Former Breitbart Spokesperson: Breitbart Is "Setting Up Paul Ryan To Be The Fall Guy For When This Health Care Plan Fails"
Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
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Conservative media figures can’t decide who to blame for the disastrous American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will endanger the health insurance of millions of Americans. Despite President Donald Trump taking credit for this effort to roll back health care reform, right-wing media figures and outlets are grappling over whether they should fault the president for “Trumpcare” or absolve him of responsibility.
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President Donald Trump is planning to hire Julia Hahn, a Breitbart.com staff writer, to serve in his administration, primarily under former Breitbart CEO and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Hahn, who has repeatedly criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) while at Breitbart, is coming into the job as tensions are reportedly starting to cool between Ryan and Bannon.
During CNN’s town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Jake Tapper showed the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation on health care policy -- even in a conversational setting -- by providing strong pushback about funding for Planned Parenthood. But there were several other moments during the event when Ryan pushed false information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that Tapper could have fact-checked. Going forward, more media outlets should adopt an aggressive approach to addressing conservative misinformation on health care policy, given the severe consequences of ACA repeal.
During the town hall discussion of the fight over the ACA, the final question on health care came from an audience member asking where the millions of women who use Planned Parenthood to access women’s health care services will go if the Republican Congress defunds the network. When Ryan falsely tried to claim that providing federal funds to Planned Parenthood “commit[s] people’s taxpayer dollars to fund” abortion, Tapper correctly noted that the Hyde Amendment bans taxpayer money from funding abortions.
Tapper also noted the hypocrisy in Ryan’s earlier statements emphasizing the necessity of choice in health care policies, asking, “You believe in providing more choice for people when it comes to health insurance, except for Planned Parenthood?”
But there were also many other opportunities for Tapper to fact-check Ryan as he used the town hall to reiterate stock talking points and push false narratives about the ACA. When asked whether “the government should guarantee health care” for Americans, Ryan falsely claimed that the ACA is failing and that premium spikes were proof that “the law is collapsing.” In reality, during the most recent open enrollment period, more people signed up on the ACA insurance marketplaces than during the previous year, contradicting the conservative claim that people are fleeing the market. Ryan’s claims about premium hikes omit the crucial context that subsidies rise in proportion to premium hikes, mitigating the impact for the majority of enrollees. While the ACA clearly has problems, claims that the law is “collapsing” or in a “death spiral” are clearly false and should be rebutted as such.
When an audience member who survived cancer asked Ryan how the GOP’s plans would impact individuals with pre-existing conditions, Ryan claimed that “state high-risk pools are a smarter way of guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.” While high-risk pools sound like a good idea in theory, they have a long history of problems, as they are typically chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. Similarly, Ryan’s claims about the benefits of refundable tax credits and health savings accounts should prompt substantive follow-up questions, as legitimate critiques raise questions about their effectiveness in reducing costs and maintaining coverage.
While Tapper illustrated the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation during the discussion on Planned Parenthood, he ought to have also provided substantive follow-up questions and pushback on some of Ryan’s policy claims. Going forward, media outlets should use any interview, in any format, to hold conservative politicians’ feet to the fire on the issue of the ACA -- to prevent the further spread of false narratives and to investigate the efficacy of proposed GOP policies. The lack of consensus on what a replacement plan might look like, combined with the massive impact repeal will have on the millions who have obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, makes it especially vital for the media to ask substantive questions about conservative claims on health care policy.
During a CNN town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), moderator Jake Tapper corrected Ryan's faulty claim that federal funds to Planned Parenthood "commit people's taxpayer dollars to fund" abortion. Tapper explained that the Hyde Amendment bans the use of tax dollars to fund abortions. Although Tapper fact-checked Ryan's baseless claim that taxpayer dollars fund abortion services, he failed to correct the unfounded allegation that "community health centers" (CHCs) could absorb patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close. In reality, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood. From the January 12 edition of CNN's Town Hall: Paul Ryan:
Republicans are pushing forward with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the charge. The top Wisconsin newspapers have largely failed to convey the impact of repeal on Wisconsin residents on a variety of crucial metrics, with little to no mention of the impact on women and minority communities and insufficient contextualization of the potentially devastating changes to Medicare and Medicaid.
