MEMO: Romney’s Etch-a-Sketch Plan Still Dismantles Medicare
TO: Interested Parties
FR: Bill Burton, Priorities USA Action
RE: Sunday Memo: Romney’s Etch-a-Sketch Plan Still Dismantles Medicare
The Romney-Ryan Medicare plan released this week is perhaps the first example of policy guided by the Etch-a-Sketch method of trying to erase voters' memory. In 2011, House Republicans introduced, and Romney promised to sign, a plan that would replace Medicare with a voucher program for private insurance. The election year iteration of that proposal is this week’s plan that would create vouchers for private insurance to compete with Medicare.
On Medicare, Romney’s policy change is an illusion because both policies have the same goal and outcome. The 2011 plan would dismantle traditional Medicare to pay for tax cuts benefiting the wealthy. The 2012 plan would dismantle traditional Medicare by intentionally making the program unworkable to pay for tax cuts benefiting the wealthy.
What has changed between 2011 and 2012 is not the Republican goal of essentially ending Medicare but simply a recognition that they need to change the way they promote their plan. They conducted 50 polls to find better words to use, brought political operatives into the Capitol and most importantly, “the 2012 plan is — simply put — to not talk about the plan too much.” For Republicans, not actually talking about their new plan for Medicare is critical because a close examination reveals that the end result is still the elimination of traditional Medicare.
The 2012 plan provides vouchers for seniors to purchase coverage from private insurance companies. The result, intentionally, is that older and less healthy seniors would stick with traditional Medicare’s guaranteed benefit. This would, intentionally, make traditional Medicare unworkable. The result would be, as the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes, “the gradual demise of traditional Medicare."
House Republicans proposed a similar plan to create a competitor for Medicare in the 1990s. In an unintentionally candid statement, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich said the intention of the program was to cause traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine.”
And, like 2011, the rationale for essentially ending Medicare is not to reduce the deficit. Instead, the ‘savings’ from cutting health care for seniors goes overwhelmingly to finance $4.6 trillion in new tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.
The 2012 Romney-Ryan Medicare plan simply rephrases the 2011 Romney-Ryan Medicare policy into poll-tested election year talking points. No matter how hard Romney tries to shake, the Republican plan to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy by dismantling Medicare is not going to be erased.
2011: Mitt Romney said he would sign the House budget authored by Paul Ryan. ABC News reported that “On health care, Romney responded ‘yes’ when asked if he would sign the plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan that would restructure Medicare if it reached his desk as President, but quickly added that he would be offering his own plan.” [ABC News, 6/2/11]
Romney Endorsed 2012 Version of Ryan Plan. Politco wrote, “To ensure the plan landed well nationally, Ryan personally reached out to presidential candidates to brief them on it. Romney endorsed the plan this week.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “Paul Ryan's new budget plan drew praise from GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, and an attack from President Obama's reelection campaign Tuesday. The House Republicans' fiscal blueprint for 2013 would slash federal spending, lower tax rates and substantially overhaul Medicare in an effort to free the nation "from the crushing burden of debt," Ryan wrote in a document outlining the plan.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/12; Politico, 3/22/12]
Politico: Republicans Focused on Repackaging Medicare Changes Using Poll-Tested Language. According to Politico, “The party polled on Medicare in 50 battleground districts. It vetted the plan with a dozen conservative groups. It reached out to rank-and-file lawmakers and asked them what they needed to support the sweeping conservative spending plan. Ryan briefed the Republican presidential candidates and won a quick public endorsement of the plan from Mitt Romney. And perhaps most important, the GOP learned how to use the right poll-tested words. The 2012 plan is — simply put — to not talk about the plan too much. Ryan and Republicans no longer talk about their plan as a stand-alone.” [Politico, 3/22/12]
CBPP: Ryan Plan Would Likely Mean “Gradual Demise of Traditional Medicare.” According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the plan would, “Likely lead to the gradual demise of traditional Medicare by making the pool of Medicare beneficiaries smaller, older, and sicker — and increasingly costly to cover.” [CBPP, 3/19/12]
