There they go again

Joining a long list of media voices, Time‘s Don Von Drehle isn’t happy with the state of the debate over Medicare.

Medicare promises more to future retirees than it is going to be able to deliver. Change is urgently needed. ObamaCare envisions change within the existing structure of the health care industry, while Republican Paul Ryan’s proposal would impose change by having elderly patients buy their own coverage, using government vouchers. Both of these represent huge departures from the status quo. If this election educates voters to make an informed choice between these options, we’ll be a stronger country for it.

But we certainly didn’t see that sort of informative campaign in the special Congressional election in New York’s 26th District last week. Instead, we saw candidates accuse each other of trying to destroy Medicare.

OK, let’s review this again, since, to borrow a phrase, setting the record straight is taking longer than I thought.

The Republican plan really does try to destroy Medicare. That’s not hyperbole. The GOP agenda takes the existing system, eliminates it, and replaces it with a privatized voucher system. They do this while taking money out of the Medicare system, clearing budget room for more tax cuts for the very wealthy. We can certainly debate the merit of such an idea, but that’s what the plan does. When Democrats in New York’s 26th said the Republican candidate endorsed a plan to end Medicare, it’s because the Republican candidate endorsed a plan to end Medicare.

Von Drehle is waiting for the moment when officials “get honest” with the public. That sounds like a good idea — let’s start by being honest about the GOP plan as crafted by Paul Ryan.

The same Time piece argues that Medicare is going to have to change. That’s true, too, and as Jonathan Cohn explains, “[U][nder the terms of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare will change. Specifically, the government (which runs Medicare) will take corporate welfare away from some insurance companies. It will reduce payments to providers while introducing payment reforms that encourage efficiency. It will create a series of budget targets for the program — and then empower an independent commission to enforce those targets, unless super-majorities in Congress overrule it.”

Now, Von Drehle may believe more significant changes to Medicare are needed. And we can certainly debate this. As Paul Krugman recently put it, “[T]hink 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.”

Pundits are inclined to give Ryan credit for noticing the problem with this footbridge. But that’s not just overly generous, it’s also setting the bar for seriousness way too low.

In the meantime, Democrats are apparently not supposed to mention that the GOP intends to eliminate the footbridge altogether — not because Dems are wrong, but because the truth is intemperate.