Culmination—What Obama said: “How did it get this far?” as Don Corleone once said.
How did it reach the point where the Republican nominee for president was repeatedly making this bogus statement, with very little pushback from the mainstream press corps or from the liberal world:
ROMNEY (8/14/12): Do you know that if the president is re-elected, he will succeed in raiding $716 billion from Medicare, from the trust fund you have been paying into all your lives—$716 billion to pay for Obamacare? He is taking your money to finance his risky and unproven takeover of the health care system.Romney said it again and again and again. The mainstream press corps let it go. We liberals stared into air or offered jumbled corrections.
Guess what, dumb-asses? Obama isn’t taking any money out of the Medicare trust fund! For that reason, he plainly can’t be using that money “to pay for Obamacare.”
He isn’t taking seniors’ Medicare money to finance his risky takeover. Sorry—that just isn’t happening.
How did it reach the point where the Republican nominee can make such baldly inaccurate statements, over and over again? More strikingly, how did it reach the point where GOP ads could be taken, almost word for word, from the work of our own top liberals?
Current Republican ad: Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare…to pay for Obamacare.How did it reach the point where well-placed liberals sound so much like Republican disinformation specialists? How did it reach the point where Paul Krugman could link to that WonkBlog post—not to warn us against its dangerous language, but to say we should read it?
Sarah Kliff, WonkBlog (8/14/12): McDonough looked at all the various Medicare cuts Democrats made to pay for the Affordable Care Act.
We promise—they’re laughing hard about our incompetence inside the Romney camp. How did it reach the point when the GOP can take our own language, almost word-for-word, and use it to broadcast a “lie?”
You’re asking very good questions! The whole thing started with a statement by Barack Obama—with a statement which was perfectly accurate, but perhaps a tiny bit misleading in certain ways.
The Affordable Care Act passed the Congress on March 22, 2010. The next day, Obama signed the bill in the East Room and made a statement.
Under his breath, Joe Biden called it a big freaking deal. In part, Obama said this:
OBAMA (3/23/12): This legislation will also lower costs for families and for businesses and for the federal government, reducing our deficit by over $1 trillion in the next two decades. It is paid for. It is fiscally responsible. And it will help lift a decades-long drag on our economy. That's part of what all of you together worked on and made happen.The bill was paid for, Obama said; the bill would reduce our deficit. Those statements were perfectly accurate—but they help explain how we got to the place where Romney is making flagrant misstatements about Medicare theft as the band plays on.
Is the health law “paid for?” Within two years, Obama’s statement had been corrupted to the point where Kliff was saying that Obama included “various Medicare cuts...to pay for” the bill.
In an ad, the Romney campaign was saying the same darn thing—and Ed Schultz called it a “lie.”
How did we reach this remarkable place? Consider what Obama meant when he said the bill was paid for—when he said it would reduce our deficit.
Obama was talking about basic federal book-keeping. Restricting ourselves to a ten-year span, here’s what Obama meant:
The Affordable Care Act includes a wide range of provisions. Some of those provisions will reduce (projected) federal spending over the next ten years. Some of the provisions introduce new federal spending.
Some of the provisions introduce new federal taxes.
As is conventional, budget authorities totaled all these changes in projected spending and revenue over the next ten years. On balance, the new revenue and the reductions in spending slightly outweighed the new spending over that ten-year period.
In that sense, the bill would have a slightly positive effect on federal deficits over that ten-year period.
As Obama said, the bill was projected to “reduce our deficits” over those next ten years. This brings us to the matter of the reduction in future Medicare spending:
In one part of the health care law, Obama made changes in Medicare spending. In the upcoming ten-year period, Medicare would spend less money that had previously been projected—$716 billion less.
That was one of the spending reductions in the health care bill. There was also a lot of new spending in the bill—in particular, the spending which would allow the federal government to help insure thirty million new people.
As a book-keeping matter, the spending reductions in Medicare helped balance out the new spending. But that didn’t mean that Medicare submissions would be used to pay for the new health coverage.
In fact, the Medicare money was all going to stay in the Medicare trust fund. All that money would be spent on Medicare services, just as would have occurred in the absence of the new law. But due to Obama’s spending reductions, the money would now be spent after the ten-year period under review.
The government would be spending less money on Medicare during that ten-year period than had previously been projected. But none of that money would be used to pay for those 30 million new recipients of health coverage.
As an exercise in book-keeping, the reduction in Medicare spending helped balance out the increase in spending found elsewhere in the bill. But this was just a book-keeping measure. None of that $716 billion was being removed from the Medicare program, from the Medicare trust fund.
That wasn't what was changing. This was the actual difference:
Because Medicare spending was being slowed, that money would be spent in the second decade after the bill’s passage, rather than in the first.
Is this hard to explain? In our country, yes—it is! When it comes to matters like these, we are quite a bit like the Walpiri, who don’t have the language, habits or skills which let them count past two.
We’re hopeless incompetents in these areas. So are the Walpiri, when they’re asked to count fingers and toes.
The Walpiri can’t count their fingers and toes. We can’t discuss federal budgets. We don’t even know how to start.
It’s very easy to get us confused about matters like this. For that reason, it’s easy for disinformation machines to lie in our faces—and they’ve been doing so for at least the past four decades. In some cases, all they have to do is repurpose our own misleading constructions.
