ChrisWeigant.com

Breathtaking Republican Hypocrisy On Medicare

[ Posted Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 – 16:46 PDT ]

Republican hypocrisy on "cutting" versus "saving" Medicare has reached the point where it almost literally knows no bounds. To be sure, Republicans have always fundamentally been against the concept of Medicare, from the very beginning. That's an ideological position which you may or may not agree with, but Republicans have at least held to it fairly consistently over the past half-century or so. But the fetid stench of hypocrisy entered into Republican discourse last year, when they attempted to position themselves as (believe it or not) the ones who were going to "save Medicare." One year later, they are attempting to end the program as we know it within ten years. In other words: Republicans were against Medicare, before they were for it, before they were against it, again.

President Obama gave a speech today in which he outlined some new (and some old) budget proposals. He was largely forced to do so because Republican Representative Paul Ryan, chair of the key House budget-writing committee, introduced his budget proposal last week. Ryan's proposal would, within a decade, replace Medicare as it stands today with a voucher system where seniors would get a set amount which they could use to buy health insurance on the open marketplace. If health insurance cost more than the voucher amount, well... tough beans, Granny. This is not just a radical change, it is an absolutely fundamental restructuring of the Medicare system, which would cut trillions of dollars from the program over time.

But let's put aside Obama's new ideas for the moment, and (to be fair), also put aside Paul Ryan's drastic redefinition of the concept of Medicare. Because it is worth getting specific here, and taking a look at the Republican Party line over the past year or so over just one issue in this debate. Because even without considering Ryan's voucherized Medicare plan, the Republican hypocrisy still raises a rhetorical reek.

To understand this pervasive hypocritical stench, we turn to an Associated Press article today which was titled "House GOP Budget Retains Democratic Medicare Cuts," which begins:

In a postelection reversal, House Republicans are supporting nearly $450 billion in Medicare cuts that they criticized vigorously last fall after Democrats and President Barack Obama passed them as part of their controversial health care law.

The cuts are included in the 2012 budget that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled last week and account for a significant share of the $5.8 trillion in claimed savings over the next decade.

The House is expected to vote on the blueprint this week.

Ryan's spokesman, Conor Sweeney, said the cuts are virtually the only part of "Obamacare" -- the term that Republicans use derisively to describe the health care law enacted last year -- that the Wisconsin Republican preserved when he drafted his budget.

What Sweeny is saying is that the only piece of "Obamacare" which Ryan thought was good enough to keep in his budget proposal was cutting about half a trillion bucks from Medicare. Let's take a quick look back and see what Republicans were saying about this exact proposal when it was introduced, shall we?

First up, we have Speaker of the House John Boehner (back when he was Minority Leader), from a press conference he held on September 23, 2009:

The president continues to say that no Medicare beneficiary will see any reduction in benefits or services as a result of this health care bill. Well, it's become pretty clear that the $500 billion of cuts to Medicare will, in fact, affect seniors. The C.B.O. yesterday -- the Congressional Budget Office -- made it clear that seniors are going to see less services as a result. We also know that the six million -- up to six million Americans who participate in Medicare Advantage are going to be severely affected by major changes in this program that are proposed in this bill. ... And so let's make it clear. Medicare cuts will, in fact, hurt the ability of seniors to get the services they get today. These cuts ought to come off the table. We ought to work together like the American people want us to, to have bipartisan reforms that make the current health care system work better.

Got that? The Medicare cuts "will, in fact, affect seniors" according to Boehner. They will "hurt the ability of seniors to get the services they get today."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had quite a bit to say about Medicare back then, as well. Here he is on the Senate floor, from July 16, 2009, speaking about the proposed Democratic bill:

And one of the worst parts is that advocates of the House bill want small businesses and seniors to pay for it. Businesses would pay through new taxes; seniors through cuts to Medicare -- cuts that hospitals in my own home state simply can't sustain. I have talked to hospitals in Kentucky who are really worried about the impact these Medicare cuts would have on the services that Kentucky hospitals currently provide to seniors, and I'd encourage all of my colleagues to talk to the people who care for patients day in and day out at hospitals in their own states and see what they have to say. It may be a lot different than what some of the interest groups in Washington are saying.

McConnell says Kentucky hospitals "simply can't sustain" these horrible, horrible Medicare cuts. A few months later, in a Republican press conference, McConnell expanded on his theme (September 24, 2009):

We wanted to take a few minutes and talk about the -- the health care debate. The proposal now being considered in the Finance Committee is a trillion-dollar experiment that cuts Medicare, raises taxes, and threatens the health care options that millions of Americans enjoy, and this is absolutely unacceptable.

