This week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives took up a bill to extend a cut to the tax that funds Social Security.
It was a nonstarter from the get-go. It contained a provision that President Obama said would lead him to veto it — that's if the Senate, defying math, logic and the rules of legislative gravity, were to approve it.
And yet it offers us some interesting insight on the positions of the two men who are running for Congress. Call it a messaging bill that sent a pretty clear message.
Let's start with Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who voted against the bill. It's not the Keystone XL pipeline that earned Mr. Obama's veto threat that Mr. Owens opposed (in fact, he supports it). Nor was is the certain changes to EPA regulations, which Mr. Owens also supported.
It was the so-called "Doc Fix."
The doc fix would avert a 27 percent pay cut for Medicare doctors. But the question is: How do you pay for it? Among other things, Republicans in the House wanted to cut Medicare money from hospitals.
Mr. Owens didn't like that.
"The problem with that is, if you take away dollars from hospitals, particularly in a rural district like ours, you are going to decrease available medical care," Mr. Owens told me.
Of course, not fixing the doctor payment rate would also result in a decrease of available medical care, I argued.
Mr. Owens agreed — the reimbursement rate should be fixed, just not via a cut to hospitals. He would rather see income taxes increase on the wealthy to pay for it (more on this later).
And here's some more on Medicare: The Republican bill sought to hike Medicare payments for those who make more than $80,000 annually, which could amount to a hike of several hundred dollars a month for some.
Mr. Owens said he supported that effort, too.
"I find that acceptable. I think that’s reasonable," Mr. Owens said.
In a campaign whose main themes will include whether the social security net is too costly or too fragile, agreeing to a Medicare hike for the wealthy is an illuminating concession. Mr. Owens has previously said he's open to "means testing," but this is a specific position with a specific number.
Republican Matt Doheny said Mr. Owens's lack of support for the bill amounted to saying one thing in his district and doing another in Washington.
“I’m running for Congress because we need people in Washington who understand how to help our economy prosper and create jobs," Mr. Doheny said in a statement. "This bill would have done that – and shrunk the size of our already bloated government to boot."
Here's the difference between Mr. Doheny's position and Mr. Owens's: taxes. Mr. Doheny says he'll never raise taxes, no way, no how. Mr. Owens said that a tax hike on the wealthy is the best way to fairly pay for this middle class tax cut.