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“It’s About His Vision For America’s Future”: Why Ben Carson’s Problem With The Truth Really Matters

Ben Carson’s campaign turned into a kaleidoscope of oddities last week: The retired neurosurgeon made fanciful claims about the purpose of Egyptian pyramids and the political experience of the Founding Fathers. He insisted that he was, in fact, a violent youth, but admitted that he wasn’t, in fact, offered admission to West Point—both key highlights of his autobiography. But amid all the attention being paid to his personal background, it’s easy to overlook what Carson is actually running on. Of all the GOP candidates, Carson has put forward the most radical ideas for overhauling country’s entitlement programs. And while he’s lately begun to clumsily retreat to more moderate alternatives, they don’t add up any more than his attempts to explain the factual holes in his autobiography. While his past will surely provide rich fodder for Tuesday night’s third GOP debate, it’s what Carson proposes for America’s future that truly needs more critical attention.

Carson originally proposed to scrap Medicare and Medicaid entirely—a genuinely radical idea, and one with massive policy and political risks. Under his plan, every American would receive a cradle-to-grave health savings account with an annual $2,000 government subsidy, which family members could share. But after the third debate two weeks ago, Carson began running away from that old idea, which had been coming under increasing attack by fellow Republicans, particularly Donald Trump. “Ben wants to get rid of Medicare, Trump said last week. “You can’t get rid of Medicare. It would be a horrible thing to get rid of.”

Carson has begun to roll out an alternative that avoids the political liabilities of blowing up the entire system. But his account of the changes he’s made has been as confusing as the West Point saga. A few days before the last debate, Carson was already claiming on Fox News Sunday that his original plan for entitlement reform had been “gone for several months now.” That confused host Chris Wallace, who—like most of those watching—had definitely not been under that impression. Though he remains hazy on the details, Carson’s new scheme could also be massively disruptive, not only undermining care but also running up costs for the government.

Under Carson’s new plan—at least, from what can be sussed out from his statements—the traditional government programs would stay in place, but people would have the alternative to opt out with private Health Savings Accounts they could use to purchase their own coverage. Unlike his original plan, however, not everyone would get a subsidy in this one. Many of the details remain murky, and Carson’s campaign says a full-blown proposal is forthcoming. But based on his remarks so far, Carson seems to be suggesting that if you qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, you could choose to have the government money that would have paid for your health care to go directly to a private savings account instead. “I would never get rid of the programs. I would provide people with an alternative,” Carson said on Fox News Sunday. “I think they will see that the alternative that we’re going to outline is so much better than anything else that they will flock to it.”

But Carson’s alternative could create a whole host of problems. Those who pick HSAs would likely face very high deductibles and co-pays, which could lead them to forgo necessary care. At the same time, the cost of government health programs could end up rising as well. Healthier people would likely opt out if they could receive cash in private accounts, while sicker people would probably stick with traditional Medicare and Medicaid. “The new plan runs the risk of costing the government more than the current system, since people could game a two-choice system, sticking with a savings account when their spending is low, and switching to a government program once their medical costs rise,” writes The New York Times’s Margot Sanger-Katz.

If Carson’s original plan took a sledgehammer to Medicare and Medicaid, his alternative risks seriously weakening the programs. Despite his medical credentials, Carson seems confused about the very basics of the health care system. In a recent interview, he said that Medicare and Medicaid fraud was costing taxpayers “half a trillion dollars,” a truly astonishing estimate given that the total cost of both programs is $980 billion, as Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum points out. (Experts estimate that the real cost of Medicare and Medicaid fraud could be about $98 billion.)

In previous Republican debates, candidates have treated questions about the factual reality of their policy ideas as an inconvenience to be brushed aside—or as evidence of a media conspiracy to smear conservatives. But it wouldn’t be surprising on Tuesday night, given Carson’s standing in the polls and the scent of his blood in the water, if other Republican candidates go after him on Medicare and Medicaid far more aggressively. Carson won’t be the only likely target: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio have both embraced House Speaker Paul Ryan’s contentious “premium support” proposal, which would give seniors a set amount of money to buy private insurance or traditional Medicare.

