Commentary Magazine


Topic: Medicare

On Ryan Plan, Can the Lie Become the Truth? (Hey-Hey)

The chief attack on Paul Ryan electorally is simple: His now-famous Plan “ends Medicare as we know it,” thereby stripping the elderly of their health care. They should fear it and fear him and vote against him.

The next three months will be a test of something important: Whether this assertion, which is an out-and-out lie, can overcome the plain explication of the truth.

Read More

The chief attack on Paul Ryan electorally is simple: His now-famous Plan “ends Medicare as we know it,” thereby stripping the elderly of their health care. They should fear it and fear him and vote against him.

The next three months will be a test of something important: Whether this assertion, which is an out-and-out lie, can overcome the plain explication of the truth.

The design of the Ryan plan is as follows. Everyone age 55 and older remains in the current Medicare system. Period. Nothing changes. Nothing. Assume for the sake of argument that a President Romney actually adopts the Ryan plan in its particulars, and fights for it in the way President Obama fought for Obamacare.

It took 15 months for Obamacare to be signed into law. So let’s say it takes until April 2014 for the Ryan Medicare plan to become law, and it says what it says now—that everyone in the Medicare system now stays in and everyone a decade away from the Medicare system will join it.

As a practical matter, this means that in 2012, anyone 53 or older, not even anyone 55 or older, will have total access to the current Medicare system.

The political argument against the Ryan plan is that it endangers Romney’s chances in Florida; indeed, the Obama campaign has already begun running scary ads about Ryan taking away Medicare.

But it’s not true. It’s true for me; I’m 51. It’s true for the people who were two grades above me in high school. But it’s not true for anyone older than me; not a single retiree in Florida or anywhere else, in other words.

That’s just the plain fact of it. There’s no argument. The complex new system won’t even come into existence, by Ryan’s own design, until ten years after his plan becomes law.

So how can it threaten current Medicare recipients? It can’t.

Like I say, this is an interesting test. There’s the undeniable truth, and there’s the bald-faced lie. Which will be believed?

Read Less

Will Ryan Help Obama Win Jewish Votes?

One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.

Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

Read More

One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.

Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

Democratic plans to demonize Ryan will find a ready audience among liberal Jews. Obama’s questionable record on Israel was never going to affect the votes of a majority of Jews. The issue was not whether Obama could hold onto more than 50 percent of Jewish votes, but how much of the 78 percent he got in 2008 would he be able to retain. The most optimistic estimates of the Democrat vote will keep him in the mid-60s, with his share of Jewish ballots in Florida probably being even lower. But Democrats are hoping that some of those Jews defecting from their ranks will start to slink back to Obama due to fears over the future of Medicare. Just as a loss of 10 to 25 percent of the Jewish vote could make the difference in Florida and perhaps even affect the outcome in Pennsylvania or Ohio if the election is close, a backlash against Ryan could also be decisive.

But Democrats shouldn’t count on the Jews falling back into their column so easily.

First, those Jewish voters who are most vulnerable to Mediscare tactics were already going to vote for Obama. If you are the sort of person who truly believes the Republicans are going to throw Bubbe over the cliff, you probably were never sufficiently concerned about Obama’s pressure on Israel and unwillingness to confront Iran to cross over to the GOP. The minority of American Jews who consider Israel’s security to be a major influence on their votes are not going to be so easily bulldozed by the Mediscare routine. Voters who believe the president will sell out Israel are not the most receptive audience for a Democratic campaign based on the idea that Romney and Ryan will sell out the elderly.

Democrats also forget that Jews are just as capable of figuring out that the only way to save Medicare is to face the issue head on rather than pretend, as Democrats intend to do, to preserve the status quo. As much as the left will lap up the attacks on Ryan and his budget, the centrist voters who are in play this fall may not be as easily fooled as liberals think. And there is another possibility that nobody on the left is prepared to even consider: a lot of those Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers who care about Israel may just decide they like Ryan a lot more than Obama.

Read Less

The Ryan Test: Demagoguery Versus Ideas

As John wrote earlier today, liberals are convinced that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his running mate offers them a golden opportunity to savage the Republicans about the Wisconsin congressman’s budget plans. Predictably, the New York Times delivered one of the first such salvos in its editorial posted hours after Romney announced his pick in which it slammed Ryan as “callous” and claimed his attempt to control the nation’s out-of-control entitlements would leave the poor and the elderly sicker while also harming the unemployed and students. Not considering it advisable to even make a pretense of noting the GOP veep candidate’s strengths, the Times thought it advisable to go for the jugular first and worry about nuance later. We can expect the rest of the liberal mainstream media to do no less in the days and weeks that will follow.

However, it must be noted that the expectation by liberals that they can get away with such blatant demagoguery is not entirely without foundation. The pick of Ryan should energize the Republican base and will lend intellectual heft to a Romney campaign that has often seemed intent on merely waiting for the voters to fire Barack Obama rather than putting forward its own vision. But we know that “Mediscare” tactics employed by the Democrats have worked sometimes. And, as Times political blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver pointed out on Wednesday, Ryan brings no obvious or immediate tactical political advantages to the Republicans. If Romney’s choice does anything it is to provide a test for the electorate. Are they prepared to listen to reasoned arguments articulated by Ryan about the need for entitlement reform, or will they succumb to simplistic liberal cant about pushing grandma over the cliff? As much as conservatives want to believe the American public is not so foolish or shortsighted as to simply accept the left’s defense of the status quo, we won’t know the answer to that question until November.

Read More

As John wrote earlier today, liberals are convinced that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his running mate offers them a golden opportunity to savage the Republicans about the Wisconsin congressman’s budget plans. Predictably, the New York Times delivered one of the first such salvos in its editorial posted hours after Romney announced his pick in which it slammed Ryan as “callous” and claimed his attempt to control the nation’s out-of-control entitlements would leave the poor and the elderly sicker while also harming the unemployed and students. Not considering it advisable to even make a pretense of noting the GOP veep candidate’s strengths, the Times thought it advisable to go for the jugular first and worry about nuance later. We can expect the rest of the liberal mainstream media to do no less in the days and weeks that will follow.

