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“Jeb Bush Pushes To ‘Phase Out’ Medicare”: Slow Learner’s? Ignorance? There’s Just ‘Something’ About Republican Politicians

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush appeared at a New Hampshire event last night sponsored by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and the former governor raised a few eyebrows with his comments on the future of Medicare.

“The left needs to join the conversation, but they haven’t. I mean, when [Rep. Paul Ryan] came up with, one of his proposals as it relates to Medicare, the first thing I saw was a TV ad of a guy that looked just like Paul Ryan … that was pushing an elderly person off the cliff in a wheelchair. That’s their response.

“And I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.”

Remember, Jeb Bush is the ostensible moderate candidate in the massive GOP presidential field. It says something important about Republican politics in 2015 when the most mainstream candidate is also the candidate who wants to scrap Medicare altogether.

Regardless, there’s quite a bit wrong with his take on the issue, both as a matter of politics and policy. Let’s start with the former.

The Florida Republican is convinced that “people understand” the need to get rid of Medicare. He’s mistaken. Given the polling from the last several years, what people understand is that Medicare is a popular and successful program, and a pillar of modern American life.

Previous attempts to “phase out” the program have met with widespread public scorn and if Jeb Bush believes he can “persuade people” to get rid of Medicare, he’s likely to be disappointed.

As for the policy, there’s no point in denying that the Medicare system faces long-term fiscal challenges, but to argue, as Jeb Bush does, that Democrats have ignored the conversation is plainly incorrect. On the contrary, while Republicans fight to eliminate the Medicare program, Democrats have had great success in strengthening Medicare finances and extending its fiscal health for many years to come.

The secret, apparently, was passing the Affordable Care Act.

Before “Obamacare” was passed, Medicare was projected to face a serious fiscal shortfall in 2017. As of yesterday, Medicare trustees now believe the system is fiscally secure through 2030.

Kevin Drum noted the slowdown in costs, which is “spectacularly good news.”

Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.

Six percent! That’s half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn’t spectacular, I don’t know what is.

Obviously, all of these projections come with caveats because no one can say with certainty what will happen in the future, but the projections are encouraging – and far more heartening than they were before the ACA passed.

But Jeb Bush is under the impression that Medicare is, without a doubt, doomed, so we might as well get rid of the program now and see what Paul Ryan has in store for seniors in his far-right bag of tricks.

There’s a better way. Medicare’s future is looking brighter, it’s as popular as ever, and its fiscal challenges can be addressed without tearing down the entire system. It’s a matter of political will – either elected policymakers will fight to protect Medicare or they’ll push to eliminate it.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 21, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Medicare | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right’s Word-Deed Problem”: Republicans Rely On All Sorts Of Magic Tricks That Shove Choices And Problems Down The Road

Briefly, there seemed a chance we might have a cross-party discussion of the biggest economic problem the country faces: the vexing intersection of wage stagnation, declining social mobility and rising inequality.

Even the most conservative Republicans were starting to talk about this challenge in rather urgent terms. In a moment whose irony he noted, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told a bunch of rich Republicans gathered by the Brothers Koch earlier this year that those doing well in America were “the top 1 percent, the millionaires and billionaires the president loves to demagogue, one or two of whom are here with us tonight” while the “people who have been hammered for the last six years are working men and women.”

And on it went through the country’s top Republicans. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stressed “opportunity inequality” and Mitt Romney, in another ironic turn, charged that “under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer.”

It would be wonderful if conservatives really wanted to deal constructively with the predicament they so passionately describe. But thanks to the House and Senate GOP budgets, we now know that conservatives and Republicans (1) aren’t serious about the plight of working class and lower-income Americans, and (2) would actually make their situations much worse.

Their spending plans fail even on conservative terms: They are not fiscally responsible. Instead, they rely on all sorts of magic tricks that shove choices and problems down the road.

One heartening sign is that at least some conservatives find these budgets ridiculous. For example, James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute headlined his commentary for The Week: “The disappointing unseriousness of the House GOP’s budget.”

