Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 17, 2011

HOW NOT TO DEAL WITH INCONVENIENT INFORMATION.... House Republicans spent two years insisting that, if elected, they'd lower the deficit (that they created when they were in the majority). And now that they're in the majority, the House GOP's first order of business is a health care vote that would add $230 billion to the deficit.

"But wait," Republicans argue, "we can explain." As the GOP sees it, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office thinks the Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit, and that repeal would make the deficit worse, but the CBO is taking too narrow a look at the picture. If we'd only go by the Republicans' version of reality, then the repeal vote is perfectly responsible.

But the GOP's pitch is almost laughably dishonest. Paul Krugman had a helpful column on this today.

My wife and I were thinking of going out for an inexpensive dinner tonight. But John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says that no matter how cheap the meal may seem, it will cost thousands of dollars once you take our monthly mortgage payments into account.

Wait a minute, you may say. How can our mortgage payments be a cost of going out to eat, when we'll have to make the same payments even if we stay home? But Mr. Boehner is adamant: our mortgage is part of the cost of our meal, and to say otherwise is just a budget gimmick.

O.K., the speaker hasn't actually weighed in on our plans for the evening. But he and his G.O.P. colleagues have lately been making exactly the nonsensical argument I've just described -- not about tonight's dinner, but about health care reform. And the nonsense wasn't a slip of the tongue; it's the official party position, laid out in charts and figures.

Republicans effectively have three choices when it comes to health care. First, they could simply give up on repealing the entirety of the law, and instead focus on incremental, fiscally-responsible changes. Second, Republicans could simply argue that they find the Affordable Care Act so offensive, they just don't care about the effects repeal would have on the deficit.

Third, GOP officials could just start making stuff up, and hope that reporters and voters can't tell the difference. As Krugman explains in his piece, this is the preferred avenue for the new House majority.

But this isn't in a gray area, and it's not a matter of opinion -- the Republican argument simply isn't true. It's being pushed aggressively by party leaders, but it's simply detatched from reality. To twist their numbers into making sense, Boehner & Co. would us believe health care costs we'd have to pay anyway -- costs that aren't related to the Affordable Care Act -- should be added to the reform law's price tag.

To believe this nonsense is to fall for a transparent con.

Krugman concluded, "Given that their minds were made up from the beginning, top Republicans weren't interested in and didn't need any real policy analysis -- in fact, they're basically contemptuous of such analysis, something that shines through in their health care report. All they ever needed or wanted were some numbers and charts to wave at the press, fooling some people into believing that we're having some kind of rational discussion. We aren't."

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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"Numbers? We don't need no stinkin' numbers!"

Posted by: DAY on January 17, 2011 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps some enterprising MSM publication could care enough to inform its readers/listeners of this.

Posted by: terraformer on January 17, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

And this is a perfect example why civil discourse is doomed to failure in this country, in spite of everything that has happened. There is that little problem Republicans have regarding responsibility to the truth. It's a major reason why Democrats/liberals/progressives are so ANGRY.

Posted by: Varecia on January 17, 2011 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

You've got to love Krugman.
He makes things so simple, even a Republican could understand it.
If they would choose to.
But they don't.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 17, 2011 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

The intellectual bankruptcy of both the GOP and the Blue Dogs is precisely why liberals criticized the WH for negotiating with these clowns.

Given that the GOP was willing to embrace the "do nothing" position, there was no good reason -- unless you view doing favors for drug and insurance companies -- for the WH to rush to cut a deal that they couldn't proudly stand behind. As much as Steve Benen loves the WH Whiteboard, you shouldn't need such professorial videos to sell HCR.

And given that much of ACA doesn't kick in fully for years, there really was no reason to rush to pass a bill.

The ideal move would have been for the WH to endorse a bill that was, if not perfect, extremely strong on its face, extremely popular, and likely to hold down costs.

Then they could have pitched the debate as "do something v. do nothing". Every day that insurance rates increased would have strengthened the "do something" position until passage would be inevitable.

Right now, unless you are one of the few Americans who has been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, the bill has had no measurable effect on your health care. You probably have no better options than you did before the bill passed. And your premiums have likely increased.

Keep the bill? Repeal the bill? For most Americans, the answer is probably "who gives a damn?"

Posted by: square1 on January 17, 2011 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Serious question: Is there anyone out there, at all, other than Stewart, Olberman, Maddow, and Krugman, who care about reality?