However, it must be noted that the expectation by liberals that they can get away with such blatant demagoguery is not entirely without foundation. The pick of Ryan should energize the Republican base and will lend intellectual heft to a Romney campaign that has often seemed intent on merely waiting for the voters to fire Barack Obama rather than putting forward its own vision. But we know that “Mediscare” tactics employed by the Democrats have worked sometimes. And, as Times political blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver pointed out on Wednesday, Ryan brings no obvious or immediate tactical political advantages to the Republicans. If Romney’s choice does anything it is to provide a test for the electorate. Are they prepared to listen to reasoned arguments articulated by Ryan about the need for entitlement reform, or will they succumb to simplistic liberal cant about pushing grandma over the cliff? As much as conservatives want to believe the American public is not so foolish or shortsighted as to simply accept the left’s defense of the status quo, we won’t know the answer to that question until November.

The assumption on the part of many observers that Ryan’s elevation is the result of Romney’s understanding that his campaign needed a turnaround in the same manner as many of the companies he built at Bain Capital may not be true. It may be that Romney came to the conclusion that Ryan was the best qualified candidate of all those on his short list and saw in him a kindred soul who could govern effectively with him. If so, I think he was right. Ryan is, as Romney described him, the intellectual leader of his party, and a willingness by the GOP standard-bearer to make an ideas maven his running mate speaks well for his judgment. But there should be no misunderstanding about the fact that a lot of the blind optimism about the election one heard from Republicans in recent months was unjustified. Romney did need to shake up the race and he has done so.

President Obama’s electoral liabilities are well-known. He has presided over a poor economy and his major accomplishments — the enactment of a massive stimulus spending bill and his signature health care plan — are deeply unpopular. But his historic status as the first African-American president and the darling of the liberal media gives him advantages that are just as important. Without them, he would, as a president who faces the people with a higher unemployment rate than he inherited and with negative job approval ratings, be facing an epic defeat this fall rather than possessing a slim lead in the polls.

All of which means Romney’s decision to directly challenge the president by presenting conservative ideas that provide a strong contrast to the Democrat’s grim defense of the liberal status quo is a good idea. Romney can’t win by being passive. But it must be admitted that there is no guarantee that the liberals’ bet that scare tactics will prevail over the demand for rational reform will not prevail.

If anyone can provide a positive and well thought out answer to the deluge of fear mongering we will be subjected to in the coming months it is Ryan. It should also be remembered that just two years ago, the strength of the ideas of the Tea Party helped the GOP win a landslide in the 2010 midterms. The president and his backers may believe his presence on the ticket combined with an all-out assault to demonize Romney and Ryan will overwhelm the calls for an end to the endless cycle of taxing and spending. The battle has been joined and it will be up to the American people to determine which of these strategies is the one that will triumph.

Read Less

The Paul Ryan Roll-Out

The speech vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered this morning gives a sense of the quality you get from being in a room with him: He’s not a fire-breather. He’s unflappable and unadorned, combining plain-spokenness with almost offhanded rhetorical hints of the deeper philosophy undergirding his opinions (“our rights are from nature and God, not from government”). This wasn’t a populist spark-plug of a speech the way Sarah Palin’s dazzling out-of-nowhere introduction to America was in 2008; it was a calm elaboration of themes already articulated by the Romney campaign. Most important, he and Romney both spoke of saving Medicare, indicating that they have already thought long and hard about the attack that will be waged against them because Ryan’s famous budget changes the structure of Medicare for everybody under 55. The line being proffered before the speech was that Mitt Romney had chosen a vice-presidential candidate who will effectively become the presidential candidate because Romney has no ideas and Ryan has a million. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the game going forward. Romney is the candidate, and he will pick and choose from Ryan’s ideas at will; it is Ryan who will have to say, as George H.W. Bush said, that he understands his ideas have been superseded by his boss’s. Remember, he’s voted many times for legislation he presumably didn’t really like (Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout) because of political necessity.

The speech vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered this morning gives a sense of the quality you get from being in a room with him: He’s not a fire-breather. He’s unflappable and unadorned, combining plain-spokenness with almost offhanded rhetorical hints of the deeper philosophy undergirding his opinions (“our rights are from nature and God, not from government”). This wasn’t a populist spark-plug of a speech the way Sarah Palin’s dazzling out-of-nowhere introduction to America was in 2008; it was a calm elaboration of themes already articulated by the Romney campaign. Most important, he and Romney both spoke of saving Medicare, indicating that they have already thought long and hard about the attack that will be waged against them because Ryan’s famous budget changes the structure of Medicare for everybody under 55. The line being proffered before the speech was that Mitt Romney had chosen a vice-presidential candidate who will effectively become the presidential candidate because Romney has no ideas and Ryan has a million. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the game going forward. Romney is the candidate, and he will pick and choose from Ryan’s ideas at will; it is Ryan who will have to say, as George H.W. Bush said, that he understands his ideas have been superseded by his boss’s. Remember, he’s voted many times for legislation he presumably didn’t really like (Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout) because of political necessity.

Read Less

ObamaCare Driving Away Doctors?

Negative signs abound for the medical community today, as the House Oversight Committee prepares to hear testimony on the impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients. First, there’s the recent Doctor Patient Medical Association poll, which found 90 percent of doctors say the medical system is on the wrong track and 83 percent are thinking about quitting (h/t Daily Caller):

KEY FINDINGS

  • 90% say the medical system is on the WRONG TRACK
  • 83% say they are thinking about QUITTING
  • 61% say the system challenges their ETHICS
  • 85% say the patient-physician relationship is in a TAILSPIN
  • 65% say GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT is most to blame for current problems
  • 72% say individual insurance mandate will NOT result in improved access care
  • 49% say they will STOP accepting Medicaid patients
  • 74% say they will STOP ACCEPTING Medicare patients, or leave Medicare completely
  • 52% say they would rather treat some Medicaid/Medicare patient for FREE
  • 57% give the AMA a FAILING GRADE representing them
  • 1 out of 3 doctors is HESITANT to voice an opinion
  • 2 out of 3 say they are JUST SQUEAKING BY OR IN THE RED financially
  • 95% say private practice is losing out to CORPORATE MEDICINE
  • 80% say DOCTORS/MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS are most likely to help solve things
  • 70% say REDUCING GOVERNMENT would be single best fix.
  • Read More

