Up until Thursday’s vice presidential debate, it would have been easy for a voter to believe that both Obama and Romney’s campaigns have similar plans for Social Security and Medicare. Fortunately, Paul Ryan has clarified his argument by doubling down on his ambitions to privatize Social Security.
On Friday’s PoliticsNation, Rev. Al Sharpton talked to former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne about what that means for the election. They concurred that, as Rendell put it, Romney can “either repudiate his running mate or say privatization is on the table.”
If privatization is indeed on the table, the Romney campaign can expect voters, especially seniors, to sit up and take notice. On Thursday, Vice President Biden pointed out the Social Security and Medicare have never been overwhelmingly popular with Republicans. Rendell reaffirmed the notion, saying the choice for people concerned for the future of these programs should now be plainly evident:
“When Medicare and Social Security were being debated in the ‘30s and the ‘60s, Republicans called it socialized medicine. They never liked Medicare. They never liked Social Security. They warned that it was going to drag us into the ditch. Well, Medicare and Social Security made this country the envy of the world because our seniors know that they are going to be protected.
Governor Romney tries to sort of hide the plans on Social Security and Medicare, but the truth came out last night. Joe Biden said it right: who do you trust? The party that has always been there, protecting Social Security through the years or people who have hated it from the beginning and want to change it?”
The race to control the House hasn't been getting much attention, but it just got a little hotter. Until recently, Democrats didn't seem to have much of a shot of retaking the chamber, which they lost in the 2010 midterm elections. Now, however, polls suggest it's a real possibility. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agrees.
Appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show Wednesday night, Pelosi said Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan—who has made turning Medicare into a voucher program a centerpiece of his political identity—was a game-changer for Democrats.
"August 11 is when the race changed," the party leader said, referring to the day Romney announced Ryan as his running mate. "That's when the election became all about "Medicare, Medicare, Medicare—the three most important issues in the campaign in alphabetical order."
If Romney-Ryan win, "we'll be putting seniors at the mercy of the insurance companies by giving them a voucher, not a guarantee," Pelosi explained..
Democrats lead Republicans by an average of 5 points in generic polling, which is enough to pick up the 25 seats they need to secure a majority, according to Pelosi. She said they are focusing efforts all around the country, both in states where President Obama is competitive and where he isn't.
Pelosi and Maddow discussed another underplayed issue during this presidential campaign:-the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pelosi praised President Obama's timetable for withdrawal, though she said "it may not be as fast as we would all like."
It's "taking us to a place where war as a resolution of conflict is an obsolete idea," she said.
From a political perspective, perhaps the most shocking claim made by Mitt Romney in his comments at a Boca Raton fundraiser was the suggestion that the vast majority of Obama supporters are freeloaders who leech off the productive members of society.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney says in the video, which was surreptitiously recorded and posted Monday by the liberal magazine Mother Jones. "All right—there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."
The notion that a rapidly growing number of Americans is becoming overly dependent on entitlements is widespread among modern conservatives. As a factual matter, it's very much up for debate. But let's leave that aside for now.
What's more interesting is that Romney badly mischaracterized just who those Americans are. In reality, his notion that Obama supporters depend on government, while his own backers are self-sufficient strivers is contradicted by the evidence, as even conservatives acknowledge.
"As a practical matter, the largest of bulk of payments are to people through Social Security and Medicare," Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the author of the forthcoming book A Nation of Takers, told Lean Forward. In other words, they're made on the basis of age, rather than income or poverty.
In the book, Eberstadt charts what he calls "the unstoppable rise of entitlements" in America since 1960. And according to his numbers, which rely on Census Bureau figures, the old are receiving almost as twice as much in government transfer payments each year as the poor. In an essay adapted from the book and posted online by the book's publisher, he writes:
Poverty- or income-related entitlements—transfers of money, goods, or services, including health-care services—accounted for over $650 billion in government outlays in 2010 ....
For their part, entitlements for older Americans—Medicare, Social Security, and other pension payments—worked out to even more by 2010, about $1.2 trillion.
