08/17/2012 09:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- Scary Medicine

Before we begin -- We Have A Winner!

Way back in April, in FTP [208] we ran a "Call the Veepstakes" contest. In reviewing the entries, we at first thought that nobody correctly guessed who Mitt's Veep would turn out to be. If this had been the case (because that would have qualified it as a "tie"), the winner would have been Michale, who commented at my site and picked Condoleezza Rice... but got closest to the actual date with his guess of "three weeks before Tampa."

But we then looked closer and found one entrant had indeed correctly (if unenthusiastically) picked Paul Ryan. So, the winner of our Veepstakes contest is none other than Rescisco, who posted his comment at the Huffington Post. He or she failed to guess a date, but it didn't matter because nobody else selected Ryan as their choice. So -- congratulations to Rescisco, who is hereby awarded bragging rights in the comments today. Well done!

Moving right along, normally our Friday columns open with a bit of lighthearted news roundup, which is where I'd point out things like what Donald Trump is up to (always good for a laugh), and then move on to mutant butterflies in Japan due to radioactivity from their power plant disaster, which would end with a joke about Mothra.

But this week has been anything but lighthearted, and nuclear accident jokes are pretty borderline to begin with, so instead I'd like to highlight two excellent articles worth reading, both on the subject of Mitt Romney's campaign and plans for the future.

The first of these is from the Plum Line blog at the Washington Post. It points out how little "there" there is in Romney's actual plans. Romney's team has become more and more blatant on this point -- they're running a gauzy campaign of slogans, and they are simply not going to provide any details because that would be politically risky. Someone might not like the details, and therefore might decide to vote against Romney, so both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney will be withholding all details until they get inaugurated. Then, perhaps, they'll let America know what they're going to do -- but then again, perhaps not. The best paragraph in the article:

Romney has broken with recent precedent -- his father included -- in refusing to release his tax returns, but he says has paid 13 percent for 10 years. (Just trust me.) Romney has not released the names of his major bundlers, but he won't be beholden to his donors, as Obama has been. (Just trust me.) Romney vows to eliminate the deficit, and promises that his tax plan will be revenue neutral, even though he won't say which loopholes and deductions he'd eliminate to pay for deep tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich. (Just trust me.) Romney says he intends to eliminate whole agencies of government, but won't say which ones, except in closed-door meetings with donors, and even then, details are scarce. (All together now: Just trust me.)

While a great read, the second article (from the American Prospect) is even better, because it focuses on the same subject we're going to focus on today: Medicare, and (specifically) what Paul Ryan plans to do to it. It points out the fallacious thinking emanating from the Romney-Ryan camp at present in brutal detail. The conclusions it draws are just as pointed:

In sum, Romney is arguing three things simultaneously: First, we absolutely have to restrain Medicare spending. Second, only he has a "plan" to do it, while Obama doesn't. Third, how dare Obama have restrained Medicare spending through all the reforms he made to Medicare under the Affordable Care Act! You can call this ironic or hypocritical or appalling, but that's what he's saying.

Democrats need to realize that while they see these points as obvious, much of the voting public hasn't gotten into the conversation as yet. There are minds to be convinced, out there. They will be convinced with solid argument with facts to back it up. This article provides the best overview of these facts I've yet seen. Any Democrat who is preparing to be interviewed this weekend really needs to read this article, and perhaps prepare a few talking points of their own.


Before we begin with the awards, we'd like to wish Social Security a happy 77th birthday! Best government program ever, bar none. Many happy returns....

Our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Vice President Joe Biden. While other remarks got more attention (we'll get to that in a moment), one thing Biden said this week deserves praise. Biden is getting some attention and some due praise as well, and we'd like to add a MIDOTW for what Biden said about Social Security this week: "I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security." He then repeated the phrase "I flat guarantee you."

