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The 716 billion dollar lie is the central line of defense. It's like the Republicans' Maginot Line. If the lie can be breached with the blitz of truth, the GOP's argument will fall faster than France before Guderian's tanks. Oh, wait. I'm casting us as the Nazis in this instance. That won't do.
But you get my point, right?
In 2010, the Republicans ran political advertising against Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, claiming that they had cut $500 billion from Medicare. That was pretty rich considering that the Democrats had actually tried and failed to expand Medicare eligibility. The charge was (and still is) a lie. But that doesn't mean that the ads were not effective. They were very effective, which is why the Republicans think they can deceive the people again this time around.
The $500 billion number changed to $716 billion on July 24th, 2012, when Speaker Boehner received a letter from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in response to his request on the cost of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the CBO wrote this:
Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over that 2013–2022 period. Federal spending for Medicaid and CHIP would increase by about $25 billion from repealing the noncoverage provisions of the ACA, and direct spending for other programs would decrease by about $30 billion, CBO estimates.
Let's go over this slowly. The Republicans have been telling the American people that ObamaCare is expensive and will bankrupt the country. But when they asked the CBO what would happen if they repealed ObamaCare, they discovered that it would result in an additional $716 billion in Medicare costs. Overall, the CBO estimated that the cost of repeal would be $109 billion over the next ten years. So, the truth is that ObamaCare saves us money.
The Medicare savings are huge, but they come entirely at the expense of hospitals and insurers, who negotiated and approved the deal with the White House because they knew that having millions of newly-insured people would more than make up for their loss of money under the old Medicare arrangements.
Needless to say, Speaker Boehner was hoping for different numbers. He didn't want to learn that ObamaCare saves money and repealing it would be very expensive. But he decided to take that $716 billion of lemons and turn it into lemonade by arguing that "forget that $500 billion that Obama stripped from Medicare recipients, he actually stole $716 billion from them."
It's somewhat breathtaking in its brazenness, no?
It's even more brazen when you realize that Paul Ryan's budget protected this $716 billion in savings and that all but five Republican members of the House voted for Ryan's plan.
Here is how this lie looks in action:
“Historically … for Republicans if you can fight Medicare and Social Security to a draw, that’s good,” said longtime GOP strategist Charlie Black. “But what’s changed is the president taking money out of Medicare for current recipients to fund his boondoggle [health care] program.”
That argument — that the Affordable Care Act took $716 billion from the Medicare program — is one the Romney-Ryan ticket has been making in the week since Ryan became Romney’s running mate.
“We’re the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare,” Ryan told Fox News earlier this week. “We’re the ones who are not raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare.”
Medicare “is not the ace up the sleeve [for Democrats] that it has been in previous elections,” argued Luke Frans, the executive director of the GOP polling firm Resurgent Republic. “We can get it to the point where it’s a competitive policy debate.”
The reason the Republicans are so intent on telling this lie is because almost all of them voted for Paul Ryan's budget plan which voucherized Medicare and eliminated its guaranteed benefit to anyone younger than fifty-five. In other words, after winning election on the argument that they would protect Medicare against Obama's imaginary cuts, they voted as a bloc to destroy Medicare as we know it. And they can't survive that charge if the people come to understand its validity. So, they will obfuscate.
Watch how this played out in Florida, yesterday:
"Here's what the president won't tell you about his Medicare plan, about Obamacare," [Paul] Ryan said. "The president raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obamacare program."
The non-partisan fact-checker Politifact.com has rated a nearly identical charge by Romney, that Obama has "robbed" Medicare of the amount as "mostly false." It also found [Obama spokeswoman, Stephanie] Cutter's assessment of the similarities - but not the description of reductions as "cuts" - between the Romney and Obama's plans to be "true."
Asked in the Saturday interview to respond to that general point, Ryan said, "Well there's a lot to sort through. Look, we're offering leadership, we're offering solutions. The president is not. The president has a failed economic agenda - 23 million people are still looking for work."
Asked why he was lying, Ryan says, "Well, there's a lot to sort through. Why would a Wookiee, an 8-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of 2-foot-tall Ewoks? That does not make sense!"
But this $716 billion lie is the key to "fighting Medicare and Social Security to a draw," as Charlie Black suggested. Our job has to be to destroy this lie and render the Republicans defenseless. Destroy this lie and the Republicans will be exposed as surrender monkeys.