Carson’s original idea to overhaul Medicare was far more comprehensive, however, and his new idea is significantly more confusing than his rivals’. Though he’ll likely spend much of Tuesday night defending himself on other scores, his credibility is also on the line when it comes to his policy proposals. We had a preview of what’s to come in the last debate, when Carson was pressed to explain his wild-eyed idea to scrap the current tax code in favor of a ten-percent flat tax. He responded by denying that this was ever his position to begin with, then refused to accept the basic facts behind the idea.

He’s already started to use the same cop-outs when it comes to his health-care ideas, acting as if he had never proposed to get rid of Medicare. This, ultimately, is why Carson’s trouble with truth-telling really does matter: His fuzzy relationship with the facts doesn’t stop with his youth.


By: Suzy Khimm, Senior Editor at The New Republic; November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Medicare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Has Dr. Ben Finally Stepped In It?”: “We Don’t Need A Department Of Veterans Affairs”

In my TPMCafe column on Ben Carson earlier this week, I noted that he had been pretty vague on a lot of issues even as he had wrapped his extremist philosophy in dog whistles. That’s quite the successful formula, for a while at least, for a stealth wingnut with a powerful biography and a charming manner.

Could be, though, he’s just stepped in a great big cow patty, per Military Times‘ Leo Shane III:

Presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s comments suggesting the Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.

On a national radio show Thursday, Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.

“There is a lot of stuff we’re doing that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense.”

Carson said he wants to provide all veterans with health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care and reserve defense-run veterans clinics for highly specialized care, like traumatic brain injury treatment and limb replacements.

Ah, yes, the HSA pet rock. But it’s not a welcome idea to the quite conservative VFW:

“To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own … and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day,” VFW National Commander John Biedrzyck said in a statement.

“(VA) provides an irreplaceable service to the nation’s wounded, ill and injured veterans, and my organization will not let any candidate for any office suggest anything otherwise.”

Them’s fighting words, and other vet groups seem even less pleased:

In a lengthy online essay, Paralyzed Veterans of America Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. called the plan “a misguided notion born from ignorance of what each department does.”

“Those who insist ‘we don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs’ are likely people who in fact do not need VA care because of good health or cannot access VA care due to ineligibility, as is the case with Dr. Carson,” he wrote.

“However, frustration in reaction to problems in VA combined with ignorance about what VA does and how it works are not the ingredients for a recipe of success where fixing the department is concerned.”

And here’s the thing: this involves the one issue area where Carson can’t say he’s still playing catch-up because he’s been off saving lives for decades. As a physician, health care policy is the one thing he definitely will be expected to “get.”

Politics aside, abolishing the VA health system to shunt veterans (or at least those not picked up by the DoD, which could create another whole set of problems) into the private system is pretty close to the opposite of what we should be doing. As WaMo’s own Phil Longman explained back in 2007, we ought to be making the rest of the health care system more like the VA. No, it’s not perfect; the eligibility system has problems, as well all know; but the actual care it provides at a limited cost remains the best available in the country. And Ben Carson ought to realize that.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 4, 2015

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Wink, A Smile And A Voice Vote”: The House GOP’s Down-Low, Backhanded Endorsement Of Obamacare

It’s not all that often that the lead piece on the Drudge Report attacks Republicans, so it’s worth a little savoring when it happens, and this one is especially delectable. The link was to an AP story reporting that two weeks ago, House Republicans stealthily voted for a measure that changed an aspect of the Affordable Care Act.

What? I know. In other words, Congress amends bill it passed a few years ago. In a normal moral universe, this would scarcely qualify as news. But when we speak of the House of Representatives, we are in the modern Republican Party’s moral universe, and there, the rules are different.

You see, by agreeing to amend Obamacare, Republicans are acknowledging the law’s existence and legitimacy. The only things they’re supposed to be doing with Obamacare are burning copies of it on the Capitol steps and voting to repeal it. But here they’ve done the exact opposite. And what made it even worse was the way they did it. The change was very quietly tucked into a larger bill, the Medicare “doc fix,” which helps payments to doctors who serve Medicare patients keep pace with inflation. Only House majority leadership—the Republicans—can do that. And then, to make matters still worse, the yellow-bellied quislings passed the thing by voice vote, so no one had to be on the record.

