False Piety and the Medicare Debate

Calling Out the Absurd Claims

Deficit hawks are worried that the Medicare debate in the presidential campaign will make it impossible to reach a post-election deal to balance the budget. At the same time, much of the punditry focuses on how mean and nasty this campaign is.

Those who are anxious about the deficit should relax. This campaign could actually pave the way for a sensible budget deal. And those who bemoan the rock-'em-sock-'em campaign should stop wringing their hands and get about the business of calling out falsehoods and identifying misleading assertions.

On the budget, the fear is that because President Obama is attacking Paul Ryan's fiscal road map and because Mitt Romney is responding by assailing the Medicare savings in Obama's Affordable Care Act, Congress will be scared away from reducing the government's health care costs. In this view, the campaign will poison the well for future budget talks.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is we cannot have honest budget negotiations until we resolve one big question: Will new revenue -- yes, higher taxes -- be part of a budget deal or not? The election will settle where the country stands on this proposition.

Despite the fantasies of the trickle-down supply-siders, there is no path to a balanced budget without tax increases. Obama openly supports a tax increase. Romney and Ryan not only oppose higher taxes but also claim they can cut taxes and balance the budget -- eventually. If they win, we can look forward to more tax cuts compounding the red ink. Isn't this what should really concern the deficit hawks?

If Obama's critics want to argue that the tax increases the president is endorsing (his centerpiece is letting the Clinton-era income tax rates return for those earning more than $250,000 a year) will not be enough in the long run, they make a valid point. But at least Obama is willing to acknowledge the need for some revenue. The other side would just keep on cutting taxes. Those who care about a "balanced" budget deal should acknowledge where balance lies in this debate.

As for Medicare, the Ryan-Romney -- pardon me, Romney-Ryan -- claims are simply absurd. They want credit as the ticket willing to face up to the imperative of entitlement cuts, particularly in Medicare and Medicaid. They support a radical change in the structure of Medicare, to a premium-support, aka voucher, system. And then they have the nerve to criticize Obama, who wants to keep the Medicare system intact, for $716 billion in savings. As The Washington Post's Wonkblog showed, two-thirds of the Obama reductions come from either curtailing the costly Medicare Advantage program, which has subsidized private insurers, or cuts in hospital reimbursements.

And, yes, Ryan has included the Obama savings in his own budget.

Those who want a searching discussion of the need -- and it is a need -- to cut the cost of health care do their cause no good by evoking a false equivalence. There is a difference between Obama saying that Romney and Ryan want to alter Medicare fundamentally, which is true, and the GOP saying that Obama wants to undercut Medicare, which is not.

How misleading is the Romney argument? The liberal blogger Steve Benen summarized the GOP's strange logic perfectly: "that Barack Obama is a left-wing socialist who wants government-run socialized medicine and that Barack Obama is a far-right brute who wants to undermine government-run socialized medicine," i.e., Medicare. It doesn't add up, does it?

In a serious argument, Romney and Ryan would unapologetically make the case for the benefits of premium-support. Obama would insist there are better approaches to containing health care costs. Such a debate might help us make progress.

But Romney and Ryan largely run away from the substance by laying heavy stress on how their plan wouldn't affect anyone who is 55 and over. They are saying that elderly members of the Republican base don't have to worry about a thing. But if their idea is so good, why don't they propose it for today's seniors and not just for younger Americans somewhere down the road?

This goes to the larger point about campaign commentary. Lurking behind all the charges and counter-charges is a real debate over what Americans want our government to do. Pious sermons about tone and etiquette are a way of avoiding the hard and controversial work of establishing what's fair, what's not, and what lies beneath the campaign assaults.

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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Sir,

You note "In a serious argument, Romney and Ryan would unapologetically make the case for the benefits of premium-support. Obama would insist there are better approaches to containing health care costs. Such a debate might help us make progress."

I wish I could agree that the fundamental debate about the role of government is just around the corner. But, however close such debate is to the attention of the ordinary polity, it is very difficult to ignore that those who believe in the patriarchal Sovereignty of Property (ala Citizens United) fully intend for such debate never to happen.They lost the debate the first time and don't intend to play fair ever again.