. . .

I'm not sure I understand your question, but, you know, any time the Republican majority or the Republican president tried to stem the rate of growth -- growth of Medicare, we were accused of doing awful things to Medicare. There were no Democratic votes available for any of that. Those reductions in the rate of growth were quite modest compared to $500 billion over 10 years. It is Orwellian in the extreme for them to sit there and argue that $500 billion in cuts to Medicare are not cuts to Medicare. No one believes that. You don't believe it; I don't believe it; the American people don't believe it. They're taking $500 billion out of Medicare not to make it more sustainable, but to start a new federal program for a whole new set of citizens. This is a huge issue.

This introduces a Republican talking point which is sort of bizarre, that Democrats are cutting $500 billion "not to make it more sustainable." This is never explained, exactly, but it is repeated by many. Here is Senator Sam Brownback, from the same press conference, attempting a metaphor:

And on top of it, money is being taken from Medicare to start a new federal program. Medicare is not financially sustainable. As I've had people point out to me, that's like writing a big, fat check on a completely overdrawn bank account to buy a new car. Now, nobody in their right mind does that, and no banker lets them get away with it. I don't think the American people are going to let the Democrats in Congress get away with this.

Senator Lindsey Graham, on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox News, was probably the most concise -- although he still didn't explain the talking point's concept at all (from March 23, 2010, speaking of the Democratic bill's costs and savings):

Well, when you add in interest and everything else, it's going to be well over $1 trillion. So how do they pay for it? They cut Medicare by over $500 billion -- not to save Medicare, but to take money out of Medicare, senior citizens, to pay for the uninsured.

How, exactly, do you "cut Medicare" in order to "save Medicare"? This detail is too trivial for explanation, apparently. Republicans would vaguely talk about taking the Medicare cuts and using them to "shore up Medicare," without explaining this zero-sum math at all. After all, if you cut money, and then use that money on the same program, then it is not a budget cut at all -- the same money goes into the same program.

Senator Roy Blunt was probably the most incoherent, when attempting to square this circle, on CNN (from March 10, 2010):

It's not like these programs we have already committed to are in such good shape that we don't need to worry about them. Everybody knows that Medicare, particularly, gets in big trouble as early as 2017. Any -- only the federal government would say we're going to take $500 billion from Medicare to start a new government program, as opposed to we're going to find savings in Medicare to save Medicare.

This is a no-brainer anywhere else in America. Only in Washington would that even be a reasonable thing to talk about.

A "no-brainer"? Really? The Republican idea is to "find savings in Medicare to save Medicare" -- much like that Vietnam village that had to be destroyed in order to save it? I'm confused.

Republicans quickly pivoted to just saying that Democrats were "cutting Medicare." It was a simpler argument to make, after all. The Associated Press article points this out by quoting from Republican attack ads used in the last campaign:

"Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick voted for Obamacare, costing us over $1 trillion and cutting Medicare for seniors," said an NRCC ad that ran during Rep. Paul Gosar's successful campaign in Arizona.

Rep. Sanford Bishop "voted to cut Medicare for our senior citizens by $500 billion," the NRCC said in a commercial that was part of an unsuccessful attempt to defeat a long-term Georgia Democratic incumbent.

"Let's save Medicare, and cut Schauer," the NRCC said in a third ad, this one part of a successful campaign in which Tim Walberg turned Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Mich., out of office.

Senator McConnell, however, had been saying this for a while. Here he is from a December 9, 2009 Senate floor speech:

The American people have now seen what Democrats in Congress plan to do with seniors' health care. They've looked on in total disbelief as the majority voted again and again to slash Medicare by nearly half a trillion dollars. Incredibly, these cuts represent just part of the pain caused by this bill. In addition to punishing seniors, it would punish businesses.

Democrats were going to "slash" Medicare, which would end up "punishing seniors." Good thing Republicans were around to fight this tooth and nail, eh? Here's another one of these would-be Medicare white knights, House member (and GOP party leader) Eric Cantor, from March 21, 2010, on ABC News, after being asked if the Democratic bill would "ruin our country today if it passes":

Jonathan, what's going on from my perspective, is the American people are full of fear about this bill. They see that this bill will take Medicare benefits from seniors. That's a scary thought.

OK, so Republicans are going to save Medicare from those scary, scary Democrats who are filling Americans with fear about slashing the $500 billion from Medicare in order to punish seniors. Got all that? Republicans want to "save" Medicare. Heartless Democrats want to "slash" it.