Negative signs abound for the medical community today, as the House Oversight Committee prepares to hear testimony on the impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients. First, there’s the recent Doctor Patient Medical Association poll, which found 90 percent of doctors say the medical system is on the wrong track and 83 percent are thinking about quitting (h/t Daily Caller):

KEY FINDINGS

  • 90% say the medical system is on the WRONG TRACK
  • 83% say they are thinking about QUITTING
  • 61% say the system challenges their ETHICS
  • 85% say the patient-physician relationship is in a TAILSPIN
  • 65% say GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT is most to blame for current problems
  • 72% say individual insurance mandate will NOT result in improved access care
  • 49% say they will STOP accepting Medicaid patients
  • 74% say they will STOP ACCEPTING Medicare patients, or leave Medicare completely
  • 52% say they would rather treat some Medicaid/Medicare patient for FREE
  • 57% give the AMA a FAILING GRADE representing them
  • 1 out of 3 doctors is HESITANT to voice an opinion
  • 2 out of 3 say they are JUST SQUEAKING BY OR IN THE RED financially
  • 95% say private practice is losing out to CORPORATE MEDICINE
  • 80% say DOCTORS/MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS are most likely to help solve things
  • 70% say REDUCING GOVERNMENT would be single best fix.

Previous surveys by other pollsters have also found dissatisfaction with ObamaCare among doctors, but not to the extent found in the DPMA poll. This could be because the survey sample was self-selected — only 4.3 percent of doctors contacted actually responded to the questions. That said, the poll is pretty useful for the open-ended answers from respondents, which are published on the website.

Not that it would come as a surprise if ObamaCare was becoming less popular with doctors. Even medical industry leaders who outwardly support the health care law have started raising alarms about its implementation. Health care executives warned again yesterday that it could lead to doctor shortages, a concern many conservatives have also raised:

“There are many unknowns, given the complexities of the act,” said Chester “Chet” Burrell, president and CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. “There could be surprises and unintended effects because of the complexity. All of the regulations are still not out yet and so it’s hard to know how it will work out in the final analysis.”

Burrell was joined Monday by Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins Health System, and Robert A. Chrencik, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, in talking about reform during a session with members of the Greater Baltimore Committee. …

But the executives, who will be responsible for the law’s implementation at their organizations, said they are concerned about costs and whether there will be enough doctors to treat millions of new patients. It remains unclear what the standard insurance plan will look like under reform and how the exchanges will work.  …

“We are on the one hand pleased the federal government is going to provide a substantial opportunity for states, including this one, to expand the Medicaid program,” Peterson said. “But nevertheless the underlying budget is already huge and then there will be that additional pressure. It is a concern.”

Add that to other troubling stories — like yesterday’s AP report on how the number of Texas doctors accepting Medicaid has plummeted since 2010 — and it’s clear the health care law is going to put significant strain on the medical community. ObamaCare will flood an already-overextended industry with a deluge of new Medicare patients and newly-insured people.

Read Less

Dems Still in Denial on Entitlements Doom

The political class may lack the will to deal with impending doom of the two largest entitlements in the federal budget, but that doesn’t mean that the clock isn’t ticking until the moment when both Medicare and Social Security will run out of money. The annual reports of the trustees of these two federal programs were released this afternoon, and the verdict is just a bit darker than last year’s report. According to the figures, the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, three full years earlier than last year’s estimate. The news about Medicare was no worse than 12 months ago but was already bad enough. It will collapse in 2024.

These alarming pieces of news ought to be greeted with dismay and resolve to deal with the entitlements problem that is leading the country to insolvency. But one end of the political spectrum believes things are just fine:

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said that “Despite the repeated efforts of Republicans to privatize Social Security and end the Medicare guarantee, these vital initiatives remain strong.” She argued that the trustees’ report “demonstrates that health care reform has strengthened Medicare by extending its solvency.”

This complacence would be shocking if it were not rooted in a basic tenet of liberal ideology. Despite the nonsense she uttered about the strength of the programs, Pelosi and other liberals understand that no government program no matter how financially ruinous will ever truly run out of money so long as the government retains the power to confiscate as much of the income of the public as the federal leviathan needs. The essential difference between the parties about how to deal with this problem is not so much about the existence of the problem but whether the solution should be found in the pockets of the taxpayers.

Read More

The political class may lack the will to deal with impending doom of the two largest entitlements in the federal budget, but that doesn’t mean that the clock isn’t ticking until the moment when both Medicare and Social Security will run out of money. The annual reports of the trustees of these two federal programs were released this afternoon, and the verdict is just a bit darker than last year’s report. According to the figures, the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, three full years earlier than last year’s estimate. The news about Medicare was no worse than 12 months ago but was already bad enough. It will collapse in 2024.

These alarming pieces of news ought to be greeted with dismay and resolve to deal with the entitlements problem that is leading the country to insolvency. But one end of the political spectrum believes things are just fine:

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said that “Despite the repeated efforts of Republicans to privatize Social Security and end the Medicare guarantee, these vital initiatives remain strong.” She argued that the trustees’ report “demonstrates that health care reform has strengthened Medicare by extending its solvency.”

This complacence would be shocking if it were not rooted in a basic tenet of liberal ideology. Despite the nonsense she uttered about the strength of the programs, Pelosi and other liberals understand that no government program no matter how financially ruinous will ever truly run out of money so long as the government retains the power to confiscate as much of the income of the public as the federal leviathan needs. The essential difference between the parties about how to deal with this problem is not so much about the existence of the problem but whether the solution should be found in the pockets of the taxpayers.

Less extreme was the response of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who acknowledged the danger but reassured himself — and the Democratic base — that the funds are adequate “for years to come.” But that’s just a polite way of saying that the government won’t go bust on his watch, even if it is inevitable that it will implode on someone else’s.

But the more pessimistic assessment of Social Security’s prospects is directly related to the poor record of the administration on the economy because:

The trustees cited slower growth in average earnings of workers, lower earnings from interest on the trust fund’s holdings of federal debt, and the persistence of unemployment during the slow recovery from the recent recession.

