Desperate Measures: Paul Ryan Tries To Revive the “Death Panel” Canard

Ryan tries to muddy the waters before seniors learn too much about his Medicare plan, writes Jesse Singal.

Gerry Broome / AP Photo

Death panels? Again? Really? In 2012?

If a recent comment from Paul Ryan is any indication, we’ve cycled back to the ugly idea that marred much of the debate over President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Ryan, the presumptive Republican vice-presidential candidate, told an audience at Florida’s largest retirement development that Obama’s health care law “puts a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.”

It’s a wonkier variation of Sarah Palin’s 2009 assault, which she’s returned to since, on Obama’s “death panels," which was in turn echoed by Michelle Bachmann’s claim last fall that “15 political appointees will make all the major health-care decisions for over 300 million Americans.” She continued: “I don’t want 15 political appointees to make a health-care decision for a beautiful, fragile 85-year-old woman who should be making her own decision.”

Of course, it’s not true.

So why is the Romney campaign bringing back this bogus vision of faceless technocrats cruelly snatching life from helpless seniors (along with the equally bogus idea that Obama will have “robbed” more than $700 billion from Medicare)? It has a lot to do with seniors, many of whom are learning about Ryan’s plans for the program—and Ryan himself—for the first time after Romney picked the Wisconsin House member as his running mate last month . According to a Pew poll released this week, only 30 percent of people have heard “a lot” about his plan, and 29 percent have heard nothing about it at all.

But that poll and others show that the more people do hear about Ryan’s Medicare reform plan (not to mention the rest of his budget), the less they like it. And while Republicans stress that Ryan’s proposed Medicare changes wouldn’t impact current seniors or anyone entering the system in the next decade, and that even after the change seniors could choose between something like the current system and vouchers, the CBO agrees with Democratic claims that the Ryan plan would place a greater burden on Medicare enrollees.

So Democrats have a clear goal: Spread the word!

The GOP, on the other hand, is racing to muddy the waters. Rather than bore voters to death with a likely futile descent into the wonky details, they’ve simply flipped the script, claiming that it’s Obama who wants to cut benefits.

The opportunity for Republicans was highlighted by a poll that came out yesterday showing that Ryan enjoys a 50/35 favorable/unfavorable split among seniors. So not only did seniors not take the instant dislike to Ryan that some pundits predicted they would, they actually like him more than other age groups, perhaps because they tend to be more conservative than younger Americans. But even if seniors like the first Gen Xer on a presidential ticket personally, the Pew poll shows that they dislike Ryan’s plan even more than their younger counterparts.

This points to an information vacuum, which is why death panels are back, and why this campaign is only going to get uglier from here.