7 Reasons Why Romney-Ryan's Desperate Attempts to Spin Medicare Won't Work
In May, the Romney team promised a laser-like focus on the economy. But that was then and this is now. This week, Romney changed the conversation when he caved to his right flank and chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, a man known for a budget proposal that's so toxic voters in focus groups,“simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”
Now, the Romney team is trying to avoid a backlash against the Ryan plan's most loathesome feature (replacing traditional Medicare coverage with a private insurance voucher that would pay for a dwindling share of seniors' healthcare bills over time) by following the old adage that if you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, then just baffle them with your bullshit.
So the Romney campaign and its surrogates are doing everything they can to muddy the waters, hoping – and not without reason! – that lazy political reporters will find all of this wonky stuff so boring and confusing they'll just report what both sides say and we'll end up in a draw over the issue come November. But there are a number of good reasons why this strategy is unlikely to succeed.
1. The Big Lie
The Romney camp's big lie is that Obama “raided” $700 billion from Medicare to pay for his healthcare scheme. There are two big problems with this story. The first is that Obama hasn't taken a single red cent out of Medicare benefits, and the second is that the Ryan plan has the exact same $700 billion in cuts. Even the laziest political reporter can grasp the hypocrisy of attacking your opponent for something you've proposed yourself.
Here's the scoop on Obama's (and Ryan's) “cuts.” They're not really cuts so much as reductions in how fast Medicare costs will increase over the next decade, and they come out of the hides of private insurers, hospitals and other service providers, not seniors. As healthcare analyst John McDonough wrote in the Boston Globe:
[But] none of these reductions were financed by cuts to Medicare enrollees' eligibility or benefits; benefits were improved in the ACA. Cuts were focused on hospitals, health insurers, home health, and other providers. Except for insurers, all the affected groups publicly supported the reductions to help finance the ACA's expansion in health insurance to about 32 million uninsured Americans.
The key difference is what Obama and Ryan do with those savings. The Democrats use them to pay for Obamacare, which expands healthcare to millions of uninsured, and, according to the CBO, contains a bunch of provisions that actually make Medicare's long-term finances more sustainable. Here's a chart based on the CBO's numbers, courtesy of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
Romney and Ryan say they'd use the money to reduce the deficit, but on that point Ryan's numbers just don't add up. Ryan says he'll reduce the deficit, but his tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy are so steep that there aren't enough loopholes in the tax code to offset them – in order to pay for them, he'd have to gut the entire government other than Social Security, public healthcare and military spending by 2050, which is not going to happen. That's why the Ryan plan will, as Alex Hern noted in the New Statesman, “ inevitably lead to skyrocketing deficits.”
2. The Inescapable Reality
Ryan's cuts don't stop there. And there is simply no way to get around the fact that Ryan's plan saves the government money on Medicare by shifting the burden directly onto the backs of seniors over time. The reason is so simple even a Beltway political reporter can grasp it: as they're intitially phased in, the vouchers will cover the costs of an average private insurance plan, but their value will increase at the rate of overall inflation, while healthcare costs grow much more quickly.