Nevertheless, Geithner threw down a challenge to Republicans intent on fundamental reform of the system by saying the administration would oppose any effort to institute changes that would “destroy” the system or save “tax cuts for the wealthy.” But this sort of class warfare sloganeering is a thin façade for a policy of doing nothing to stop the exponential growth of expenditures in order to stir fear among the elderly and play to the liberal base.

Contrary to Pelosi’s policy of denial and Geithner’s determination to kick the can down the road, the trustees’ reports make reform plans like those of Rep. Paul Ryan even more important. Rather than being an issue with which the Democrats can demagogue the GOP, the latest reports about Social Security and Medicare can serve to build a broader constituency for a common sense approach that will discard liberal cant and address the fundamental problem. Though the Democrats believe the voters are too fearful or too stupid to understand the facts, their attempts to obfuscate the clear responsibility of Washington to deal with this crisis may run aground on the sea of red ink that is too large for even the trustees of these funds to ignore.

Read Less

New Study Blows Apart Obama’s Imaginary World

A new study by Chuck Blahous, public trustee for Medicare and Social Security, blows to smithereens the claim that the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) will cut the deficit. According to Blahous, President Obama’s health care law unambiguously worsens the nation’s already unsustainable fiscal path. Among its key findings are these:

· Even under an optimistic scenario, the health care law will add more than $1.15 trillion to federal spending over the next decade.

· The law will add more than $340 billion and as much as $530 billion to federal deficits over the same period, and increasing amounts thereafter.

· To ensure the health care law doesn’t worsen the nation’s fiscal outlook, two-thirds of the subsidies must be repealed or other fiscal offsets found before benefits begin in 2014.

Read More

A new study by Chuck Blahous, public trustee for Medicare and Social Security, blows to smithereens the claim that the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) will cut the deficit. According to Blahous, President Obama’s health care law unambiguously worsens the nation’s already unsustainable fiscal path. Among its key findings are these:

· Even under an optimistic scenario, the health care law will add more than $1.15 trillion to federal spending over the next decade.

· The law will add more than $340 billion and as much as $530 billion to federal deficits over the same period, and increasing amounts thereafter.

· To ensure the health care law doesn’t worsen the nation’s fiscal outlook, two-thirds of the subsidies must be repealed or other fiscal offsets found before benefits begin in 2014.

The Obama administration is employing intellectually shallow arguments to counter the findings of the study. “Opponents of reform are using ‘new math’ while they attempt to refight the political battles of the past,” an anonymous White House budget official told the Washington Post. “The fact of the matter is, the Congressional Budget Office and independent experts concluded that the health-reform law will reduce the deficit. That was true the day the bill was signed into law, and it’s true today.”

That is because the Obama administration relies on what’s known as double counting, something even the CBO admits. The Post story, as well as this analysis by Yuval Levin, explains the matter in detail. So does Richard Foster, chief actuary of Medicare, who in 2010 wrote, “In practice, the improved [Medicare trust fund] financing cannot be simultaneously used to finance other Federal outlays (such as the coverage expansions) and to extend the trust fund, despite the appearance of this result from the respective accounting conventions.” What Foster was telegraphing is that while he was bound by accounting rules to double count, he knows it provides a terribly misleading picture of the fiscal effects of the Affordable Care Act. That is quite an admission by a man who works for the president.

The conclusion by Blahous is, from the Obama administration’s perspective, brutally straightforward:

Taken as a whole, the enactment of the ACA has substantially worsened a dire federal fiscal outlook. The ACA both increases a federal commitment to health care spending that was already unsustainable under prior law and would exacerbate projected federal deficits relative to prior law. This is an unambiguous conclusion, as it would result regardless of the degree of future success attained in upholding various cost-saving provisions now embedded in the law.

Once again, reality is blowing apart the imaginary world created by Obama. More and more, it seems, the various claims made by the president should begin with these four words: “Once upon a time.”

Read Less

More Democratic Lies Greet Ryan’s Medicare Plan

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”

But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.

Read More

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”

But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein raises a valid concern:

Preserving traditional Medicare as an option is politically safer. But I question whether there could ever be a truly level-playing field when a government plan is competing against private plans.

Ryan’s latest Medicare reform proposal borrows heavily from the plan he drafted with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden late last year. But the plan’s bipartisan pedigree hasn’t prevented Democrats from launching dishonest attacks. At Forbes, Avik Roy skewers some of the false claims making the rounds on left-wing blogs:

Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress argues, erroneously, that [Path to Prosperity II] would allow private insurers to “cherry-pick the healthiest beneficiaries from traditional Medicare and leave sicker applicants to the government.” Indeed, the plan risk-adjusts the premium support levels so as to prevent that practice: a well-established methodology. Igor also worries that the plan wouldn’t reduce costs, but rather increase them, because he ignores the cost-reducing effects of competitive bidding. Gene Sperling, President Obama’s National Economic Director, repeats the adverse selection critique in Politico. This is clearly going to be the go-to line of attack for progressive wonks.

Last year the major media outlets failed miserably when it came to holding Democrats accountable for flat-out lies about Ryan’s plan. This year, the false claims are already spreading, and so far there’s no indication that the media coverage will be much better.

Read Less

Paul Ryan’s Extraordinary Budget

Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.

The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.

Read More

Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.

The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.

To be specific, Mr. Ryan’s budget proposes structural reforms to Medicare, the highly popular program that is driving us toward fiscal ruin. The Ryan budget faces up to, rather than denies or ignores, certain mathematical and demographic realities. For a variety of complicated reasons, very few political leaders have been willing to do so.

In his 1986 book The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman, at the end of his 411-page lamentation, wrote this:

Why did the conservative, anti-spending party (GOP) end up ratifying a half-trillion dollar per year welfare state? In the answer lies the modern dirty little secret of the Republican Party: The conservative opposition helped build the American welfare state brick by brick during the three decades prior to 1980. The Reagan Revolution failed because the Republican Party decided to stick with its own historic handiwork. It could not and would not disown after November 1980 the “me-too” statism that had guided it for all those years in the political wilderness.

