Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 18, 2011

THE 'V' WORD DOESN'T POLL WELL, EITHER.... The House Republican budget plan, approved late last week, intends to effectively eliminate the Medicare program, replacing with a privatized voucher system. That's not rhetoric or campaign spin; that's the plan. The next step should be debating whether it's a good idea or a bad idea.

But some on the right are still a little hung up on the words used to describe the plan. Last week, we discussed how some are pushing back against the word "privatization," apparently because it doesn't poll well. The word is clearly accurate in this case -- the GOP plan takes the socialized, government-financed health care program, and turns it over to private insurers -- but Republicans are resisting it anyway.

As it turns out, they're fighting against "voucher," too.

Yesterday, ABC's Christiane Amanpour asked Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) about the budget plan she supports. "[I]t includes a radical restructuring of Medicare, essentially converting it to a voucher system, sort of privatizing it," the host noted. "Now, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average senior will then have to end up paying an extra $6,000 or more out of their own pocket, I mean, how do you think that that will sit with the voters? With the American people?"

Here's Ellmers' response in its entirety:

"Well, let me just say, Christiane, that, first of all, as a nurse, you know, Medicare is an issue that we absolutely have to deal with. And, as you know, you mentioned in the Ryan budget that this issue is going to be addressed.

"It is not a voucher system. Basically what we will be doing is allowing seniors to be able to make the choices for their health care, the same that we in Congress are doing. It's the very same basic plan. And it actually saves money. It saves money in Medicare over time and it actually increases the coverage, but at the same time, it also increases coverage for those in the low income areas as well."

First, being a nurse isn't an excuse for voting to eliminate Medicare. Indeed, it suggests the freshman congresswoman actually ought to know better.

Second, saying, "It's not a voucher system" is bizarre since the whole point of the plan is to create a voucher system. If Ellmers wants to say that's a good thing, this was her chance. But simply pretending the plan she voted for -- just 48 hours earlier -- doesn't do what it plainly does make it seem as if the lawmaker has no idea what she's talking about.

And third, saying that Medicare privatization "saves money" is willfully dishonest. No one, even on the right, believes Paul Ryan's voucher scheme actually lowers costs -- all it does is shift those costs onto the elderly, and then use the difference to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.

Does Ellmers not understand the basics of the proposal she supports, or did she just go on national television and deliberately mislead millions of viewers? (Given how ridiculous her campaign was last year, it's arguably a close call.)

My ongoing concern, however, is that the media will screw this up. News organizations may start avoiding the "v" word, even though it's accurate, if Republicans simply state, "It's not a voucher system." The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using politician-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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Messaging on this is going to fall to the Democrats. Cross your fingers.

Posted by: sue on April 18, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

"No one, even on the right, believes Paul Ryan's voucher scheme actually lowers costs --"

Actually, I think in the Land of Oz that Paul Ryan and the Republicns live, they do actually believe that the voucher scheme will lower costs.

In fact, I believe it will lower costs too. A lot of sick old people will die younger because they decided they couldn't afford the basic medical care that would, and should, have prolonged their productive lives.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Posted by: neil wilson on April 18, 2011 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

The media already has "screwed this up." Amanpour did, yesterday, in her hapless exchange with Ellmers.

Posted by: bob somerby on April 18, 2011 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Does Ellmers not understand the basics of the proposal she supports, or did she just go on national television and deliberately mislead millions of viewers?

I don't think it's a close call at all. I think she knows exactly what she's doing.

Since when has being straight with voters ever been a requirement for an elected official, especially any one from the Republican Party in the last 20 years or so?

The Republicans stay in power and serve their constituency by bamboozling lower- and middle-income voters. That is their job.

Posted by: bleh on April 18, 2011 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"Now, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average senior will then have to end up paying an extra $6,000 or more out of their own pocket"

Wrong: Seniors wont be able to afford it and insurance companies will offer a "choice" which costs and covers less.

Ryan Care = Corporate 'death panels'.

Posted by: Rob on April 18, 2011 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

thank you, bob somerby. you are 100% right.

perhaps someone should remind ms. amanpour, along with the rest of the media, what exactly a "follow-up question" is.

for example: in that situation, mine would have been: "not a voucher system? what the fuck are you talking about?"

Posted by: ahoy polloi on April 18, 2011 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Does she actually go on TV and mislead the American voter about what she just did? Of course she does! That is exactly how the Rethugs fought the health care plan. It is the only way they can win the support of the voters--people who are obviously voting against their owen best interests. It is why the past ten years have been the new Orwellian age of American history.

Posted by: candideinnc on April 18, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

"The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using Republican-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions."

fixed it for ya!

Posted by: els on April 18, 2011 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

John Boehner supports a program that allows parents in the DC school system to take money that would otherwise be used to give their kids a 'socialized education,' (public school), and re-direct that money to private entities who would do the job instead. Boehner unabashedly refers to that program as a voucher program:


Maybe someone should ask him if Ryan's Medicare plan is a voucher system? If he says no, ask him to explain why it's different from his DC school plan.

Posted by: WSP on April 18, 2011 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's pretty amazing that their entire strategy, their entire case when it comes to selling the Ryan Budget to America relies on obfuscation and creating maximum opacity with word games and 3 card monty.

Posted by: bcinaz on April 18, 2011 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

It's an out and out lie that the Ryan health care plan is just like what congress provides. The Federal Employee Health Plan has restrictions on pre-existing conditions, rescission and is specified to cover a multitude of conditions. The Ryan plan takes away the restrictions imposed by the ACA, imposes no conditions (to my knowledge) and is not a group plan. It just gives seniors a voucher and says "go for it and good luck."

