MEDICARE MUDDLE: We had a dream yesterday!


Epilogue—Calmes rewritten: Last night, we had an incomparable dream.

We dreamed of a press corps which actually served! A press corps which tried to examine the charges made by our White House contenders!

Gone was the finagling, the flim-flam, the murky constructions—the various tricks by which our reporters avoid performing their duty. And sure enough!

Near the end of our dream, we saw it written!

First, we saw the actual opening to Jackie Calmes’ recent news report in the Times. In that report, “some” health care experts were said to be “puzzled” by Mitt Romney’s Medicare charges:
CALMES (8/22/12): Mitt Romney’s promise to restore $716 billion that he says President Obama “robbed” from Medicare has some health care experts puzzled, and not just because his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, included the same savings in his House budgets.

The 2010 health care law cut Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and insurers, not benefits for older Americans, by that amount over the coming decade. But repealing the savings, policy analysts say, would hasten the insolvency of Medicare by eight years—to 2016, the final year of the next presidential term, from 2024.
Some experts are “puzzled,” Calmes reported. Is that true?

We'll guess that quite a few of those experts aren’t “puzzled” by this bullshit at all.

Politely, Calmes rewrote Romney’s charges, omitting his most straightforward assertions. Gone was the claim that Obama has stolen that money from the Medicare trust fund. Gone was the claim that he stole the money to spend on something else.

In our dream, we saw Calmes’ report—a report which continued two weeks of avoidance by a timorous news division. But then, in our dream, the angels sang!

In our dream, we saw Calmes rewritten! We were allowed to imagine a press corps which doesn’t flee from duty:
CALMES REWRITTEN: Mitt Romney’s has repeatedly said that President Obama “robbed” $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund as part of the 2010 health care law.

Repeatedly, Romney has promised to “restore” this stolen money to the trust fund if he is elected president. His running-mate, Paul Ryan, has described Obama’s action as a “raid,” saying it “will lead to less services for current seniors.”

Despite these aggressive accusations, Ryan included the same spending reductions in his last two House budgets.

In fact, the claim that Obama “stole” a large sum from the Medicare trust fund is grossly misleading if not flatly inaccurate [see note below]. For that reason, some health care experts are using extremely harsh language as they challenge the accuracy of these charges by Romney and Ryan.

In July, one prominent health care expert called one of Ryan’s charges ''somewhere between a misstatement and a flat-out untruth.'' Some editorials and opinion columns have used the word “lie” to describe the ongoing charges. (This includes the lead editorial in last Sunday’s New York Times.)

Many observers have commented on the harsh rhetoric of the current White House campaign. But Romney’s claim that Obama “robbed” that large sum from the Medicare trust fund is unusually straightforward—and it is unusually hard to square with basic reality.
The gods who staged our dream were unsure about a few facts. For that reason, they hedged a bit at one point as they rewrote the timorous Calmes.

A messenger came to us late in our dream; she told us what the gods wanted to say. They wanted to incorporate some of the language from Gene Lyons’ recent column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/12).

They wanted to incorporate some of that language. But they said they weren’t entirely sure if it’s entirely accurate:
WHAT THE GODS WANTED TO SAY: Despite these aggressive accusations, Ryan included the same spending reductions in his last two House budgets.

In fact, the claim that Obama “stole” a large sum from the Medicare trust fund is simply inaccurate. In fact, no money was removed from the Medicare trust fund as part of the 2010 health care law.

For that reason, some health care experts are using extremely harsh language as they challenge the accuracy of these charges by Romney and Ryan.
This brings us back to the basic question we have been asking all week:

Did Barack Obama siphon/steal/rob or otherwise take $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund?

Romney has been making that claim for two weeks. He has been making this claim for two weeks—and the press has refused to serve.

Did Obama remove $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund? You’d almost think a reporter like Calmes would want to answer that question—especially given the use to which this claim has been put by Romney’s supporters on Fox.

Night after night, Fox viewers are told that Obama stole that money from the trust fund to pay for something else. You’d almost think a reporter like Calmes would want to address those claims.

Set aside the words “robbed” and “stole.” Has Obama taken $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund?

As far as we know, the answer is no. In a rational world, reporters like Calmes would be addressing such questions.

Why do we assume the answer is no? In part, because of a widely-cited assertion. Early last month, in less perilous times, Calmes put that assertion in play, near the end of a long report about this very same question.

At the time, Republicans were charging that Obama had taken $500 billion from Medicare. That dollar figure was based on an earlier time span.

If you click, get a load of that headline:
CALMES (7/7/12): Mr. Ryan, of Wisconsin, was unavailable for comment, but, pressed on the issue on ABC's ''This Week'' on Sunday, he said: ''Well, our budget keeps that money for Medicare to extend its solvency. What Obamacare does is it takes that money from Medicare to spend on Obamacare.''

