The ‘v’ word doesn’t poll well, either

THE ‘V’ WORD DOESN’T POLL WELL, EITHER…. The House Republican budget plan, approved late last week, intends to effectively eliminate the Medicare program, replacing with a privatized voucher system. That’s not rhetoric or campaign spin; that’s the plan. The next step should be debating whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea.

But some on the right are still a little hung up on the words used to describe the plan. Last week, we discussed how some are pushing back against the word “privatization,” apparently because it doesn’t poll well. The word is clearly accurate in this case — the GOP plan takes the socialized, government-financed health care program, and turns it over to private insurers — but Republicans are resisting it anyway.

As it turns out, they’re fighting against “voucher,” too.

Yesterday, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour asked Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) about the budget plan she supports. “[I]t includes a radical restructuring of Medicare, essentially converting it to a voucher system, sort of privatizing it,” the host noted. “Now, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average senior will then have to end up paying an extra $6,000 or more out of their own pocket, I mean, how do you think that that will sit with the voters? With the American people?”

Here’s Ellmers’ response in its entirety:

“Well, let me just say, Christiane, that, first of all, as a nurse, you know, Medicare is an issue that we absolutely have to deal with. And, as you know, you mentioned in the Ryan budget that this issue is going to be addressed.

“It is not a voucher system. Basically what we will be doing is allowing seniors to be able to make the choices for their health care, the same that we in Congress are doing. It’s the very same basic plan. And it actually saves money. It saves money in Medicare over time and it actually increases the coverage, but at the same time, it also increases coverage for those in the low income areas as well.”

First, being a nurse isn’t an excuse for voting to eliminate Medicare. Indeed, it suggests the freshman congresswoman actually ought to know better.

Second, saying, “It’s not a voucher system” is bizarre since the whole point of the plan is to create a voucher system. If Ellmers wants to say that’s a good thing, this was her chance. But simply pretending the plan she voted for — just 48 hours earlier — doesn’t do what it plainly does make it seem as if the lawmaker has no idea what she’s talking about.

And third, saying that Medicare privatization “saves money” is willfully dishonest. No one, even on the right, believes Paul Ryan’s voucher scheme actually lowers costs — all it does is shift those costs onto the elderly, and then use the difference to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.

Does Ellmers not understand the basics of the proposal she supports, or did she just go on national television and deliberately mislead millions of viewers? (Given how ridiculous her campaign was last year, it’s arguably a close call.)

My ongoing concern, however, is that the media will screw this up. News organizations may start avoiding the “v” word, even though it’s accurate, if Republicans simply state, “It’s not a voucher system.” The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using politician-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.