Here’s a long, sad story about how Democrats’ basically true claim that House Republicans voted to end Medicare ended up “winning” PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year award — a development that will help the right and the GOP create their own reality as the future of the social safety net becomes a defining issue of the 2012 campaign.
Back in April, House Republicans passed a budget that included a plan to phase out Medicare over several years and build in its place a subsidized, private insurance marketplace for seniors.
Democrats called this a vote to “end Medicare.”
You can quibble. It wasn’t a vote to end Medicare — BLAM! — all at once. But under the GOP plan, within a couple decades, the current health retirement program for old people would be gone and in its place would be an entirely different one. It would just, by political design, have the same name: Medicare.
Ignoring policy in favor of process, and with an eye toward political balance, PolitiFact rated this basically true Democratic claim “Pants on Fire.”
Liberals, economists, health policy experts, and yours truly objected strongly to PolitiFact’s conclusion. But instead of rethinking their conclusion, the PolitiFact turned the opprobrium into a badge of honor: The claim itself became a candidate for PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” contest; Paul Ryan — the House GOP budget chairman who authored the plan — engaged in a modest ballot stuffing campaign; and the Democrats’ true “lie” came in third place, just behind the GOP claim that the stimulus created zero jobs, and Sen. Jon Kyl’s claim that abortion services are “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”
But you can’t be a fact checking organization and leave epistemic questions up to voters. So PolitiFact made a choice. And of those three frontrunners, they selected the only one with any truth behind it.
The reaction from Republicans has been muted so far — a sign, perhaps, that they don’t want to reopen this old wound. But back in their districts, when constituents grill them, Republicans will now have a compelling citation. It just happens to be a sham.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.