The change, by the way, removes deductible caps from certain plans small businesses can offer their employees. This allows the employers, according to the AP, to offer cheaper plans to individuals who also have health savings accounts, which conservatives have been pushing for 15 or 20 years. Only around 30 percent of American businesses offer HSAs, and large employers are more likely to include them than small ones. Hence, the target of opportunity for HSA partisans. So the change accomplished a GOP policy goal. But funny thing: apparently not a single Republican member of the House trumpeted the change or even said a word about it when the vote took place March 27.

It hardly matters what the change was. It could have been that the purchase of armor-piercing bullets was now covered under Obamacare and it wouldn’t help: The fact that Republicans used the ACA as the vehicle with which to make this change was the crime. Oh, did I have a jolly afternoon reading through the comment thread at Free Republic:

“The uniparty at work!”

“Appeasement Weasels.”

“Voice vote.”

“And I’ll say it right now: The Republican Party does not want Obamacare to be repealed and will not support candidates who do. I’d love to have someone come back around November 1, 2016 and show me that this prediction was wrong.”

“The G.O.P. (GAVE OBAMA POWER) is the party that created RomneyCARE/ObamaCARE
and imposed it FOR ALL, FOR ROMNEY, FOREVER.”


You get the picture. So what do we take away from this?

I think we take away from it that some of these “Freepers,” as they’re called on that site, are on to something. Republicans don’t really want to repeal Obamacare. Or no: they almost certainly want to, but they know they probably can’t. So even while they froth away for the cameras and town-hall meetings, there’s another, smaller, darker part of them that knows the truth, or the likely truth, which is that Hillary Clinton appears likely to be the next president, the Democrats will recapture the Senate in 2016 or vastly increase their majority if they didn’t lose it in 2014, and by the end of the next President Clinton’s first term, Obamacare will be nailed to the floor.

Remember, this happened on March 27: four days before the ACA’s enrollment deadline arrived, and therefore well before anyone knew the number would hit the target of seven million. So they were out there, on Fox and on all those acidic radio shows they do, talking about what a world-historical failure Obamacare was going to prove to be in just a matter of days, while meanwhile, with no one recording the roll call, they were buying shares of it.

This brings to mind some things I’ve read about civil rights and the Dixiecrats. The liberal Northern senators used to chat among themselves in the early and mid-1960s, wondering which of their Southern colleagues really and truly believed the racist pollution that poured out of their mouths. The consensus at the time was that Strom Thurmond really did. Richard Russell. Most of them, however, sorta-kinda believed it but just said it, because they knew that as long as they were 110 percenters on what they called “the n——-r question,” they could get reelected ‘til the end of time provided they weren’t caught with the proverbial live boy or dead girl.

There’s a story in Phil Hart’s biography—Hart, of Michigan, was one of the Senate’s most liberal members, and one of the key movers of the Voting Rights Act—about an encounter he had with Mississippi’s James Eastland. Eastland was as hard-shell as they came. But somehow, he and Hart became friends anyway. And so one day on the Senate floor, after delivering himself of a hideous racial tirade, as he walked back toward his desk, Eastland caught his friend Hart’s eye and winked.

Who knows how much of that kind of winking is taking place on the House floor now? “Hey, Steny, I don’t really mean everything I say ’bout y’all, but old so-and-so from the next district over just gave one helluva stemwinder about health care the other day, and I can’t let myself be out-Obamacared, know’ut I mean?” Oh, of course some Republicans are fire-breathers and diehards. But others seem to understand that if you’re going to try to have actual policy impact in the real world, you have to play ball in the real world. And the real world is Obamacare.

The latter group is probably a minority now. But I’m betting that one day they’ll be the majority, and that that day is going to come sooner than most people think. Maybe even—although they sure won’t admit it—before November.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 7, 2014

April 8, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, Obamacare | , , , | Leave a comment


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