Saturday, August 18, 2012

Different but Equal: PolitiFact Jumps on the "Ryan cuts Medicare" Bandwagon

This week's liberal talking point fact-checking effort from PolitiFact comes in the form of giving Stephanie Cutter a "True" for her claim regarding Paul Ryan's budget. Once again, in lieu of an actual investigation of the facts, PolitiFact settles for good old fashion electioneering. First up, the issue:

Image from PolitiFact.com

PolitiFact tells us exactly what they're checking (emphasis added):
For this check, we’re looking specifically at what Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said on Face the Nation when debating Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.

"You know, I heard Mitt Romney deride the $700 billion cuts in Medicare that the president achieved through health care reform," Cutter said. "You know what those cuts are? It’s taking subsidies away from insurance companies, taking rebates away from prescription drug company. Is that what Mitt Romney wants to protect? And interestingly enough Paul Ryan protected those cuts in his budget." 

[We] focus on the question of whether Cutter is correct that Ryan relies on those same reductions in his budget.
PFB editor Bryan White joined the chorus of critics early, and in a single line exposed how amateurish PolitiFact's effort was:
Ryan's budget is neither listed among the sources on the sidebar nor linked in the text of the story.
That's right. In a "fact-check" of Paul Ryan's budget, PolitiFact doesn't actually cite Paul Ryan's budget. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. Bryan continues (Bold emphasis added):
PolitiFact's source, a CBO report, communicates the nature of the [ACA's Medicare] reduction a bit more clearly than does PolitiFact (yellow highlights added):
Changes to Payment Rates in Medicare
In February 2011, CBO estimated that the permanent reductions in the annual updates to Medicare’s payment rates for most services in the fee-for-service sector (other than physicians’ services) and the new mechanism for setting payment rates in the Medicare Advantage program will reduce Medicare outlays by $507 billion during the 2012–2021 period. That figure excludes interactions between those provisions and others—namely, the effects of the changes in the fee-for-service portion of Medicare on payments to Medicare Advantage plans and the effects of changes in both the fee-for-service portion of the program and in the Medicare Advantage program on collections of premiums for Part B (Supplementary Medical Insurance).
The bulk of the reduction, then, occurs as the result of the two reductions the CBO identifies.  Therefore, we should expect to see both of those features in the Ryan budget plan at minimum to rate Cutter's statement true.
This is a subtle yet critical point, and one that PolitiFact completely dodged. The issue isn't whether or not the Ryan plan reduces Medicare spending growth as much as ObamaCare does, the issue they claim to be fact-checking is if both plans rely on the same reductions. The bulk of the $716 billion in Medicare reductions comes from "the permanent reductions in the annual updates to Medicare’s payment rates for most services in the fee-for-service sector" along with "the new mechanism for setting payment rates in the Medicare Advantage program."

PolitiFact seems to think they've found their smoking gun (bold emphasis added):
Here’s what Ryan said in an interview with George Stephanopolous of ABC News in June, before his selection as Romney’s running mate:

Stephanopoulos: "You know, several independent fact-checkers have taken a look at that claim, the $500 billion in Medicare cuts, and said that it's misleading. And in fact, by that accounting, your budget, your own budget, which Gov. Romney has endorsed, would also have $500 billion in Medicare cuts.

Ryan: "Well, our budget keeps that money for Medicare to extend its solvency. What Obamacare does is it takes that money from Medicare to spend on Obamacare. ..." (Read the full exchange.)

So Ryan has confirmed his budget includes the Medicare savings.
See what PolitiFact did? Bryan spots the bait and switch:
"The" Medicare savings?  The same exact ones from the ACA and not just the future rate of growth pegged at the same percentage?  How do we know that?  Where is the fact check?
There isn't one. PolitiFact conjures up a June interview, ignores Ryan's actual budget, calls it close enough and pats themselves on the back for being "wonks." You'd think if you have enough hubris to call yourself a wonk, you'd actually refer to the budget you're wonking. PolitiFact doesn't do that, and an article by Yuval Levin at NRO cites the part of Ryan's budget that directly refutes PolitiFacts claim:
This budget ends the raid on the Medicare trust fund that began with passage of the new health care law last year. It ensures that any potential savings in current law would go to shore up Medicare, not to pay for new entitlements. In addition to repealing the health care law’s new rationing board and its unfunded long-term care entitlement, this budget stabilizes plan choices for current seniors.
Levin nails the point. There is simply no way for PolitiFact to accurately claim that Paul Ryan's reductions are the same as the Medicare reductions in ObamaCare. Levin continues:
The “Ryan did it too” defense is perhaps the most amusing of the three, as it succeeds in being simultaneously untrue, irrelevant, and an admission of the basic charge against the Democrats. Even as they call Paul Ryan a cruel and merciless budget cutter who cares not for the weather service and would gladly see children exposed to E. coli, the Democrats justify their taking $710 billion out of Medicare and spending it on Obamacare over the next decade by pointing out that Paul Ryan didn’t put that money back into Medicare in his budget. So if he had, would that have made their cuts unjustifiable? Well it so happens that he did. By repealing all of Obamacare’s spending, the Republican budget does not spend the money Obamacare took out of Medicare and thus those funds are used to extend the Medicare trust fund. And this point is hardly hidden in the Ryan budget.
It may be the case that both Ryan's budget and the ACA reduce the growth of Medicare the same amount. But PolitiFact's suggestion that those figures are arrived at through the same methods is a 3-alarm howler. How can these people call themselves fact-checkers when this rating doesn't actually check any facts? At best, this effort between two of PolitiFact's top dogs, Angie-Drobnic Holan and Bill Adair, is little more than a wordy defense of a weak Democratic talking point.

Make sure to head over to Bryan's post detailing even more evidence of how badly they flubbed this rating, and check out Levin's full article showing the flimsiness of this entire line of attack on Ryan's Medicare plan.

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