Posted by: r on January 17, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

So Republicans don't really care about the facts? Is this new? Just think about the Clinton Impeachment. They wanted him OUT, and they didn't care how they did it or what the facts were. (not about sex?)

Same with Health Care. We want it out, facts be dammed.

Posted by: mike reilly on January 17, 2011 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Krugman: "Given that their minds were made up from the beginning, top Republicans weren't interested in and didn't need any real policy analysis

And this is different from EVERY other public policy the RightWing advocates, HOW ?


Posted by: Joe Friday on January 17, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

The arguments advanced for a position which has no hope of being enacted are irrelevant. The key question is why would the GOP make a futile, symbolic effort to repeal the ACA. Because they are trapped between an irrational base and their own propaganda. It is perfectly appropriate to point out again and again how uninterested they are in governing. Their House GOP will be passing absurd bills for the next two years.

Posted by: Tom in Ma on January 17, 2011 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

I think it just illustrates the difference in reasoning prevalent in the Left and Right today.

On the Left, I think people mostly still reason, eg as scientsts do, from facts to beliefs. There is an interest in determining the truth of facts, and facts influence beliefs.

On the Right, I think there is a strong strain of reasoning in the opposite direction, ie, from beliefs to "facts." Beliefs are fixed, facts are used to verify beliefs, and facts are discarded if they don't conform to beliefs or invented if none are available.

This also helps to explain the prevalence on the Right of paranoid theories about a huge and monolithic Left, including most media. Facts that conflict their beliefs arise all over the place and are reported daily. Their own predilection for inventing "facts" suggests that others have done this specifically to undermine their beliefs, and the prevalence and frequency of such facts suggests a truly awesome conspiracy.

Sucks to be them...

Posted by: bleh on January 17, 2011 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

the GOP's pitch is almost laughably dishonest

You don't say.

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP strategy is to lie, obfuscate, and do everything in their power to undermine the democratic agenda. This way they can turn around and say, "We told you so, the goverment is the problem!!! Give us power again and we'll make it better for real Americans."

They learned early on by watering down the stimulus bill to a point where, combined with a well organized misinformation campaign, they d effectively convinced a large portion of the population that the stimulus was just another big government spending program.


Posted by: citizen_pain on January 17, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

The republicans "doc fix" position may seem like an obvious con, but yet here we have Glenn Kessler, the annointed factchecker at the paragon of journalism, Washington Post. And he bought it hook, line and sinker.

Here's Kessler, channeling Boehners talking points:

>>> When Boehner refers to the "doc fix," he's talking about a never-implemented cut in Medicare to doctors passed in 1997--when the Republicans were in control, and Boehner was in a leadership post. Except for one year, Congress has repeatedly waived that provision but has never repealed it. Because the provision remains in law, the CBO had to assume the revenue--some $200 billion over ten years--would keep flowing even though no one in Congress supports implementing those cuts.

>>> Now, if you add back the "doc fix," the supposed deficit reduction has disappeared. But there's more. Because of federal budget practices, the law also results in a theoretical $400 billion improvement in the cash flow of the Medicare insurance trust fund even though it does not actually enhance the ability of the government to pay those benefits. So many would argue that that $400 billion is also illusionary.

End Kessler.

All that fancy talk and the unsuspecting reader is lead to believe that his mortgage really is a hidden cost in taking the wife out for dinner. And why not? The factchecker at washington post says so!

Now some would throw their arms up in resignation, and lament the sad state of journalism in the 21st century.

But what this really tells me is that progressives have failed. We have failed to provide Kessler with a clear, krisp counter-argument, a counter-argument such as the one Krugman so eloquently outlined in his column.

We have reacted to slow to the republicans scam, and we haven't been effective in our messaging. Every american media consumer that was exposed to the conservative proposition should have already been informed of the counter-proof.

That takes a compressed, easily understood, crisp message and message discipline.

We havent produced an irrefuteable graph of the cost of the "doc fix" - with the affordable care act, and without the affordable care act.

We have failed in giving Kessler incentives to do his freaking job. If Kessler knew he would publicly humiliated for performing bad journalism, then he would make sure to put some more effort into his "factchecking". If not this time, then next time.

It should hurt to do a sloppy job, and it should hurt to screw over democrats for the benefit of republicans.

Link to wpost attatched.

Posted by: Danny on January 17, 2011 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

And here's the link:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2011/01/battle_over_health_care.html

Posted by: Danny on January 17, 2011 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Krugman has it all wrong. The reality of it all is that, by going out for a meal, I'm taking money away from John Beohner's campaign war chest. Therefore, I am going out for a meal---and Krugman should, too.

