Mitt Romney's MediScare

Inconsistency is only the beginning of the problems with Mr. Romney’s Medicare scare.

With the Republican presidential candidates headed to retiree-heavy Florida in advance of its January 31 primary, expect the debate about Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly, to heat up.

If voters start focusing on the issue, it’s not going to be particularly helpful for Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney raised the issue twice the other night in a debate on CNN. First, he said, “we do not want a $500 billion cut in Medicare to pay for ‘Obamacare.’” Then he called ObamaCare a “Medicare-cutting monster.” In the same debate, he faulted Mr. Obama for “making us more and more like a European social-welfare state. … making us an entitlement society.”

At the time, I noted the apparent inconsistency. How can Mr. Romney simultaneously fault President Obama for cutting $500 billion from Medicare and for turning us into a European-style social-welfare state or entitlement society?

But inconsistency is only the beginning of the problems with Mr. Romney’s Medicare scare.

Inaccuracy is another problem. According to the federal Office of Management and Budget, Medicare spending in 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, was $391 billion. In 2009, the first year of President Obama’s administration, it was $430 billion. In 2010, it was $452 billion (larger than the entire federal budget in 1977, in nominal dollars). For 2011, it is estimated to be $494 billion. In 2013, it is estimated at $534 billion.

So, just to be precise, far from cutting $500 billion from Medicare, President Obama has, in a mere three years, managed toincrease Medicare spending to $494 billion in 2011 from $391 billion in 2008. That is an increase of $103 billion, or 26% in three years.

A Republican candidate genuinely committed to free enterprise and balanced budgets, as Mr. Romney claims he is, and genuinely opposed to a European-style social welfare state or entitlement society, as Mr. Romney claims he is, would be faulting Mr. Obama for spending too much on Medicare, not for cutting it.

Sure, there may be some kind of insider Washington definition of an imaginary “cut” involving decade-long projections and baselines and assumed growth rates under which the targeted growth rate for Medicare spending under ObamaCare is less than what it was before ObamaCare. Such savings are more often assumed than achieved. But that’s the sort of definition of a budget cut that the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees used in its Mediscare television ads against Newt Gingrich and House Republicans in the 1990s, not a definition you’d expect from a Republican presidential candidate or from someone concerned about government spending.

Beyond the accuracy and consistency problems, there’s a governing problem. If Mitt Romney actually ever wins the Republican nomination and then manages to get elected president, he’s going to have to try to follow through on his pledge to reduce the size of government and move toward a balanced budget. Medicare is the third-biggest federal government expense after defense and Social Security, and it’s going to be very difficult for any president to get a balanced budget, or even anywhere close to one, without reining in the growth of the Medicare program in a way that opponents will be able to demonize as “cuts.” The way to succeed at doing it would be to educate the electorate now about the problem of runaway Medicare costs, not to pander to them by criticizing President Obama for threatening their entitlements.

Nor was Mr. Romney’s remark on the matter in the South Carolina debate a casual one. In a December 9, 2011, interview with the Des Moines Register, Mr. Romney said, “the only person I know of to ever cut Medicare is President Obama, by $500 billion to fund Obamacare. … I don’t know anyone among Republicans who’s talking about cutting it. The only person who’s cut Medicare for current Medicare recipients is President Obama.”

At a Republican presidential forum on September 5, 2011, Mr. Romney, explaining the difference between RomneyCare and ObamaCare, said, “We didn't cut Medicare. One president in modern history cut Medicare, this president and I'll say to him, why don't you give me a call and I'll tell you what to do right and what not to do.”

It’s a regular campaign talking point for Mr. Romney.

None of this is to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns about what ObamaCare will do to, say, Medicare Advantage plans that many seniors like, or to reimbursement rates for certain doctors, hospitals, or procedures.

If Mr. Romney isn’t more careful, though, his attacks on Medicare “cuts” risk scaring voters away not from President Obama, but from Mr. Romney’s own campaign.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.

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  • wareagle||

    does Obamacare shift a half-trillion from Medicare to cover its costs or does it not? Has the GOP actually attempted to address Medicare only to be accused of killing grandma or has it not? Are doctors complaining about reimbursement cuts from this administration that will lead them to stop taking Medicare patients, or are they not? By the way, Medicare sets the tone for what private insurance pays.

    It would be nice if Medicare was not in place or, at the very least, something far less expansive. But I don't see the will in either party for doing much about it. That Medicare spending has greatly increased under Obama thus far does not negate what the health care law says it will do with that program.