The position of the central voice of the Republican Party has drifted into policy territory not seen since before the Constitution was written in 1787 - precisely to correct the untenable features of the Articles of Confederation that made Piracy the fastest way to fortune. Justices like Scalia and his right wing colleagues a intellectually dishonest when they portray themselves as originalists when what they really are is Confederationists.

The Ryan-Romneyites, sitting astride their trust funds and astronomical sequesters in foreign banks, know they would not survive any serious scrutiny of their notion of Democracy. The predicament at hand is the one where 45+ percent of the electorate appears to be incapable of internalizing their return to serfdom - it seems they would rather be stroked into oblivion.

It there is ever a debate about how to model a more just health care system I doubt that there will be a place at the table for the plutocrats - tax them into taking their ego needs out on one another - that's what it will take.

Why do Romney and Ryan think that those 52 and younger will be equipped to pay for a changed Medicare?   Lower wages of the coming generation will make it extremely difficult for them to buy insurance.  They just won't buy insurance and we will return to pre-Medicare hardships that will change the face of America.  They know the elderly won't go for this if it would impact them. Let's hope they will realize we have to protect those behind us. There has to be a better way.

Is it possible there is a balanced approach to working out these tough solutions that embraces savings and revenue enhancements? Dionne and others like him want a tax increase at all costs; it is a litmus test for liberals. If the supposedly bright people that contribute to Commonweal cannot come up with any other arguments/solutions, is it any wonder that Congress and the citizenery do no better?

Tax increases are not needed.  What we need are the elimination of tax exceptions.

No special rates for long term capital gains.  Pay the going rate over the years the capital is growing or pay it all at the end.

All employee income needs to be included in tax base including that in the form of perks and options for both IRS and FICA.  No cut offs for Social Security.  This is the way to keep Social Security a progressive tax, too.  All pay in for all their income.  All take out the same amounts in real insurance coverage style.

Change the standard deduction to the actual cost of living for household size at 125% of poverty level and eliminate all other deductions and credits except the earned income credit.  Think how much clearer and fairer this is and how  much it would simplify the 1040.

 

Can anyone tell me how a person can vote for a candidate who enables abortion and still remain a member of the body of Christ?  Surely there is no more egregious violation of the Church's teachings and of the commandments than that barbarous act.  Please tell me.  I really want to hear it.

WHY IS IT THAT THE REGULAR WORKING PERSON ALWAYS COME TO THE PROTECTION OF PEOPLE LIKE ROMNEY AND RYAN? BOTH ARE TRUE HYPOCRITES. IN MASS. ROMNEY GAVE THEM HEALTHCARE,BUT WE IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY CAN NOT HAVE IT? PLEASE,GIVE ME A BREAK.  ROMNEY'S PLAN TAXES YOU IF YOU DO NOT BUY INSURANCE.

 AS FOR THE PART D COST. INSURANCE COMPANIES ARE GIVEN MONEY TO PAY FOR WHAT PART B DOES NOT.BUT THE INSURANCE COMPANIES FIND WAYS TO KEEP MOST OF THE MONIES FOR THEMSELVES.

 THERE IS SO MUCH POISIN FROM THE LAST ELECTION BECAUSE THE REPUBLICANS ACT LIKE THE BOY WHO OWNS THE BAT OR BALL. IF HE DOES NOT GET HIS WAY HE TAKES HIS THING(S) AND GOES AWAY MAD.THIS IS HOW THE REPUBLICAN PARTY WORKS.

THEY DO NOT REALLY WANT TO WORK FOR THE BEST INTEREST OF THE COUNTRY.THEY JUST WANT TO GUM UP THE WORKS TO CREATE A PHONEY PROBLEM TO GET RE-ELECTED.THAT IS THE COWARDLY BACKDOOR APROACH.