To be sure, Eberstadt notes that poverty- or income-related transfers have grown slightly faster since 1960 than have entitlements for older Americans: by a rate of 7 percent versus 5 percent. Still, in real terms, older Americans benefit far more from entitlement programs—thanks to Social Security and Medicare—than poor Americans.
To Eberstadt and others concerned about what they see as the long-term unsustainability of entitlements, it's not an issue of low-income beneficiaries versus older beneficiaries. "The reason the burden is so crushing is because entitlements are mainstream," he said. "They’re for working Americans, they’re for middle-class Americans. For everybody."
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Renaissance High School, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in Detroit.
The Republican National Convention has barely ended, and the Democratic convention has not yet begun, but already Democrats are lobbing an aggressive counterattack against Mitt Romney and his party.
For example, on the Saturday following the Republican convention, President Barack Obama offered his low opinion of the event. "It was a rerun," he said. "We'd seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black and white TV."
A day later, David Plouffe—a senior White House adviser and the campaign manager for Obama's 2008 campaign—took an even harsher line. On ABC's This Week, he said the Romney campaign is "built on a tripod of lies." "A welfare attack that is just absolutely untrue," he said. "The suggestion we’re raiding Medicare—absolutely untrue. And then this whole 'we can build it' nonsense."
In the final two days leading up to the convention, Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went on the attack as well. Their criticisms of the Romney campaign revolved around Medicare, which has become a major theme in the campaign.
"We are for Medicare; they are for Vouchercare," Biden said at a campaign stop, alluding to the Paul Ryan's proposal that single payer Medicare be replaced with a private voucher system. Pelosi echoed Biden's remarks on Labor Day, just one day before the convention, telling the audience at a pre-convention breakfast, "To vote for Medicare, vote Democratic."
The Democrats appear to be using such withering language in an attempt to undercut whatever PR advantage Romney may have gained from Republican National Convention coverage. If so, it's working: According to a recent Gallup poll, the Republican candidate received little to no post-convention boost.
Chris Matthews: "I don't think Paul Ryan tried to unify America today, I think he tried to use the divisions in America, economically, to advance the cause of the better-off people who don't want to be taxed, and the upper middle class who thinks the benefits will come to them, and basically ignored the bottom half of this country."
Al Sharpton: "The fact is that Ryan very eloquently misled people. He walked out of the debt commission. He lied about the plant in his hometown. It was closed at the end of '08 when Bush was president, not under Obama. So if you want to have an eloquent person that does not tell the truth, this was a great performance."
Ed Schultz: "He got after the Medicare, he got after the stimulus package—although he forgot to mention that he requested stimulus funds in his backyard. He also forgot to mention that his mother took a public bus to go to a state school, to get back into this economy when his family ran into adversity."
Rachel Maddow: "I think the Democrats are gonna beat Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney with old people on Medicare, because I don't think they came up with an actual fact-based rejoinder to their biggest weakness with Paul Ryan."
Chris Hayes: "It was ironic, this theme of nostalgia. Even though he's the young face of the conservative movement, the theme of nostalgia plays out, talking about, 'back when I was waiting tables or I was in college, we had this different kind of America than we have now.' And the question is, what exactly has changed?"
On The Last Word Wednesday, Lawrence O'Donnell welcomed policy wonks Jared Bernstein and Robert Reich to help him take on perhaps the two biggest policy lies that Mitt Romney has been pushing lately.
First, Bernstein, a Lean Forward contributor and former White House economist, explained in detail why Romney's claim that by repealing Obamacare he'll extend and strengthen the program is "completely upside down."
The suggestion that by putting that $716 billion back in, Mitt Romney will extend the life of the program—its exactly the opposite. Those dollars, the $716 billion, are extra costs that are in Medicare, that are taken out in the Affordable Care Act. They are things like overpayments to private insurers, excessive reimbursement rates. When you take those out, according to that groovy guy, the Medicare Actuary, you actually extend the life of the program by eight years. And this was quite clear on all those factual rebuttals, by putting that money back in, he's actually shortening the life of the program by eight years ... so this is completely upside down.
