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Posted by on Jun 3, 2011 in Politics | 31 comments

Have Republicans Voted To “End Medicare”?

A commercial running in New Hampshire that criticizes Republican Rep. Charlie Bass makes that claim; the National Republican Congressional Committee has demanded the TV commercial be pulled.

The key phrase comes at 0:15: “When Congressman Charlie Bass voted to end Medicare, that was an attack on New Hampshire families just like mine.”

Is it accurate to characterize the budget resolution vote as a vote to “end” Medicare?

The House effort would seriously restructure Medicare for anyone who is, today, younger than 55. (That means I’m exempt but my other half is not.) According to Politifact:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed Ryan’s proposal and found that it will save the government money. But it does so by asking future Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for insurance.


The Republican proposal will end the aspect of Medicare that directly covers specific services, such as hospital coverage. “It’s as if you took the Office of Faith-Based Partnerships and ended the faith-based portion of it, but continued to call it faith-based,” said Jesse Ferguson of the DCCC. “There is no doubt that Medicare — a health insurance program for seniors — would end under the House Republican plan and, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office, health insurance costs would rise for seniors.”

Unquestionably, the Republican budget proposal — should it be codified as enabling legislation — would end Medicare as we know it today. That, however, is not nearly as “punchy” as the claim that Bass voted to “end” Medicare, period. Over-simplification is the enemy of truth and accuracy.

Hyperbole is the stock in trade of political commercials. Viewed in that light, the New Hampshire ad falls into the same category in my mind as Willie Horton*, for example. That doesn’t make it right or OK. It simply means that the Democrats fight just like the Republicans do, with exaggerated FUD. And that’s no way to run a democracy (or elect its leaders).

* Both campaigns — this year’s Medicare and yesteryear’s Horton — were “independent” efforts, not directly affiliated with candidates. As the Washington Post noted in 2004, the Willie Horton ad was short on facts:

It has not mattered much that the facts underlying the commercials were inaccurate, or at least distorted. As Dukakis and his defenders pointed out, the prison furlough program in Massachusetts had been started under a Republican administration and had bipartisan support under Dukakis, who ended the program in early 1988. Moreover, the federal government, under President Ronald Reagan and Vice President Bush, had its own furlough program.

Addendum: Lee Atwater was Bush the elder’s campaign messenger. He’s infamous for this quote: “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.

They succeeded in that goal, though the Horton ad soon became notorious for, in the words of Annenberg School of Communications Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson, creating “a black face for crime.”

It succeeded, largely by incessant repetition by the television news. And though Federal Election Commission complaints alleging collusion between the Bush campaign and the team responsible for the Horton ad went nowhere, then-President Bush himself defended the spot in July 1991, after then-Sen. Bill Bradley accused the president of using “the Willie Horton ad to divide white and black voters and appeal to fear.”

“The point on Willie Horton was not Willie Horton himself,” Bush said. “The point was, do you believe in a furlough program that releases people from jail so they can go out and rape, pillage and plunder again? That’s what the issue was.” (Salon, Aug 25, 2000