Once again -- putting aside the Medicare elephant in Paul Ryan's budget (voucherizing Medicare to end the system as we know it in ten years) -- the only part of "Obamacare" Ryan thought was good enough to keep was this exact same $500 billion savings. We end where we began, with the start of the AP article, just in case you had forgotten:

In a postelection reversal, House Republicans are supporting nearly $450 billion in Medicare cuts that they criticized vigorously last fall after Democrats and President Barack Obama passed them as part of their controversial health care law.

The cuts are included in the 2012 budget that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled last week and account for a significant share of the $5.8 trillion in claimed savings over the next decade.

The House is expected to vote on the blueprint this week.

Ryan's spokesman, Conor Sweeney, said the cuts are virtually the only part of "Obamacare" -- the term that Republicans use derisively to describe the health care law enacted last year -- that the Wisconsin Republican preserved when he drafted his budget.

The hypocrisy is just breathtaking. One of the proposals the Republicans fought hardest against -- one which they demagogued remorselessly out on the campaign trail -- is now deemed politically acceptable by the Republican budget guru. The same budget guru who can't give an interview these days without warning that those mean old Democrats are going to "lie and demagogue" about his budget plan in order to use it as a "political weapon" against Republicans. To which Ryan's response is always: "Shame on them."

Shame, indeed, Representative Ryan. Shame, indeed.

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

16 Comments on “Breathtaking Republican Hypocrisy On Medicare”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, just to let folks know, I went back roughly a week and answered a bunch of comments on a bunch of articles...

    -CW

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    One more little (but important) program note, here.

    Banter Media thinks it has fixed the "annoying audio ads" problem. So PLEASE, from this point in time onwards, let me know if you experience any of them.

    And, for BMG and from CW.com, we do sincerely apologize for the snafu. Mea culpa maxima...

    -CW

  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Banter Media thinks it has fixed the "annoying audio ads" problem. So PLEASE, from this point in time onwards, let me know if you experience any of them.

    Hurrah!

    The hypocrisy is just breathtaking.

    Even more breathtaking is the corporate media's simple-minded reprinting of it.

    To add to the discussion, Medicare is able to hold costs down better than the system Ryan has proposed. Why?

    Because of their large pool of people and their negotiating power.

    "Over the last two decades, costs in this competitive market [the Federal employee market] have risen faster than in Medicare itself, an average increase of nearly seven percent each year."

    Government can and does do a better job at some things than the free market. This is a point that is not emphasized nearly enough.

    What bugs me is Paul Ryan and others simply throwing around phrases like this:

    "What we want to do with healthcare is apply those free market principles: choice, competition, transparency on price and quality. That to me is the way to reform healthcare."

    No evidence. Nothing to show how the "free market" would do a better job. Just let the "free market" work. And it goes largely unchallenged.

    I'm all for free markets in situations where they do work better. But there are places where they don't necessarily. Healthcare is a prime example. There's a huge conflict of interest because how do you get the biggest profits? By denying care to the most people.

    What we should be considering is what works best for which situation. And we shouldn't automatically take government solutions off the table.

    -David

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    . There's a huge conflict of interest because how do you get the biggest profits? By denying care to the most people.

    That's a very short-sighted concept and I don't think that current private industry healthcare necessarily follows that model...

    If you deny care, your customers die.. If your customers die, then you lose money...

    Ergo, denying care is bad business...

    Government run health care is a disaster as Canada and the UK have proven beyond any doubt..

    And we shouldn't automatically take government solutions off the table.

    Why not??

    Can you name one successful operation run by the US Government that is not run better by private industry?

    About the only possibility would be the US Military... And that's not entirely accurate, given the recent military debacles....

    Michale.....

  5. [5] 
    Kevin wrote:

    Michale,

    "Government run health care is a disaster as Canada and the UK have proven beyond any doubt.."

    You are so full of BS that I'm speechless...Thankfully your weird brand of cluelessness re. healthcare would be greeted by mass derision if you ever spouted that nonsense on our side of the border. Elizabeth and I are so grateful we don't have to deal with the idiocy that is your health system. Aargh!

    That's all for now...I'll leave your other recent outrageous statements alone, there's no reasoning with whatever your mindset could be called.

  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Program Note

    Just in case people were wondering, sorry, no column today (Thursday). I had too much to do today, and not enough time to do it in. I had thought I could squeeze in enough time to write a quick column this afternoon, but spent the time fighting traffic instead (blech).

    But don't worry, Friday Talking Points will appear as usual tomorrow.

    -CW

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    How about Berkeley? Not a bad school, right? Government-run... state, not fed, but that's splitting hairs...

    :-)

    -CW

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Kevin,

    You are so full of BS that I'm speechless...

    Am I?