We will be taking Biden at his word. This is a big promise, and it is one we would dearly like the Obama administration to keep. For stating this core Democratic principle so bluntly -- with absolutely no room for misinterpretation -- Joe Biden deserves to be lauded. The mainstream media hasn't really noticed yet, so it would behoove the Obama campaign to make this a much bigger deal by having the president make a similar unequivocal statement.

For now, though, Joe Biden is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Way to go, Joe!

[Congratulate Vice President Joe Biden on his official White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


As happened with Harry Reid a few weeks ago, we regret to announce that Vice President Joe Biden is also our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, for the remark that got all the media's attention.

Yes, we know that Joe was attempting to turn a Republican talking point around (about how Democrats were "shackling" Wall Street with regulations and Republicans would "unshackle" the banks). We also know (unlike many pundits) that speaking of slavery has a long history in American politics completely unrelated to actual chattel slavery. It is almost impossible to read any essay from the American Revolution that doesn't use the "slavery" metaphor when speaking of Britain and taxes. American politicians have casually tossed around slavery language ever since -- including quite a few times during presidential contests -- which had nothing to do with actual slavery. Mitt Romney can tell the credulous mainstream media that such a thing is unprecedented and unthinkable in American politics all he wants, but he is just factually wrong.

Having said all of that, Joe Biden's remark was disappointing. It left him open to attack, it was obviously an off-the-cuff moment gone wrong, and the context mattered a great deal. Biden told people ("y'all") that Republicans would put them back in "chains" while giving a speech in Virginia. This is the same state Thomas Jefferson lived in (who, during the Revolution, railed against the British for "a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery" through taxation, while owning actual slaves himself.) Slavery metaphors really don't play well in former slave states, to put it another way.

Slavery metaphors don't really play well in modern American politics at all. The difference between "shackles" and "chains" isn't that great, but Democrats should refrain from using either. Sure, point it out when Republicans use this sort of language, but don't fall into the trap Biden just fell into while doing so.

Joe Biden not only wins the MIDOTW award this week, but also the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week as well. It's been an up and down week for Joe.

[Contact Vice President Joe Biden on his official White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 223 (8/17/12)

While there are other tempting opportunities for soundbiting this week, we're going to focus solely on Medicare instead.

Mitt Romney opened up several new lines of attack on his taxes this week -- such as labeling him "Mister Thirteen Percent" for his admitted tax rate. Even juicier is attacking what Mitt Romney would pay under Paul Ryan's budget plan, because it hammers home the naked greed of Republicans at the top of the income scale. Romney would pay less than one percent in income taxes, should the Ryan budget ever become reality. I'm still waiting for some intrepid reporter to ask Mitt "Do you think it is fair for you to pay only one percent of twenty million dollars as income tax? Why or why not?" but I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Instead, we're going to focus on Medicare. This is Paul Ryan's biggest vulnerability. The Ryan budget is fair game as a target, because Mitt Romney's campaign team is now openly admitting that if they actually talked about the details of Romney's own plan, he would not get elected. That's scary enough, right there, but it means the Ryan budget -- even with the gaping holes it contains when it comes to details -- is the most concrete thing to talk about.

Mitt Romney, of course, wants to have it both ways. He'll say good things about Ryan's budget... while trying to distance himself. He'll talk about how it'll be a Romney budget, not a Ryan budget... but he won't tell anyone what will be different. The Romney team knows how vulnerable they are on this issue, which is why they are running ads to pre-empt what Democrats are about to say to the public.

So far, the Obama team has been a little slow off the mark, so they need other Democrats to help make the case. Obama did a great job of "defining" Romney for the past month or so, to their advantage. But Ryan has mostly been allowed to "define" himself this week. This needs to change, but luckily Democrats have the facts on their side in this fight.



This first one is a stylistic point, but one worth making. Since Mitt Romney won't tell anyone what his real plans are, the Paul Ryan budget is the only available target to Democrats. Point this out by turning the "Romney-Ryan" phrase around -- and highlight the fact that the number two guy on the ticket is being presented as the brains of the outfit. This is subtle snub to Romney that is worth using every time the subject turns to the budget or Medicare.