Pethokoukis wrote: “House Republicans say they want to balance the federal budget and eventually eliminate the federal debt. They do not have a plan to do so. Oh, to be sure, they have a plan! Just not a realistic one that will actually accomplish their goals.”

He noted that of the $5.5 trillion in cuts from planned spending, $2 trillion would come from “repealing the Obamacare insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion and replacing them with … well, nothing right now.”

The wholesale assault on efforts to provide lower-income Americans with health insurance is the clearest sign that Republicans don’t want to deal with inequality. The inability to get health insurance is one of the biggest burdens on low-income families, particularly those working for low wages and few or no benefits.

Obamacare has helped 16.4 million Americans get health insurance. Where would they turn? And Republicans would compound the damage: The Senate proposes cutting an additional $400 billion from Medicaid over a decade, the House more than double that. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that on other low-income programs, the Senate budget cuts even more than the House. The vagueness of these plans makes it hard to tally how much damage would be done to food stamps, Pell Grants for low-income college students and the like, but Greenstein estimates that about two-thirds of the cuts in both plans come “from programs for the less fortunate, thereby exacerbating poverty and inequality.”

Greenstein concludes that under such proposals — here’s hoping President Obama is relentless in blocking them — “ours would be a coarser and less humane nation with higher levels of poverty and inequality, less opportunity,” and an “inadequately prepared” workforce.

Another bit of hypocrisy: These budget writers care so much about national security that they’re not willing to raise a dime in taxes to cover their sharp increases in defense spending. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, called out his conservative colleagues for how differently they treat defense and social spending.

“You’re always telling us the deficit is so bad we’ve got to cut programs for the elderly, for the sick and for the poor,” Sanders said, “and suddenly, all of that rhetoric disappears.”

Budgets are, by their nature, boring. That’s why those who assemble these long columns of numbers figure they can assail the well-being of the least privileged people in our society even as they profess to care about them so much.

I’d respect these folks a lot more if they said what they clearly believe: They think more inequality would be good for us. It almost makes you nostalgic for the candor of the Romney who spoke about the “47 percent” and the Paul Ryan who once divided us between “makers” and “takers.” Honesty beats saccharine words about the struggles of working people any day.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; Featured Post, The National Memo, March 23, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Budget, Republicans, Wage Stagnation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz’s Imagined America”: A Detour Between His Biographical And Ideological Sections Into The Late Eighteenth Century

I just slogged through Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign announcement speech, and have to say it’s a formula composition: a combination of a Cruz family biography and a by-the-numbers recitation of conservative policy positions. To give it the requisite “lift,” the candidate and/or his brain trust chose a rather hackneyed “imagine” construction, and applied it mechanically to both parts of the speech:

Imagine a teenage boy, not much younger than many of you here today, growing up in Cuba. Jet black hair, skinny as a rail.

Involved in student council, and yet Cuba was not at a peaceful time. The dictator, Batista, was corrupt, he was oppressive. And this teenage boy joins a revolution. He joins a revolution against Batista, he begins fighting with other teenagers to free Cuba from the dictator. This boy at age 17 finds himself thrown in prison, finds himself tortured, beaten. And then at age 18, he flees Cuba, he comes to America.

Imagine for a second the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across to Key West, and got on a Greyhound bus to head to Austin, Texas to begin working, washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour, coming to the one land on earth that has welcomed so many millions.

You get the idea.

And then later, this:

Imagine innovation thriving on the Internet as government regulators and tax collectors are kept at bay and more and more opportunity is created.

Imagine America finally becoming energy self-sufficient as millions and millions of high-paying jobs are created.

All this imagining gets very labored and tedious–particularly since Cruz takes a detour between his biographical and ideological sections into the late eighteenth century and the Holy Founders charged by God with forever limiting government (a staple of Con-Con revisionist history).