 

 AND IF YOU NOTICED ANYTHING,THESE JOKERS ALWAYS PASS LAWS AND EXCLUDE THEMSELVES. THEY ACT LIKE ROYALTY AND WE ARE THEIR SERFS.

I hope that G.K. does not stand for Grand Knight, because Knights are not permitted to associate the Knights in any way with partisan politics.

"assailing the Medicare savings" what savings?  The Ryan plan replaces the $700 billion that Obamacare stripped from Medicare Advantage despite the promises that "if you like your medical plan you can it".  For those 55 and above there will be no change in the Medicare program. For those under 55 they can decide to remain in the Medicare program as is or enter into a voucher program designed after the medical insurance program available to Federal government employees. What is sauce for the taxpayer paid government employees is apparently not for the taxpayers.

"Can anyone tell me how a person can vote for a candidate who enables abortion and still remain a member of the body of Christ? "

You must be referring to all of the Republican presidents and the current members of the Supreme Court.  None of them --- repeat, none of them --- have done ANYTHING to repeal Roe v Wade.

When their wives, daughters, girl friends, mistresses, sisters, aunts or female friends cozy up to them and have a "come to momma" discussion, they learn very quickly to shut up and let the status remain quo.

Jim, it is simply not true that all women support abortion, nor have we seen the last Supreme Court ruling on the subject, but your answer in no way addresses the question I asked.  To vote for an abortion candidate is to enable and to be an accessory to abortion, and can only be a grave mortal sin.  No amount of food stamps, affirmative action, and income redistribution can offset the gravity of that sin. No good fruit comes from the poisoned tree. Politics is ephemeral, but the consequences of that mortal sin will last for eternity.

"Can anyone tell me how a person can vote for a candidate who enables abortion and still remain a member of the body of Christ? "

The answer is rather straight-forward; membership is not ultimately established by any earthly authority. If matters of faith and morals were as straight-forward as pain & suffering bad, finger-point good, then I doubt we'd have the witness of the Cross to instruct us. The measure of Christian achievement is in the Resurrection, not the ultimately ordinaryness of conflicted living with all its inevitable ups and downs.

Now a lifetime of self-serving piracy (aka the Sovereignty of Property advocated by the Confederationists leading the Republican Party and holding down the Supreme Court), compounded by a propensity to lie and dissemble at the daily turn of the news cycle, those are afflictions upon mankind that seem readily more discernable and actionable than endless moralizing by men about the lives of women.

I've no difficulty voting for the President and I've certainly no need as a Christian to burden him with all the regretable but necessary misery we encounter on the path Christ advocated. Its hard growing up but worth the effort.

Do you realize that Mitt Romney was pro choice a few short years ago?  He has not had an epiphany. He will say whatever he needs to say today and turn around and deny it. Videos will haunt him.  The President states correctly...no one wants abortion. In a perfect world we would not have them.  He knows we need to keep working on stopping this great tragedy.  But abortion will not go away with the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

Any businessman knows that if your company is running at a deficit you must cut expenses. That is a no brainer. Any businessman knows that if your company is running in a deficit you want to keep up your revenues and increase them if you can to get your company out of a deficit. That is a no brainer. That is the way to keep your business running. If any businessman knows that then why doesn't Romney know this?  He does so what the "conservatives" like Romney  are up to is to gut the government so that we can go back to business running the government and, thus,  no protection for the people. Essentially we will be back to feudalism which is where we were headed in the late 19th and early 20th century, ie. Pullman and the mining companies.

"Can anyone tell me how a person can vote for a candidate who enables abortion and still remain a member of the body of Christ? "

Truly there is no earthly authority that establishes who is a member of the body of Christ.  We will all be judged by Christ himself, and I have to tell you, with all sincerity, that I do not believe that there is any answer that can be made that will turn aside the judgment against those who are accomplices to abortion by their votes.  Such an issue is not shades of grey.  The commandments are not complicated; they cannot be neutralized by specious arguments and attempts to change the subject, which seems to be the most common response in these pages.  B.s. will not get you anywhere at the Last Judgment.

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About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).