NRCC desperate to parse the meaning of ‘end’

For two months, Democrats have said, “Republicans intend to scrap Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme.” And for two months, Republicans, PolitiFact, and much of the media have responded, “Maybe, but you’re not allowed to say ‘end.'”

Greg Sargent reports on the latest twist in this ongoing fight, though this one may have broader consequences than just rhetorical squabbling.

Attention, people, this is important: The battle over whether it’s true that the Republican plan would “end Medicare” is about to play out in a critical way in New Hampshire.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which oversees House races for the GOP, has written a sharply-worded letter demanding that a New Hampshire TV station yank an ad making that claim. Whether the ad gets taken down could help set a precedent for whether other stations will air Dem TV ads making this argument, which is expected to be a central message for Dems in the 2012 elections.

The NRCC letter was provided to me by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is airing the ad on WMUR against GOP Rep. Charlie Bass.

There’s no real mystery here. The more Democrats use the word “end” — a verb first used to describe the Republican plan by Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, by the way — the more damaging it is to the GOP. If Republicans can throw a big enough tantrum, and get stations to block campaign speech that uses the “e” word, then it might provide the GOP a layer of protection.

And if Comcast Boston backs down to the National Republican Congressional Committee now, the party will use this as precedent to get other channels to do the same.

The problem, of course, is that the Republican argument is ridiculous.

I realize that semantics debates can get pretty tiresome, but this need not be complicated. If there’s a government program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.

Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican plan intends to do away with the existing system and replace it with vouchers. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.

Paul Krugman recently explained, “When you transform a program that pays seniors’ medical bills into a program that gives them a voucher that almost certainly isn’t enough to buy adequate insurance, you can call the new scheme Medicare, but it isn’t the same program…. Republicans are proposing to destroy Medicare; saying that clearly isn’t scare tactics, it’s simply pointing out the truth.”

It’s a truth the GOP is desperate to keep from the public. Test Case #1 will apparently be in New Hampshire.