Posted by: wordtypist on April 18, 2011 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I don't care much for the word voucher. I prefer what the RepuGs really want to do for seniors. Coupons for Alpo.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 18, 2011 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think "coupons" will poll very well either, but these are effectively coupons for medical treatment.

Posted by: sublime33 on April 18, 2011 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, coupons for medical treatment at a payout so low, any senior with typical medical problems facing seniors will be reduced to buying dog food in order to survive.

This coupon payout reminds me of RepuGs who have attempted to move the homeless out of their areas. Just provide them with a one way bus ticket out of town, or hand each person $500 with the provision they can never come back and ask for any more assistance. It is termed kicking the problem down the road.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 18, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Like I said in the Dourhat thread: in any case, if medical costs keep going up, then "we" are going to have to pay for them one way or another anyway so it does no good to say, let's not charge for them or insuring them through the government. You will just have to pay someone else. That is the big trick of right-wing gripers about taxation or withholding for things like Medicare: they make those payments sound like owing money to a bank for a loan, an extra cost you get nothing for in the future (and the cost of interest just a loss to the borrower.) But these are for medical expenses in the future, not like "everything the same but owing extra money too" etc.

Note also, that since Republicans are griping about the cost of Social Security etc: well then, let's do indeed cut down and recoup costs by fully taxing SS benefits. (Lift the cap too.) But note how Republicans have traditionally griped about taxing SS benefits, because of course higher-earners pay back more of their SS benefits than lower-income people.

Another good challenge we need to push, esp. now that even Simpson is pushing it: if paying off and avoiding debt is so damn important, then by golly let's raise the top rates enough to really pay it off ...

Fine minds make fine distinctions.

Posted by: Neil B on April 18, 2011 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Amanpour's thing has always been foreign affairs and wars; I imagine she's pretty out of her depth on this domestic economic policy stuff. Which raises the question of why she is doing these kinds of interviews in the first place.

Posted by: wvmcl2 on April 18, 2011 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK


This is why the American public is embarrassingly ignorant on all government policies.

WE know the answer given was bullshit, but how many of Amanpour's gullible viewers know it???

Posted by: Tommybones on April 18, 2011 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

It's not a voucher system. It's a floor wax! And a dessert topping!

Congress is now reduced to recycling old Saturday Night Live bits.

Posted by: biggerbox on April 18, 2011 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Geez, everybody. Really the problem is that neither Amanpour, nor anybody here, seems to have read that little tome "Path to Prosperity." Amanpour might have known, had she read it, that it says right there that it's not a "voucher" program (should have footnoted Luntz or Rove) but a "premium-support" system. The follow-up question, of course, would then have presented itself: WTF is the difference? And the answer, really, is, "None." In either case, they give you a little money, and you're on your own. But don't complain, they told you it wasn't a voucher system.

Posted by: David in NY on April 18, 2011 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Not to worry. The Democrats are in lockstep on this and in every interview, in every public appearance, in every occasion with a hint of media attention, they will say something about Paul Ryan's Death Panels. They will somehow work it into the conversation to draw attention to it.

Yeah. Right.

Posted by: josef on April 18, 2011 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, everything I've seen says it is a voucher system, which Ryan's little book takes pains to say it isn't. Now maybe I've been missing stuff, but so far, I think our framing has been good. And having established that (by strategy or accident), they've got some work to do to explain it's not a voucher system, at which point everyone will associate the word "voucher" with it anyway. Not so bad.

Posted by: David in NY on April 18, 2011 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

They are working hard on the 'it's giving seniors a CHOICE!' meme. Dems have to find a way to point out that the 'choice' is whether you want to take it in the neck or up the _ss.

Posted by: dcsusie on April 18, 2011 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Does Ellmers not understand the basics of the proposal she supports, or did she just go on national television and deliberately mislead millions of viewers? -- Steve Benen

Everyone up-thread seems to assume the second, but I wouldn't be so sure. Not to sound *too* snotty, but from my personal experience, about 8 out of 10 nurses aren't the brightest crayons in the box. Most of the time, the really bright ones interested in the field of medicine manage to get scholarships for college and med school; they do not go for a 12-months training course straight out of highschool.

My bet is someone told her whom to hire as her Congressional office staff, and the staff "explains" to her how to vote and what to say when asked about her vote. Just as in her nursing career, good memory is more of an requirement than the ability to think independently.

Posted by: exlibra on April 18, 2011 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

"politician-endorsed word choice"?

Don't you mean "Republican-endorsed word choice"?

Meanwhile, Rick Scott is down in Florida re-arranging that state's Supreme Court.

We are so fucked, I don't see how we get out of this mess.

Posted by: karen marie on April 18, 2011 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

As some commenters have suggested, the right term for this policy instrument is "rationing coupon." The Ryan Plan envisions rationing healthcare to non-rich seniors. The value of a rationing coupon will be determined from year to year by a committee of politicians, which should be called the Death Panel. In the same vein, educational voucher plans envision rationing white-standard education to minorities. And so on. Whenever you hear "voucher," think "rationing."

Posted by: RonG on April 18, 2011 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Ellmers is truly an idiot and this is coming from someone who works, but thankfully doesn't live, in her District.

Even better, the local Christian radio station which does some of the better local news reporting has decided to go ALL in with her and is reporting her press releases verbatim (along with CITIVAS polls from Art Pope and the Tea Party).

Take a look at their site at http://www.wtsbradio.com/ and ask them (politely) if they have any clue what journalism is.

Posted by: Logan on April 19, 2011 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Frank Luntz has got his hands full here.

Posted by: bob h on April 19, 2011 at 6:36 AM | PERMALINK
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