from the Department of Defense and State Department's regular or "base" budgets. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., charged the money wouldn't go for actual war-related items and was a "slush fund" used to offset mandatory spending caps across other portions of the Pentagon's budget imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Defense News reported defense hawks argued the extra funding was needed for other areas because the military was underfunded due to the spending caps.
Starrett's ad cites DesJarlais' votes for three amendments, two by Republican Mulvaney and a third by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. They sought to strip the funding. DesJarlais voted for all three. All failed.
Jameson said DesJarlais has "consistently fought to prevent the unauthorized use of this government slush fund. It seems once again, Grant Starrett has displayed his true California values" by criticizing a measure supported by the House's arch-conservative Freedom Caucus "that prevents the Obama Administration from redirecting war funds to pay for unconstitutional government spending."
Starrett's third charge on abortion refers to DesJarlais' passing up the opportunity to grill Planned Parenthood's chief in 2015. The occasion was a House Government Reform Oversight Committee hearing on allegations the nonprofit abortion provider sold parts of aborted fetuses to medical companies.
Jameson has previously said DesJarlais gave over his question time as part of an orchestrated push to give congresswomen a more prominent role in questioning Planned Parenthood's president, also a woman.