From the March 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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On MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough continued to harp on Medicare and deficit spending as a pressing economic problem and twice claimed that "liberals are denying math" to avoid tackling the issue. However, economists widely disagree with that assessment, suggesting that it is Scarborough, not liberals, who has a weak understanding of math.
On the February 12 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough, who has previously hit Paul Krugman on his view of long-term debt and attempted to discredit the Nobel Prize winning economist for defending Medicare, claimed that "liberals should want to reform middle class entitlements" so as to not "steal from welfare programs...for the poorest Americans."
Scarborough's attempt to paint Medicare as one of America's most pressing issues completely misses the point behind its current problems. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out that Medicare, rather than being the "problem," is actually to solution to the real issue -- rising health care costs. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, even goes as far as to say that Medicare is "by far the most efficient part of the national healthcare system."
Indeed, evidence suggests that Medicare provides a more economically viable delivery system for healthcare. According to both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, Medicare is better than the private sector at controlling costs, and projections of future cost growth in public health care programs are lower than those for private sector.
Furthermore, many economists, including Reich and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, note that Medicare can use its bargaining leverage to negotiate prices of medical procedures and prescription drugs. In fact, according to economist Jared Bernstein, provisions in the Affordable Care Act -- many of which have not yet been implemented -- will help control costs of healthcare, brightening the prospects for sustainable Medicare.
In addition to being wrong on Medicare, Scarborough claimed that those who disagree with him on today's deficits amount to just a few "bloggers eating Cheetos," implying that the majority opinion is on his side and that "the American people know" he's right about spending.
Scarborough displayed the same willful ignorance of economic discourse in his January Politico op-ed, "Paul Krugman vs. the world." Economists like Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers agree that deficits are not worthy of concern, so long as economic output lags behind its potential, as do former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett and John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal lists a few others.
The simplest math is this: at least 15 experts, including 13 economists, a congressman, and a Reagan budget adviser, reject Scarborough's argument.
The Congressional Budget Office's new baseline projections back Krugman as well: The CBO found that the sharp rise in debt-to-GDP that Scarborough laments has stopped, and that the ratio of public debt to economic output will hold at or near its current level for the next decade. Further, the report notes a trillion-dollar gap between actual and potential economic output. The CBO doesn't explicitly state policy recommendations, but Rex Nutting of the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch noted that the report amounts to a call for four more years of high deficits.
This wealth of professional economists and empirical facts may explain an apparent shift in Scarborough's argument from the February 12 segment, in which he said even Krugman's supporters "agree with me that deficits aren't the problem, the long-term debt is the problem." If Scarborough believes that deficits aren't a problem, then what does he think he and the entire mainstream of the economics profession are arguing about? Throughout the recent weeks' debate, Scarborough has attacked deficits, and conflated them with the long-term debt. He blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for slowed economic growth in late 2012, and bragged in Politico of his sterling deficit-hawk track record dating back to 1994.
It is true that the economists making the textbook argument for running deficits today also note that deficits will need to be controlled in the medium-near future. Jared Bernstein refers to this conceptual balance as being a CDSH: a cyclical dove and a structural hawk. Is Scarborough now looking to join that club, by declaring support for near-term deficits coupled with restraint in the middle distance? If so, Krugman, and his fellow "math-challenged" supporters, would be justified in declaring victory.
The decision by television news producers to rely on political guests and reporter-pundits in their coverage of the recent debt ceiling dispute not only pulled focus away from economic reality, it also gave TV media influencers room to reinforce a key falsehood about the nature of our deficits.
A Media Matters study of 273 cable news segments on the debt ceiling found 55 segments attributing deficits primarily to entitlement program spending, compared to just four segments acknowledging that rising health care costs and the economic collapse are to blame.
Economists are clear about the primary sources of recent deficits -- on top of the Bush tax cuts, the Great Recession triggered massively higher counter-cyclical spending, some of which was automatic for things like jobless benefits and food stamps, and some spending that was newly enacted to buoy a collapsing economy. Middle- and long-term deficit projections are more controversial, but many economists argue that once economic growth catches up to its potential, our fiscal health will depend almost entirely on our ability to control health care costs. This mainstream economist perspective appeared in just 1.4 percent of the debt ceiling segments Media Matters reviewed from a three week period, while over 20 percent of those segments blamed entitlements for the fiscal gloom.
CNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business viewers were far more likely to be told that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are dimming America's fiscal horizon than those who tuned into CNN or MSNBC for their debt ceiling coverage:
The tendency by the most conservative networks to focus on entitlement spending is telling in light of the right's claims about a struggle between "takers" and "makers." For conservative outlets and their mainstream enablers, each successive skirmish over spending and debt is an opportunity to re-focus the conversation on the supposed need to cut entitlement spending.
If economic experts were included in that cable news conversation, they could reveal some key data. For example, conservative proposals for Medicare would likely accelerate the growth of health care costs; minute changes to the payroll tax system could make Social Security solvent for 70 years; and "entitlement" programs spur economic growth for everyone.
In recent weeks, media outlets have focused heavily on negotiations regarding raising the debt ceiling. But television news has failed to highlight the pressing need for stronger economic growth. Furthermore, discussions about the debt ceiling often ignore facts about deficits, instead pivoting the focus to entitlements as a driver of deficits.
Charles Krauthammer accused President Obama of "reactionary liberalism" in his inaugural address for supporting Medicare, which Krauthammer described as "increasingly obsolete." But Krauthammer has attacked Obama and Democrats in the past for what he falsely described as efforts to cut or destroy the program.
In a column posted at the Washington Post and FoxNews.com, Krauthammer claimed Obama's inaugural address "was a paean to big government" that attempted to "defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state" and "expand it unrelentingly for the 21st." As evidence, Krauthammer pointed to Obama's pledge to safeguard Medicare:
The first part of that agenda -- clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today's radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.
But Krauthammer previously attacked President Obama and Democrats for what he falsely claimed were cuts to Medicare in the Affordable Care Act, and defended Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial budget from claims that it did the same.
The right-wing media are claiming that the "liberal agenda" President Obama outlined in his second inaugural address is out of the mainstream, even though polling has shown that the majority of Americans agree with Obama's stances on marriage equality, sustainable energy, and other issues.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto and Fox guest Stephen Moore agreed that President Obama is wrong to suggest that federal spending growth is driven by health care costs, when in fact Obama is right. Health care spending is the only category of federal spending projected to grow substantially over the next two decades, and government health insurance is actually more efficient than private sector insurance. And the president's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contains provisions that aims to contain and reduce national health care costs.
Ted Nugent called for the suspension of the right to vote for "any American who is on welfare" as part of his proposal to reduce federal budget deficits outlined in his latest Washington Times column.
The National Rifle Association board member also called for "slaughtering the three sacred entitlement cows" of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and called for tax increases on "the nearly 50 percent of Americans who pay zero federal income taxes." Nugent wrote that these policies should be instituted "before taxes are raised on the producers, which will further choke the economy."
From Nugent's column:
The three sacred entitlement cows in the room that no politician wants to poke are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A blinding statement of the obvious is that we are never going to get our financial house in order until these sacred entitlement cows are not only poked, but slaughtered. Until the slaughter is over, everything else is just taxation window dressing.
In addition to slaughtering the three sacred entitlement cows that consume a vast majority of the federal budget (and I use the term budget generously), let's truly spread the pain around and raise taxes on everyone, including the nearly 50 percent of Americans who pay zero federal income taxes. Those Americans need to have some skin in the game, too. I recommend at least a 5 percent federal income tax bracket for them. The insane free ride needs to end. [...]
Let's also stop the insanity by suspending the right to vote of any American who is on welfare. Once they get off welfare and are self-sustaining, they get their right to vote restored. No American on welfare should have the right to vote for tax increases on those Americans who are working and paying taxes to support them. That's insane. [...]
It shouldn't take a Motown guitar slayer to come up with these common-sense bargaining chips before taxes are raised on the producers, which will further choke the economy. How about it, GOP?
The Wall Street Journal advised Republicans to insist on certain Medicare and Social Security cuts -- such as raising the Medicare eligibility age and cutting future Social Security benefits -- as part of a deficit reduction deal with Democrats. But the Journal's proposals would harm retirees without providing much savings to the federal government.