    I can provide plenty of examples of how utterly and completely hapless the Health Care is in the UK and Canada... Hundreds of deaths from sub-standard care and long waiting time..

    Why is it that thousands of Canadians seek care in the US every year? Because the Canadian Health Care is not capable of providing the care they need..

    59% of Canadians believe their Health Care is unsustainable.

    Only 34% of Canadians are confident that their health care will provide affordable cancer medication.

    And so on and so on and so on.

    These are the facts..

    As for the UK? Feggitaboudid... In the dictionary under POOREST HEALTH CARE PLAN EVER, there is a picture of the NHS.....

    Look, I understand nationalism and I know you have as much pride in your country as I do in mine.

    But the simple fact is, healthcare ideas such as those put forth in Canada and the UK do not meet the needs of the people and are completely unsustainable in the long run..

    Which isn't to say that what we have here in the US is a pile of roses either.

    Hopefully someone will come up with something that DOES work and that WILL work in the long term..

    CW,

    How about Berkeley? Not a bad school, right? Government-run... state, not fed, but that's splitting hairs...

    Actually, the split hair is exactly the point.. State governments are always more responsive to their people...

    There is not a program around that the US Government has run that runs better than private industry counterparts...

    Especially THIS US government...

    Michale.....

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    As to the overall commentary, I have to agree, CW...

    Ain't hypocrisy a biatch! Doesn't it make you just want to throw a shoe at your TV and yell, "I can't believe they just said that!!!" :D

    Michale.....

  10. [10] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Can you name one successful operation run by the US Government that is not run better by private industry?

    Great question. I'm going to take it a step further by talking about the kinds of things which I believe would be better run by government. Then, I'll give you some examples.

    Since you're an IT guy, I'm going to assume that you're familiar with the history of IT - mainframes, to PCs, to our present state where we're moving to Cloud Computing.

    Bear with my analogy for just a second.

    Socialism is like a mainframe, right? Centralized, government controlled. Your computer was typically what was called a "dumb terminal" - it was simply a conduit to the mainframe. All the applications resided on the mainframe so the admin determined what you could and could not run.

    From a user perspective, incredibly frustrating because the apps you may have wanted to run did not always exist on the mainframe. And convincing the admin to put them on the mainframe could take years.

    There was an upside to mainframe computing though. Because it was centrally managed and controlled, it was very easy to administer. You didn't need a large IT staff and you only had to learn one system.

    Fast forward to the 80s .... (cue Van Halen's "Panama")

    The PC was developed and along with it, the client server model. This model allowed individual departments to run their own software and to deploy it quickly. We'll use this as our model for capitalism.

    The benefit were great. No longer was there a central admin lording over his own IT fiefdom. It freed up departments and even individuals to run the programs that they wanted to run and quickly displaced the mainframe.

    But there was a cost. The cost was that each application typically required its own server and backend database. And all of these different types of applications required lots of different infrastructure. And suddenly it's a real bitch to support. Why? Because resources were not shared and used in the most efficient manner.

    Socialism and capitalism are very similar to these two models. In a centralized model, you're going to use resources most efficiently, but the tradeoff is centralized control. In a capitalism model, you're able to do more of what you want immediately, but the tradeoff is inefficient use of resources.

    So the trick is to look for situations where each would work best.

    Example 1: The police force.
    Consider a capitalist model for the police force where there are several different police forces competing with each other. Each requires their own guns, their own record systems, their own entire infrastructure for supporting the police including cars, jails, etc.

    In a socialist model, all of these would be shared by a centralized police force enabling the most efficient use of resources.

    Example 2: Health care
    Similarly, consider a capitalist model for health care. You're going to have many different insurance providers each with their own pool of insured. Each provider must have their own computer systems and support staff. The companies must make a profit on top of the administration required to return benefits to customers. Each time you pay out a benefit, your potential profit drops so there is a natural conflict of interest.

    Now, let's look at a socialist system. You have one pool of insured. One infrastructure and your support staff supports everyone. The larger your pool of insured, the higher your negotiating power with health care providers - you're able to drive down costs. You're not required to make a profit so all of your income (after overhead) can go towards benefits.

    This is the reason why our current capitalist system is so inefficient - meaning we pay much and don't get a lot in return.

    http://www.visualeconomics.com/healthcare-costs-around-the-world_2010-03-01/

    Other examples: the military, utilities, education, fire and rescue, anything requiring a large national infrastructure - railroads, communications, etc.

    What I'd recommend is that we should consider the system which is going to be best, rather than simply saying capitalism is always better. "Capitalism is always better" is not sound policy. We should look at the situation, consider which method would give us a better value, and make our decisions based off of what will work best.