As a matter of fact, every penny I put into the economy right now---areas of that economy that do not contribute to the Party of Rush---make's Boehner's "Big Lie" an even bigger lie---and further reduces his ability to keep his job in two years' time.

Posted by: S. Waybright on January 17, 2011 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

A correction to Benen's posting...

"...GOP officials could just start making stuff up, and hope that reporters and voters can't tell the difference."

should read..

"GOP officials just start making stuff up, and know that reporters will not tell voters the difference."

Posted by: SadOldVet on January 17, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad to see all that talk of uplifting discourse has so improved the comments thread...

I don't think Republicans are stupid or, necessarily evil; some of their rhetoric is just that, some of their points about the cost of health care reform are not entirely wrong. The Affordable Care Act factors in reforms to Medicare that have not happened; and Democrats reiterated their refusal to address fee for service issues in Medicare by yet again using the "doc fix" extension to kick the can down the road. Also, almost anyone who's seriously examined the issues of Medicaid funding and costs in that program would tell you that the estimates for Medicaid were decidedly unrealistic, a reality that has most state governors (even not newly elected GOP ones) concerned about the supposed "expansion" of Medicaid still scheduled for 2014 (I'll take bets on whether that ever actually happens).

Two other points: there are a lot of moving parts to the reform act, and cost estiates of the bill are, largely, theoretical, depending tremendously on how cost of care changes and how costs of insurance premiums change, among a number of variables (like, also, the number of people in poverty who actually qualify for Medicaid, which has grown steadily in the recession). Saying we have a certain number, really, is the unrealistic approach, I still think. There are reasons to reject the Republican arguments for "repeal", most obviously their failure to offer a constructive alternative. But to hinge the debate on whose cost estimates are less realistic is sort of absurd.

But finally, the real absurdity here is taking any of this "repeal" debate for anything more than a pointless exercise in showmanship. If Republicans had learned anything from their "breathing room" week, I'd hope it was enough sense to not make the theater of "repeal" their centerpiece as soon as they restarted. That says to me they've learned nothing, even in a week, about putting a fresh face on their new Congress. As always, repeal will pass the House, and then it will stop. And that really is that. The much more substantial problems we face - such as really reforming Medicare or actually figuring out how to provide a Medicaid program that actually helps poor people - will still be there. And no one, really, has a lot of answers to those questions.

Posted by: weboy on January 17, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

This still doesn't explain Boehner's rather broad statement on Jan. 6: "I don't think anybody in this town believes that repealing Obamacare is going to raise the deficit".

Unless by "in this town" he means Republican Looneyville?

Perhaps the more notable Boehner statement was the one preceding the one above (and was precipitated by a reporter's question about the CBO report): "If you believe that repealing Obamacare is going to raise the deficit, then you'd have to have some way to offset the spending."

So, see... passing the repeal bill CAN'T raise the deficit because then the Rs would have to figure out how to pay for it... and they don't want to do THAT. They just want to get rid of HC reform because they campaigned on it, and they have to keep the promises in their "pledge". Except when they don't, examples to numerous to list.

I think the Rs must be very sore and cramped, having to tie themselves in such knots.

Posted by: Hannah on January 17, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

This is what I have been screaming at the TV all week! It doesn't matter if we have 'civil' discourse if the discourse is still a bunch of lies. What's the new mantra? "Speak softly and carry a big LIE"?

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

To believe this nonsense is to fall for a transparent con.

We've been falling for a transparent con for 30 years. Why should we stop now?

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on January 17, 2011 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Would this be a good time to review
George Carlin - "Who Really Controls America" on YouTube? Yes, I think so.

Posted by: Kevin (not the famous one) on January 17, 2011 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

@weboy

"The Affordable Care Act factors in reforms to Medicare that have not happened"

The CBO factors in both revenue and spending that has not yet happened. How could they make a projection for the years 2010-2020 if they didn't factor in reforms that goes into effect in 2014?

Your argument makes no sense.

"and Democrats reiterated their refusal to address fee for service issues in Medicare by yet again using the "doc fix" extension to kick the can down the road."

It's called "all else being equal", where the "doc fix" == part of "all else". What's difficult to grasp about that?

""Also, almost anyone who's seriously examined the issues of Medicaid funding and costs in that program would tell you that the estimates for Medicaid were decidedly unrealistic"

Care to elaborate? The estimates of what, specifically?

