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Today I was perusing Congressman John Boehner's (R: OH-8) website. He's recently posted a news item entitled President Says Health Care Bill Doesn't Cut Medicare, but House Bill Includes $362 Billion in Cuts. Specifically, he attempts to take President Obama to task on what he considers to be a lie being told to the American Public. Specifically, he wants to convince the reader that the new health care plan will cut Medicare benefits.

Rep. John Boehner quotes the Democrats as saying:

Democrats in Congress plan to finance about half the cost of the legislation by squeezing savings from Medicare.  The White House says benefits will not be cut and beneficiaries will not be hurt.

He further produces evidence that President Obama was quoted as saying: "Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits.". Rep. Boehner proceeds to argue his point that the Democrats' plan includes Medicare cuts to the tune of $361.9 Billion. But, you'll need to closely read the carefully chosen wording on his news release.

In response to the above quote by Obama, Boehner states: "Nobody is talking about Medicare cuts?  Does that claim hold up?  In a word, no.". Well, of course that claim doesn't hold up. The discussion is proposing Medicare cuts. It is just not proposing cuts in the Medicare benefits. But John Boehner did not actually say that. See what he did? He took a quote, then stated something false and wholly different from that quote, and then argued with his own statement, rather than the actual statement by those he is criticizing. In effect, the entire paragraph is an argument Boehner is having with himself, for its rhetorical value. He could have taken this time to actually research the content of the Democratic plan. Instead, he created a hypothetical situation for the purpose of arguing against it.

Regarding the alleged cuts to Medicare, John Boehner proceeds to complain that Obama is switching his position from where it was during the campaign. Boehner links to a campaign-era speech on Youtube where Obama is criticizing John McCain's health care platform, which considered large cuts in Medicare. If one were to listen to the speech, it is important to recognize that then-candidate Obama is criticizing a plan that supposedly will cut $882 billion from Medicare. This number is more than twice the amount cited by Rep. Boehner. In fact, critics argued that McCain's proposals could lead to $1.3  Trillion in cuts to Medicare over the same period of time.

Let's do the math, and consider that last year's Medicare costs were around $369 Billion, while this year they are estimated to be around $425 Billion (HHS):

  • The amount that the Democratic plan proposes, according to John Boehner, amounts to annual cuts of around 8.5% annually, using today budget numbers
  • The amount that Obama cited McCain's plan would cut amounts to about 20.7% of Medicare's annual budget
  • The amount the Wall Street Journal article cited would amount to about 30.5% annually

Both sides of the debate in 2008 argued for "controlling" Medicare costs. In fact, this is a debate that has been going on for my entire adult life. Obama appears to be making modest cuts to Medicare, and he's promising this won't result in cuts to benefits. According to the WSJ, law enforcement experts agree that fraud and waste account for roughly $60 Billion in losses to Medicare every year. Note that this number is slightly higher than the amount of "the Democrats' cuts" to which John Boehner takes issue. Note that both numbers cited for John McCain's plan exceed the amount of estimated "waste" in the Medicare system. Candidate Obama had good sense to be critical of that proposed plan. If you make cuts that exceed the "waste", then you will naturally be cutting funds that currently go toward genuine care. Obama isn't proposing this. He's proposing to beef up the regulatory bodies that oversee the Medicare system, in hopes that the net effect will be an 8.5% reduction in costs, as well as an increase in trustworthiness of the American Medicare system.

This isn't the first time in the past week that Rep. Boehner has weighed in on Medicare. Just two days prior to this release, under much pressure from his constituents, Boehner released a listing of the points from the so-called Republican Health Care "Plan". In this release, he claims under the heading "To lower the costs of health care, the Republican plan" the following:

Provides Medicare and Medicaid with additional authority and resources to stop waste, fraud, and abuse that costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year.

So, apparently even John Boehner agrees that Medicare waste, fraud, and abuse can be combated. He believes in it so much that he includes it in the "Republican Health Care Plan". Democrats, who have been talking about "reaching across the aisle", decide to offer up an olive branch to the Republicans by including this exact measure in their health care proposal. The Democrats considered a reasonable amount which is slightly more than 50% of the WSJ's cited "waste, fraud, and abuse" estimate (and a widely accepted amount). John Boehner, instead of trying to work toward a better Medicare system, instead decides to take this olive branch and use it to play politics on Cable-TV News.

Who is playing petty politics with your health care in this example? John Boehner is really only interested in making the Democrats look bad, even if that means sacrificing necessary reforms such as cleaning up waste in the Medicare system. Medicare swelled from $220 Billion in 2001 to $340 Billion in 2006 during the six years of a Republican ruled Congress under Pres. Bush. Note that John Boehner was House Majority Leader for three of those years. This amounts to a whopping 55% increase in costs over that period of time. Under the Democratically-controlled Congress, the past three years have increased it to the current estimate of $425 Billion as of this year. This is roughly the same rate of increasing costs. The Democratic plan attempts to address these spiraling costs, yet John Boehner seizes upon their action to create fear and uncertainty surrounding the proposed cuts. Why is John Boehner suddenly against Medicare waste reduction after only being for Medicare waste reduction two days earlier? I'll tell you why: Because Rep. John Boehner isn't interested in saving wasted Medicare funds at all if he can retain them for later use in a future campaign. If Democrats actually succeed in cleaning up the books in Medicare, that is one less point he'll be able to argue in 2010 when he defends his seat.

Tell John Boehner you're sick of his antics: http://republicanleader.house.gov/...

Originally posted to cokane on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 04:22 PM PDT.

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