Now I strongly dissent from Stockman’s judgment that the Reagan Revolution failed; and I understand why people consider Stockman to be an unadmirable human being. But he was actually on to something important in his critique of Republicans, conservatives, and big government. An objective analysis of the Reagan years showed that the commitment to limited government was more rhetorical than real. There was no sustained effort to reform entitlement programs during the Reagan presidency. That may have been prudent, by the way. President Reagan was much more successful at, and much more committed to, cutting tax rates, reforming the tax code, and rebuilding the American military. There was simply no real public support for reforming the modern welfare state among the American polity.

Today we live in a different, and fiscally more perilous, moment. In the past, we could avoid dealing with entitlement programs, even if doing so wasn’t wise. But today dealing with them is a fiscal — and arguably a moral — imperative. That’s because right now we’re on a Greece-like trajectory.

More than any other single individual in American politics today — perhaps with the exception of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels — Ryan understands this and is willing to do something about it. That was true last year with his budget; and it’s true again this year with his budget. (The Path to Prosperity, it should be said, includes significant proposals to spur economic growth, including intelligent changes to our tax code and ways to contain and undo crony capitalism.)

The second point worth making about Chairman Ryan’s budget is that a year after he released The Path to Prosperity 1.0, Ryan and House Republicans have not only not been politically crippled, they are actually winning the argument, as well as converts (like Democratic Senator Ron Wyden) to their cause.

One of the most significant political facts of the last year has been that despite efforts by the president and his party to slander the GOP (including by claiming that Republicans were taking a Darwinian approach to autistic and Down syndrome children), it simply hasn’t worked. Ads showing Representative Ryan tossing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff are so ludicrous and discrediting that it’s mentioned these days far more often by Republicans than Democrats. That dog, having been unleashed for the last four decades, may no longer hunt. We may well be living in an era of uncommon fiscal sobriety and maturity. It is possible that what John Adams called stubborn facts — about the size, scope, and reach of government; about our structural deficits and debt; about how we will face a calamity unless we reform Medicare — are now driving our political debate, at least to a degree that has been missing in the past.

We’ll know more after the first Tuesday in November. But for now, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan has done something quite remarkable. A Member of the House of Representative has shifted the political axis. He has filled the breach left by an unusually irresponsible chief executive. All honor is due him.

Read Less

A Model for Medicare Reform

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan held a hearing today with Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During the hearing, this important exchange took place:

CHAIRMAN RYAN: As you may know, I’ve been working across the aisle with a member of the Oregon delegation from the Senate on a premium support plan that uses competitive bidding to help determine the contribution. Competitive bidding we’ve seen has worked well in Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. I’d like to get your thoughts on choice and competition as it relates to these previous successful reform plans. Given what we’ve seen in these aspects of Medicare, do you believe that competitive bidding is a process that can be successfully applied Medicare-wide?

CMS CHIEF ACTUARY FOSTER: Yes, I think it can. Obviously, it would represent a large change from the status quo, but I think it could work. We’ve seen the signs of this – you mentioned the Part D prescription drug program, for example, where the different drug plans compete against each other on the quality of their benefit package and the premium level. And we’ve seen – every year since Part D started – a migration of beneficiaries to more efficient plans with lower premiums. So that can help. We’ve also seen for durable medical equipment that competitive bidding, in this particular area of Fee-For-Service Medicare, reduced prices that we had to pay by 40 percent.

RYAN: By forty percent?

FOSTER: Forty percent, that’s right.

RYAN: Those are the kinds of cost savings we’re going to have to achieve if want to make good on the promise of the Medicare guarantee.

Read More

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan held a hearing today with Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During the hearing, this important exchange took place:

CHAIRMAN RYAN: As you may know, I’ve been working across the aisle with a member of the Oregon delegation from the Senate on a premium support plan that uses competitive bidding to help determine the contribution. Competitive bidding we’ve seen has worked well in Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. I’d like to get your thoughts on choice and competition as it relates to these previous successful reform plans. Given what we’ve seen in these aspects of Medicare, do you believe that competitive bidding is a process that can be successfully applied Medicare-wide?

CMS CHIEF ACTUARY FOSTER: Yes, I think it can. Obviously, it would represent a large change from the status quo, but I think it could work. We’ve seen the signs of this – you mentioned the Part D prescription drug program, for example, where the different drug plans compete against each other on the quality of their benefit package and the premium level. And we’ve seen – every year since Part D started – a migration of beneficiaries to more efficient plans with lower premiums. So that can help. We’ve also seen for durable medical equipment that competitive bidding, in this particular area of Fee-For-Service Medicare, reduced prices that we had to pay by 40 percent.

RYAN: By forty percent?

FOSTER: Forty percent, that’s right.

RYAN: Those are the kinds of cost savings we’re going to have to achieve if want to make good on the promise of the Medicare guarantee.

There are two important things to take away from this exchange.

The first is that the market mechanisms put in place when the Medicare prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) was passed have worked spectacularly well.

As I pointed out in a Weekly Standard article with my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague James Capretta, pro-market reformers have long contended that, with the right policies, health care could operate more like other sectors of the economy, with strong price and quality competition rewarding those market participants who improved productivity while also satisfying the consumer. The Medicare prescription drug plan allowed us to test that theory against reality.

Medicare beneficiaries choose every year from among competing, privately run drug-coverage plans. The government’s contribution toward this coverage is set at a fixed percentage of the average premium, and no more. If beneficiaries want to enroll in a plan that costs more than the average, they can do so–but they, not the government, must pay the additional premium. This structure provides strong incentives for the drug coverage plans to secure discounts from manufacturers and encourage use of lower cost products over more expensive alternatives. Drug plans that fail to cut costs risk losing enrollment to cheaper competitors. The program’s competitive design is holding down costs for both Medicare beneficiaries and for government – fully 40 percent, according to Foster.

More importantly, the choice and competition that has worked for Medicare Part D can be applied to Medicare more broadly, which is precisely what Chairman Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden are advocating, against the fierce opposition of reactionary liberals like President Obama.

In the midst of a political year in which many silly things are being said, it’s useful from time to time to pull back to the substance of governing and learn from what works. George W. Bush did what no other president before or since has done: provide a successful, groundbreaking template for addressing the most urgent domestic issue facing America — structurally reforming the entitlement state in general and Medicare in particular. This is the kind of reform that a serious conservative governing movement would celebrate, highlight, and attempt to replicate. Which is precisely what Paul Ryan, conservative-policy-wonk-turned-budget-chairman, is attempting to do.