Robert Greenstein, the executive director of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, called Mr. Ryan's claim ''somewhere between a misstatement and a flat-out untruth.''


The Congressional Budget Office and the chief actuary for the Medicare and Medicaid programs, Richard S. Foster, have concluded that the $500 billion in savings would extend the solvency of Medicare's hospital insurance trust fund. Since the passage of the health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare trustees have shifted the projected date of insolvency to 2024 from 2016.

Mr. Foster, in this year's report by the trustees, wrote that ''the Affordable Care Act makes important changes to the Medicare program and substantially improves its financial outlook.''
Question: Did Greenstein seem “puzzled” by Ryan’s charge? Greenstein rarely seems puzzled by much. We’ll guess he isn’t puzzled by Romney’s recent charges at all.

Calmes turned euphemistic this week. That said, here’s our main point:

At some point, everyone and his crazy uncle has noted that assessment by the Medicare Trustees and the CBO—the assessment which says that the Affordable Care Act extends the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight years.

It’s hard to extend the life of a trust fund by removing large sums from the fund and blowing the money somewhere else. To the extent that the 2010 health care law reduced future Medicare spending, we will assume that the savings largely stayed in the trust fund, helping extend its life.

That is what we would assume. Having said that, the gods said they weren’t perfectly sure. But they said they have an excuse:

They read the Post and the Times!

In the past two weeks, Candidate Romney has paraded about, making extremely serious charges. People like Calmes have busted their keisters, looking for ways to avoid saying whether those charges are accurate.

Paul Krugman has gone out of his way to praise Calmes for this refusal to serve. David Leonhardt, who runs the Times Washington bureau, has been busily wasting his time, writing an (uninformed) article about the way the Washington Nationals should use Stephen Strasburg, their young star pitcher.

As his reporters were stumbling about, Leonhardt's silly, waste-of-time piece graced last Friday’s sports section.

The clowning has been general, as always! That said, you can’t really blame a reporter like Calmes for following her newspaper’s policy. For all we know, Calmes submitted the very copy the gods revealed to us in our dream! But it’s her name which appeared on the piece which said that folk like Greenstein are “puzzled.”

That said, we had quite a dream! In our dream, the New York Times tried to tell readers whether Romney’s charges are accurate!

The charges have been spewed all over the land. In our dream, the Times tried to say if they're true!

Did Obama take money from the trust fund? Did he spend the money on something else? Did current seniors lose Medicare services in the process?

Romney has been saying those things. Are those charges accurate?

In our dream, the New York Times fully reported those questions. It did so in a sharp, explicit manner.

We know, we know! Our dream is an impossible dream. We use an expression from baseball history, hoping to interest Leonhardt.

Our dream is very unlikely. The Times is an imitation of life—and the liberal world lets this go on.

The liberal world lets this go on: For more on that problem, see coming posts. But back in 1995, the GOP fought hard about Medicare coverage—and the GOP won.

Today, we liberals laze about, happy to accept whatever the great famous newspapers give us.

Were we teleported from Hee Haw’s front porch? After it answers our Medicare questions, the Times might want to probe that.


  1. It should be said to that the Romney plan wants to cut costs via a private option choice, with competitive bidding for services.

    The Campaign has demagogued the $7-something billion "cut" so thoroughly that they've made themselves open to a charge that haven't considered the solvency of Medicare.

  2. I am now convinced that CeceliaMc is a troll, or if not a troll, a deeply conservative person who fashions self "thoughtful," probably "independent." Female name may even be part of the game.

    1. Are you automatically a troll if you are a conservative on a liberal blog?

      I thought that title went to posters who went to the blog in order to post harangues to the blog owner over what he should be discussing and to personally insult him.

      I had no idea that by politely adding to the discussion initiated by the blog owner, I had shown myself to be a troll (let alone a man...).

    2. BTW--I declared myself to be a conservative from jump.

    3. You seldom seem to me polite, at least to other commenters. It can be hard to tell what point you're trying to make, but "polite" is not the tone I detect. "Condescending"? Closer.

  3. I don't sense most liberals are "happy to accept whatever the great famous newspaper gives us."

    It would be good to know what you would propose doing about it, if anything. An outright lie like Chait's is one thing, but what is there to do besides trying to inundate him and his editors with the strongest possible criticism. But otherwise, it's no surprise to me that journalists would hesitate to attack people in the profession they know, or to burn career bridges.

    1. "happy to accept whatever the great famous newspaper gives us."

      That seems directed at Leonhart, Krugman and the like, not at the unwashed liberal masses, who, yes, can do little.

      Based on their work, I think they deserve the prodding.