"there are a lot of moving parts to the reform act, and cost estiates of the bill are, largely, theoretical, depending tremendously on how cost of care changes and how costs of insurance premiums change, among a number of variables (like, also, the number of people in poverty who actually qualify for Medicaid, which has grown steadily in the recession)."

To summarize: there's a greater level of uncertainty in this projection than there would have been with a less ambitious law, i.e. "we will cut 100B$ from the military budget".

"Saying we have a certain number, really, is the unrealistic approach, I still think."

It is the CBO:s job to estimate the level of uncertainty, and then make a conservative, middle-of-road estimate, given that known uncertainty. All estimates are uncertain, but they are the best we got. The republicans has no problem claiming with a straight face that the bill will increase the deficit, and that is quite trivially deception, no matter the level of uncertainty in the estimate.

"But to hinge the debate on whose cost estimates are less realistic is sort of absurd."

It's not a matter of "hinging" anything. One side transparently presents the best estimate we know how to make, the other side pulls numbers out of their ass. It is in our interest, as citizens, to be properly informed, and the press is not doing their job.

"The much more substantial problems we face - such as really reforming Medicare or actually figuring out how to provide a Medicaid program that actually helps poor people - will still be there. And no one, really, has a lot of answers to those questions."

Until the Affordable Health Care Act is implemented in full, we still have 30 Million americans waiting for affordable health care. Luckily, in 2014 and beyond they will get it. Let's leave the topic of whether Medicaid "actually helps poor people" for another day and take joy in the fact that ACA soon will help poor americans - 30 million of them.

Posted by: Danny on January 17, 2011 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

I think the very key nail in the coffin of Boehner's argument is that he says the doc fix should be counted as a cost of the ACA but does not propose repealing the doc fix.

His argument is nonsense as you note, but, even if it were valid, it would have nothing to do with the effect of the "repealing the puppy kicking anti apple pie health care bill" on the deficit.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on January 17, 2011 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

@weboy

Also, what is your opinion on "concern trolling" - art or not?

Posted by: Danny on January 17, 2011 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

""Also, almost anyone who's seriously examined the issues of Medicaid funding and costs in that program would tell you that the estimates for Medicaid were decidedly unrealistic"

Care to elaborate? The estimates of what, specifically?

Medicaid grants to the states already do not fully fund the coverage of people in poverty in almost any state. The idea that the program can be expanded enormously, without the funds actually needed to cover the costs associated with it, is unrealistic. Federal funding of the expansion is time limited. Most states already cannot afford the coverage they're mandated to give. This isn't hard. "Let's leave the topic of whether Medicaid 'actually helps poor people' for another day" is precisely the point: we've been putting off a serious examination of Medicaid for years, and the first moment, when reform was actually possible, nothing really has been reformed. Medicaid reimbursements are 66% of Medicare's - which are considered unreasonably low and unrealistic to begin with. This is why the two issues are related, at least for now - until Congress addresses Medicare's reimbursement rates, Medicaid's rates don't change, and that's a key reason many poor people cannot find care providers, even if they can get coverage. And finally, those overly low, unrealistic reimbursement rates - which could have been fixed in the reform bill, but weren't - are then used to decide how much Medicaid expansion costs. That, again, is extending a fiction.

I am not "concern trolling" nor do I appreciate the term; I'm a liberal who has spent years studying and writing on a variety of issues, including health policy. I am not a fan of Republicans, who lack ideas for any healthcare policy at all; at the same time, I think "reform" as created in this new law has exacerbated some existing problems, and not done enough to deal with old ones. And I've said as much, repeatedly, on comments postings here. I know its not popular, and I know it drives certain Democrats nuts to hear left-sided criticism of health policy, but we exist and the arguments deserve to be considered, especially if we plan to make headway on the issues involved. The failures to deal with Medicare and Medicaid in substantive ways are enormous, potentially budget busting problems. Republican repeal is a farce; but Democrats don't have a lot of good answers for these basic questions. That's the problem. I just think we need to not lose sight of it.

http://nycweboy.typepad.com/my_weblog/health/

Posted by: weboy on January 17, 2011 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

@weboy
Well in that case you have my apologies for the undeserved innuendo.

I have no problem with informed, nuanced critique "from the left", as yours. I put "the left" in quotes because I suspect there's little difference between us in the sense that I would, if possible, prefer a single payer solution over the present one, since I believe single payer would solve even more problems and do even more good.