"The Ryan-Romney budget plan will indeed end Medicare as we know it. Paul Ryan came up with this plan, he got virtually all of the Republicans in the House to vote for it, and if Republicans had held the Senate they would have put this plan on the president's desk to sign or veto. The Ryan-Romney plan changes Medicare from health insurance with guaranteed benefits to seniors into a voucher that is not going to pay for the same level of care from a private insurance company. Ryan-Romney takes away guaranteed health insurance for seniors, and it leaves them with no guarantee of coverage whatsoever. That is, indeed, ending Medicare as we know it. The Ryan-Romney plan hopes you won't notice this fact, but that is precisely what the Ryan-Romney plan does."


   Not one thin dime

The Romney camp is hoping to muddy the waters with their claim that President Obama is raiding Medicare by a whopping amount of money. Too bad Paul Ryan was such a fan of these cuts he included them in his own budget.

"Republicans have been complaining about so-called 'Mediscare' ads being run against them by Democrats for about two years now. 'Oh, the ads are so unfair' they whine. Well, let's take a look at the first ad out of the box in the presidential campaign. It is indeed a 'Mediscare' ad, because the entire purpose of the ad is to scare seniors that their benefits are being cut by $716 billion dollars, and given to someone else who is, quote, not you, unquote. Pretty scary, huh? Of course, it's not even remotely true, because what Obama passed does not touch one thin dime of benefits to anybody. Not a penny. Seniors -- both today's seniors and future seniors -- are still guaranteed their full benefits under Obama's plan. Romney simply cannot make the same claim. Ask him sometime: Will seniors both today and in the future be guaranteed what they have been promised their whole lives under your plan? Under the Ryan-Romney plan for Medicare, the answer to that question is 'No, they will not have such a guarantee.' That is a fact, and it is scary. But it is by no means 'Mediscare' to point it out. Quite the opposite -- it is the truth, unlike the Romney ad."


   Ryan agreed

The hypocrisy surrounding this one is monumental, but it needs to be pointed out as often as possible for the public to see through it.

"Mitt Romney is trying to scare seniors into thinking Obama is cutting their Medicare benefits. They have dark ads up to frighten voters. But the astounding thing is that the scary, scary cuts to Medicare Mitt Romney talks about were included in Paul Ryan's budget. If these cuts are such bad policy and such a horrendous idea, then why did almost every Republican in the House vote for exactly the same cuts, one has to wonder. Paul Ryan was fine and dandy with these cuts when he put together his budget. Ryan put together his budget with no help or input from Democrats -- it was a pure Republican budget. So why didn't he stop these horrendous cuts? The answer to that is that Mitt Romney is now lying about these cuts. They are not horrendous, they are not evil, instead they bring the federal budget deficit down by getting rid of waste in the system. Republicans used to be a big fan of cutting out waste in government, but now Mitt Romney is actually arguing to keep waste in the current system. You heard that right -- by forcing Paul Ryan to disavow his own Medicare budget plan, Mitt is championing the cause of governmental waste. If Obama's plans to rein in the Medicare budget are so bad and so evil, why did Ryan agree to them in his own budget? Nobody twisted his arm to do so."


   Medicare Advantage failed

This should be getting a lot more attention than it currently is, because it is the poster child for undermining the grand Republican argument in a very real way.

"You know what a large part of that $716 billion in savings turns out to be? Ending overpayments to the Medicare Advantage program. Let's just think about that for a moment. Medicare Advantage was a Republican dream proposal, because it was supposed to work that old free-market black magic. The way the thinking went was: if we turn part of Medicare over to private insurance companies, because they are the private sector and not the big, bad inefficient government, the price was supposed to come down. Private industry was supposed to save money for Medicare. Guess what? It didn't. Turns out the private insurance market costs significantly more than the government providing the same service. This is why Medicare Advantage is being cut -- to stop this senseless subsidizing of private companies. When you hear Republicans say the government should get out of the health insurance market, because the free market is guaranteed to bring the costs down, point to Medicare Advantage. We tried it the Republican way. It failed. It costs more -- hundreds of billions of tax dollars more. Think about that the next time Republicans tell you the free market can contain costs better than Medicare."


