Running Out Clock on Medicare

Given what we know about the cynicism of the Romney campaign, it’s entirely possible its strategy for dealing with attacks on the Ryan Budget’s effect on Medicare will be to raise constant counter-attacks that don’t survive a moment’s serious scrutiny, but succeed each other quickly until Election Day arrives and the clock runs out.

The Big Bertha rolled out about the time Paul Ryan was selected as Mitt’s running-mate, based on one of the Big Lies of the 2010 campaign, was that Obama and congressional Democrats had “raided” $716 billion in Medicare funds to pay for its socialist efforts to give undeserving poor and sick people health insurance. When it was pointed out that the same “cuts” (actually negotiated reductions in provider reimbursements plus a paring back of the “bonus” subsidies for private Medicare Advantage plans) were included in Paul Ryan’s own budget plan, Romney quickly said he’d restore the money if elected.

Now that promise is drawing scrutiny, as noted by the New York Times‘ Jackie Calmes:

While Republicans have raised legitimate questions about the long-term feasibility of the reimbursement cuts, analysts say, to restore them in the short term would immediately add hundreds of dollars a year to out-of-pocket Medicare expenses for beneficiaries. That would violate Mr. Romney’s vow that neither current beneficiaries nor Americans within 10 years of eligibility would be affected by his proposal to shift Medicare to a voucherlike system in which recipients are given a lump sum to buy coverage from competing insurers.

For those reasons, Henry J. Aaron, an economist and a longtime health policy analyst at the Brookings Institution and the Institute of Medicine, called Mr. Romney’s vow to repeal the savings “both puzzling and bogus at the same time.”

Marilyn Moon, vice president and director of the health program at the American Institutes for Research, calculated that restoring the $716 billion in Medicare savings would increase premiums and co-payments for beneficiaries by $342 a year on average over the next decade; in 2022, the average increase would be $577.

Worse yet, the only thing worse than the suggestion that Obama wants to “raid” Medicare to help “those people” is the idea that Romney wants to boost out-of-pocket expenses for seniors to provide a windfall to providers, a specter congressional Democrats are already raising:

“The bottom line,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, which Mr. Ryan leads, “is that Romney is proposing to take more money from seniors in higher premiums and co-pays and hand it over to private insurance companies and other providers in the Medicare system.”

I don’t know exactly how the Romney campaign will get itself out of this latest box on Medicare, but I’m sure it will come up with something confusing enough to take time to rebut, and then turn its attention back to the evil plans of the incumbent to bring back the unconditional dole and in general let those people run riot at your expense, middle-class America!

Got that? Vote Romney and there’s more money for you! Vote Obama, and it’s less money for you, more money for those people!

Add in some selectively broadcast messages about stern father Mitt Romney not wanting dirty girls to have sex and get away with it, and that’s the heart of the GOP message this year, sad to say.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.