 

Read Less

The Establishment, Compromise and Conservatives

Among conservatives today, there’s a phrase that has become an all-purpose term of derision: “the establishment.” The purpose of the charge is to call into question the bona fides of self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans. The choice is supposed to be between “true” conservatives and “establishment” ones.

I wonder, though, how many conservatives who rail against the establishment these days realize they are appropriating language from the 1960s, when the New Left attacked the authority structures in society and presented themselves as “anti-establishment.” Back in those days, it was conservatism which saw its role to protect society from the radical tendencies of those on the left and defend the beneficial social effects of an establishment. Yet today, even so quintessential an establishment figure as Newt Gingrich explains opposition to his candidacy chiefly in terms of opposition by the “Washington establishment” rising up to block “bold change.”

Read More

Among conservatives today, there’s a phrase that has become an all-purpose term of derision: “the establishment.” The purpose of the charge is to call into question the bona fides of self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans. The choice is supposed to be between “true” conservatives and “establishment” ones.

I wonder, though, how many conservatives who rail against the establishment these days realize they are appropriating language from the 1960s, when the New Left attacked the authority structures in society and presented themselves as “anti-establishment.” Back in those days, it was conservatism which saw its role to protect society from the radical tendencies of those on the left and defend the beneficial social effects of an establishment. Yet today, even so quintessential an establishment figure as Newt Gingrich explains opposition to his candidacy chiefly in terms of opposition by the “Washington establishment” rising up to block “bold change.”

But that’s where this critique begins to break down. Many members of the conservative establishment, after all, were hoping Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan would run for president because Daniels and Ryan are arguably the most committed and best informed when it comes to the most urgent and difficult domestic issue of our time, which is reforming the entitlement state, and Medicare in particular.

To complicate things even more: polls tell us that many members of the Tea Party, which embodies anti-establishment feelings, are lukewarm when it comes to reforming programs like Medicare. And many of the loudest voices against the establishment have spent relatively little time laying out the case for structurally reforming Medicare. In fact, some of these conservatives have criticized President Obama for cutting Medicare (albeit to pay for the Affordable Care Act rather than as part of a broader reform agenda).

I wouldn’t deny for a moment that criticisms of the current establishment and political class have some merit. I’d simply suggest that the picture is incomplete. There’s an important role for the establishment in American politics. For one thing, it’s comprised of people who have substantive mastery over issues. Think of the difference between, say, Christine O’Donnell and Herman Cain, who embodied an anti-establishment style but who were not fluent on policy, and Representative Paul Ryan, who qualifies as part of the establishment under any meaningful definition of the term. (Ryan worked at a Washington, D.C. think tank and as a staffer on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, he was elected to Congress in 1998, he’s now chairman of an important committee and is undeniably a part of the governing elite.) The establishment, at its best, provides experience and guidance, a stabilizing presence and a practical (rather than a rigidly ideological) outlook, all of which should appeal to conservatives.

As in so many areas, we can learn something from the wisdom of the founders. In her book “Miracle at Philadelphia,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote this:

Most members of the [1787]) Philadelphia Convention … were old hands, politicians to the bone. That some of them happened also to be men of vision, educated in law and the science of government, did not distract them from the matters impending. There was a minimum of oratory or showing off. Each time a member seemed about to soar into the empyrean of social theory — the eighteenth century called it “reason” – somebody brought him round, and shortly. “Experience must be our only guide,” said John Dickinson of Delaware. “Reason may mislead us.”

Many of the most impressive individuals in political history were “establishment” figures, including Burke and Madison. They knew a great deal about government. And very few, if any, of the founders would have would argued that less government experience would make people better fit to govern. It requires a different skill set to comment on politics than it does to govern, including (among other things) the ability to make wise compromises.

Speaking of which: among some conservatives these days “compromise” is considered an offense almost equal to being a member of The Establishment. So it’s once again worth recalling the elegant words of Bowen, who wrote, “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory. As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

To be clear: members of the Washington establishment can be knaves and fools. Compromise can be just another word for capitulation. And there are reasons to be frustrated with the way things are done. At the same time, reflexive attacks on both “the establishment” and compromise are unwise. We were fortunate at the founding of America to have a political class consisting of individuals with governing experience, scholarly insights, and strong convictions. The best among them took the long view. They were conversant in both theory and practice. They were also undeniably members of the establishment of their era. And their compromises – including between those who favored adding a Bill of Rights and those who did not, between big states and small ones, and between northern and southern states – led to the greatest governing charter in history. These things are worth bearing in mind even, and maybe especially, for conservatives.

 

Read Less

Did Obama Win the Battle and the War Against Entitlement Reform?

In late January, I noted that Senate Democrats were furious with a member of their own party, Ron Wyden, for attempting to negotiate bipartisan Medicare reform with Paul Ryan. The Democrats expressed frustration that Wyden was taking an election issue off the table for them, by getting Ryan to agree to leave traditional Medicare as an option in future reforms and by putting a bipartisan stamp on what could be a controversial plan.

The Democrats thought they had Ryan beat–but they didn’t want him to retreat just yet. An article in The Hill today buttresses the Democrats’ interpretation of the dustup over Ryan’s “roadmap,” though the issue may have spooked Ryan’s fellow Republicans more than Ryan himself:

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was bloodied in the first round after his proposal to revamp Medicare became a campaign poster for Democrats.

Obama, who skirted major proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security in his own budget last year, invited Ryan to a speech and then ripped him from the stage, saying the proposal would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Ryan’s plan soon became a campaign theme that Democrats credited with handing them a special election victory in upstate New York.

One year later, Ryan is showing he can adjust after taking a punch, which would be a good thing, as the president is going to present his fiscal 2013 budget next Monday.

Read More

In late January, I noted that Senate Democrats were furious with a member of their own party, Ron Wyden, for attempting to negotiate bipartisan Medicare reform with Paul Ryan. The Democrats expressed frustration that Wyden was taking an election issue off the table for them, by getting Ryan to agree to leave traditional Medicare as an option in future reforms and by putting a bipartisan stamp on what could be a controversial plan.

