Quick Note on the Emerging C.W. Re: the Ryan Speech

Margaret Carlson has been engaged in a running dialogue with Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg View, and I found the following paragraph particularly noteworthy:

Ryan made so many dubious claims about Obama that I’m surprised his nose didn’t grow right before our very eyes. He asked for the stimulus funds he decried, and he enjoyed doling them out in his district. That empty GM plant he talked about? It closed on Bush’s watch, not Obama’s. The $700 billion he claims Obama raided from Medicare? Obama takes it from overpayments to insurers and providers, while Ryan’s plan takes it from seniors themselves. He criticized Obama for not supporting the Bowles-Simpson fiscal-reform plan, while Ryan himself did not support it.

On the stimulus: This is an accusation of hypocrisy, which is fair enough, but I’m not sure it is a dubious claim.

As for the empty GM plant, the argument has shifted. We’ve moved on from the claim that the plant closed in 2008 to the softer claim that, as Greg Sargent has put it, its closure was “largely completed in 2008.” That is, as the picture has become clearer, we now understand that, as an acquaintance recently put it, the plant “died in stages.” There were a number of considerations, including weak demand for the SUVs manufactured by the Janesville plant. Rather hilariously, we have now shifted to the ground of counterfactuals: how much stronger would the recovery have to have been for the plant to have stayed open? How much lower would gas prices had to have been? Sargent ends his post by quoting the head of a local pro-business group:

Asked if the plant would have reopened under a better recovery, Beckord said: “We don’t know that.”

That seems like an impressively mature thing to say, as the counterfactual is unknowable. It’s not clear to me that this is any kind of a slam dunk. 

The $700 billion: As Josh Barro has put it, the Medicare cuts in PPACA were a “well-priced lunch,” but not a free lunch. I support reducing Medicare expenditures for current retirees and over-55s, yet there is no question that reducing “overpayments” will impact beneficiaries, particularly as “overpayments” to Medicare Advantage plans are used to finance supplemental benefits and cuts to providers will induce at least some of them to stop accepting Medicare beneficiaries. 

Ryan takes it from seniors themselves: This notion, rooted in the premise that premium support will not be linked to the cost of providing the standard Medicare benefit, has been thoroughly debunked. The Romney Medicare proposal has traditional Medicare and private plans offer bids to offer the standard Medicare benefit, and capitation payments (or premium support) are tied to the second-lowest bid in a given geographical area. The Romney campaign has explicitly rejected the use of a global cap; rather, capitation payments will grow as needed to provide the standard Medicare benefit. 

The debt commission: Let’s consider what Paul Ryan actually had to say about the debt commission:

He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report.  He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.

This has been interpreted as an effort to misled voters into believing that Ryan had endorsed the bipartisan debt commission’s recommendations. But this critique wouldn’t hold water if the Obama White House responded by offering its own serious proposal to address its findings regarding the scale of the fiscal challenge.

All that said, Carlson has done us a great service by gathering her impressions, which are of course widely shared, in one paragraph. 


Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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