  • ||

    Obamacare kills off Medicare Advantage (which is a private subsidy). The federal savings are debatable. The Bushpigs put it in as a partial privatization to placate their cronies.

  • Some Guy||

    does Obamacare shift a half-trillion from Medicare to cover its costs or does it not?

    Almost certainly not. It'll be just like the "Doc Fix."

    Don't give Obama undue credit for actually making cuts that should be made.

  • Ghost of Ernst Lehmann||

    Medicare is not the problem. Social Security and the war machine are the problem.

  • Some Guy||

    Medicare spending is growing much faster that SS and "Defense".

  • ||

    None of these GOP cocksuckers will cut a goddamn cent.

    Paul Ryan offered up some cuts - in 2021. Big fucking deal.

    At least Obama put cuts on the table at a 3-1 ratio and the "progressives" freaked out and called him a sell-out.

  • wareagle||

    and you guys portrayed Ryan as a granny killer. No, Obama DID NOT PUT CUTS ON THE TABLE. He talked about cuts, tossing out a ratio for effect. His own budget was laughed out of the Senate 97-0, the same Senate that has not put forth its version of a budget in 3 years.

    When TP people were elected to Congress on a mandate of cutting spending, your side led the charge to call them all sorts of names. The House put forth a budget with something that looked like cuts; the Senate refused to even debate it. The sad part is this is all a question of which side is less likely to cut anything but the fact is, it's Dems. Hands down.

  • ||

    A budget is a thing of the past. They don't matter anymore.

    What matters are tax rates and appropriations.

  • ||

    They seem to be a thing of the past, but I think having some semblance of a plan, and with it perhaps some political accountability, is something we could do with.

  • NotSure||

    I see who are still surviving the Christian Taliban who are persecuting you.

  • Tony||

    and you guys portrayed Ryan as a granny killer.

    Because everyone knows your side would never engage in hyperbole. Particularly on healthcare reform, its opponents were the definition of measured and calm.

  • NotSure||

    This coming from a guy who labels people who want to stop ever mounting debt as extremists, thats not hyperbole of course.

    While on the topic of hyperbole - you are the worlds biggest government anus licker, not hyperbole until you can show me one single person on the planets that loves government more than you.

  • Tony||

    I reject the premise that one can love or hate government conceptually. There will always be a government, so you might as well try to have the one that does the most good. Smaller government is, of course, a euphemism for more nondemocratic (private) tyranny.

    I suppose there are non-extremists on the austerity side, but the overwhelming voice on the right in this country, represented by a major political party and pathetically parroted here, is anti-rational far right extremism. Maybe it's not "far right" yet, but it's certainly not moderating anytime soon. One of the biggest fallacies in politics is, of course, to assume that both sides are becoming equally extreme. That's just belied by their political platforms.

  • thirtyandseven||

    Private tyranny?

    HAHAHAHA WHOOOHOO thats fantastic!!

    I rule myself with absolute impunity!!

    Someone save me! I just can't help myself! I've become a ruthless tyrant, forcing myself to do unspeakable things against my will!

    The horror of private tyranny, THE SHEER, UNMITIGATED HORROR!!

  • Blacksmithking||

    I'm not sure what private tyranny is? Steve Jobs charging $2,000 for an Ipad 2?

    I'd like a minarchic government that does not in any way try to be "good." Just one that performs its necessary functions, such as barebones regulations of markets, national defense, licensing, etc. Once you start asking it to be "good" you're asking for runaway spending, regulatory capture, and corruption, since there's no end to the things government can do "for the common good."

    Then again, I'm probably preaching from the peak of Mt. Stupid. If I'm there, though, so is Tony.

  • Tony||

    So you don't think your concept of government has anything to do with normative values? Presumably you think it should restrict itself to those activities because it is good to do so.

    Of course all libertarian concepts of government suffer from the same problem: it ends up protecting the luxuries of the rich while ignoring the needs of the poor.

  • DK||

    Ha! Antirational? Isn't it antirational to ignore prima facie facts about the world? Such as basic economic laws. Fuck you, Tony.

  • Circling Highway Buzzard||

    You cannot cut entitlements for people who have relied, to their great detriment, on government promises and are too old to go back to work. You can cut promises to 25 y/o's.

  • Blacksmithking||

    Actual cuts or just slight (but "draconian") reductions in generous planned increases (over 10 years)?

  • ||

    To my knowledge, no one in Congress or the White House has ever proposed a cut to Medicare.

