CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien debunked the pervasive right-wing media falsehood that President Obama "stole $700 billion" from Medicare.
Right-wing media have repeatedly claimed that the Medicare savings included in Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) "gutted" the Medicare program. However, on CNN's Starting Point, when Romney senior adviser John Sununu claimed that Obama "gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it," O'Brien was quick to correct him.
O'Brien pointed out that Sununu's talking point has been debunked by the Congressional Budget Office, which found that the Medicare savings in the ACA are not cuts, but rather a reduction in the expected rate of growth of the program.
O'Brien also noted that independent fact-checkers have found that the Affordable Care Act does not cut Medicare benefits. These fact-checkers also determined that the claim that hundreds of billions of dollars have been cut from Medicare is outright false.
When Sununu continued to claim that Obama had gutted Medicare, O'Brien confronted him with even more facts, citing evidence that drug providers and hospitals agreed to the Medicare savings because their "theory is that what they're going to be able to do is make up by the number of people who come into the system. It doesn't reduce or cut the benefits.
The right-wing media either doesn't understand the ACA's effect on Medicare, or is blatantly misleading about it. Either way, O'Brien was correct to challenge this false claim, and it's time for the rest of the media to follow suit.
As conservative media scramble to defend Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) from charges that his proposed overhaul of Medicare would negatively affect seniors, one point is noticeably absent from their discussion: Ryan's plan imposes a Medicare "mandate" remarkably akin to the requirement to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Fox News and other conservative media are apparently ignoring this similarity, despite their two-year campaign against the highly similar provision in the Obama-supported health care reform law.
Fox News' Dana Perino asked on the August 13 edition of Fox & Friends, "who wouldn't want" Ryan's plan for Medicare? Left unsaid is that the health care reform law's constitutional choice of obtaining a private health insurance plan or paying a health insurance tax and Ryan's choice of obtaining a private Medicare plan or paying a Medicare tax are essentially the same.
Health care law expert Simon Lazarus wrote in Slate that:
Republicans' proposal to replace Medicare with partially subsidized private insurance also operates to "compel" people to pay for private health insurance policies. Moreover, this mandate is not even a pay-or-play option; Medicare taxes are mandatory, whether workers want to buy eligibility for old-age vouchers or not.
Fox claimed that Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposed changes to Medicare would not affect today's seniors. In fact, Ryan's budget would force the cost of health care higher for today's seniors by forcing them to pay thousands of dollars more for prescription drugs, creating a voucher system that would drive health care costs higher, and sharply cutting Medicaid, a program heavily utilized by seniors.
From the August 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox did its best to cover up the fact that Mitt Romney has endorsed the radical Medicare plan put forward by his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed that "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are not running on the Ryan plan. They're running on the Mitt Romney plan." Guest host Eric Bolling said he's "not sure what the Romney plan is," and Fox Business host Stuart Varney similarly said "I'm not entirely sure in detail what the Romney plan is."*
Fox's attempt to distance Romney from Ryan's plan echoes the Romney campaign's own talking points. Romney's campaign has said that "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have different views on some policy areas -- like Medicare."
It's not surprising that Fox and Romney would distance themselves from Ryan's plan. Ryan's plan would end Medicare as we know it by transforming it into a voucher system, a move that would hurt the program's elderly recipients.
The fact of the matter is that Romney has embraced Ryan's plan. According to Romney's own campaign website, his Medicare plan "almost precisely mirrors" Ryan's. Furthermore, Romney has repeatedly praised Ryan's plan, which ends Medicare and hurts the program's elderly recipients.
Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate marks yet another surrender by the Republican nominee to the right-wing media. On the ropes after a brutal month and with his conservative media allies threatening to abandon him, Romney was left with no choice but to pick a favorite of that crowd, even though, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein notes, that pick both drives his candidacy further to the right and represents an abandonment of his campaign strategy to date.
Why else would a candidate who had built his campaign around the idea that business experience trumped public sector experience choose someone who had spent his life in government? Why else would a candidate who had studiously avoided giving any policy details lash himself to someone so closely associated with complex proposals to slash the social safety net?
Over the past week the leading lights of the right-wing media have demanded that Romney prove his conservative principles by selecting Ryan as his running mate, with praise for the potential pick coming from the editors of The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, and National Review.
Fox News, the most powerful right-wing media outlet in the country, has spent years praising Ryan as a "star," a "genius," and a man of "courage." News Corp. was ground zero for the GOP's rollout of Ryan's budget, which their networks heavily touted. Last year Fox contributors called for Ryan to run for president in his own right. Fox News Sunday even made Paul Ryan a birthday cake for an appearance he made on the program.
Romney leapt at the opportunity to please those opinion leaders and their audiences.
It couldn't come at a better time for the Republican nominee, who seemed to have lost the trust of his base in recent days, as woeful polls and gaffe after gaffe unfolded. What could have been the final straw came when Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul dared to tout the health care plan Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts - probably his signature accomplishment in government. The response from the right-wing media was swift and brutal, with CNN contributor Erick Erickson suggesting that the comments could have cost Romney the election and Ann Coulter calling for a boycott on Romney contributions until the campaign fired Saul.
Expect such criticisms to die away now that Romney has picked their "rock star."
