Friday, April 22, 2011

The Republican Media: No. 30

Brian Beutler of the liberal blog Talking Points Memo doesn't care for Politifact's analysis of a new ad (video, below) by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacking the GOP for passing a budget resolution proposing the dissolution of Medicare. He remarks

If Democrats proposed to turn Medicare into a system that only provided free veterinary services to seniors, would Republicans be lying to say Dems wanted to "end Medicare," without including the caveat "as we know it"?

Of course not. But that's more or less the charge PolitiFact is leveling at Democrats over a new DCCC ad (below) which flatly charges Republicans with proposing to "end Medicare." The House GOP budget, which passed with all but two GOP votes over unanimous Democratic opposition, would over time replace the single-payer, government-run Medicare program with a different system that subsidizes private insurance plans for beneficiaries. Those subsidies would work like vouchers -- they would increase in value year-on-year at a much slower pace than the rate of the rise of health care costs, thus leaving seniors exposed to increasing costs as time goes on.

Republicans call this new health insurance system "Medicare." But it's a completely different program from today's Medicare. PolitiFact doesn't see it that way.

"But to say the Republicans voted to end Medicare, as the ad does, is a major exaggeration," PolitiFact writes. "All seniors would continue to be offered coverage under the proposal, and the program's budget would increase every year."
But that elides the fact that Medicare currently guarantees specific services, which the private insurers won't be bound to provide under the GOP plan. Indeed, the law President Lyndon Johnson signed in 1965 created a national health insurance system that entitled the elderly to have a defined array of health care services paid on their behalf by the government.

Nonetheless, PolitiFact calls the caveat "as we know it" -- as in "end Medicare as we know it" -- an important qualifier. And they conclude that because the DCCC eschewed this qualifier, and because the House vote on a non-binding budget resolution doesn't have the force of law, Democrats have told a "Pants on Fire" lie by stating "Republicans voted to end Medicare."

Beutler is too kind, as is Digby, who writes

Politifact also goes far beyond its mandate by telling the Democrats the terms they are allowed to use. (They say it would be ok if they say "end Medicare as we know it.") Message approval isn't their job. Their job is to apply a thick-headed literalism to everything they see. And it makes them useless.

It isn't clear Politifact is applying "a thick-headed literalism." It is more likely trying to mislead.

Politifact quotes an elder law expert arguing "Nobody voted to end it. They voted to hopefully change it one day, when they get a chance, but they would need a Republican-dominated Senate and a Republican president, neither of which they have."

So there we have Politifact's argument: The GOP did not vote to end Medicare because it won't be approved in the Senate. It's as if Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan had introduced a single-payer health care bill in the U.S. Senate, it passed on a party line vote, and Politico had concluded that the Democrats did not vote to create a single-payer system. Or as if Congress voted to end all military action in Libya or Afghanistan and Politico determined Congress did not vote to end the war- President Obama will veto it, anyway.

Politico maintains "budget resolutions are non-binding documents that cannot be viewed as the equivalent of legislation that establishes law. Deeply desiring something and accomplishing it are different." According to Wikipedia

a budget resolution is a legislation in the form of a concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget. The budget resolution establishes various budget totals, allocations, entitlements, and may include reconciliation instructions to designated House or Senate committees....

The budget resolution serves as a blueprint for the actual appropriation process, and provides Congress with some control over the appropriations process. A budget resolution binds Congress, but is not a law. It does allow for certain points of order to be made if the President does not follow the resolution.

It is not a law. But it is more than a wish list, something they'd like to see change if only, gosh, they had a chance someday. It would bind Congress and is the beginning of the GOP effort to end Medicare- not Medicare "as we know it," but Medicare. The GOP did "vote to end Medicare"; it was a vote for the purpose of ending Medicare.

A recent ad by the pharmaceutical front group, "60+ Association," reflects the understanding that the House vote was more than a symbolic resolution. An announcer claims of three Philadelphia-area congressmen "The House passed a budget that protects and preserves Medicare for years to come. And our congressmen -- Pat Meehan, Mike Fitzpatrick and Jon Runyan -- voted to protect Medicare and keep it secure for future retirees." Of course, they did precisely the opposite, joining an effort to kill Medicare- but you get the point.

Of course, even if Politifact were right technically, linguistically- as Digby too generously is willing to concede- it hardly would merit the "Pants on Fire" designation. Apparently, it earns that in part because

Still another problem with the ad involves who’s immediately affected by the Republican proposal. In one scene, the ad shows a senior citizen pushing a walker behind a lawn mower. A teenager looking on eats an apple and says, "You missed a spot." In reality, people 55 and older won’t see changes under the Ryan plan. It’s actually that teenager -- or anyone else 54 or younger -- who would pay extra money when they are older.

Right. But they would pay more when they are older- and the ad depicts an old man. The GOP plan would affect an individual when he or she is elderly, and the ad presented an elderly individual. Would Politifact have preferred a young person in the ad being harmed by the proposal? That would have been, at a minimum, misleading, disingenuous, and confusing.

Politifact, perhaps in a valiant effort to appear bipartisan, does quote approvingly President Obama, a putative Democrat, stating the proposal would end Medicare "as we know it." But that is grossly insufficient in a piece condemning an ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee which is largely, if not completely, factual.

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