Topeka U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran's main rival for a U.S. Senate seat from Kansas is challenging Moran's right to call himself the first House member to introduce a bill to repeal the new federal health care law.
Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt's campaign on Wednesday cited another bill — co-sponsored by Tiahrt — introduced the same day as Moran's legislation. Both measures were introduced in March, the day after final passage of the law pushed by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats.
Tiahrt spokesman Michelle Schroeder acknowledged that Moran's bill was assigned its number first. But she said that distinction is meaningless and suggested the real issue is Moran portraying himself as a leader of opposition to the health care law.
"Todd is out front. Todd is a leader," Schroeder said. "Jerry is in the background."
Moran spokesman Dan Conston took the Tiahrt campaign's criticism as a sign of desperation from a candidate who's significantly behind in Aug. 3 primary contest.
"There's any number of things — ridiculous accusations — made all the time," Conston said. "This one seems particularly ridiculous."
Tiahrt and Moran are seeking the Senate seat held by Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican who's running for governor. Tiahrt has held the 4th Congressional District seat for south-central Kansas since 1995, and Moran has represented the 1st District of western and central Kansas since 1997.
Also on the GOP ballot are Mound City accountant Tom Little and Overland Park attorney Robert Londerholm, who served as Kansas attorney general in 1965-69. Five Democrats are running, but none is as well-known or well-financed as Tiahrt or Moran, and a Democrat hasn't won a Senate seat in Kansas since 1932.
Moran and Tiahrt have been wooing tea party participants and running hard to the right — and both have called for the repeal of the federal health care law. Among other things, it mandates that most Americans buy health insurance, starting in 2014.
Moran's latest television ad mentions his legislation to repeal the law, and he staked his claim on being first Tuesday night during his first televised debate with Tiahrt.
"I was the first member of the House of Representatives to introduce legislation to repeal Obamacare," Moran said.
As soon as the debate ended, Tiahrt's staff distributed a memo headlined, "Moran's Healthcare Repeal Claim -- BUSTED."
The memo noted that both Moran's bill and one sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican and tea party favorite, were introduced March 22.
Moran had no co-sponsors when he introduced his bill, but 12, including Bachmann, later joined him. Tiahrt was among 11 co-sponsors on Bachmann's bill when she introduced it; the measure now has 59.
Moran's measure is HR 4901, while Bachmann's is HR 4903.
"It's not like Moran's entire campaign push is that we were first by an hour or a day," Conston said. "This is not a central issue of our campaign."
Since March, Tiahrt and his aides have criticized Moran for not being active enough in the House's final debate on health care. Tiahrt said Tuesday evening that he stayed in the House chamber for 11 hours, while Moran left to shoot a campaign video.
"You've got to take the fight to the liberals — take the fight to the House leadership, the Democrats there," Tiahrt said.
Moran and his staff said he left the chamber to join protesters outside the Capitol. Later, Conston said, a short, hand-held video appeared on Moran's Web site as an update.
Moran said during his debate with Tiahrt that he'd spoken many times against the health care bill and any suggestion he wasn't active was a "crazy allegation." Conston noted that Moran has served as a chairman of the House's bipartisan rural health care coalition.
"He was actively involved on health care issues and rural health care issues well before this year," Conston said.