The Congressional Budget Office's annual long-term budget report shows that without any changes in the law, government debt will peak this year, then slowly decline for two decades. Despite this finding, many media outlets are emphasizing a "dire" outlook, while downplaying or ignoring CBO's finding that there is a path to a stable budget that includes maintaining the social safety net.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the March 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox's supposedly "straight news" division has a habit of passing off Republican talking points as news. And it shows no signs of stopping. On March 23, on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress set their eyes on repealing the provision of the law that created the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), relying on falsehoods to attack the IPAB. And Bill Hemmer, supposedly a "straight news" anchor at Fox News is pushing the same falsehoods.
IPAB recommends proposals to limit Medicare spending growth. As explained by the Kaiser Family Foundation:
The recently enacted health reform law (P.L. 111-148; P.L. 111-152) establishes a new Independent Payment Advisory Board with authority to recommend proposals to limit Medicare spending growth. If projected per capita Medicare spending exceeds target growth rates, the Board is required to recommend proposals to reduce Medicare spending by specified amounts, with the first set of recommendations due in 2014 for implementation in 2015
The Affordable Care Act specifically prohibits the IPAB from making "any recommendations to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits." That has not stopped the website of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) from characterizing IPAB as a "rationing board." And Hemmer was right on board with the talking point. Hemmer stated during a segment on the IPAB: "Critics say that it's misguided and will only lead to rationing of care." Hemmer then played an attack on the IPAB by Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX) and conducted an interview with IPAB opponent Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) but never even mentioned that the IPAB is prohibited from rationing care.
From the March 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Yesterday, we exposed how the conservative media has been hyping a study from the Heritage Foundation purporting to show America's growing "dependence" on the federal government. The report, however, was little more than a thinly-veiled attack on government programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Today, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released important research shedding light on just how important the government programs that conservatives attack actually are. The CBPP analyzed budget and Census data and found that more than 90 percent of the funding for programs such as Social Security and Medicare benefit people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households.
From the analysis:
Some conservative critics of federal social programs, including leading presidential candidates, are sounding an alarm that the United States is rapidly becoming an "entitlement society" in which social programs are undermining the work ethic and creating a large class of Americans who prefer to depend on government benefits rather than work. A new CBPP analysis of budget and Census data, however, shows that more than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households -- not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work. (See Figure 1.) This figure has changed little in the past few years.
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' America Live
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In naming as its 2011 "Lie of the Year" a statement that is, at worst, arguably true, Politifact has inadvertently said more about itself and the media's failure to adequately combat the lies and deception that act as a cancer on American democracy.
Politifact's assertion that it is a lie to say "Republicans voted to end Medicare" -- and that this is the most important lie of the year -- suffers from some basic flaws: Republicans did, in fact, vote to end Medicare; and Politifact overlooked actual lies that have had and continue to have a profound and debilitating effect on the nation's attempts to come out of lingering economic troubles.
Politifact's "Lie of the Year" announcement provides little in the way of actual evidence that the claim is a lie, instead referring readers to previous efforts for its substantive case, such as it is. The weakness of Politifact's ruling that the House GOP budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) did not "end Medicare" can be seen in its April 20, 2011, explanation:
One of the its major features is dramatically restructuring Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for those 65 and older. Right now, Medicare pays doctors and hospitals set fees for the care beneficiaries receive. [...] In 2022 [under the GOP plan] new beneficiaries would receive "premium support," which means they would buy plans from private insurance companies with financial assistance from the government. [...]the Republican plan would be a huge change to the current program, and seniors would have to pay more for their health plans if it becomes law. [...] Both Republicans and Democrats would no doubt agree that Ryan's plan for Medicare is a dramatic change of course. But we don't agree with the ad's contention that the proposal ends Medicare.
So, according to Politifact, the House Republican plan constitutes a "dramatic restructuring" of Medicare, a "huge change to the current program," and a "dramatic change of course" by ending the direct payment of fees for service and replacing it with a voucher program. In its "Lie of the Year" write-up, Politifact again concedes the GOP plan "dramatically changed the program [for people currently under age 55] by privatizing it and providing government subsidies." That's ending Medicare, just as replacing the armed services with government vouchers for private bodyguards would be ending the U.S. military. As Igor Volsky wrote earlier this month, "closing the traditional fee-for-service program, and forcing seniors to enroll in new private coverage, ends Medicare by eliminating everything that has defined the program for the last 46 years."
But Politifact concluded in April that "we don't agree [...] that the proposal ends Medicare." That should set off some alarm bells: As fact-checks go, "we don't agree" is remarkably weak tea. As justification for naming something the "Lie of the Year," it's an embarrassment.
Paul Krugman and Dan Kennedy and Steve Benen and Jonathan Cohn and Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias and David Weigel, among countless others, have debunked Politifact's ruling, which holds that as long as something called "Medicare" has something to do with health care for the elderly, it's a lie to say the program has ended, no matter how "dramatic" the "change of course" has been. Even Robert VerBruggen of the conservative National Review has written that Politifact "does not make a good case" and that the Democratic claim does not "rise to the level of 'lie,' much less 'Lie of the Year.'"
The incoherence of Politifact's ruling is driven home by its repeated statements that the claim "end Medicare as we know it" is significantly different from -- and more justifiable than -- the statement "end Medicare." This is nonsensical hair-splitting. Medicare isn't a broad concept; it's a specific, concrete program. Ending it "as we know it" is ending it. Otherwise, ending it would require ending it as we don't know it, which would be a neat trick. (Revealingly, Politifact has been confused by their own hair-splitting: After having declared "as we know it" a crucial qualifier on multiple occasions, they shifted course and claimed "the GOP proposal does not 'end Medicare as we know it.'")