But in a way it’s appropriate, too, since Cruz is the self-designated champion for those who really don’t like America as it is and prefer an imagined version where the Calvin Coolidge administration is the wave of the future. He really, really wants these people to look to him as their first-choice candidate amidst a host of rivals, and he spares no rhetorical expense–and no opportunity cost in terms of appealing to anyone else–to make his pitch.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 23, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Truth Behind Ted Cruz’s Lies”: The Ugly American Approach To Foreign Language In Moral Form

Oh happy day—freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz is set to announce that he’s running for president. And he’s not going to announce at the Alamo or any other defiant Texas-type monument. He’s making a pilgrimage straight to the birthplace of the Moral Majority, the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University. The setting makes sense for a man who believes that God has called him to politics. After all, the only way to top shutting down the government is to try to run the government into the ground himself.

This month, Cruz released a short video that’s the best evidence yet for what a Cruz presidential campaign might be like. It’s called “A Time for Truth,” and the title has to be intentional irony.

Cruz’s Politifact track record for publicly-asserted falsehoods is the second-highest among front-runners, totaling 56 percent of all statements they’ve looked at. The only other leading contender with a higher rating is Ben Carson, who has a 100 percent “pants on fire” history, the result mainly of his brief time in the national spotlight and only having given Politifact one assertion to check—that people choose to be gay. (The investigative process on verifying that claim could have been entertaining, had Carson taken up Dan Savage’s invitation to take a very personal version of the Pepsi Challenge. Politifact chose a less experiential approach.)

It’s not just Cruz’s habit of embellishment that makes the video’s title more wish-fulfillment than description. One would expect a video entitled “A Time for Truth” to contain, you know, truth. Or calls to speak the truth, at the very least. Cruz’s infomercial, on the other hand, is simply a collection of Cruz clips wherein he apparently confuses speaking the truth with speaking very dramatically and forcefully. It is the Ugly American approach to foreign language in moral form.

Watch as Cruz loudly proclaims he will stand up for various things! He also asks for others to stand up for things! It’s a tic in the vernacular of the evangelical subculture Cruz hails from to think of extravagantly passionate sincerity as evidence of honesty and probity. So perhaps Cruz’s substitution of one for the other is not an intentional bait-and-switch.

Let’s indulge a thought experiment: What if, in all those cases where Cruz’s passionate sincerity has been found to be trustworthy, he meant what he said at the time?

We take it for granted that politicians lie to gain votes, to make themselves more appealing, or to make someone else look bad. But what if Cruz wasn’t craven, but instead as sincere as he sounds. What would that mean?

There are objective falsehoods that show Cruz could just be looking at a different set of data. Other, more telling whoppers show that Cruz isn’t just looking at different data, he’s living in a different universe.

The former category contains his insistence that there’s no such thing as global warming. The latter kind of lie is why Cruz can look a child in the eye and tell her the world is on fire. 

Multiple news organizations have found fault with this standard refrain from his stump speech: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” There are not 110,000 agents at the IRS. There aren’t even that many employees. There are about 82,000, of whom about 14,000 are agents.

But that’s just a fact-check of the first sentence; what about the underlying notion that there’s some kind of equivalence between what accountants do and the kind of peacekeeping one might need at the border?

The most generous interpretation might be that Cruz thinks we’re not keeping track of our immigrants; more paperwork is in order. (True enough!) The spookier option is that he thinks IRS agents are as militarized as your local police force, and they would be the group to finally wrest “100 percent operational control” (an Orwellian-sounding metric Cruz often invokes but never explains) in the region.

Cruz’s fantasy life, understandably, gets warmer and fuzzier closer to home. Take his version of the aw-shucks, I-don’t-deserve-her, backhandedly condescending marital anecdote that male candidates are required to have. It casts his decision to run for Senate as a moment of unexpected validation:

He recalled saying to his wife in the weeks before his Senate primary, when he was still behind in the polls, “Sweetheart, I’d like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign.”

“What astonished me, then and now, was Heidi within 60 seconds said, ‘Absolutely,’ with no hesitation,” said Mr. Cruz, who invested about $1.2 million—“which is all we had saved,” he added—into his campaign.

Heidi Cruz herself recalls the conversation differently. There was no movie-friendly smash cut “absolutely,” or even assent. Rather, she told Politico, she “wanted him to raise money from elsewhere first, to show that the support was out there.” And even then, “She proposed that they not put their own cash into the campaign unless it made the difference between winning and losing.” That’s sort of the opposite of an instantaneous absolutely: a hesitant and conditional maybe.

