Republicans Suddenly Embrace Fact-Checkers Who Routinely Call Them Liars

June 03, 2011 3:52 pm ET

In order to attack Democrats' credibility on the House-passed Republican budget proposal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have recently cited independent fact-checkers' analyses Democratic statements about the GOP plan to dismantle the Medicare system. But those same fact-checking organizations routinely point out Republicans' false claims — including their distortions about how their plan would affect Medicare. And while those organizations have taken issue with specific phrasing or excessive rhetoric from Democrats, it's well-established that the Republican plan would, in fact, turn Medicare into a voucher system that would shift rising health care costs onto future seniors rather than preserving the Medicare program as-is.

GOP Cites Fact-Checkers To Attack Democrats' Credibility

Ryan: "Nonpartisan, Independent Fact Checkers Agree." From a House Budget Committee document:

In a web video last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan made clear: "Washington has not been honest with you about Medicare. Nonpartisan, independent fact checkers agree. 

The President and his party's leaders continue to use blatant falsehoods in attacking the House Republicans' plan to protect and save Medicare.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is the latest leading Democrat to distort and demagogue the only plan put forward that saves Medicare.  Earlier this week, Wasserman Schultz falsely stated that seniors would be denied coverage under the Republican plan.  This statement has no basis in fact, as made clear by a round of fact checkers:

  • "We rate her statement False" (Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Ryan Medicare plan would allow insurers to use pre-existing conditions as barrier to coverage - 6/1/2011)
  • "She is simply wrong..." (DNC Chair Throws Truth to 'Wolves', 5/31/2011)
  • The Fact Checker, Washington Post: Even an expert cited by the DNC called the comment "high-octane idiocy" (Wasserman Schultz's bogus claim that the GOP Medicare plan will 'throw you to the wolves' - 6/1/2011)

Wasserman Schultz's comments are the latest in a campaign built on a foundation of falsehoods and fear. 

  • "President Barack Obama misrepresented the House Republicans' budget plan" (FactChecking Obama's Budget Speech - 4/18/2011)
  • "President Barack Obama has been hammering away at Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal, misrepresenting what it would mean for seniors." (Obama Misrepresents Ryan Plan - 4/22/2011)
  • An attack ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is "a major exaggeration," and given a "PANTS ON FIRE" rating (Democrats say Republicans voted to end Medicare and charge seniors $12,000 - 4/18/2011)
  • "Charges over Medicare have kicked into high gear" (Checking the attack lines on Medicare, 4/20/2011)
  • The Fact Checker, Washington Post: Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "should be ashamed" (Kathleen Sebelius's outrageous claim that cancer patients would 'die sooner' under the GOP Medicare plan - 5/9/2011) [, 6/1/11, emphasis original]

Boehner Cites Rubin To Claim A "Number Of Separate, Neutral Fact-Checking Groups Have Lambasted The Dems For Misleading The Public." From a blog post on Speaker John Boehner's House website:

Democrats are on the attack to deflect attention from their "do nothing" plan which will bankrupt Medicare and guarantee future benefit cuts for seniors. Their strategy: to "Mediscare" the heck out of people by making wild accusations about the Republican plan that saves Medicare and pays down our debt over time.

But their strategy isn't working. Not only is the Republican plan to save Medicare preferred by seniors, the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin notes that a "number of separate, neutral fact-checking groups have lambasted the Dems for misleading the public" with their attacks.

The Associated Press was the latest to call out Democrats for "distorting" the GOP plan and "attacking provisions that do not exist":

"Democrats are distorting the fundamentals of a Republican plan to reshape Medicare, falsely accusing the GOP of pushing a proposal that tells the elderly 'you're on your own' with health care and that lets insurers deny coverage to the sick. ... Wasserman Schultz and some other Democrats who accuse the GOP of wanting to 'end Medicare' have skipped past the complicated crux of that debate, instead attacking provisions that do not exist." (FACT CHECK: Democrats distort GOP Medicare plan, AP, 6/2/11) [, 1/2/11]

Blackburn: "The Washington Post, The AP,, Have Proven What The Democrats Are Saying To Be Wrong." From an appearance on Fox News' America Live:

MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): This is where the battle's being defined right now. You're going to hear this again and again and again. We all remember the ad where, you know, grandma's being pushed by somebody who looks an awful lot like Paul Ryan off the edge of a cliff. They're going to try to scare - and they say it's happening on your side as well, that everybody's trying to scare, you know, all of the old folks that they're going to lose their Medicare.

BLACKBURN: Yeah, Martha, the thing is this. The Washington Post, the AP,, have proven what the Democrats are saying to be wrong. Now we have a plan. And what we're trying to do is save Medicare for today's current seniors and near seniors, and then find a workable path forward.

