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Medicare: To ‘End’ or Not to End



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Lefty blogger Greg Sargent is sounding the alarm over the National Republican Congressional Committee’s formal request to a local TV station in New Hampshire that it stop airing a political ad asserting that Rep. Charlie Bass (R., N.H.) “voted to end Medicare.”

As Sargent points out, the outcome in this case could have significant implications for the Democrats’ ability to demagogue on Medicare: “Whether the ad gets taken down could help set a precedent for whether other stations will air Dem TV ads making this argument, which is expected to be a central message for Dems in the 2012 elections.”

In fact, as Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D., Fla.) has made perfectly clear, “Republicans want to end Medicare” is essentially the only message Democrats plan to run on next year. Wasserman Shultz and her colleagues, however, are often diplomatic enough to tack on a conciliatory “as we know it.” But that doesn’t make up for the fact that just about every claim the DNC chair has made about the GOP Medicare plan is false.

But liberal groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the one responsible for the ad against Rep. Bass, are generally less tactful. And the argument over the distinction between “ending Medicare” and “ending Medicare as we know it” has been waging for some time now. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, leveled the charge that the House Republican budget would “end Medicare” in an ad released shortly after the budget’s passage (See: here). Shortly thereafter, the non-partisan fact checker PolitiFact slapped it with a “Pants on Fire” rating for insinuating that the GOP plan would do away with Medicare altogether, calling it “highly misleading” and “a major exaggeration.” Liberals went into full-blown pout mode (See: here and here).

Which is understandable. Because once the public grows wise to their scare tactics, what will Democrats have left to run on? Jobs? Fiscal responsibility? Obamacare? Liberals (rightly) believe that convincing voters of the diabolical Republican plot to take away Medicare and force seniors to “die sooner” is probably the most viable campaign strategy they can hope for at this point.

The letter from the NRCC requests that the network, WMUR, refuse to air the ad “conveys messages plainly disproven by fact” and cites the Politifact verdict:

The Budget Resolution as approved by the U.S. House of Representatives does NOT end Medicare. In fact, the Budget Resolution makes no changes at all to Medicare for current or near retirees, as none of the Medicare-related provisions in the Budget Resolution would even take effect until 2022. This fact makes the Advertisement especially misleading, as the woman featured in the Advertisement is a current Medicare beneficiary, and would not have her Medicare benefits ended, or even changed in any way, under the Budget Resolution…   

Additionally, the Budget Resolution ensures that Americans aged 54 and younger will still have Medicare when they retire by implementing a new, sustainable model of Medicare. This new version of Medicare would actually REQUIRE insurance companies to GUARANTEE coverage for seniors.

And even threatens potential legal action if the demands are not met:

Importantly, this attack by the Progressive Change does not constitute a “candidate use.” Under Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., 412 U.S. 94 (1973), and Nat’l Conservative Political Action Comm., 89 FCC 2d 626 (1982), your network is not obligated to air any advertisements from third parties, such as the Progressive Change, as third parties have no guaranteed right of access to air their advertisements on your network. Thus, broadcasting stations are not protected from legal liability for airing a false and misleading advertisement sponsored by the Progressive Change.

Broadcast licensees have a legal responsibility to review and to eliminate any false, misleading, or deceptive materials contained in advertising. We urge you to recognize the Progressive Change’s blatant disregard for the truth and we respectfully demand that your network refuse to air this false and misleading Advertisement. We further request that you reject any attempts by the Progressive Change to purchase time for the future airing of this Advertisement because of its material misstatements of fact and blatant disregard for the truth of the matter.

In his post, Sargent goes on to summarize the boilerplate liberal argument that the GOP plan really does “end” Medicare, which is to essentially assert as fact that “end Medicare” and “end Medicare as we know it” are functionally equivalent statements — that because Republicans to transition the current “fee-for-service” program to a more sustainable “premium support” model in order to preempt its impending bankruptcy and ensure its long-term solvency, they want to “end” the program. It is sometimes accompanied with a variation of the following “joke” (via Paul Krugman): “The new program might still be called Medicare — hey, we could replace government coverage with (insert wacky scenario here, e.g., ‘three band-aids and a year’s supply of Viagra’) and still call it ‘Medicare’ — but it wouldn’t be the same program.”

It is, at it’s heart, the most cynical of accusations, motivated purely by the lust for partisan advantage. It is exactly the sort of rhetoric that Barack Obama himself once decried. And it’s just not accurate. Could Democrats similarly claim that Bill Clinton “ended” welfare in the mid-90s?  Certainly, the NRCC’s request represents an important test case in the debate on Medicare reform, or rather the “debate” (only one side has offered an actual plan), at least insofar as how accommodating the media will be to the Democratic smear campaign. The outcome could have pretty significant implications for the 2012 campaign, so stay tuned.



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