CHARLOTTE—Like the Republicans last week, Democrats are devoting much of their prime time convention rhetoric so far to context-free potshots and vacant sloganeering. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, for example, spent the bulk of his speech talking about what he described as “a scary subject” for lot of Republicans: facts. Quoting John Adams’ maxim that “facts are stubborn things,” he said that he watched the GOP convention last week and “heard a lot of things that are simply not true.”
Quinn was repeating a charge that echoed through the media last week, as organizations from The New Yorker to The New Republic to The Washington Post and The New York Times stepped up to offer fact checks the GOP convention speeches. Many of those fact checks, however, dinged Republicans for hypocrisy and ignoring context rather than for making out-and-out, factually wrong statements. (And some of the fact checkers just ignored the facts themselves.) And yet these fact checks have led to claims that the GOP’s convention represented some new record level of lying and fact-evasion.
But tonight, Democrats proved that they can ignore and distort facts too, sometimes even while accusing their opponents of doing the same.
For example, Quinn blasted GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s attacks on the Obama administration’s changes to welfare reform’s work requirements. The GOP “stubbornly smeared President Obama’s excellent record of reforming welfare,” he said, referring to HHS’s decision to give itself authority to allow state’s waivers altering welfare’s work requirements. Quinn thought the attacks were obviously baseless. “Everyone knows that is a ridiculous charge,” he said. Why? Because “under President Obama, states can get flexibility only if they move 20 percent more people to work.” Facts may be stubborn things, but so are numbers. And arguably the easiest way to boost the percentage of welfare beneficiaries moved to work is to expand the number of people on welfare. And given that the key success of the original welfare reform was that it shrank welfare rolls, any reform that creates an incentive to expand enrollment is at least potentially undermining the reform.
And here’s a fact that Quinn didn’t mention at all: There’s no statutory authority for the Department of Health and Humans Services to make the change. It is granting itself authority that does not exist in the legislative language and promising not to abuse it.
Elsewhere in the speech, Quinn took on Medicare. Romney and Ryan, he said “want to give seniors a voucher that caps what Medicare will cover, and then tell seniors they’re on their own for what’s left.” But neither Romney’s plan nor the most recent version of the Ryan plan would rely on vouchers, which are given directly to seniors. Instead, the plan would rely on premium support, which would pay health insurers inside regulated, government-run exchanges directly—very much like the insurance subsidies built into ObamaCare. To be sure, there are similarities between vouchers and premium support—you might even say they are variations on a common idea—but they’re not the same.
Quinn accused Romney and Ryan of falsely claiming their plan wouldn’t "hurt" seniors. “The fact is, it will,” he said. The fact is, that’s not a fact. Some seniors might be better or worse off, but we don’t know what senior health would look like under a Romney/Ryan style reform. What we do know is that roughly 50 million seniors already rely on competing private plans through Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D. There are problems with those plans. But they don’t seem to be harming seniors.
Quinn also promised that “President Obama’s plan will protect Medicare, and protect our seniors.” Another way to put it would be that President Obama’s plan, like Ryan’s budget, would also attempt to cap Medicare spending growth and put crucial Medicare spending decisions in the hands of a board of unelected bureaucrats. This plan is so unpopular that even a number of Democrats have openly talked about voting against it. Quinn could have mentioned this unflattering context. But he didn’t. It’s not a lie. But it is a telling omission. “It’s our job in the next nine weeks to make sure that the American people know the facts,” Quinn said. But what he meant was: the facts Democrats want the American people to know.