Bernstein went on to debunk Romney's charge that President Obama has cut seniors' benefits by $716 billion.
"Those dollars come from inefficiencies on the delivery side, nothing on the beneficiary side," he said, echoing a point that many objective observers have made. "In fact the Affordable Care Act improves the benefits of Medicare."
Then it was Reich's turn. The former Clinton administration Labor Secretary took on Romney's false—and racially incendiary—charge that President Obama has relaxed the work requirements for welfare, so that recipients can simply sit around and "pick up a check." In fact, as we've written, Obama insisted that states had to show they were putting more welfare recipients to work in order for their changes to be approved.
It's exactly the opposite of what Romney has been saying ... Republicans for years have been saying we want more flexibilty at the state level for a lot of these programs. So what the president does is, he turns around he says, 'OK states, you have some more flexibility, particualrly if you're going to put more welfare recipients to work.' And then Romney turns around and he says .... the president actually ... got rid of the work requirement.' I mean nothing could be further from the truth.
So there you have it. Two crucial policy areas, and two flat-out lies from Mitt Romney. Now you have chapter and verse.
Long before he became one of the right’s most vocal critics of the idea that government spending could help boost the flagging economy, Rep. Paul Ryan offered a forceful, full-throated defense of stimulus spending — when then-President George W. Bush wanted it in 2002.
Ryan has denounced the 2009 Recovery Act signed by President Obama as “a wasteful spending spree” and “failed neo-Keynesian experiment,” and – as The Huffington Post pointed out this morning — dismissed as “sugar-high economics” the idea that government spending, through measures like payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits, can help shore up a faltering economy.
Ryan’s comments reveal a strikingly different economic analysis than the one he has become known for in recent years as the “intellectual leader” of the Republican Party and, now, Mitt Romney’s running mate. In 2002, Ryan argued that unemployment would remain at elevated levels even after the economy began to recover, and that aggressive stimulus would be a necessary and effective antidote.
“What we're trying to accomplish here is the recognition of the fact that in recessions, unemployment lags on well after a recovery has taken place,” Ryan said at the time. “We have a lot of laid-off workers, and more layoffs are occurring. And we know, as a historical fact, that even if our economy begins to slowly recover, unemployment is going to linger on and on well after that recovery takes place.”
Ryan’s advocacy of stimulus spending wasn’t limited to Washington, either. When he returned home to face constituents, he used similar language to make the case for the Bush stimulus bill. “You have to spend a little to grow a little,” Ryan told constituents at a town hall in Wisconsin in January 2002, according to the Journal-Times, a local newspaper. “What we're trying to do is stimulate that part of the economy that's on its back."
And as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out this morning, Ryan made the case for Keynesian stimulus in the form of income tax cuts in 2001, arguing for tax cuts that were “fast, deeper, retroactive to January 1st, to make sure we get a good punch into the economy, juice the economy to make sure that we can avoid a hard landing.”
Republicans have also repeatedly mocked calls by congressional Democrats to include renewed economic stimulus spending, such as a payroll tax holiday, as part of plans to reduce the deficit. Democrats have argued that short-term stimulus spending would help produce long-term revenue by boosting economic growth. Ryan has criticized that thinking, but in his 2002 remarks, he made exactly the same case: that short-term stimulus spending would produce budget surpluses.
“We've got to get the engine of economic growth growing again, because we now know because of recession, we don't have the revenues that we wanted to, we don't have the revenues we need, to fix Medicare, to fix Social Security. To fix these issues we've got to get Americans back to work,” Ryan said. “Then the surpluses come back, then the jobs come back. That is the constructive answer we're trying to accomplish here on, yes, a bipartisan basis.”
Ryan also argued in 2002 for helping workers pay for their health insurance and extending unemployment benefits. Since Obama has been in office, Ryan has voted against extending unemployment insurance.
“It's more than just giving someone an unemployment check,” Ryan said of the Bush stimulus bill. “It's also helping those people with their health insurance while they've lost their jobs and more important than just that unemployment check, it's to do what we can to give people a paycheck.”