The Democrats thought they had Ryan beat–but they didn’t want him to retreat just yet. An article in The Hill today buttresses the Democrats’ interpretation of the dustup over Ryan’s “roadmap,” though the issue may have spooked Ryan’s fellow Republicans more than Ryan himself:

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was bloodied in the first round after his proposal to revamp Medicare became a campaign poster for Democrats.

Obama, who skirted major proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security in his own budget last year, invited Ryan to a speech and then ripped him from the stage, saying the proposal would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Ryan’s plan soon became a campaign theme that Democrats credited with handing them a special election victory in upstate New York.

One year later, Ryan is showing he can adjust after taking a punch, which would be a good thing, as the president is going to present his fiscal 2013 budget next Monday.

It should be interesting to see if the president is at all willing to submit a budget that has any chance of actually becoming law. His budget proposal in May 2011 received not a single vote–even from Democrats–and went down 0-97. A Democratic budget that scares every single Democrat into voting against it is not a particularly serious offer, and we’ll learn next week whether we’ll see a repeat of that.

But we’ll also see how serious congressional Republicans are about entitlement reform. Mitt Romney has shown some hesitation on the issue, though The Hill story notes that Romney’s own plan is very similar to Ryan’s new plan. But Republicans may have even less appetite for reform than Romney does.

“I would hope that it’s a thoughtful budget that focuses on the numbers for the next fiscal year rather than being some ‘roadmap’ for the next 10 years that invites criticism,” Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette told The Hill.

If that’s the attitude among congressional Republicans–that the party should not seek to reform institutions or pass forward-thinking budgets, but rather try to survive year to year until insolvency swallows the country whole–Ryan and Romney will be leaders with no followers. And Obama will have won a larger victory for himself and for the welfare state than even he thought.

Read Less

Did Romney Eliminate Kosher Nursing Home Food as Governor?

During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:

“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”

Read More

During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:

“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”

It’s a great campaign line for the former speaker, and the addition about George Soros is a nice touch. The problem is, Romney never actually “eliminated serving kosher food” to Jewish residents at state nursing homes, especially not in the way Gingrich describes.

In 2002, cuts in both federal and state subsidies to assisted living facilities, combined with the rising costs of maintaining the facilities, caused a couple of Massachusetts nursing homes to consider closing their kosher kitchens. It was an unfortunate decision, but there was never actually a concern that kosher residents would be forced to eat non-kosher food – the facilities were weighing several options, including busing in the food from other nursing homes or hiring catering services. The Jewish Advocate reported in January 2003:

[Nursing home owner Genesis ElderCare] decided in November to discontinue operating the Coolidge House’s kosher kitchen due to rising costs and decreased state and federal reimbursements. Management said although the kitchen would close, Coolidge House would continue to provide kosher meals either by serving pre-packaged food, contracting with a caterer to prepare and deliver meals, or bringing food over from the Heritage House, GEC’s nursing home at Cleveland Circle. Coolidge House officials say the kitchen will remain open at least through Passover, which starts in mid-April.

The issue was the nursing home had to maintain the kosher kitchen for everyone living there, even though reportedly just a small percentage of its residents actually kept kosher:

For administrators at the Coolidge House, it comes down to the math: Only 30 percent of the 200 residents are Jewish, they say, and only 8 percent now keep kosher. By preparing meat and dairy foods in the same kitchen, administrators say, they would save about $200,000, or 14 percent of annual dining costs.

“We understand the community’s sensitivities, but this is what we have to do to stay in business,” said Larry Lencz, executive director of Coolidge House. “The bottom line comes down to simple economics and changing demographics.”

Some Jewish community groups opposed the plans to bus in food, and instead requested additional state government funding in 2003 to help the kitchens operate. At the time, Massachusetts was struggling with a budget crisis, and Romney was trying to rein in costs by blocking additional spending. The kosher food bill that he vetoed would have provided an additional $600,000 in funding to nursing homes. Whether you believe he was right or wrong to veto it, this was clearly a position that made Romney appear insensitive to the elderly and Jewish communities.

In the end, the veto was overridden by the Massachusetts state legislature, and the facilities kept their kosher kitchens after all. But Romney’s decision was not, as Gingrich claims, a choice to “eliminate kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare.” First of all, it was a choice made by the nursing homes themselves, not the Massachusetts government. Second, it was never actually going to prevent kosher residents from accessing kosher food. And third, Romney’s decision wouldn’t have cut anything – he simply vetoed additional funds, keeping funding at the status quo during a budget crisis year. Which means Gingrich’s comments have little basis in reality.

Read Less

Democrats Irate at Problem-Solving Wyden

The last time a high-profile Democrat worked toward a bipartisan compromise on an important issue, instead of joining his party in using that issue as an opportunistic campaign ploy, he was run out of the party and had to register as an independent. It was Joe Lieberman’s principled support for the troops in the face of a party-wide Democratic flip-flop on the issue that earned him the title of “the last honest man.”

Now Democrats are witnessing a rerun of the episode on Medicare. Democratic leaders are furious at Oregon Senator Ron Wyden for working with Paul Ryan on a bipartisan Medicare fix–angry enough to go on-the-record with Politico about it. Their argument is they had planned to run more ads where they dress up as Paul Ryan and push a wheelchair-bound retiree off a cliff. Thanks to Wyden, however, their violent costumed fantasies may have to be taken off the table–or at least off-camera:

Read More

The last time a high-profile Democrat worked toward a bipartisan compromise on an important issue, instead of joining his party in using that issue as an opportunistic campaign ploy, he was run out of the party and had to register as an independent. It was Joe Lieberman’s principled support for the troops in the face of a party-wide Democratic flip-flop on the issue that earned him the title of “the last honest man.”

Now Democrats are witnessing a rerun of the episode on Medicare. Democratic leaders are furious at Oregon Senator Ron Wyden for working with Paul Ryan on a bipartisan Medicare fix–angry enough to go on-the-record with Politico about it. Their argument is they had planned to run more ads where they dress up as Paul Ryan and push a wheelchair-bound retiree off a cliff. Thanks to Wyden, however, their violent costumed fantasies may have to be taken off the table–or at least off-camera:

Wyden and Ryan are floating an idea to allow seniors to choose between traditional Medicare and private insurance programs. Ryan is considering adding provisions in his 2013 budget that would pave the way for this approach….