Factcheck.Org: "Rep. Paul Ryan Spreads Some False And Misleading Information." From analysis of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) web posts: 

Rep. Paul Ryan spreads some false and misleading information in a series of "Setting The Record Straight" web posts, in which he criticizes the president's proposed budget and promotes his own. Among the claims: 

  • Ryan says his plan would not increase the debt. In fact, under his plan the public debt would increase from $10 trillion in 2011 to $16 trillion in 2021, by his own figures. That's a slower increase than under President Barack Obama's budget, but the debt would still rise substantially.
  • He says his plan would "bring deficits below $1 trillion immediately, ending the era of trillion-dollar deficits." True - but just barely. The 2012 deficit in his plan would be $995 billion, just shy of $1 trillion. It would drop to about $700 billion by 2013 - but that's what the president's budget projects, too.
  • A GOP document defending Ryan's plan wrongly claims that the budget "does not cut Medicaid" and that it "spends more on Medicaid each year than it does the previous year." That's false. Ryan's own projections call for slashing Medicaid below this year's spending level for years to come.
  • That GOP document says Democrats in Congress and Obama increased the deficit 259 percent since 2008, when it was $458 billion. That ignores the fact that President George Bush was in office in 2008. Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion deficit largely caused by declining revenues and Bush's response to the economic crisis.
  • Ryan says Obama's proposed budget "commits seniors to bureaucratically rationed health care." In fact, the new health care law states that the advisory board to which Ryan refers "shall not include any recommendation to ration health care." Furthermore, the board members are to be primarily doctors, economists and other outside experts, not Washington bureaucrats.
  • He says the "principles of tax reform" in his plan are "identical" to those in the bipartisan fiscal commission. That's misleading. Both would close loopholes and reduce tax rates, but the commission would raise $785 billion in new tax revenue from 2012 to 2020 for debt reduction. Ryan's plan is revenue neutral.
  • He says Obama's budget "imposes $1.5 trillion in tax increases on job creators and American families." But, as we written before, about half of that total would come from increases scheduled under current law.
  • He says that closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap would "increase prescription-drug prices for everyone." But the Congressional Budget Office says out-of-pocket costs would be unaffected or lower for many.
  • He claims the health care law doesn't improve Medicare's finances. Not true. It does, but experts worry some cost controls won't be fully implemented. Furthermore, Ryan's budget keeps in place some of those same cost controls. [, 5/6/11] "Sen. Marco Rubio Of Florida Offered A Wildly Inconsistent View." From a analysis of a claim by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL):

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida offered a wildly inconsistent view of what constitutes a "cut" from Medicare. Rubio claimed that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan "doesn't cut Medicare" but that the federal health care law does.

Actually, Ryan's plan leaves in place many of the Medicare "cuts" in the health care law. And over the long-term, Ryan's plan would "cut" or "save" (we'll leave the word choice to our readers) even more by requiring future beneficiaries to pay a higher percentage of health care costs. [, 5/2/11] "Rep. Paul Ryan Revises History." From a analysis of a claim by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI): "Rep. Paul Ryan revises history when he says his Medicare plan is 'in keeping with the Bill Clinton bipartisan committee' proposal in 1999. Contrary to the impression left by Ryan, the commission's final report failed largely along partisan lines. Clinton opposed it, and all four of his appointees voted against it." [, 5/23/11] "Ryan's Muddy Medicare Claims." From a article titled "Ryan's Muddy Medicare Claims": "Rep. Paul Ryan's claim that Medicare will be 'bankrupt in nine years' goes too far. The trust fund that primarily supports one part of Medicare is projected to be exhausted come 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees said it might not actually happen until 2029. That still doesn't mean the system will be 'bankrupt,' though. [...] Ryan also went too far in claiming that his proposal to change Medicare would give future beneficiaries a system that 'works just like the one that I have as a member of Congress.'" [, 4/19/11]

Washington Post

Washington Post Gives GOP Lawmakers "Two Pinocchios" For Comparing Ryan's Medicare Changes To Congress' System. According to Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler:

The comparison to Congress is obviously a well-crafted applause line. Republican members of Congress have used it repeatedly in recent weeks, with many of the statements focusing on the question of choice. In that narrowly tailored fashion, there are indeed similarities, though one wonders why any reference needs to be made to Congress. Many employer-sponsored plans offer employees a variety of health-care options.

The focus on "a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have" suggests that this would be something better than the typical employee plan. But it will not have a key feature of the current plan - a promise that the government will pick up 75 percent of the health-care tab. [...]

