On the Sunday talk shows, Republicans continued to deflect criticism of Mitt Romney vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare plan by pointing out that ‘Obamacare’ cuts the program by $700 billion. But the same cuts are in Ryan’s budget.
“This president stole — he didn’t cut Medicare — he stole $700 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare, it’s Barack Obama. He’s the one that’s destroying Medicare.”
The remarks oversimplify reality. The Affordable Care Act included $700 billion in reimbursement reductions under Medicare to hospitals, drug companies and supplemental private insurance plans, in an effort to slow the cost growth of the program. Benefits remain untouched; the cuts only target providers.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” high-ranking Republican Sen. John Thune (R-SD) piled on: “I think this is a bigger risk for the president, because they are going to attack the Romney or the Ryan budget as cutting Medicare, but the president is the only one in this campaign who has cut Medicare to the tune of $700 billion.”
Thune’s remarks paper over the fact that Ryan’s own budget blueprint included the same Medicare cuts as the Affordable Care Act. Nearly all Republicans in both chambers, including Thune, voted for it. They didn’t propose the cuts but later accepted them. Conservatives say that unlike ‘Obamacare’ the Ryan plan doesn’t use the cuts to fund more spending.
On ABC’s ‘This Week,” Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod took on the claims.
“Congressman Ryan — what he doesn’t say is, that he’s incorporated that same $700 billion into his plan, so he’s embraced exactly what the president has done,” Axelrod said. “We extended the life of Medicare by eight years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”
Ryan’s Medicare plan focuses its cuts on the beneficiary side. It converts the insurance program into a fixed subsidy that seniors can use to buy policies from a menu or private options and a government option. If the value of the subsidy doesn’t keep up with medical cost inflation, seniors will have to pay more out of pocket to get the same care.
Obama and Ryan agree that Medicare per-beneficiary spending should be capped at per-capita GDP plus 0.5 percent, but disagree on what to cut in order to get there.
Democrats are eager to exploit the vulnerability that Ryan’s plan poses to the Romney-Ryan ticket. Axelrod previewed the contrast Democrats will aim to draw: one party wants to preserve Medicare as we know it while the other wants to unwind it.
“They do not believe in Medicare,” he said. “Let’s be clear. Congressman Ryan is an ideologue that doesn’t believe in the Medicare program, wanted to do away with it.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.