Asked if there was frustration among Senate Democrats with Wyden over Medicare, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Politico: “I’ve heard that sentiment expressed.”…

Privately, the criticism is more biting.

“Democrats believe in Medicare and, rather than bolster it, Wyden undermined a great issue for us all so he could grab a couple of headlines,” one furious Democratic source said. “Just embarrassing.”

Yes, just imagine the Democrats’ humiliation when a single member of their party decided to try and fix a problem rather than demagogue it in an attempt to oust bipartisan, solution-oriented Republicans in future elections. What this tells you–aside from the crass opportunism of people like Durbin–is probably something you already knew: the “do-nothing” Congress is a misnomer. Republicans have been passing budgets, while the Democratic Senate, led by Harry Reid, have now passed the 1,000-day mark since their last budget. Entitlement reform is going to be a significant part of getting this country’s fiscal house in order, so Republicans like Paul Ryan have been floating solutions, while the Democrats sit back throwing life-size dolls off of cliffs.

The Democrats’ congressional leadership isn’t alone, however. The Obama administration also “lashed out” at Wyden for his bipartisan proposal. So will Wyden win his battle against the do-nothing Democrats and the obstructionist White House? The answer will tell us a lot about Wyden’s own party and the possibility of real reform in Harry Reid’s Senate.

Read Less

ObamaCare Continues to Unravel

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

Read Less

After the Happy Talk: A $1.5 Trillion Deficit

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit is on course to reach nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II. This year’s deficit would be the highest on record and would equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The CBO forecast is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.”

These numbers are alarming. And today’s report highlights just how irresponsible President Obama is by not seriously addressing our exploding debt, which means addressing our entitlement crisis, which means (above all) reforming Medicare.

Long after last night’s State of the Union happy talk is forgotten, these fiscal realities will still be with us. The president has a moral obligation to confront this problem rather than deny it, to deal with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it to be.

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit is on course to reach nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II. This year’s deficit would be the highest on record and would equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The CBO forecast is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.”

These numbers are alarming. And today’s report highlights just how irresponsible President Obama is by not seriously addressing our exploding debt, which means addressing our entitlement crisis, which means (above all) reforming Medicare.

Long after last night’s State of the Union happy talk is forgotten, these fiscal realities will still be with us. The president has a moral obligation to confront this problem rather than deny it, to deal with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it to be.

Read Less

A Moment for Political Courage

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before.

The way to frame this argument, according to those who want to take on entitlement programs, is to simply state the reality of the situation: we can act now, in a relatively incremental and responsible way, in order to avoid the painful austerity measures that are occurring in Europe and elsewhere. Or we can delay action and, at some point not far into the future, be unable to avoid cuts that will cause a great deal of social unrest.

So we’re clear, the entitlement that really matters is Medicare. “The fact is,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin told Michael Gerson, “Medicare is going to crush the government, and if Republicans leave it unreformed then the debt picture is very, very ugly. They might never — literally never — show the budget reaching balance. Not in the 10-year window and not if they take their graphs out a hundred years. Obama could probably show balance just past the budget window in the middle of the next decade because of the massive Medicare cuts he proposes, even if in practice they will never actually happen.”

To get a sense of what we’re talking about, Veronique de Rugy has put together a very useful chart that can be found here.

It makes the point that cutting discretionary spending only makes a small difference in the overall budget picture. She lays out the difference between the Republican Study Committee plan, which cuts $2 trillion over 10 years and is therefore a good deal more aggressive than the House Republican leadership proposal, and where spending would be without those cuts over the next 10 years. As you will see, it’s a small difference. Spending keeps growing rapidly either way. Without entitlement reform, then, this is about as much as we could reasonably do — and it just isn’t that much.

In other words, if Republicans don’t take on Medicare, their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility and limited government will be shattered. The math guarantees it. The GOP, having made the 2010 election largely (though not exclusively) a referendum on the deficit and the debt, will be viewed as fraudulent.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, as Gerson explains, if Republicans don’t touch Medicare, their budget approach — on paper, at least — will have less long-term debt reduction than Obama’s, both because Obama supports tax increases and he uses a slew of budget gimmicks to make his health-care plan appear to be far more affordable than it really is.

It’s a pretty good bet that the president will advance the same kind of gimmicks in his 2012 budget. If so, then unless Republicans are willing to champion Medicare reform (meaning changing it from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program), Obama will be able to position himself as a budget hawk, at least compared to the GOP. This could have devastating political effects, including dispiriting the Republican base and the Tea Party movement. Having just elected Republicans in large measure to stop the financial hemorrhage and to restore fiscal balance, voters will not react well when they are told, in so many words, “Never Mind.”

So count me as one who believes Republicans need to embrace entitlement reform in general, and Medicare reforms in particular, because not doing so is irresponsible. It means willfully avoiding what everyone knows needs to be done in the hope that at some future, as-yet-to-be-determined date, a better and easier moment will arrive.

Sometime a political party needs to comfort itself with the axiom that good policy makes good politics. That isn’t always the case, certainly, but often it is. In any event, if the GOP avoids reforming Medicare, there is no way any Republican lawmaker, when pressed by reporters on fiscal matters, can make a plausible argument that their actions are remotely consistent with their stated philosophy.

They will hem and haw and duck and dodge and try to change the subject — and they will emerge as counterfeit, deceptive, and unserious. Here it’s worth recalling the words of the columnist Walter Lippmann, who wrote:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

Perhaps I’m asking GOP lawmakers to prove themselves to be miracles and freaks of nature. But if I am right in my analysis, that is what is called for. It would mean Republicans have an enormous public-education campaign ahead of them. They will have to explain why their policies are the most responsible and humane. They will need to articulate the case not simply for entitlement reform but also for limited government. And they will need to explain, in a compelling and accessible way, why limited government is crucial to civic character.

None of this is easy — but lawmakers weren’t elected to make easy decisions. They were elected to make the right ones. And reforming Medicare is, in our time, the right decision.

Let’s get on with it.

Read Less

Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

Read Less

Call It Cynicism Squared

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.