Ryan called such measures “time-tested, proven, bipartisan solutions to get businesses to stop laying off people, to hire people back, and to help those people who have lost their jobs,” and urged congressional Democrats to break ranks and join Republicans in supporting the president’s plan.
“I've just recently read in our local Capitol Hill newspaper that members from the majority party in the other body want stimulus. They're breaking with their party leadership and asking for stimulus legislation to pass because in their home states they have a lot of people who are losing their jobs,” Ryan said. “I urge members to drop the demagoguery and to pass this bill to help us work together to get the American people back to work and help those people who've lost their jobs.”
:: Sal Gentile is segment & digital producer for Up w/ Chris Hayes. Follow him on Twitter at @salgentile. ::
In an appearance on The Ed Show Wednesday, Howard Dean compared the Republican strategy to muddy the waters on Medicare to "propaganda techniques" used by the Soviet Union.
"What they're using is old propaganda techniques that were actually used by the Soviets many years ago," Dean, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, told Ed Schultz. "They say something that's not true, and then they're gonna spend $200 million saying it again and again and again hoping that somebody beleives it."
Lately, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been claiming that President Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare. As we and many others have noted, the claim is deeply misleading: Those cuts affect providers and insurance companies, and leave seniors' care untouched. Meanwhile, Ryan's own plan for Medicare would end the program as we know it, turning it into a system of vouchers, and leaving many seniors unable to foot the bill for coverage, studies have shown.
Dean, who came close to capturing the Democratic nomination in 2004, argued that Romney and Ryan will have trouble convincing Americans that they're the defenders of Medicare, because the party's reputations on the issue are so well-established.
"Here's the problem that they have: Very few people in America believe that the Republicans care about Medicare, because they've tried to hurt it in so many ways," he said. "Nor do they believe that they care about middle-class people. They do believe that whatever the faults of the Democrats, they have stood up for Social Security and Medicare."
Dean concluded: "So propaganda didn't work in Russia and it's not gonna work here. It generally does not work when people know that it's a lie."
The Morning Joe set went silent after watching a clip of Paul Ryan stumbling his way through a Tuesday interview with Fox News.
Asked about the $700-billion Medicare cut accusation that the Ryan-Romney ticket has lobbed at the Obama administration (read Ezra Klein for further clarification), Ryan said that the Romney-Ryan ticket does not want to make cuts to Medicare.
"That [Romney-Ryan] ad attacks President Obama for the Medicare savings that are contemplated in Obamacare estimated now at over $700 billion dollars. Doesn't your budget also contemplate very major savings from Medicare on something like the same amount?" asked Fox News interviewer Brit Hume.
"Only President Obama raids $716 billion dollars from the Medicare program; he cuts $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for Obamacare," Ryan replied. "We don't do that."
Hume went back for more, though: "You make savings. How much?" he pressed.
"The point is—we, we—I joined the Romney ticket," Ryan replied. "And what Mitt Romney is proposing to do is to repeal all of Obamacare...including this cut of $716 billion...We want to restore those cuts."
"So you don't contemplate making any savings in Medicare?" Hume continued.
"We will make savings in Medicare for the next generation but what we're proposing is strengthening it for current seniors," said Ryan. "We don't take more cuts to Medicare."
Hume switched tactics.
"The budget plan you're now supporting would get to balance when?"
"Well, the budget plan that Mitt Romney is supporting gets us down to 20% of GDP government spending by 2016," Ryan said. "That means get the size of government back to where it historically has been."
"I get that but what about balance?"
"Well I don't know exactly when it balances because—I don't want to get wonky on you, but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan," Ryan said.
Cue silence from the Morning Joe panel.
Finally host Joe Scarborough breaks it up with a laugh: “You know, because I hate when people get wonky on me."
"You know what I hate more? When they don’t run the numbers,” co-host Mika Brzezinski lobbed back.
“Paul Ryan, before he was selected [as Mitt Romney’s running mate] was so fluent in matters of the budget, he’s sitting trying to recall what he’s supposed to say, what he’s been programmed to say about the Romney budget," added co-host Willie Geist.