    Except, I assume, Ron Paul, and maybe Rand Paul.

    Certainly not the President.

  • Zoro the Zoroasterian ||

    Paul Ryan, dude.

  • Some Guy||

    False. He proposed that the rate of increase be less.

  • Lamentations in L.A.||

    Ryan proposed that social security and medicare ages be hiked. This is a cut. So take your wonkish false confidence and shove it up your poop shoot.

  • Some Guy||

    And we'd still be spending more than we are on inflation adjusted terms after his changes kicked in. Which makes it not a real cut but a slowdown in the rate of growth.

    Math, how does that work?

  • Loki||

    The only person who’s cut Medicare for current Medicare recipients is President Obama.

    If there was any truth to that it would be a point in Obama's favor in my book.

  • Romney's Illicit Landscaper||

    Dumb fuck I mean Ira, there is a difference between cutting Medicare entitlements for 25 year olds vs. tellng 95 y/o granny she's gonna have to make do with less next year. The rest of this article is completely worthless. Why is it that so many right wingers desire 4 years of big government Newt Gingrich stylie?

  • Zoro the Zoroasterian ||

    The fundie nuts cannot handle Romzillas Mormonism so they spend every waking hour trying to smear his impeccable record in the public and private sector by writing shinola like this hatchet job. 4 years of Newton Leroy Gingrich may be the nails in the coffin we so desperately need.

  • Some Guy||

    his impeccable record in the public and private sector

    You owe me a keyboard.

  • Durango Bagel Shoppe||

    What in the hell would it take to impress you nattering nabobs of negativism? The man has made millions. He saved the Olympics, for gosh sakes. He turned Massachusetts into a thriving metropolis. The man is perfect in every way except for his magic unders and his ward clever persona. My heart grieves for this man, for the things he's had to endure merely because he's dared to live a sober, competent life in a post apocalyptic America where values are scoffed, were accomplishment is viewed with scorn.

  • Circling Highway Buzzard||

    Florida poll:

    Newton Leroy 41 Mittens 32 Butt Juice 11 RonPaul 8

    Maybe the Mayans were on to something.

  • Some Guy||

    not a definition you’d expect from a Republican presidential candidate or from someone concerned about government spending

    I find that those two things rarely describe the same person.

    By which I'd estimate that there have been about 3 in my lifetime.

  • Horses on the Range||

    Free Rand Paul.

  • Dawn Coyote ||

    Not to tilt at windmills, but what is it going to take to cure this country of mass stupidity?

  • Glenn Beckus, Apocalypticus ||

    The facts are quite simple:
    Current deficit is 100% of GDP.
    60 trillion in debt commitments.
    Troops in over 100 countries.
    5 ass hats running for President and a retarded Congress.
    Doom is in the air.

  • amagikid||

    Watch Herman Cain deliver the Tea Party State of the Union at www.TeaPartyExpress.org ! The live stream starts on Tuesday, January 24th at 10:30 EST/7:30 PST.

  • El Camino flipped over on 1-5||

    Herman Cain endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008. So did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. Now? They all hate him and call him names.

  • One more whiskey bottle||

    10 toes in the sand
    Darkness gathers all around us
    Mixed with the sound of the ocean
    Liberty lovers have no place in politics
    Free thyself from the chains of the status quo
    Go outside and pray to something
    Or in the forest, open your ears
    Find a moss strewn cabin and hunker down

  • Ghost of Ernst Lehmann||

    Pass that shit over here then.

  • Jolly Roger||

    I don't see the point of this article other than to launch another bullshit attack on Mitt Romney. Why ain't the conservative press paying attention to Newt Gingrich - he's the damn front runner now. Rum guzzling swine fucker.

  • Fool for a Virginal||

    The end is near.
    Defeat by the armies of christ
    Sad fate for to befall
    a man so nice

  • annonymous commenter some guy||

    "...I don’t know anyone among Republicans who’s talking about cutting [Medicare]...".

    Apparently Mr. Romney is not even aware of Dr. Paul. Sad...

  • Major Johnson||

    I don't like Mitt or Mittcare but that was done where it's supposed to be done, at the state level. You can be opposed to the federal government doing something and then propose it at the state level and not be a hypocrite. Few republicans would dispute that the federal government has no power to issue drivers licenses while states have complete authority to do so.

    I'm not sure why so many republicans miss that point, and I suspect that not as many miss the point as avoid it for their own purposes.

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