Wither Medicare?

Newt Gingrich jeopardizes reform by exaggerating small differences.

In 1995, when he was speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich told a gathering of Blue Cross/Blue Shield executives that he and his fellow Republicans planned to present "a free-market plan" that would compete with Medicare and ultimately drive it out of business. "We believe it's going to wither on the vine," he said, "because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it."

Ever since then, Gingrich's critics on the left have been citing that comment to portray him as a hardhearted ideologue bent on tearing up the social safety net. Gingrich, who last week announced he is running for the Republican presidential nomination, is so eager to shed this image that he is willing to endanger Medicare reform by bad-mouthing a plan that by his own account is very similar to his own.

During a Meet the Press appearance on Sunday, Gingrich condemned House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's proposal to transform Medicare from an open-ended entitlement into a means-tested premium support system. Gingrich called this plan, which was endorsed by all but four House Republicans last month, a "radical change" that amounts to "right-wing social engineering."

Although Gingrich insisted that Ryan's plan is "too big a jump," it would not take effect for a decade. Furthermore, its impact would be gradual, with plenty of time to see whether the health insurance subsidies Ryan envisions are generous enough to cover medical care for retirees who otherwise cannot afford it.

The only alternative offered by Gingrich during the interview—rooting out fraud—is plainly inadequate to address Medicare's looming collapse. He said eliminating fraud might save something like $100 billion a year, or "almost $1 trillion over a decade."

That may sound like a lot. But according to a report released last Friday by Medicare's trustees, the difference between the benefits promised by current law and the money available to pay for them amounts to $25 trillion during the next 75 years, when Medicare's share of GDP will rise from 3.6 percent to 6.2 percent.

The outlook may in fact be much worse, since the trustees' projections are based on highly unrealistic cost-saving measures included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "The actual future costs for Medicare are likely to exceed those shown by the current-law projections in this report," the trustees warn. Medicare's chief actuary concurs that "the financial projections shown in this report for Medicare do not represent a reasonable expectation for actual program operations in either the short range…or the long range." According to the more plausible "illustrative alternative scenario," Medicare's share of GDP will be nearly 11 percent in 2085.

Another way the trustee report, daunting as it is, fails to communicate the full fiscal fiasco: It says Medicare's hospital insurance "trust fund" will be "exhausted" in 2024, five years earlier than projected in 2010. But since the trust fund consists of Treasury bonds that can be redeemed only with taxpayer money or additional debt (which means more taxes in the future), the more relevant date is 2008, when the hospital insurance program started spending more than it takes in and therefore began draining money from the rest of the budget. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Medicare's share of federal spending, currently 12 percent, will double by 2035.

Although Gingrich opportunistically complained last year that Democrats planned to "cut Medicare," he understands that the program in its current form is unsustainable. In fact, after he trashed Ryan's plan on TV, his spokesman, Rick Tyler, told The Weekly Standard "there is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich" on this issue.

When Gingrich called Ryan's plan a "radical" form of "right-wing social engineering," Tyler said, he merely meant that the failure to include a Medicare-like option along with a choice of private insurance plans was "a political mistake." Gingrich's over-the-top exaggeration of small differences, which provided heavy ammunition to opponents of reform, may prove to be a bigger one.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    Newt Gingrich is a self-important asshole.

    That said, I can now travel forward in time to comment on stories not even on Reason yet. Now, bask in my glory.

  • ||

    You have perfected time travel and all you do with it is travel forward to comment on reason stories as opposed to, I don't know, getting sports scores and breaking Vegas sports books and retiring to Aruba?

    NERD!!

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    Who cares?

    Everybody travels forward in time. That's no freakin' trick.

  • ||

    just very slowly... and at the same rate.

  • some guy||

    Alcohol makes me travel faster. I can skip an entire night in an instant!

  • Realist||

    It's the only way you can go!

  • BrophyWorld||

    Newt Gingrich was the leader of the Republican Party when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, and he might be leader again if he wins the nomination for President. Democrats and Republicans both favor high government spending on programs such as socialized medicine, and the national debt will continue to increase. The country has accumulated unprecedented debt that cannot be repaid, a huge penalty that will burden you and other income earners for at least the next 40 years.

