Don’t use a scam to launch ‘a serious debate’

The NYT‘s Joe Nocera, to his credit, doesn’t care much for the House Republican plan for Medicare, as shaped by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But Nocera spent some time with Ryan this week and, alas, seems to have been taken in, at least a little, by the right-wing Wisconsinite’s charms.

[E]ven if Ryan’s solution is wrongheaded, he’s right that Medicare is headed for trouble. It might not be in nine years, but as health care costs continue to rise uncontrollably, and as baby boomers continue to age, Medicare will gobble up an ever larger percentage of the federal budget. […]

To put it another way, while the Democratic Party might be well served in trying to use the Ryan plan to bury their political opponents, the country itself is not. The debate we need is not about whether Medicare should be reformed, but how. […]

It would be nice if we could treat the Ryan plan not as an object of derision but as a launching off point for a serious debate.

I don’t doubt Nocera’s sincerity on this. His argument is clearly well-intentioned, and over the long term, demographic changes and escalating costs do pose fiscal challenges for Medicare.

But I desperately wish credible media voices recognized Ryan’s Republican plan for what it is: a fraudulent scam. Using this con job as “a launching off point for a serious debate” is comparable to using alchemy as a launching off point for a serious debate about chemistry, or astrology as a launching off point for a serious debate about space travel.

Kevin Drum put it this way the other day, “You need to get the policy right. You need to actually care about controlling healthcare costs. You need to actually care about delivery systems. You need to actually care about what works and what doesn’t. You need to actually care about the details. Paul Ryan doesn’t. He’s a right-wing ideologue with a single right-wing solution for everything. But he’s sociable and friendly, not a fire breather, so everyone figures he’s not one of the tea party nutjobs. This is a serious mistake.”

It’s a mistake, I’m afraid, Joe Nocera is making.

Paul Krugman recently explained, “Here’s an analogy: think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; Ryan doesn’t do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream.”

Nocera wants to give Ryan credit for noticing problems with the bridge. But that’s not just overly generous, it’s also setting the bar for seriousness way too low.

Overall, there are two broad ways of scrutinizing the GOP’s Medicare privatization plan. The first is to emphasize its needless cruelty towards seniors, which is problematic for those who believe Medicare beneficiaries deserve better. He wants to shift costs onto seniors and use the “savings” for tax cuts, all while pretending to care about a non-existent debt crisis.

The other is to note that Paul Ryan’s numbers simply don’t add up, making his approach unworthy of serious consideration. The combination of the two points to a proposal worthy of the trash heap, not “serious debate.”

The question isn’t why the left would treat this scam as “an object of derision”; the question is why others aren’t doing the same.