The panel pointed out that part of Ryan's struggle is that "Paul Ryan knows what's in his plan, but we don't know what's in Romney's plan."
The Romney campaign and Republicans have set out to make them into the heroes on Medicare (vouchers = choice = great!) despite selecting a running mate who has specifically spelled out ways to gut the country's health care system for seniors and shift more of the burden of costs to the elderly.
Seeking to confuse the issue on Medicare, Mitt Romney himself, along with his GOP surrogates, have accused President Obama of being the one who "robbed" Medicare of billions of dollars, or as the Republican National Committee's Reince Priebus termed it: possessing "blood on his hands."
The GOP narrative bases its accusation on an Obama administration rule under the Affordable Care Act that reduces Medicare payments to some hospitals, private insurers, and on prescription drugs as a way to control costs on the country's burgeoning health care bill.
The problem with Republicans attacking the president on this topic is namely because it's the GOP that has voted, via the Paul Ryan budget, to cut Medicare benefits for seniors, not the Democrats. The Obama change to Medicare does not reduce the benefits that seniors receive as PolitiFact has pointed out when this line of attack has cropped up previously among the right.
MSNBC host Chuck Todd appeared to grow tired of hearing the talking point and took Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a one-time member of the Romney campaign's short-list for VP, to task when he began to trot out the line on Daily Rundown Monday.
"[President Obama] didn’t make any cuts to programs. They are trying to slow the growth and yet you guys are calling it 'cuts,'" Todd said to Jindal.
"I think the difference is that President Obama cut Medicare by over $700 billion," began Jindal.
"No, let me stop you there," Todd cut in. "But he didn’t cut it. Is it a cut? Now you're saying slowing the growth is a cut? That’s what you’re saying when you use the $700-billion talking point?"
Jindal sought to explain the nuance away, arguing Obama's plan won't work to extend Medicare. "The difference is that he didn’t use those savings to extend the solvency of the trust fund," he said. "He took that money out of Medicare to create a new entitlement when we can't afford the programs we’ve got."
Editor's Note: This story appeared under the previous headline of: Chuck Todd calls out GOP faux $700B Medicare talking point. It was updated to reflect nuances in the "cut" vs. "spending growth slowdown" debate over Medicare.
Mitt Romney introduces Rep. Paul Ryan as his runningmate.
In picking Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has taken a risk. The Wisconsin lawmaker has emerged in recent years as the ideological standard-bearer for his party, and in particular for its radical push to shrink the size of government. "To envisage what Republicans would do if they win in November, the person to understand is not necessarily Romney, who has been a policy cipher all his public life," Ryan Lizza wrote in The New Yorker last week. "The person to understand is Paul Ryan."
Here are 5 things you should know about Romney's new running mate:
• The Ryan budget, "The Path to Prosperity," would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program, slash food stamps for struggling Americans, and turn Medicaid over to the states. Virtually the entire GOP, including Romney, have signed onto the plan as a centerpiece of the party's legislative agenda.
• Ryan's plan also would further tilt the tax system toward the rich. He'd extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent, but not President Obama’s cuts for those who earn the least. Here's a chart, compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which shows the skewed distribution:
• Ryan also supports privatizing Social Security and turning it over to Wall Street. Had the plan been in effect during the 2008 financial crisis, millions of seniors' benefits would likely have been decimated.
• The economy suffers from a lack of demand, and by slashing spending, Ryan's plan would worsen the problem. It would result in over 4 million lost jobs over the next 2 years, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.
• Though he has tried to deny her influence recently, Ryan has claimed to be a devotee of the radical libertarian writer Ayn Rand. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he once said at a Washington event in Rand's honor. “I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well… I try to make my interns read it.” Rand's philosophy centers on the notion that selfishness in the pursuit of profit is a virtue and that altruism is "evil," as she put it.
Looking for one piece of writing that captures what Ryan's all about? Read this masterful profile by New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, "The Legendary Paul Ryan."