I wont contest the likelyhood of higher medicaid reimbursement rates some time in the future, I know to little about the subject to make a proper contribution. I'll have to get back to that subject after reading up on it.

I will say this about helping the poor, though:

30 million people get no help at all today, but from 2014 they will be brought into medicaid or get subsidized affordable health care.

That is a hell of a good thing, regardless of if we do anything to help the people already enrolled or not. And if future changes to imbursement rates eat up all of the projected 150B$ in surplus so that the fiscal impact of ACA is zero, there's still 30 million people helped. We've done nothing for them in the last 50 years, so I'll gladly take whats in the legislation now and worry about whats not in it tomorrow.

So no, I won't "go nuts" over your position - my issue with it is rather one of timing and context: I think that it would be more helpful to adress these issues in the some other context than what the ACA left out.

The ACA still does a lot of good, it doesnt have to do sove everything.

Posted by: Danny on January 17, 2011 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Article: "Third, GOP officials could just start making stuff up, and hope that reporters and voters can't tell the difference."

I don't think anyone in the GOP lays awake at night worrying about what the corporate media and half of the voters will believe or not believe. The first group has their marching orders and the second watches Fox News.

Posted by: max on January 17, 2011 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Joseph Goebbels
Minister of Propaganda 1933-1945
Nazi Germany

I think it's worthwhile to re-state these two seminal comments from Goebbels. The GOP propaganda apparatus, and its daily implementation is directly inspired by Goebbels' work in this area.

Our "journalists" in MSM might want to meditate on these thoughts from Goebbels. Who knows? Such meditation might even generate an original thought or two in the minds of what have otherwise become GOP stenographers.

Posted by: LL on January 17, 2011 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Every Republican argument is a "transparent con," designed to fire up its Fox News base and confuse everyone else. And why should they change? Outrageous charges of death panels and government-run health care earned them big victories in November despite the fact that these charges were pure fantasy. The Democrats should stop being "shocked, shocked, shocked" at these Republican tactics and start building their own political attack machine. Without a strong aggressive counter-message, the public is left with only one message: the GOP lie of the week.

Posted by: ameshall on January 17, 2011 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

weboy,

Thanks for the link and I will accept all your points as made. But let's take a look at what will happen if nothing is done.

1. The costs of health care are projected to rise much faster is HCR is not put in to effect.
2. The Republicans pushed Medicare part D onto America and didn't pay for it. It was supposed to cost $400 billion and it now looks to be twice that.
3. Republicans ran us into the Iraq based on false information and pulled out weapons inspectors whne they found nothing. Cost projected to to be over $3 trillion.
4. Tax cuts when we had over $5 trillion in debt, but were starting to pay it off. Now adding well over $1 trillion in debt.

Why do we want to even begin to believe numbers from Republicans? History shows that they can't be trusted for war or the economy.

Posted by: madstork123 on January 17, 2011 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps some enterprising MSM publication could care enough to inform its readers/listeners of this.

Posted by: terraformer on January 17, 2011 at 10:21 AM

You would think. Why is it so damned hard for the regular media to simply say: "This is a lie." It would be one thing if the GOP had a valid plan with workable numbers. They don't; it is not an either/or thing. One side is reality, the other is a bald-faced lie.

You'd almost think the media don't care about informing people. Oh, wait...

Posted by: electrolite on January 17, 2011 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans? Rational? Especially on Faux News and among the Tea Party leaders/backers? Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!

Anymore "rationality" from Republicans and Tea Party leaders/backers and they'll trigger another Great Depression, if not another World War...or both at the same time...a Tea Party Twofer.

Posted by: The Oracle on January 17, 2011 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

weboy,
Thanks for the link and I will accept all your points as made. -- madstork123 on January 17, 2011 at 3:19 PM

Forgive a 'puter-illiterate Polack for asking, but how does weboy's link to his own blog make his argument more credible than it had been before?

Posted by: exlibra on January 17, 2011 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

@exlibra

I don't know enough about the subject of medicaid reimbursement to have an opinion. weboy's description sounds plausible, but devil's in the detail, and so on...

All the other stuff that he asserted in his original post, and which I challenged. To me, that means no contention. It was clearly all irrelevant to the issue at hand (projection of fiscal impact).

Posted by: Danny on January 18, 2011 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

Should read "He didnt respond to my challenges of all the other stuff [..]"

Posted by: Danny on January 18, 2011 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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