The press failed to accurately convey the implications of a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the lead-up to the election. Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, media must improve their health care coverage by contextualizing their stories about a potential ACA repeal and explaining the impact it would have on millions of Americans and the health care system as a whole.
A recent Media Matters study found that in the weeks leading up to the election, television journalists overwhelmingly failed to ask any substantive questions about Trump’s health care policies or the consequences of repealing the ACA. In the two weeks before Election Day, there were only four instances of broadcast or cable news hosts or reporters bringing up a substantive question about Trump’s supposed Obamacare replacement amid 77 segments ostensibly focused on health care. This was not the first time media failed to inform the public about the Republican Party’s extremist health care policy agenda. Another Media Matters study found that evening news shows virtually ignored Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s resurrection of his Medicare privatization scheme, a proposal that could have dangerous consequences for a program relied on by more than 55 million Americans.
During the campaign, media outlets also lauded Trump for giving a so-called “policy” speech on health care, ignoring that the actual speech contained little to no policy specifics. This lack of attention to detail reflects a broader theme in election coverage, as studies found media overwhelmingly avoided substantive discussion of policy, focusing instead on “scandals” plaguing the Republican and Democratic nominees.
While cable and broadcast news tended to avoid robust discussions of the impact of health care policy, right-wing media filled the void with rampant misinformation. Since the ACA passed in 2010, conservative news outlets have consistently attacked the health law with complete fictions, claiming it will explode the budget, create death panels, bankrupt Medicare, end in a “death spiral,” and facilitate a government takeover of the health care system.
Today, media outlets regularly provide Trump surrogates with free airtime to push misinformation and avoid substantive discussion. In a series of January 3 interviews, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was given a free pass on health care policy by ABC’s Good Morning America, which neglected to even bring up the looming repeal of Obamacare. NBC’s Today and CNBC’s Squawk Box failed to push Conway with follow-up questions about how exactly the incoming administration plans to maintain popular health care reforms while repealing the law that created them. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Conway was allowed to push vague proposals for creating health savings accounts and allowing insurers to sell across state lines (both proposals have been highly criticized). When asked if the replacement plan is “ready to go,” Conway deflected by suggesting that planning could not start until Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is confirmed. The Morning Joe hosts failed to raise questions about the potential impact of the policies she promoted and allowed her to deflect from questions about the replacement plan to the irrelevant question of cabinet nominations.
Trump and congressional Republicans pledged to make repeal of the ACA one of their top priorities, which means the press must immediately rethink its strategy when covering health care policy and focus on specifics. Media outlets must contextualize the impact of repealing Obamacare in terms of the gains that have already been achieved and how those improvements will be affected or reversed by Republican policies. Health care policy is inherently complex and confusing -- it’s the media’s job to break down the complexity and explain how repealing Obamacare will impact the lives of every American.
The implementation of the ACA resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- 8.6 percent in September 2016, down from 16 percent in 2010. According to estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage as a result of the law.
The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid extended health care coverage to more than 14 million low-income Americans. Studies of the expansion showed that it helped to combat income- and race-based coverage disparities in the insurance market, improved access to coverage for people with disabilities, and significantly improved state budgets in states that accepted federal funds for the expansion.
The implementation of the ACA significantly improved the condition of women’s health care coverage in the U.S. The ACA’s preventive services provision greatly improved access to birth control by eliminating copays -- expanding coverage to millions of women and dramatically reducing out-of-pocket costs. The ACA banned sex discrimination in health care, and put a stop to the widespread practice of “gender rating” in which health insurance companies charged women higher rates for comparable plans made available to men. The law also improved access to maternity care by classifying it as an essential service.
Repeal of the ACA would permit the return of discriminatory practices like gender rating, reducing overall access to health care and significantly increasing out-of-pocket health care costs for women.
The ACA helped the fight in achieving LGBTQ equality by dramatically improving access to health care for LGBTQ patients often targeted by discriminatory practices (like dropping individuals with pre-existing conditions), prohibiting sex discrimination, and guaranteeing protections to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they reside. Studies have shown that the ACA has reduced the number of uninsured LGBTQ people and decreased health disparities in the LGBTQ community. The law provided marketplace insurance subsidies to nearly 732,000 individuals, and its expansion of Medicaid was particularly beneficial to LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately likely to experience poverty and homelessness.