To some extent, that’s what has occurred in the current case.
We liberals were happy to hear that the health legislation was “paid for.” In all honesty, we sometimes sounded like primitive people; we sometimes made it sound like Obama had found a magical way to extend health coverage to 30 million new people, without any cost. Whatever! As the months turned into years, we liberals got increasingly lazy in our proclamations—in our descriptions of the way the health law is “paid for.” Before long, our brightest liberals were saying things like this:
McDonough looked at all the various Medicare cuts Democrats made to pay for the Affordable Care Act.
Gack! That was a very careless construction. Inevitably, it made it sound like Obama took money from the Medicare program, then used that money to buy health coverage for 30 million new people.
That isn’t what happened. But it’s a very short walk from our own words to that ad’s Medicare “lie.”
Sometimes, presidents do reduce spending within some program, transferring that money to some other use. Sometimes presidents eliminate entire programs, using the money elsewhere.
Sometimes, presidents do such things. That isn’t what happened here.
We know, we know—it’s confusing! Somewhat similarly, the Walpiri find it confusing when they have to keep track of more than two spears.
In matters like these, we modern Americans are very dumb and very unpracticed. We liberals have made ourselves this way through decades of intellectual sloth.
Right-wing think tanks have lied about similar topics for decades. As they’ve done so, the liberal world has peacefully slept in the woods:
Standard disinformation concerning Social Security:For decades, disinformation machines have worked quite hard to confuse the public about such matters. In response, your liberal intellectual leaders have slept in the woods and stared into air—to a man, to a woman.
The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it!
The trust fund is just a pile of worthless IOUs!
It’s like the right hand giving money to the left hand!
The program will soon be “bankrupt!”
Go ahead! Name the liberal intellectual leader who has made the slightest attempt to address the reams of disinformation which have been used to confuse an entire nation. Name the individual person. Name the liberal journal.
There are no names you can offer. Our tribe is slothful, intellectually lazy.
Our tribe is very dumb.
Our leaders are feckless, uncaring—useless. Consider what Howard Dean said on the Ed Show this Monday night. To watch the whole segment, click this:
SCHULTZ (8/27/12): Let’s turn to Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the DNC. Governor Dean, good to have you with us tonight.Ignore the fact that Dean said “million,” not billion. Major pundits and major pols make that slip all the time. (It’s a weakness of our number system that those numbers rhyme.)
DEAN: Hi, Ed, how are you?
SCHULTZ: I’m doing fine. Sometimes polls grab people. This one has grabbed me because of the lies that have been put out there about Medicare and it's absolutely hard to believe that we’re so, Americans can be disconnected from this issue.
What has Mitt Romney done to give the American people confidence that he’s going to be a better steward of the program, Medicare, which has served the country’s seniors for generations?
DEAN: My own guess is— These are lies. The 700 and whatever it is million dollars comes out of the insurance companies’ pockets. And in fact, Romney’s plan actually makes Medicare go broke by 2016. So, you know, it is a fat lie.
Ignore that verbal slip. Are you impressed by the fact that Dean didn’t know how many billions we’re talking about? If you’ve been reading the posts at this site, you know the actual figure, as Schultz plainly did.
The figure is $716 billion. Howard Dean didn’t seem to know that.
Your lizard brain is going to tell you that this tiny point doesn’t matter. Our lizard brain had a different reaction. This is what our lizard says:
Howard Dean spent fifteen seconds preparing for this spot. As he continued, you can see the price we liberals pay for accepting these miserable slackers:
DEAN (continuing directly): There’s two problems. The first is that these enormous corporations, the business community, has funded these lies, to hundreds of millions of dollars go behind this stuff. If you repeat it often enough, people believe it. It’s sort of the old Russian propaganda stuff. It’s exactly the same technique.Dean played the Russian "Big Lie" card, as he did in more detail in his previous visit with Ed. And he told us that seniors believe these “lies” because Obama’s black.
The second problem is this age group was not disposed to like Obama in the first place. This is the hardest age group for President Obama. I think a lot of it has to do with their age, to do with the enormous change, the first African-American president, a new generation. And they’re just resistant to change and frightened.
So, I think it is a sleazy tactic by the Romney people, but it’s not surprising. Politics is a tough game, but there’s so much money behind these lies, that’s what’s making them effective, and they’re told to a population that didn’t like Obama much to begin with in the first place.
That always makes us liberals feel happy. But ask yourself this: Did this horrible slacker ever explain what these “lies” consist in? If a senior citizen was watching this show, did she hear Dean explain what’s wrong with the “lies” Romney is telling?
To a very tiny extent, yes, she possibly did. Mostly, she heard herself insulted by an upper-class pundit who didn’t even seem to know how much money is involved here.
We’ve relied on slackers like Dean forever. This is where that has led:
Republican ad: Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare...to pay for Obamacare.Your lizard brain is screaming now. It’s insisting that Dean is On Our Side.
Sarah Kliff: McDonough looked at all the various Medicare cuts Democrats made to pay for the Affordable Care Act.
Your lizard brain is easy to play. Over in the Romney camp, the disinformation machine is laughing at us very hard.
Tomorrow: Unheard of within our failing culture! Actual Medicare information, courtesy of FactCheck.org.