Pundits should try talking to a Republican sometime

On “Meet the Press” a few days ago, Ruth Marcus, an ostensibly center-left voice, decried Democratic “Mediscare” tactics when it comes to the House GOP plan to privatize Medicare. She didn’t identify any falsehoods or deceptions in Dems’ rhetoric, but Marcus apparently wants Dems to be more forgiving of the right-wing plan. You know, just becuase.

Today, Marcus imagines a fictional “adult conversation” between President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Paul: Okay, you guys won the first round. Congratulations on that New York House seat. But “Medicare as we know it” can’t continue. Seniors now have little incentive to control costs, and providers, paid by the procedure, have every reason to ramp them up. Medicare costs were 8.5 percent of the federal budget in 1990 — they’ll be 17.4 percent by 2020.

Barack: The current system can’t go on. I wouldn’t say this publicly, but my party’s wrong to pretend it can. Still, your approach goes way too far. Seniors would get help to buy private insurance but would pay a lot more than they do now.

And over time, because the vouchers rise only with inflation, not with medical costs, beneficiaries would have to pay even more. They’re not going to be able to afford it, not with median incomes of less than $21,000. And why should they? You’re forced to make deep cuts in Medicare because you won’t agree to raise taxes and that’s the only other way to get to balance.

Paul: Look, I could maybe support higher taxes as part of an overall deal. I just can’t admit that.

On substantive grounds, Marcus’ description of the GOP plan is incomplete in important ways. The House Republican proposal doesn’t just fail to raise taxes, it cuts taxes by trillions of dollars. Indeed, it’s one of those details the media often overlooks — the Ryan plan doesn’t privatize Medicare to address the long-term debt; the Ryan plan privatizes Medicare; transfers massive financial burdens to families; and applies the savings to a new round of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.

On political grounds, I just can’t wrap my head around Marcus’ perceptions of Paul Ryan. She honestly seems to believe that he’s willing to raise taxes as part of a grand bargain (David Brooks made a similar suggestion last week.)

One of the usual complaints about D.C. pundits is that they spend far too much time cozying up to the people they should be covering. Pundits and politicians go to the same cocktail parties, attend the same concerts, drink at the same bars, etc. But occasionally I get the sense that pundits haven’t even met any congressional Republicans.

Ryan has said, repeatedly, that he refuses to consider any tax increase on anyone by any amount at any time. Marcus seems to think that he’s secretly reasonable when no one else is looking, but all available evidence suggests Ryan is entirely sincere about his ideological agenda — he won’t accept a plan that increases any tax. Period. Full stop. It’s not an act; it’s an “economic doctrine thing.”

As David Stockman, Reagan’s first budget director, recently explained, his party has gone “off the deep end” with “religious catechism about taxes.”

The sooner pundits understand this, the sooner contemporary debates will make sense.