We don't mean to pick on Ryan, since this line is clearly from a set of GOP talking points, but he is the author of the plan. We think the reference to the health plan for members of Congress gives a false and misleading impression to ordinary people.

Two Pinocchios

[Washington Post, 4/29/11, emphasis original]

Washington Post: "The Ryan Budget Plan Relies On Dubious Assertions, Questionable Assumptions And Fishy Figures." According to an analysis of Rep. Ryan's budget plan by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler:

We have only scratched the surface, but a pattern is emerging. As with President Obama's budget, the Ryan budget plan relies on dubious assertions, questionable assumptions and fishy figures. The ideas may be bold, but the budget presentation falls short of his claim that he is getting rid of budget gimmicks.

Two Pinocchios

[Washington Post, 4/6/11]


PolitiFact's 2010 "Lie Of The Year": Republican "Government Takeover Of Health Care" Characterization. From PolitiFact:

PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen "government takeover of health care" as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections. [...]

By selecting "government takeover' as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy.

The phrase is simply not true. [, 12/16/10]

PolitiFact: Contrary To Rep. Pence Statement, GOP Medicare Proposal "Fundamentally Different" From What Members Of Congress Get. From a PolitiFact analysis of a statement by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN):

Republicans have better proposals than Democrats to rein in future federal spending, said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., in an appearance on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

"House Republicans under Paul Ryan's leadership have offered a vision to put America back on a pathway toward a balanced budget," Pence said. "It deals with issues in entitlements. It reduces the national debt. For Americans 55 or older, we're not proposing a single change in Medicare... What we want to do for Americans under the age of 55 is make sure they can participate in the same kind of health plan that members of Congress do." [...]

We should emphasize that Ryan's Medicare proposal is only a broad outline right now, and there are many unanswered questions about it. But what we do know about it strikes us as fundamentally different from the kind of employer-provided health insurance that members of Congress receive. At a minimum, the premium supports will not keep pace with the historic record of rapidly increasing health care costs. Additionally, seniors make significantly less income than members of Congress and will likely not have the same options to buy more expensive plans. And, finally, they will not the same protection against rising costs that "Fair Share" provides members of Congress. We rate Pence's statement Barely True. [, 4/13/11]

PolitiFact: "Bottom Line" Of Ryan Plan Is "Those Who Reach 65 In 10 Years Would Pay More Out Of Pocket For Private Health Care." From a PolitiFact analysis of President Obama's claim that "10 years from now, if you're a 65-year-old who's eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today": "But the bottom line is that under the Republican plan, those who reach 65 in 10 years would pay more out of pocket for private health care. That's the idea, to reduce the cost of the Medicare program to the government. Republicans argue it the most responsible way to make the program fiscally sustainable. Obama argues that cost is too high and that savings can be achieved in other ways. Again, that's a matter of political debate. The CBO compared the Republican plan to the status quo and to a somewhat modified Medicare. The CBO says either scenario would cause crushing debt, and would likely encourage legislators to cut Medicare benefits in the future. Obama too, is proposing reform. Obama's figure is close to what the CBO estimated in one scenario -- the least costly one -- that the Republican plan would cost consumers in 10 years compared to what seniors pay today." [, 4/13/11]

PolitiFact: "Mostly True" That Ryan Plan Will Privatize Medicare. According to PolitiFact: "It's true that under the Ryan proposal, the government will retain important duties in running Medicare. But 'privatization' does not have to mean that the government has nothing further to do with the enterprise. Under longstanding definitions, privatization could take place without the government giving up its right to regulate a privately provided service, such as an electric utility. That said, we think it's fair to note that Medicare already provides some types of coverage through private insurance now, so the shift toward the private sector prompted by the Ryan plan would be more a question of degree than kind. On balance, we conclude that the idea that the Paul Ryan budget proposal would 'privatize Medicare' is Mostly True." [, 5/25/11]

PolitiFact: Pawlenty Medicare Spending Claim "A Little Misleading." From PolitiFact:

Medicare, Pawlenty said, "only has about 50 percent of it paid for by either premiums or payroll taxes, and the rest is deficit spending and debit spending, or debt spending. So we have to fix it." [...]

It's certainly true that the cost of Medicare is growing and that general revenue -- primarily from income taxes -- is shouldering a growing share of the load. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office concluded the exploding cost of Medicare and other entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security had put the federal budget on an "unsustainable fiscal path." One could argue that added Medicare costs to a budget that is already running a deficit is simply adding on more deficit spending. But inasmuch as Medicare has always been supplemented by general revenues, we think it's a little misleading to characterize anything not paid by Medicare payroll taxes or patient premiums as deficit spending. And so we rate Pawlenty's statement Half True. [, 6/1/11]

Associated Press

AP Fact Check: Job Loss Number Cited By GOP "A Story Of How Statistics Get Used And Abused." From the Associated Press:

Republicans pushing to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul warn that 650,000 jobs will be lost if the law is allowed to stand. [...]

