Long before anyone thought that Donald Trump would run for president, Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear that he wants to privatize Medicare. The idea fits very well with his overall political perspective that the private sector is always better at providing services than the government. Democrats don’t agree, and so it is possible to imagine a discussion on those terms.
It is important to note that Ryan doesn’t want to engage in that conversation in his zeal to privatize Medicare. As we saw in his discussion with Brett Baier, he has decided that it is preferable to lie to the American people in order to convince them to accept his position. When Baier asked Ryan about the Republican plans for entitlement reform, the Speaker took the conversation back to their plans to repeal Obamacare and said:
If you’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well. … Medicare has got some serious issues because of Obamacare. So those things are part of our plan to replace Obamacare.
Ryan went on to say that, “Because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” That is a lie.
Health reform, along with other factors, has significantly improved Medicare’s financial outlook, boosting revenues and making the program more efficient. The HI trust fund is now projected to remain solvent 11 years longer than before the Affordable Care Act was enacted.
In other words, repealing Obamacare would mean that Medicare would become insolvent 11 years earlier than is currently projected by those who manage the Medicare trust fund (here is a link to their latest report). In terms of timing, it is important to note that right now the trust fund projects that Medicare will remain solvent until 2028. If Obamacare is repealed, that happens in 2017. So the plan is to roll back the savings that extended its solvency and simultaneously generate fear that the program needs to either be privatized or begin reducing benefits to current seniors.
This is a monumentally important moment for the survival of Medicare as we know it. But we can also take this lie as a warning of other issues to come. If Speaker Ryan and Republicans want to make sweeping changes to the current size and role of government, they should put their best argument forward on why they believe that will benefit the American people. But if instead, they decide to lie in order to scare people into going along with their plans, it is a pretty good “tell” that they know their proposals wouldn’t stand the light of day.
Holding Republicans like Speaker Ryan accountable when they lie is going to be a major challenge in our current environment where facts don’t seem to matter to a lot of people. But perhaps Medicare is one of the best places to make this point. We know that Trump and the Republicans rely on older white voters as a primary constituency. Most of them would go to the mat to protect their Medicare. Will they be able to hear the truth about how Republicans are playing them with their lies? Our task is to first of all get the truth out there. Beyond that…we’ll see.