    Alternatively, imagine living with a responsible government like Hong Kong, in a Mediterranean climate like California. Unfortunately, no such Utopia exists; but Chile offers a combination of pleasant climate and fewer government burdens than many others. If you’re ready to shed the debt your government has imposed upon you, it is a good destination to consider:
    http://brophyworld.com/move-to-santiago-chile/

  • Realist||

    "Newt Gingrich is a self-important asshole."
    And a fucking idiot. What makes me mad is the media always has to preface their remarks by "he is brillianr" or 'he is very intelligent"
    Judge Napolitano when talking about Newt just couldn't say enough about his intelligence...."he has a Ph.D in History". Are you shitting me a Ph.D in History????
    Further the dumb bastard thinks there is overwhelming evidence for AGW.

  • Spartacus||

    Dear Newt--

    It's time to quit. You are not going to get elected. The BEST outcome of this is you will forever be known as an unprincipled flip-flopper like Romney...I mean, even more so than now.

    Cut your losses. Give it up. Now.

    Sincerely,

    Your Mother

  • ||

    These guys get addicted to the power and fame. If Newt were a normal person, he would be happy with his legacy as the man who ended the Democratic party's hold on Congress and go get himself a younger model of wife and enjoy his millions. But Newt like all of our political class is not normal.

  • Realist||

    Here we, agree again.

  • Monica Lewinsky||

    And blowjobs from pert young staffers who aren't their current wife.

  • Realist||

    Newt's mother is named Spartacus....there's the problem right there!

  • Nomic||

    Oh, no, please not a sequel to the last presidential election.
    McCain, Part II, AKA Me Too Two.

    Matt Welch recently said he wants more than two parties competing for his vote. Me? I'd like at least one party competing for my vote. I haven't seen where either of the major parties have even tried to do that since Reagan hijacked the Republican Party.

  • ||

    "since Reagan hijacked the Republican Party."

    That was such a tragedy. Republicans like Ford, Nixon and Rockefeller were so much better.

  • ||

    Check the sarcasm meter, John. I believe that the reference implied that Reagan hijacked the Republican Party from the likes of Ford, Nixon, and Rockefeller.

  • ||

    Ah. I think you are right.

  • Nomic||

    I'm just glad somebody cares enough to gripe when they think I get wrong!
    Thanks John!

  • Mr Whipple||

    Reagan hijacked the Republican Party from the likes of Ford, Nixon, and Rockefeller.

    Yes, after Thomas Dewey hijacked it from Robert Taft.

  • Nomic||

    President Dewey's defeat of Truman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deweytruman12.jpg)
    was just a little before I could vote.

  • MNG||

    Newt's move would make since post-nomination during the general, it would be the classic move of re-assuring a key bloc of voters, in this case seniors, that he wasn't a total ideologue. But in the primaries ideologue's run the show and this move was beyond stupid.

    But Newt has become the kind of pol that would attack his own mother if she deviated in any way that would make her unpopular with the base, so it is yummy to see him on the receiving end.

  • ||

    He just has an incredible tin ear. I haven't a clue why he thought defending the mandate was a good idea.

  • WTF||

    Maybe tin ears are a side-effect of Newcular Titties.

  • Funny||

    Every. Time.

  • Realist||

    He always has that dumb fuck facial expression, like Alfred E. Newman.

  • MNG||

    It's interesting how proposing a change to a program which was, in effect, an instance of radical left wing social engineering is with enough time considered social engineering as well!

  • WTF||

    Oh, crap, I actually agree with MNG on this as I had the same thought. Damn you, Newcular Titties!

  • Platypus||

    yeah, is this a spoof?

  • some guy||

    Nah, Statists are admittedly in love with radical social engineering.

  • The Derider||

    Democracy was considered radical during the American Revolution. Reinstating a monarchy would be considered radical now.

    Things change.

  • rather||

    Dear Newt,

    Don't change. I thought things would be boring since Trump quit, and I see fun fuck-ups in your future.

    rather

    BTW, glitter goes with everything!

