Rep. Paul Ryan Lies In Email Urging People To Vote For Lie Of The Year

December 08, 2011 3:06 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) probably should have quietly enjoyed the fact that he has hoodwinked PolitiFact into thinking it's a lie to say that his plan to end Medicare is a plan to end Medicare. But the dishonest House Budget Committee chairman couldn't leave well enough alone; he had to send out an email urging people to vote for the non-lie as "Lie of the Year" — an email that further lied about Medicare while accusing Democrats of lying about Medicare.

Ryan writes:

"Our budget is the only plan that actually saves Medicare." That echoes a previous false claim by Ryan that "The president has not put forward a plan that saves Medicare from bankruptcy, even though nonpartisan experts tell us that this could happen in 9-13 short years unless we act."

The first problem with this is the claim that Medicare needs to be "saved" from "bankruptcy." Since Ryan is invoking PolitiFact in his email, let's see what they've said about this claim:

"[S]aying Medicare will go bankrupt by 2017 is a bit extreme. Only one of Medicare's funds is expected to be exhausted by that date, and Congress has never let it run dry. Lawmakers have bailed out the fund without fail for 40 years."

Likewise, FactCheck.org has criticized Ryan for creating a "false impression that Medicare was going out of business." According to FactCheck.org, "The program does have huge financial problems, but there's no reason to think it's going out of business as the word 'bankrupt' implies."

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research, has explained that the projected Medicare shortfall has been overstated:

The Medicare Trustees put the projected shortfall at 0.79 percent of payroll, which is approximately 0.27 percent of GDP over the program's 75-year planning horizon. By comparison, the increase in annual spending on the military between 2000 and 2011 was more than 1.6 percentage points of GDP. This increase in spending did not cause serious harm to the economy, therefore increased spending of one-fifth this size will presumably not be a major problem.

Baker has further explained that the projected Medicare shortfall is far less than the additional costs of purchasing Medicare-equivalent policies under the Ryan plan:

[T]he projected shortfall in the Medicare program is equal to 0.25 percent of GDP over the program's planning period or $2.3 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office's assessment of the Ryan plan endorsed by the GOP implied that it would increase the cost to the country of buying Medicare-equivalent policies by more than $34 trillion over the program's 75-year planning period, in addition to transferring $5 trillion in costs from the government to seniors.

So, doing nothing leaves Medicare $2.3 trillion short in funding over 75 years. By redefining Medicare as a privatized voucher system that forces beneficiaries to pay more, Paul Ryan's plan falls $34 trillion short of Medicare-equivalent policies. There's just no rational way to describe that as "saving" Medicare.

In short: Medicare doesn't need to be "saved" from "bankruptcy" — and, to the extent that it does need to be "saved" from shortfalls, the Ryan plan does less to save Medicare than the "Keep Calm and Carry On" plan does.

Which brings us to the second problem with Ryan's claim: Other plans (not just the "do nothing" plan) do more to save Medicare than Ryan's plan. Democratic plans have already strengthened Medicare. Again, let's start with PolitiFact:

"[The] overall point, that the Democrats' health reform law added to the overall solvency of Medicare, is correct. ... [T]he Affordable Care Act improved the financial outlook for Medicare."

And Dean Baker:

The projected Medicare shortfall is down by more than 75 percent from when President Obama took office due to the cost controls put in place in the health care reform bill.

Bottom line: In an email urging people to vote in PolitiFact's online "Lie of the Year" poll, Paul Ryan made a claim that PolitiFact itself has previously debunked. Give Ryan this much: What he lacks in honesty, he makes up for in audacity.

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