   Bankrupt sooner

This is also a favorite of Republicans, so the hypocrisy of Mitt Romney's position needs pointing out.

"Mitt Romney now says that Paul Ryan's Medicare budget was wrong, and that he'll restore the money for Medicare. But what he doesn't tell you is that by reforming the system and removing wasteful practices like subsidizing private health insurers, Medicare will go broke a full eight years sooner. It will go into debt by 2016, in fact, which is not that far away. So when Mitt Romney says he will end the Obama reforms, the press needs to ask him what he's going to do between now and 2016 to change the program so it doesn't run out of money. Under Obama's plan -- the one Paul Ryan agreed with, remember -- we have eight more years to figure this problem out. Under Romney's plan, it's staring us in the face. Mitt Romney is afraid to give any details as to what he'd do to fix this problem, but I think the American people deserve to know. So far, what Mitt Romney has said he'd do would lead to red ink in Medicare starting in 2016. Paul Ryan saw the sense in Barack Obama's approach, meaning that three out of the four presidential and vice presidential candidates agree, and Mitt Romney won't say what he'd do differently, other than to move the date of bankruptcy up by a whopping eight years."


   Why limit it to under age 55 if it's so great?

This is another fundamental flaw in the Republican way of thinking. Which needs pointing out.

"The Ryan-Romney plan for Medicare is supposed to be wonderful for all the people age 55 and under, who will be freed from that nasty old socialized medicine and be able to revel in the free market sunshine. The Ryan-Romney plan is supposed to be the perfect answer to the Medicare problem. Well, if it's such a great deal, then why are they limiting it? Why not just move all the seniors who are crushed under the bootheel of socialized Medicare today over to the Ryan-Romney plan right now? Why should they suffer, when they could get a voucher each year and live in that same free market sunshine? I'll tell you why Ryan and Romney don't want to do this -- because it is a much worse deal than what seniors are currently getting. Seniors are not stupid. And they vote. Which is why Ryan and Romney are downright terrified to even suggest that they might move current seniors over to their new Medicare plan. What they haven't counted on is the fact that many seniors are parents and grandparents, who want their children to enjoy the same Medicare system that they currently use."


   Mmmm... donut holes...

This one can't be escaped by any fancy doubletalk about "Mitt Romney's plan" versus "Paul Ryan's budget."

"If Ryan and Romney are elected, they have sworn they'll get rid of what they call 'Obamacare' as their first order of business. What they won't be bragging about on the campaign trail is that this is going to kill a benefit that seniors are currently receiving -- a benefit that is scheduled to get better and better over time until it fixes the problem once and for all. When the Republicans passed the Medicare prescription drug benefit, they left an enormous 'donut hole' that forces seniors to pay thousands of dollars for their medication. Obamacare fixes this donut hole, and these seniors now get payments to cover the hole. These payments are rising each year, until they will completely fill the donut hole altogether. Ryan and Romney will end this program if they overturn Obamacare. They refuse to promise seniors that they will pass any legislation to fix this problem, meaning that the donut hole would be here to stay under the Ryan-Romney plan. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney will be immediately taking money out of seniors' pockets -- they've said so, many times. They refuse to say that they'll continue the program, and have indeed sworn to kill it. They are running ads which falsely claim that Medicare benefits to seniors will be reduced, and then they turn around and vow to take money straight out of seniors' pockets. If I were a senior who would lose hundreds of dollars -- if not thousands -- each year from the donut hole fix, I know who I'd be voting for."


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