From the December 1 edition of Fox News' Forbes on Fox:
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Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei misrepresented a poll to claim that progressive Democrats are out of step with most people who voted for President Obama over how to deal with Social Security and Medicare.
VandeHei stated on the November 20 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe that Obama voters are "at odds with the liberal base" of the Democratic Party on Social Security and Medicare:
VANDEHEI: [T]here's a lot of divisions inside the Democratic Party over what to do on entitlement reform. You're not going to get any Republican votes for an increase in taxes unless you have some changes to Medicare and to Social Security. And inside the Democratic Party, there's a big divide. Third Way, which is a group that represents centrists Democrats, they're out with a poll of Obama supporters this morning that show the vast majority of Obama supporters actually support changes to Medicare and Social Security, which puts them at odds with the liberal base of the party in the House and in the Senate."
VandeHei was echoing a Politico article that stated "a Third Way poll of 800 Obama voters set for release Tuesday found that efforts to fix Medicare and Social Security enjoy broader support than liberals suggest."
The Third Way poll asked Obama voters to rate on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) how important it was for the president to take action that "fixes Social Security and Medicare" during his second term. Eighty-five percent responded with at least a six and 48% responded with a nine or 10 rating.
But the poll does not show a split between Obama voters and progressive Democrats as VandeHei claimed because progressives do not oppose proposals to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she is open to reforms that "strengthen Social Security" and Medicare as long as they don't include benefit cuts, and as long as the reforms are not used as part of a deal to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Similarly, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has said that "decisions to change Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security 'must be based on what is best for their beneficiaries' " provided there are no cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits.
Progressive economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman has also embraced reforms to Medicare that do not involve benefit cuts. He also pointed out that Social Security is not a long-term drag on the nation's finances and therefore does not need major reform.
From the November 3 edition of Sirius XM's Media Matters Radio:
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Fox News host Steve Doocy suggested Florida seniors should vote for Mitt Romney because he has a plan to fix Medicare, claiming President Obama has no plan to deal with Medicare. In fact, Obama's plan would extend the life of Medicare, while Romney and Paul Ryan's plan would raise costs and possibly end Medicare as it currently exists.
During an interview with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Doocy claimed that if he was a senior in Florida, he would support Romney because "they hear Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talk about figuring a way to fix Medicare and Social Security," whereas President Obama "really hasn't come up with a plan and hasn't made that public." Doocy went on to claim "if I were down in Florida, I'd be looking at the guy who has at least got the plan for a second look."
But Doocy is wrong on both counts: President Obama does have a plan for Medicare which would extend the life of the program without harming benefits, whereas experts agree that the Romney/Ryan plan would lead to higher costs for seniors and eventually end Medicare.
New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored the actual proposals that Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan have for Medicare to claim that their plan "would not shift costs to seniors."
Brooks wrote: "Whenever you hear a Democrat say that Romney and Ryan would end Medicare or cost seniors $6,000, that is a misleading reference to the original Ryan plan, not anything on offer today. Today's Romney plan would not shift costs to seniors." Brooks later added "The Romney-Ryan approach might work. If it doesn't, the federal budget would suffer but seniors wouldn't."
The Affordable Care Act provides money to help seniors pay for their prescription drugs. The Medicare prescription drug benefit passed under President George W. Bush created a "donut hole" that required seniors with high prescription drug costs to pay thousands of dollars. The Affordable Care Act closed that donut hole.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this provision of the Affordable Care Act has saved seniors $3.2 billion already. If the Romney-Ryan plan is enacted and the ACA is repealed, seniors would have to pay that money again.
Numerous independent experts have also said that Ryan's plan to transform Medicare into a voucher system will force seniors to spend millions more for health care because the vouchers would not keep pace with rising health care costs. Indeed, Yale public policy professor Ted Marmor has said that under the Ryan plan, some seniors would be forced to "choose between paying for better coverage and having more money for food and other items."
CNN's Sanjay Gupta claimed that the proposed changes to Medicare that Congressman Paul Ryan has offered would allow seniors to choose between "a voucher" system and "traditional Medicare," while keeping the system affordable. In fact, experts say the Ryan plan would threaten Medicare's long-term viability and potentially would increase seniors' medical costs by thousands of dollars.