Repeal of the ACA would allow insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of gender, strip coverage for transgender people and transition-related care, and increase the number of uninsured people by repealing the marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion.
The ACA has extended the solvency of Medicare by over 10 years, despite false claims to the contrary from right-wing opponents of the program. Discussions of Medicare’s budget outlook typically refer to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance program -- which covers hospital visits, nursing care, and other medical costs. Studies have shown that the ACA has extended the full budgetary solvency of the Hospital Insurance program through 2028, after which “payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87 percent of Medicare hospital insurance costs.” In addition to enhancing Medicare’s budget outlook, the ACA improved senior care by reducing prescription costs and extending coverage to key services.
Medicare spending will increase by $350 billion over the next decade if Congress repeals the ACA, accelerating the program’s insolvency. Potential plans to privatize Medicare will gut access to care and cause skyrocketing health care costs for the elderly.
Implementation of the ACA has reduced the budget deficit even more than was originally predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. Studies have shown that since the implementation of the ACA, while premiums have increased steadily, the number of individuals struggling to pay medical bills has steadily declined. While costs overall increase, they have increased by a much smaller margin than they would have if the ACA had not been enacted. Additionally, the ACA helps to combat economic inequality in the U.S., as it increases incomes in low-income households by reducing health care costs through mechanisms like the Medicaid expansion.
The ACA helps to fight the significant health disparities among Americans, expanding minority access to free preventive care, improving the overall quality of care in minority communities, and reducing the number of uninsured persons of color. The ACA invested in community health centers, whose patients are primarily minorities. The ACA provided the foundation for other efforts to combat inequities in the health care system for communities of color, including the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.
The ACA banned health insurance companies from engaging in medical underwriting, most commonly known as discriminating against individuals for pre-existing conditions. If the ACA were repealed, an estimated 50 to 129 million individuals -- or between 19 and 50 percent of non-elderly Americans -- could be denied access to affordable health care coverage for a pre-existing condition. This fundamental reform protects millions of Americans from being needlessly priced out of the insurance market or denied coverage for common conditions like acne or cataracts.
Despite some claims that a Republican-sponsored replacement package could maintain the pre-existing conditions ban, existing potential plans significantly weaken consumer protections and fail to maintain the same level of coverage provided by the ACA.
The ACA substantially increased the number of insured young adults -- by 5.5 million individuals -- by allowing them to remain on their parent’s health insurance plan until the age of 26. Given the high unemployment rate for people ages 18-29, this provision provides a crucial lifeline to that demographic.
While this rule is one of the most popular parts of the ACA, proponents of repeal have yet to explain how they could keep this provision while getting rid of the other parts (like the insurance mandate) that help pay for it.
The ACA greatly expanded coverage of mental health care services by requiring that most plans -- including all plans sold in the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplaces -- cover mental health services, classifying them as essential services. By eliminating medical underwriting and requiring parity between mental and physical health services, the ACA extended coverage to those who were previously refused on the basis of their mental health issues.
While the mental health coverage in the ACA is far from perfect, repeal will undercut the law’s achievements, gut coverage for tens of millions of people with mental illnesses, and roll back other positive gains in related mental health legislation.
MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”
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Breitbart News accused House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) of conducting a “months-long campaign” to elect Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The attack echoes Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and escalates the website’s war on Ryan, which had been pushed by Breitbart chief executive and current Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon.
The October 21 Breitbart News article, written by Julia Hahn, is headlined “He’s With Her: Inside Paul Ryan’s Months-Long Campaign To Elect Hillary Clinton President.” Hahn wrote, "Both Ryan and Clinton share a progressive, globalist worldview, which is at odds with Trump’s ‘America first’ approach,” adding that Clinton and Ryan “see themselves as representatives not only for American citizens, but also for foreign nationals and foreign interests.” She later states that “Both Clinton and Ryan view being American as an intellectual ‘idea’ rather than a national identity, and both support the donor-class’s agenda of open borders.”
The article ramps up Breitbart’s years-long campaign against Ryan, which was pushed by Bannon. The website in particular boosted the unsuccessful campaign of Ryan’s opponent in the Republican primary earlier this year, calling Ryan a “double agent,” claiming he supports an “open borders agenda,” accusing him of running “misleading television ads,” and describing him as a “saboteur” who is “betray[ing] America.”