  • sarcasmic||

    What a buffoon.

  • Comment Tater||

    he is willing to endanger reform

    All by himself? He is indeed too powerful, and must be stopped.

  • MNG||

    How long does a program or institution have to be in place before it's considered to be part of the pantheon of institutions that conservatives will defend or at least ignore? Remember Reagan's quote to the effect that he did not want to undo the New Deal, just the Great Society?

  • mr simple||

    Just long enough for a generation to be born and reach voting age having lived under the program. Then it moves from a benefit to an entitlement.

  • some guy||

    After three generations it becomes an unfunded liability, threatening to take down the whole economy as it implodes.

  • Doktor Kapitalism||

    Screw both. I say Republicans need to take them on to retain any credibility.

  • ||

    Gingrich is a worthles big government RINO. I figured that out in 2003 when he was a big advocate for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He still doesn't regret it despite the budget destruction.

    http://cnsnews.com/news/articl.....medicare-p

  • WTF||

    Unfortunately the Republican party has an alarming tendency to nominate the guy who has put in his time and who's 'turn' it is, such as McCain, Dole, etc. So by self-destructing with the base early on Newcular Titties may have spared us his being the Republican nominee.

  • iamtheeviltwin||

    Remember that at this point in the 2008 run we had thought McCain had imploded and would be an also-ran...unfortunately we can't count Newt out yet.

  • mr simple||

    Wait, are you telling me that Newt is an unprincipled, opportunistic, hypocritical douche bag? Who could have ever seen this coming? I feel so disillusioned.

  • Newt||

    It's funny you mention that. See, I have this report from the Unprincipled Opportunistic Hypocritical Douchebag Foundation -- which I founded, by the way -- that says disillusionment is a common byproduct of my bloviation.

  • Realist||

    Yes!

  • Mango Punch||

    Newt Feels the Rainbow... also check out how creepy his security guard is at the end of the video.

  • Joe M||

    It's not just that he pissed off the GOP, he's also just flat out wrong in his assessment. Calling a plan to balance the budget in FIFTY YEARS "radical" is complete nonsense.

  • some guy||

    It's par for the course these days. How many politicians have called returning to 2008 spending levels "radical." It was three f'ing years ago!

  • Doktor Kapitalism||

    More like two when we started this conversation.

    Seriously, not spending half again as much as you brought in is not *radical*. It's Accounting 101.

    Brain flash!: Require Congressional and Presidential candidates to take accreditied accounting and economics courses.

  • ||

    and here i thought i was the only one that cringes everytime he opens his cheese hole...

  • ||

    Wow really scary when you think about it.

    www.internet-privacy.at.tc

  • ||

    It causes me intense pleasure to see Mr. Titties blowing up like this. And so early, too!

    Also:

    Gingrich's presidential campaign has taken several lumps in its few days of existence. In other Newt news:

    Gingrich owed between $250,000 and $500,000 to Tiffany's in 2005 and 2006, according to financial disclosure records his wife filed when she was working for the House agriculture committee, Politic's Jake Sherman reports. Gingrich's staff wouldn't comment whether he'd paid off the jeweler's tab.

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com.....ill/37852/

    That's going to go over big with Republican primary voters.

  • ||

    i used to like newt...
    i still think he is intelligent, but his lust for power, lack of any moral compass, and as stated before, hypocritical douchiness make him say/do ridiculous things.

    the comparisons to bill clinton really are apt.

  • ||

    Even Newt couldn't win if he doesn't stand up and be unafraid...
    http://devereauxdailydose.blogspot.com/

  • Jeffrey C. Goldfarb||

    I think that Gingrich for a moment allowed himself to be a classical conservative in the Burkean tradition and revealed the tension between this and a more libertarian stance. He was impolitic but quite reasonable.

  • Radiis Shoes||

    Your article is extremely impressive. I never considered that it was feasible to accomplish something like that until after I looked over your post. You certainly gave a great perception on exactly how this whole process works.

  • caderea parului||

  • nike shoes||

    is good

  • Air Jordan Ol School||

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  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

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