What follows is a story of how statistics get used and abused in Washington.

What CBO actually said is that the impact of the health care law on supply and demand for labor would be small. Most of it would come from people who no longer have to work, or can downshift to less demanding employment, because insurance will be available outside the job.

"The legislation, on net, will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount -roughly half a percent- primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply," budget office number crunchers said in a report from last year.

That's not how it got translated in the new report from Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other top Republicans. [...]

Dimarob said staffers took the 131 million jobs and multiplied that by half a percent, the number from the CBO analysis. The result: 650,000 jobs feared to be in jeopardy. [Associated Press, 1/18/11, via ABC News]

  • "650,000 Jobs Lost" Claim Appears In Report From Rep. Ryan And GOP House Leadership. From a report titled "Obamacare: A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law" that is attributed to Speaker Boehner , Rep. Ryan, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Rep. John Kline (R-MN), and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI):

Independent analyses have determined that the health care law will cause significant job losses for the U.S. economy: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that the law will reduce the "amount of labor used in the economy by ... roughly half a percent...," an estimate that adds up to roughly 650,000 jobs lost. [, 1/6/11]

House-Passed Ryan Plan Would Replace Medicare With A Voucher System

Currently, Medicare Part A Pays Hospital Bills For Americans 65 And Older Who Paid Social Security Taxes For At Least 10 Years. From CNNMoney: "Medicare Part A provides coverage if you're hospitalized. This coverage is 'free' - meaning you pay no premiums - if you paid into the Social Security pool for at least 10 years [and are over age 65 or disabled]." [CNNMoney, accessed 4/24/11]

  • Medicare Also Gives Seniors The Option To Purchase Additional Coverage For Things Like Doctor Visits And Prescription Drugs. From MarketWatch: "Medicare Part A, which covers hospital stays and services, is premium-free for most people. But that's where the freebies end. Traditional Medicare involves a matrix of premiums, co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles. For instance, you'll have to meet a deductible - $1,132 for 2011 - before Part A coverage kicks in for hospital stays of up to 60 days. For beneficiaries new to Medicare this year, the average premium for Medicare Part B is $115.40 a month. But if you earn more than $85,000 if you're single, or $170,000 for a married couple filing jointly, you'll pay more. And starting this year, high earners with Part D prescription-drug plans will face a surcharge ranging from $12 to $69.10 per month, depending on income." [MarketWatch, 4/24/11 via Mail Tribune]

The GOP Budget Turns Medicare Into A Voucher System. From "The Path to Prosperity":

Save Medicare for current and future generations while making no changes for those in and near retirement. For younger workers, when they reach eligibility, Medicare will provide a Medicare payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs. These future Medicare beneficiaries will be able to choose a plan the same way members of Congress do. Medicare will provide additional assistance for lower-income beneficiaries and those with greater health risks. [The Path To Prosperity, 4/5/11, emphasis added]

Cato Institute Senior Fellow: Republican Plan Replaces Medicare With A Voucher System. In a New York Post op-ed about the "Path to Prosperity," Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner wrote: "Those getting close to retirement will also still go into Medicare, just as they would have before. But beginning in 2022, people who are younger than 55 today will begin to transition to a new system. Instead of going into Medicare at age 65, they will receive a voucher from the US government to help them purchase private health insurance. Initially that voucher is expected to be for roughly $15,000 per recipient. Lower income seniors and those with higher health care costs because of illness will receive a bigger subsidy. Seniors can use these vouchers, combined with whatever they wish to spend of their own money, to choose an insurance plan that has a cost and mix of benefits that best meets their needs. Instead of a one size fits all system, seniors will have many more choices than they have today." [Tanner Op-Ed, 4/10/11, emphasis added, via]

Creator Of "Premium Support" Payment System On GOP Proposal: "It's Vouchers, Not Premium Support." In an interview with the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, Medicare expert Henry Aaron said:

Me and Bob Reischauer jointly created the idea of 'premium-support' in the mid-1990s. It was a response to what we saw as legitimate criticisms of using market forces to rein in the growth of federal health spending. The worry was the reliable savings would come from shifting costs onto patients. The savings from competition were just something we hoped would show up.  So the key element was linking the amount that individuals receive to the growth of health-care spending, not to some other index that would grow less rapidly than health-care costs. The other two elements were aggressive regulation of health-care insurance offerings to prevent insurers from overwhelming people's capacities to sift alternative plans and risk adjustment. [...] In some ways, the Path to Prosperity plan improves on previous version, because the role of exchanges and risk adjustment is nearer to what we had in mind. But it is hands down the worst because it links premiums to consumer prices, which is the slowest growing index. [...] If one does the arithmetic, income grows a few percentage points faster than prices. Health-care spending grows faster than income by a couple of percentage points. So [in the GOP's Path to Prosperity] we're looking at linking to an index that grows less rapidly than health-care costs by three to four percentage points a year. Piled up over 10 years, and that's a huge erosion of coverage. It's vouchers, not premium support." [Washington Post4/11/11, emphasis added]

Conservative Think Tank President: I Use The Words 'Voucher' And 'Premium Support' Interchangeably. From Kaiser Health News: "Others counter that premium support and vouchers are the same thing. 'I use the words interchangeably,' said John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank in Dallas. 'It just means that the government limits the amount of money that it puts up, and people have to add to it if market prices are higher.' It's not surprising that Republicans favor the term premium support, as the word voucher elicits a strong negative reaction from the public. A September poll conducted by Pew Research and National Journal found that 69 percent of people older than 65 opposed vouchers for Medicare. That opposition came from both Democrats and Republicans." [Kaiser Health News, 4/4/11]

Republican Plan Would Double Out-Of-Pocket Medical Expenses For Future Seniors

In 2022, A Typical 65-Year-Old Would Be Paying Approximately Double Compared To Current Levels. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities prepared a graphic comparing health care spending for a typical 65-year-old under the current system to the same spending under the Republican budget:

Spending Under Health Care Proposal

[, 4/7/11]

CEPR: Ryan's Budget Would Force Seniors To Spend Much Of Their Income On Health Insurance. According to Center for Economic Policy Research co-director Dean Baker:

Representative Ryan would replace the current Medicare program with a voucher for people who turn age 65 in 2022 and later. This voucher would be worth $8,000 in for someone turning age 65 in that year. It would rise in step with the consumer price index and also as people age. (Health care expenses are higher for people age 75 than age 65.)

According to the CBO analysis the benefit would cover 32 percent of the cost of a health insurance package equivalent to the current Medicare benefit. This means that the beneficiary would pay 68 percent of the cost of this package. Using the CBO assumption of 2.5 percent annual inflation, the voucher would have grown to $9,750 by 2030. This means that a Medicare type plan for someone age 65 would be $30,460 under Representative Ryan's plan, leaving seniors with a bill of $20,700. (This does not count various out of pocket medical expenditures not covered by Medicare.)

According to the Social Security trustees, the benefit for a medium wage earner who first starts collecting benefits at age 65 in 2030 would be $32,200. (This adjusts the benefit projected by the Social Security trustees [$19,652 in 2010 dollars] for the 2.5 percent annual inflation rate assumed by CBO.) For close to 70 percent of seniors, Social Security is more than half of their retirement income. Most seniors will get a benefit that is less than the medium earners benefit described here since their average earnings are less than that of a medium earner and they start collecting Social Security benefits before age 65. [, 4/6/11, emphasis added, all parentheses original, internal citations removed for clarity]

CBO: Under The GOP Budget, "Most Elderly People Would Pay More For Their Health Care Than They Would Pay Under The Current Medicare System." According to the Congressional Budget Office: "Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system. For a typical 65-year-old with average health spending enrolled in a plan with benefits similar to those currently provided by Medicare, CBO estimated the beneficiary's spending on premiums and out-of-pocket expenditures as a share of a benchmark: what total health care spending would be if a private insurer covered the beneficiary. By 2030, the beneficiary's spending would be 68 percent of that benchmark under the proposal, 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario, and 30 percent under the alternative fiscal scenario." [, 4/5/11]

If Medical Costs Continued To Increase Faster Than Voucher Values, "The Average Retiree Would Be More Than $50,000 In The Hole." According to an op-ed in the Huffington Post by R.J. Eskow, Senior Fellow with The Campaign For America's Future:

Even if the voucher is given full Medicare value in Year One (which we question), things start to get really bad after that. If medical costs continued to increase at 9% each year, which isn't at all impossible, and the voucher's value continued to increase at 5%, here's what would happen 10 years later using my figures:

Rising medical costs with vouchers

By 2031, the cost of Medicare-equivalent coverage would be $73,000, and the voucher would be worth $18,000. By my calculation, the average retiree would be more than $50,000 in the hole. [Eskow Op-Ed, 4/6/11 via Huffington Post, emphasis original]