At the Washington Post, the kids aren't all right!


Sarah Kliff’s unskilled notes: Hopeless!

At the Washington Post’s WonkBlog, Sarah Kliff fact-checks the part of Bill Clinton’s address which dealt with Medicare.

Oof! As with blog-mate Ezra Klein, so too with Kliff: The kids are not all right.

Kliff and Klein are eager and young—but their technical skills are often lacking. At the start of her bungled fact-check, Kliff quotes this early part of what Clinton said, then rates his statement as FALSE:
CLINTON (9/5/12): Both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the president for allegedly robbing Medicare of $716 billion. That’s the same attack they leveled against the Congress in 2010, and they got a lot of votes on it. But it’s not true.
Kliff says that statement is false because “the Affordable Care Act did indeed cut Medicare spending by $716 billion, as the Congressional Budget Office wrote in a July 24 report.”

Notes about the unfortunate, under-skilled non-fiscal Kliff:

Duh. Clinton knows that the health care law reduces Medicare spending by that amount over the next ten years. And Sarah Kliff knows Clinton knows it!

Kliff seems to thinks that she caught the former president in a misstatement concerning this fact. “Clinton later goes on to discuss where these cuts come from,” the eagle-eyed blogger brightly writes, “underscoring that yes, these Medicare cuts do indeed exist.”

Hopeless. Since Clinton specifically said that the spending reductions exist, did it occur to Kliff that this may not be what he was denying in that part of his statement?

Instead, was Clinton perhaps denying the claim that Obama “robbed Medicare” of that money?

Almost surely, Clinton wasn’t denying those reductions in Medicare spending over the next ten years. You can sense that because, as Kliff brightly notes, he immediately referred to those spending reductions, after saying that there are no reductions in Medicare benefits! (For Clinton’s full text, see below.)

Our guess? On a more sympathetic (and more sensible) reading, Clinton was denying the notion that the money was somehow “robbed from Medicare.” After all, he stressed the fact that the health care act extended the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight years while adding new benefits for Medicare recipients. It would be hard to do such things if you were somehow stealing a large amount of money from the program.

No money is robbed from Medicare under the health care law. Indeed, no money is removed from the program at all; the spending reductions to which Clinton referred are used to extend the life of the trust fund. When Romney started his recent attacks, he specifically said that Clinton was robbing that money “from the Medicare fund.”

That specific claim was specifically bogus. More generally, no money is being robbed, stolen, siphoned or funneled from the Medicare program at all.

Last weekend, Kevin Drum doubled down on the mistaken idea that money is being taken from Medicare and use to “pay for” other parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Kevin is still wrong about that. We will revisit his post before we’re done with this topic. For ourselves, we’ve spent the last week wishing and hoping and pretending that he never said it.

That said, the liberal world lives under a blight when institutions like the Post pick our young experts for us. Kliff is so confused about this matter that she even says that Clinton’s presentation involved him in “double counting.”

Sorry. That’s bogus too.

It’s a fascinating state of affairs when a political movement can’t stop itself from repeating the other team’s disinformation. But we liberals have been behaving that way for decades now, especially in budget matters—and Kliff and Klein are very weak on the logic of the health care law.

In summation, consider:

Kliff believes she caught Bill Clinton denying X. And she knows that X is true because, in his very next breath, she caught Bill Clinton affirming X!

People who reason that way may not be ready for prime time. At the Post, the children are not all right. Is this really the best we liberals can do?

Pitiful answer: Almost surely, yes. We’ve been this way for decades.

Please note: Much more to come in the next week on this infernal but fascinating topic.

Text of Clinton’s remarks as posted by Fox: In the transcript we’ve posted below, it’s fairly clear that Clinton is denying the claim that money was “robbed” from Medicare. Obviously, he isn’t denying that the spending reductions occur since he directly cites them.

For whatever reason, the quotation marks around “robbing Medicare” are part of the official transcript:
CLINTON (9/5/12): Now, there were two other attacks on the president in Tampa I think deserve an answer.

First, both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the president for allegedly "robbing Medicare" of $716 billion. That's the same attack they leveled against the Congress in 2010, and they got a lot of votes on it. But it's not true.

Look, here's what really happened. You be the judge.