Breitbart staffers have also said that Bannon directed them to “destroy” Ryan, telling them in December 2015 that the “long game” was for Ryan to be “gone” by spring of the following year. One Breitbart staffer told The Hill that Bannon “thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with [billionaires] George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.”
Bannon’s conflict with Ryan has continued through Trump’s campaign (Bannon has taken a leave of absence from Breitbart to help lead the campaign). Ryan recently irritated Trump by disinviting him from a campaign event after a video of Trump bragging about assaulting women was released, and then Ryan announced he would no longer defend Trump and would focus on preserving the Republican majority in the House. In response, Trump has called Ryan a “very weak and ineffective leader” who is giving him “zero support.” The Breitbart article also is similar to Trump’s expressed doubt that Ryan wants him to win. After ABC News asked Trump whether he thought Ryan was rooting for him to win, he responded, “Well, maybe not, because maybe he wants to run in four years or maybe he doesn’t know how to win.”
Breitbart’s article may also be a preview of what’s to come. According to The Hill’s Jonathan Swan, Bannon is “only going to escalate” the conflict with Ryan, who may seek reelection to the speakership in January, regardless of the 2016 election results.
Though the presidential election is barreling toward its end, the “axis of furious conservative activists and hard-right media that spawned Trump’s nationalist and conspiratorial campaign is determined to complete its hostile takeover of the GOP, win or lose,” writes The Washington Post’s Robert Costa. According to Costa, conservative media figures like Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon, InfoWars’ Alex Jones, and Fox News’ Sean Hannity have spawned a “grievance movement” seeking “to claim the [GOP’s] future as its own,” whose likely “first post-election target” will be House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Trump and far-right media have been in lockstep throughout his presidential campaign: Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, is Trump’s campaign chairman; Jones, a 9/11 truther who leads the conspiracy website InfoWars, feeds Trump conspiracy theories for campaign speeches; and Hannity, the far-right prime-time pundit on Fox, has gone to all lengths possible to defend and praise Trump. Trump’s engagement with hard-right, conspiratorial media figures has elevated and mainstreamed them, offering them a platform that has long been out of reach.
On October 20, Costa reported in the Post that “the fringes of the GOP [are] now managing the Republican nominee” and that the party’s “Donald Trump-driven divisions will not cease on election night.” Costa wrote that the conservative media network -- which has seen “high-minded journals and Fox News … supplanted by a galaxy of websites such as Infowars” -- “stands ready to claim the party’s future as its own,” setting the stage for an intra-party showdown “that will haunt Republicans for months and years to come.” From the October 20 Washington Post article:
The axis of furious conservative activists and hard-right media that spawned Trump’s nationalist and conspiratorial campaign is determined to complete its hostile takeover of the GOP, win or lose.
The first post-election target for the grievance movement is likely to be House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who has drawn Trump’s wrath for not supporting him more fully. Trump’s backers, both inside the House Republican caucus and out, are already talking about a takedown.
Fox News host and Trump ally Sean Hannity said in an interview after the debate that Ryan was a “saboteur” and “needed to be called out and replaced.” Hannity said he would actively urge hard-line conservatives to launch bids against Ryan.
At the fore of this conglomeration is Stephen K. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who has become Trump’s most influential confidant. Bannon encouraged the candidate’s claims of voter fraud and references to a deeply corrupt global conspiracy of international banks and corporate-friendly politicians.
Bannon has been a prominent backer of political assaults against Ryan and other Republican leaders over the past decade from the party’s fringes — boosting primary challengers against Ryan and others, and warning against compromise on hot-button issues such as immigration. But with the fringes of the GOP now managing the Republican nominee, a retreat is far from likely.
Bannon’s friends say that he has become emboldened during his time with Trump, and that they expect him to work with his network of allies, super PACs and websites to battle Ryan and the Republican establishment throughout 2017 as that wing of the party tries to rebuild the GOP brand.
It is not just Breitbart that stands ready to claim the party’s future as its own. The conservative media, once dominated by high-minded journals and Fox News, has been supplanted by a galaxy of websites such as Infowars, which is led by Alex Jones, who calls the 9/11 terrorists attacks an inside job.
Articles on those outlets have found their way into Trump’s speeches and been spread widely across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, often building into a frenzy that leaves traditional GOP messengers unable to shape the consensus within their own party.