    -David

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    David,

    First off, let me say that I absolutely LOVED your analogy. It explained things in a manner that I understood and could relate to perfectly.

    Kudos.

    But I have to say, reading your examples reminded me of a conversation from LUCIFER'S HAMMER....

    "That is what is confusing," Pieter said. "Two companies, two different rivals making such fine
    equipment. Wasteful."
    "Maybe wasteful," Rick Delanty said, "but I can take you into any damn electronics store in the
    country and buy one."
    "No politics," Johnny Baker warned

    Consider a capitalist model for the police force where there are several different police forces competing with each other.

    ROBO COP!!!! :D

    As I said, a great analogy all the way around.

    But, consider this...

    Police Forces, Fire Units, etc etc have one goal.. And that goal is NOT to serve the public, but rather to maintain public order and public safety. Sometimes this necessitates ignoring the public GOOD, in order to maintain the public SAFETY, if you get the distinction. Kind of like CW's "destroying the village to save it" analogy above...

    So, in the areas where public order is the goal, a centralized way of doing things makes sense.

    To a point..

    Because, if we carried your socialized police force to it's logical progression, then the best idea would be to have a central police force for the entire nation with no local forces whatsoever..

    But THAT, of course, is illogical, as a national police force with centralized would not meet the needs of the local people as well as a local police force would.

    You see the point?

    But, as I said, those types of activities are much different than a business where the goal is to serve the customer and make a profit. Not necessarily in that order.. :D

    In THAT type of business, the market usually takes care of itself. Using your example of insurance companies denying care, as I said... If the insurance company denies care, the customer dies. If the customer dies, then the insurance company loses money. So withholding care doesn't make good business sense..

    You seem to think that corporations are ALL about profits to the exclusion of all else..

    But I submit to you that A> Corporations are made up of people and are likely as well-meaning and empathic as you are .... and 2> are not STUPID people. They realize that while worshiping the bottom line may work in the short-term, it will kill the business in the long-term. Most of your higher up executive types are, by default, long-term thinkers.. They would have to be or they wouldn't be higher up executive types.

    Which isn't to say that they are perfect. I am sure that corporations have their greedy and unscrupulous types, just like any other aspect of daily life... Politics, for example. :D

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Oh crap!!! Cursor slipped on the SUBMIT button. :(

    Well, I was pretty much done anyways...

    CW, could you close the BOLD attribute after the LUCIFER'S HAMMER quote? :D

    Michale....

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    Speaking of military debacles...

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1377124/Cameron-Obama-Sarkozy-Libya-We-wont-stop-bombing-Gaddafis-gone.html

    Looks like the Libya campaign IS "regime change"...

    Not that I really have any problem with that... :D

    Michale.....

  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    ROBO COP!!!! :D

    Hahahahah. I forgot about that. That's funny!

    Because, if we carried your socialized police force to it's logical progression, then the best idea would be to have a central police force for the entire nation with no local forces whatsoever.

    Agreed completely.

    So taking the best of both worlds, maybe the police leverage national resources - criminal databases, etc, with local units free to control and run how they do things best. Not trying to hammer out all the details, but you get the idea.

    This way you could make the best use of shared resources and still meet the needs of the local people best as you mentioned.

    As I said, those types of activities are much different than a business where the goal is to serve the customer and make a profit.

    And in many if not most of these situations, I'm right there with you. Consumer goods is a great example. Look at how well the socialist model worked - it basically didn't.

    You seem to think that corporations are ALL about profits to the exclusion of all else.

    Not at all. Seriously.

    I'm just arguing that we should look at what works best for particular situations. I think corporations do a helluva lot of good in the right situations.

    They realize that while worshiping the bottom line may work in the short-term, it will kill the business in the long-term.

    This is an excellent point as well. I wish it were even more true than it is today. Companies used to be much more focused on the long term. Since about the 80s, there's been more of a focus on short term. But this is a discussion for another day.

    Good discussion!
    -David

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    michale,

    in my view, your errors are twofold:

    But I submit to you that A> Corporations are made up of people and are likely as well-meaning and empathic as you are .... and 2> are not STUPID people.

    1. corporations are made up of people whose main concern (if not sole concern) is their own job security and/or career advancement.

    2. corporations, like any other institution on earth, are made up of people who, by and large, ARE stupid.

    People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People's heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.
    ~terry goodkind

    and thanks for your support ;)

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    1. corporations are made up of people whose main concern (if not sole concern) is their own job security and/or career advancement.

    Well, gee whiz.. Sounds like you are talking about the majority of the civilized population of the industrialized world. :D

    And politicians too! :D

    Michale.....

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