Senior Moment

08.17.12

Medi-Scare: Now Ryan Budget Has Republicans Fear-Mongering Too

Team Romney and the GOP are head-spinningly hypocritical on the same issue they’ve hung on Democrats for years. Is there no room for honest debate?

Republicans have long complained about Democrats playing the Medi-Scare card—trying to scare senior citizens about the affects of entitlement reform.

The most vivid example of this ugly political ploy might have been the 2011 ad showing “Paul Ryan” literally pushing Grandma off a cliff.

Well, now the real Paul Ryan is on the Republican ticket and the Medi-Scare attacks are flowing—but surprisingly, from both sides.

For Republicans, it is a particularly hypocritical contortion. Regardless of accuracy or honesty, the GOP Medi-Scare talking points have been torrential since Ryan was picked.

Here’s RNC Chairman Reince Priebus—a fellow Wisconsinite—on Meet the Press last Sunday. “He stole $700 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare. If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare, it’s Barack Obama.”

Here’s Newt Gingrich playing the Medi-Scare card on Fox News: “When you start with an Obama plan which took $700 billion out of Medicare in order to put it into Obamacare, I think you’re going to have a pretty hard time being credible in trying to scare people about Paul Ryan.”

Even the GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gotten into the game, wielding an old-fashioned whiteboard at an outdoor press conference on Thursday and declaring that President Obama would cut $716 billion from Medicare while his numeral-free plan would leave the program alone—presenting himself as an unexpected defender of the status quo.

Let’s be honest: Republicans are playing the Medi-Scare card hard in an attempt to preempt Democratic attacks on the Ryan budget. They’re trying to confuse contrasts between the two plans, because they know the policy specifics could alienate voters, particularly senior citizens in the must-win swing state of Florida.

Here’s what’s head-spinningly hypocritical—the Ryan Medicare plan would actually keep the same $716 billion in savings the Obama plan would put in place. That’s right, the very same savings.

The real outrage is that we should be using this overlap as an opportunity to talk about the actual need to reform Medicare to keep the program solvent.

And its inaccurate to call them “cuts” unless you buy into the most discredited labor union–style analysis—because they are actually reductions in future spending that would come in the form of reduced fees to service providers, not reduced payments to beneficiaries. The CBO cleared up any questions on this front if you like reading Congressional-ese (PDF). If you prefer Main Street prose, here’s USA Today fact-checking the various plans.

The upshot is that this may be the first time Republicans have opposed a plan that would reduce taxpayer costs by targeting waste, fraud, and abuse. But because those measures have been proposed by President Obama, they immediately become some sort of theft. Of course, if the Romney-Ryan ticket were to be elected, the same cuts would be in place—and more fundamental changes to Medicare would be made. So what the hell are we talking about?

I pressed Romney surrogate and Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz about his team’s tactics on CNN’s OutFront Monday night. He dutifully tried to avoid answering the question directly because there is no honest answer.

And so despite the opportunity to defend the Ryan plan directly, Team Romney has defaulted to their old standby strategy of “attack and distract”—demonizing President Obama regardless of facts and without proposing new solutions, out of fear that those plans might be polarizing themselves.

The real outrage is that we should be using this overlap as an opportunity to talk about the actual need to reform Medicare to keep the program solvent. The real differences between the plans are different visions of reform that reflect very different philosophies of government.

Broadly speaking, the Obama plan would use increased insurance coverage to try to lower costs. The Ryan-Romney plan would offer future seniors the opportunity to choose private vouchers—a word that might poll badly but fairly describes the option—to reduce costs through market forces. (And incidentally, I like the Wyden-Ryan health-care legislation a lot more than the original Ryan budget itself, because I’m a pro-choice kind of guy, and the Obama camp doesn’t seem to have an answer about how this bipartisan plan is “radical.”)

Instead of having an honest debate about the differences between these two paths to Medicare reform, the two parties are busy trying to scare the hell out of people or confuse them to simply distract from the substantive difference. They are trying to demagogue the problem instead of dealing with it. And for Republicans—who supposedly favor entitlement reform to deal with the generational theft of deficit and debt—playing the Medi-Scare card is the height of hypocrisy.