Maybe Ted’s version is just the kind of face-saving white lie we tell ourselves to preserve harmony in a relationship. After all, it’s easier and healthier than nursing a grudge. Or, in Cruz’s mind, a hesitant and conditional maybe, if it relates to something he wants bad enough, is enthusiastic agreement.

This delusion would explain almost everything Ted Cruz does.

That would explain Cruz’s misguided belief that a wide swath of Americans want to repeal Obamacare. It would explain his quixotic crusade against the country’s growing support for marriage equality. It would make sense, even, of his run for the presidency.

Cruz, after all, is a “top-tier” candidate mostly in terms of name recognition. While he’s an extremely popular speaker at base-flaming events such as CPAC (where he finished third in the easily gamed Straw Poll), wider swaths of GOP voters are not as kind. Even among the notoriously conservative Republican Iowa caucus-goers he’s in single digits. In the even narrower category of self-identified Iowa Tea Partiers, he has only 10 percent of the vote, trailing Ben Carson (11 percent), Rand Paul (15 percent) and flavor of the month Scott Walker (33 percent).

To be fair, most politicians who run for president have some strain of the megalomania that seems to infect Cruz. Almost every politician who runs for president needs to have that curious mental twist, an ego like a funhouse mirror. Otherwise, no one except those already likely to win would run. Ask some liberal Democrats how they feel about that scenario.

But the most successful politicians seem to leaven self-importance with data. Obama’s 2008 victory over the inevitable Hillary Clinton is often painted in terms of pure marketing, but it was number-crunching that made the difference in the nitty-gritty days of the final states. Bill Clinton often looks like an example of sentiment prevailing over smarts, but his career’s lows reflect the times when he didn’t turn off the charm.

Tell the truth, Ted Cruz says. Just don’t try to get him to be honest with himself.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Completely Erroneous Impressions”: The Race Between Slander And Reality On Obamacare

Speaking of million pixel images, Sarah Kliff has an important piece at Vox today about perceptions of Obamacare five years in, and the big takeaway is how little has changed, in no small part because people with no direct experience of the new system have internalized the (mostly negative) propaganda they’ve heard. That is particularly true with respect to completely erroneous impressions of the net cost of Obamacare:

Forty-two percent of Americans think Obamacare has gotten more expensive over the past five years. Only 5 percent of poll respondents hit on the right answer: budget estimates for the Affordable Care Act have consistently fallen since it became a law.

Make no mistake: Obamacare spends a lot of money on its tax credits and Medicaid expansion. It recoups some, but not all, of that new spending with hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts, which reduce federal health spending. The bulk of the remainder is made up with tax increases. But back when the law was passing, Republicans argued up, down, and sideways that the Congressional Budget Office was sharply underestimating the amount of money Obamacare spends.

In fact, the CBO overestimated the cost of Obamacare — and by quite a lot. In April 2014, it marked down its Obamacare projection by more than $100 billion. Much of the revision comes down to the fact that health-care costs have grown very slowly during 2009, meaning it’s less expensive for the government to help millions of Americans purchase coverage. Just this month, CBO released new projections showing that Obamacare’s subsidies would cost 20 percent less over the next decade than initially expected.

The government is now spending less on health care than CBO had projected back in January 2010 — a projection that didn’t include any Affordable Care Act spending at all.

Another problem is that people attribute to the Affordable Care Act phenomena that would have occurred anyway, especially rising (though more slowly rising) premiums and disruption of individual insurance policies–and even the long, long trend away from fee-for-service medicine delivered by doctors of one’s own choice.

Assuming it is not crippled by the U.S. Supreme Court or repealed by a Republican Congress and president, Obamacare will slowly or surely chip away at the misconceptions. It is, sad to say, a sign of progress that (according to the Vox survey) that only 26% of self-identified Republicans believe in the “death panel” meme. The bigger question is how long it might take for Republican politicians to end their propaganda and treat Obamacare as part of the national landscape–as something to change, not kill–and whether that will precede their next turn in real power.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 23, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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