Here's what really happened. There were no cuts to benefits at all, none.

What the president did was to save money by taking the recommendations of a commission of professionals to cut unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that were not making people healthier and were not necessary to get the providers to provide the service.


And instead of raiding Medicare, he used the savings to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program.


And—you all got to listen carefully to this. This is really important. And to add eight years to the life of the Medicare trust fund so it is solvent until 2024.


So President Obama and the Democrats didn't weaken Medicare. They strengthened Medicare.


Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama's Medicare savings as, quote, "the biggest, coldest power play," I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.


Because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget!


You got to give one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.

Does Kliff really think that Clinton was denying the existence of those spending reductions—those “Medicare savings,” as he later called them? What did liberals ever do to deserve expertise like this?

If we may adapt the words of The Band: But oh what kind of WonkBlogging is this, which goes from bad to worse?


  1. Kliff, if she knows nothing else, knows where her bread is buttered!

    It is buttered at the WaPo factory, and the bosses there have clearly decided Romney *isn't* simply a liar on this issue.

    That being the case, scribes are required to show some deference to Romney's lies, to show how they aren't really lies at all, and how anyone who says they are must be lying!

  2. I have a doctorate from Harvard (forgive such a boast), and I simply do not understand whether Medicare has lost $716 billion in funds or not. I read you each day and I still do not understand, and I am trained in understanding such things.

    Please, please, please explain simply and with no sarcasm again.

    1. You can reduce Medicare expenses (against "current law" expectations) in either of two ways:

      1) You can reduce or eliminate some of the currently guaranteed benefits;

      2) You can find waste, fraud or other opportunities for efficiency in Medicare *without* eliminating benefits

      1) is what sane folks understand as "cutting Medicare."

      2) is what sane folks call "saving money"

      The Obama plan, in this instance called for $716 billion of saving money -- no benefits were reduced.

    2. The liars' response is:

      "Oh, they say they aren't cutting benefits, but with less money, make no mistake, they'll have to cut them."

      This response is indistinguishable from saying "No improvement can EVER be made!"

      A very cynical position -- perhaps it's even true! Maybe no improvement is possible in our broken political landscape.

      But make no mistake, the people saying it aren't truly cynics -- they're simply apologists for Romney and the GOP.

    3. The $716 billion is estimated to come in roughly equal portions from hospital reimbursements, medicare advantage insurance payments, and payments to other providers. I've read that there was some kind of agreement from hospitals and insurers to forgo making up the lost revenue through increased premiums or co-pay, but it's hard to believe that taking that much money out of the system won't have unforeseen consequences.

    4. Despite Anonymous' fantasies, they just reduced reimbursement rates without reducing benefits. They didn't identify any waste or fraud, they just cut the money.
      I'm inclined to believe that hospitals and insurance companies were willing to agree not to reduce benefits because the mandate in the bill will mean more customers for the Insurance companies and no uninsured for the hospitals. It's consistent with the patchwork, horse-trading nature of the Health Care Act generally.

    5. In other words, ABL, an efficiency was found.

      No fantasy, no benefit cuts.

      There are only two ways to reduce Medicare expenses, as at 5:35 PM.

      If you think there aren't, you're insisting that the program can never be improved, only worsened or destroyed.

      What you find "hard to believe" and fear as "unforeseen consequence" is actually irrelevant.

  3. As I understand it, the infamous $716B figure actually refers to how much would have to be spent to rebuild Medicare in the event that "Obamacare" were to be repealed.

    The whole debate, though, is being waged on strange territory. If an audit of the Pentagon showed that they had been paying $500 each for 200 toilet seats every year, and that they were scheduled to keep doing it for the next 10 years, canceling that line in the budget would save $1,000,000. Would it be reasonable to refer to that as "a million-dollar defense cut"? What if the million saved was plowed right back into the toilet seat budget? At the end of the day, you've saved money and haven't shorted the military on toilet seats. That's, you know, GOOD.

    1. The toilet seat analogy is PERFECT!

      Perhaps even Sarah Kliff (or her masters) could be made to understand it.

      My own fear is that they actually do understand perfectly well!

      But the course of action they intend is rather to make things LESS clear, to Romney's benefit...