Plan Mimics Gingrich’s Goal to Have Medicare “Wither on the Vine.” According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Premium support would replace Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage with a flat payment, or voucher, that beneficiaries would use to buy private health insurance or traditional Medicare. Although billed as a kinder, gentler form of premium support, the Ryan-Wyden plan has the same basic features as earlier proposals. It is similar to a 1995 proposal from then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich that Gingrich said would have caused traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine.”” [CBPP, 3/19/12]
AARP: Ryan Plan would “simply increase costs for beneficiaries while removing Medicare’s promise of secure health coverage.” According to the AARP, “The typical Medicare beneficiary today, living on an income of roughly $20,000, already struggles to pay for their ever-rising health and prescription drug costs — and nearly 20 percent of their income currently goes to health care costs. By creating a “premium support” system for future Medicare beneficiaries, the proposal is likely to simply increase costs for beneficiaries while removing Medicare’s promise of secure health coverage — a guarantee that future seniors have contributed to through a lifetime of hard work.” [AARP Statement, 3/21/12]
Plan Would Put Medicare at Inherent Disadvantage, Forcing its Gradual Unraveling. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Over time, traditional Medicare would become less financially viable and could unravel — not because it was less efficient than the private plans, but because it was competing on an unlevel playing field in which private plans captured the healthier beneficiaries and incurred lower costs as a consequence. Ryan-Wyden also would allow private plans to tailor their benefit packages to attract healthier beneficiaries and deter sicker ones, which only makes this outcome more likely.” [CBPP, 3/19/12]
Ryan Plan Would Cut Taxes for Millionaires and Companies Shipping Jobs Overseas. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “The Ryan budget would provide income tax cuts for millionaires averaging at least $187,000 in 2014. The plan would also reduce corporate income taxes and would increase the (already considerable) incentives for corporations to shift profits and jobs overseas.” [Citizens for Tax Justice, 3/22/12]
Ryan Plan Adds $4.6 Trillion to Bush Tax Cuts, Both Benefiting Wealthy Primarily. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “These tax cuts all would come on top of President Bush’s tax cuts, which also are very expensive and tilted toward the nation’s most affluent people and which Chairman Ryan would make permanent. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimates that extending the Bush and other expiring tax cuts would cost $5.4 trillion over the next decade and that Chairman Ryan’s additional tax cuts would cost another $4.6 trillion. That means Chairman Ryan is proposing nearly $10 trillion in tax cuts (relative to current law) that heavily favor high-income Americans even while claiming that his budget’s severe cuts in basic low-income programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and Pell Grants are needed to rein in unsustainable deficits.” [CBPP, 3/22/12]
Wall Street Journal: GOP 2011 Plan Would “Essentially End Medicare.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/4/11]
Los Angeles Times: “Seniors Would End Up Paying Almost Twice As Much.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “But because commercial insurers cost more to run than government plans, the Wisconsin Republican's proposal to privatize Medicare starting in 2022 would actually spark a dramatic increase in how much the nation spends on healthcare for the elderly, according to an independent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Even as the federal government cut its own spending, seniors would end up paying almost twice as much out of their own pockets — or more than $12,510 a year, the CBO estimates. Altogether, the total cost of insurance would be higher.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/11]
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow: “Most of the savings from spending reductions would go to finance tax cuts.” According to Henry Aaron, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, “Ryan justifies such cuts in the name of deficit reduction. In fact, deficit reduction would be minimal. Most of the savings from spending reductions would go to finance tax cuts - including cuts in the top tax rates from 39.6% to 25% for those who make $375,000 or more. And most of the rest of the claimed savings are illusory. Ryan's baseline assumes that military ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq will continue indefinitely. If one recognizes that these ventures will end, deficit reduction over the next decade would be just $155 billion, a tenth of what Ryan claims.” [Brookings,4/10/11]
Conservative Website: Conservative Groups Expect Romney to Simply Sign Congressional Republican Agenda. According to the conservative Daily Caller, “The tea party may never trust Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials, but tea party group FreedomWorks is hoping that if Romney does make it to the White House, his political leanings may not matter because all he’ll have to do is sign the agenda that the conservative House and Senate send to his desk.” [Daily Caller, 3/22/12]