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Debunking Romney's Viral Medicare Lie

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The Romney campaign appears to be engaged in a pattern that involves creating and spreading a new and colossal Lie of the Week. Prior whoppers include the "Obama is disenfranchising military voters lie" (debunked) and the "Obama is gutting welfare reform lie" (also debunked).

By now, we all know what happened this week.

On Sunday's Meet the Press, right-wing apparatchik and Sarah Palin fanboy Rich Lowry shouted down Rachel Maddow on Medicare, saying that "Obamacare" cuts $700 billion from the program.

Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu appeared on CNN the next day and shouted down Soledad O'Brien with the same crap-on-a-stick. Specifically, he repeated the massive lie that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA or "Obamacare") cuts $700 billion from Medicare, implying that benefits were cut.

Sununu said, "When Obama gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it, the Romney plan does not do that. The Ryan plan mimicked part of the Obama package there. The Romney plan does not. That's a big difference."

So let's get this straight. Sununu just said the Paul Ryan Medicare Plan -- the one that Romney said he would've signed into law had he been president -- cuts $717 billion from Medicare? Interesting. Thanks for clarifying, Mr. Sununu. It turns out that the $717 billion number that Sununu was screeching about on CNN was pulled out of a July 24 CBO memo about the House plan to repeal Obamacare. Doug Elmendorf explained, "Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over that 2013-2022 period." There's nothing in there about benefit cuts or anything else the Republicans have said. Nothing.

From here, the viral lie infected the discourse like the Ebola virus.

The Romney campaign released the following ad on Tuesday:

The ad quotes the same CBO memo that Sununu held up on CNN as evidence of these "cuts" to Medicare that really aren't cuts at all, but, instead, increases in government spending on Medicare should the law be repealed. That video, with Romney's approval at the end, is arguably the most insidious lie from a campaign with an already lengthy record of mendacity.

And they kept repeating it in lockstep.

Lanhee Chen, Romney's chief policy director told TPM, "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have always been fully committed to repealing Obamacare, ending President Obama's $716 billion raid on Medicare and tackling the serious fiscal challenges our country faces."

Mitt Romney said to First Read, "But my plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan, which is 'Do not change the program for current retirees or near-retirees but do not do what the president has done and that is to cut $700 billion out of the current program."

RNC Chairman and Star Wars Cantina Alien Reince Priebus said, "President Obama... stole $700 billion from Medicare."

Stole? I'm not sure how you get "theft" in all of this since the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") actually creates an entire roster of new benefits, including full coverage for preventative medical care without coinsurance or deductibles, discounts on prescription drugs and the gradual closure of the Part-D "donut hole" that had previously forced retirees to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for medication. In total so far, 5.2 million Medicare recipients have saved $4 billion on prescription drugs alone because of the dreaded Obamacare legislation. That's $629 per person -- money they would have otherwise had to pay out their own pockets.

Regarding the mysterious $700 billion number, let's rewind the Way Back Machine to June. Not a single Republican was saying $700 billion. It turns out, the commonly repeated number was $500 billion. That's a huge difference.

After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obamacare, with the help of a Republican chief justice who was appointed by a Republican president and decided in favor of a Republican policy proposal (the mandate), Republican Rep. Jon Runyan said, "My constituents simply cannot afford the $500 billion in new tax increases and $500 billion in Medicare cuts required to pay for this flawed legislation."

Mitt Romney said something similar in June, "Obamacare cuts Medicare -- cuts Medicare by approximately $500 billion dollars."

As far back as a year ago, the quoted number remained $500 billion.

Here's Michele Bachmann during a debate in June, 2011: "Senior citizens get this more than any other segment of our population, because they know in Obamacare the president of the United States took away $500 billion -- a half-trillion dollars -- out of Medicare, shifted it to Obamacare to pay for younger people."

Mitt Romney in the same debate, "Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare."

So somehow in the last few days, the amount that was "stolen" from Medicare has magically increased by $200 billion! That's amazing.

But of course they're all lying about the ACA. The notion of $500 billion in "cuts" ostensibly "stolen" from Medicare has been thoroughly debunked and discredited by everyone from Politifact to The Washington Post, both of which note that there aren't any cuts to benefits -- none. So it's no surprise to learn that the bigger lie about $700 billion (or $717 billion or $716 billion) in cuts has also been widely debunked by fact-checkers everywhere including Bloomberg.

And yet they keep repeating it over and over and over, and, as we get closer to Election Day, the number is mysteriously increasing. At this rate, I suspect the Republican number to reach "Eleventy gazillion-gajillion dollars" by October.

So what exactly does the ACA do to Medicare spending? The ACA trims $428 billion in waste, fraud and abuse. No cuts to benefits, just increased efficiency and fraud protections, and Medicare Advantage payments to private insurance corporations are balanced out to the same levels as Medicare proper.

That's all. Put another way, let's say you spend $100 on food today, and you plan to spend $200 on food tomorrow because you're having guests for dinner. In the interim, you opt to spend only $150 on food tomorrow because you clipped some coupons. You're still spending 50 percent more money tomorrow, so it's not a "cut" in spending. Instead, you've decided to simply save money that you didn't need to otherwise spend. Make sense? If so, explain it to your Republican friends because they don't seem to get it.

The savings will add another 8-10 years of solvency to Medicare without touching benefits, while, according to the CBO, Medicare spending is expected to nearly double by 2020. Meanwhile, Medicare Advantage premiums are down and enrollment is up, according to HHS -- hardly indicative of a plan that's suffering due to the ACA.

The Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are vocally against these obviously positive changes to the system, and they've vowed to repeal Obamacare and all of the Medicare provisions within, including the streamlined savings, the preventative care coverage, and they'll re-open the donut hole, leaving retirees with potentially thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket medical expenses every year. But if a would-be President Romney repealed Obamacare, the system would be insolvent by 2016 and he'd be forced to reduce spending on the program with likely cuts to benefits anyway. At the same time, the Romney camp is positioning itself as the true savior of the program -- a claim that's absurd on its face and exactly the opposite of their true intentions.

It's almost cliche to write this, but this is classic George Orwell by way of Karl Rove. Up is down, black is white, Republicans will save Medicare while Democrats, who invented it and who have fought to sustain it at all costs, want to suddenly destroy it. The exact opposite is true. Nevertheless, the Lie of the Week plan appears to be working. Only 31 percent of seniors (ostensibly Medicare recipients) support the ACA while also supporting Mitt Romney for president. Considering the array of new benefits that would be repealed when Romney rolls back the ACA, this is staggering but not completely surprising given the pervasiveness of the Republican lies about the law.

Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.
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