Attention Fact-Checkers

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 16, 2012

Keith Hennessey has discovered that President Obama is being more than a little bit false and tricksy when it comes to his promises regarding deficit reduction. Read the whole thing, but long story short: the president overstates his ability to reduce the deficit over the text ten years by over $1 trillion.

Even in Washington, $1 trillion still counts as a lot of money. Just sayin’.

Fact-checkers might also want to note that contrary to claims of Paul Krugman, while the total number of workers in government–federal, state and local–has decreased over the past four years, there are more federal government workers today than there were at the beginning of President Obama’s term in office. Concerns about a larger federal government are therefore not at all off the mark.

Finally, fact-checkers should get a kick out of the fact that while Team Obama likes to publicly dump all over the budget roadmap presented by Paul Ryan, in private, the Obama administration is considering adopting a lot of ideas from the Ryan plan:

President Obama has seized on Republican proposals to overhaul Medicare as a top campaign issue, saying that the GOP plan to add a private insurance option would end seniors’ guarantee of government health care. But behind the election-season politics, influential experts who have advised Obama on health care are open to a future for Medicare that includes competition among private insurance plans.

The drumbeat against privatizing Medicare was loud and clear at last week’s Democratic National Convention and over the weekend as Obama campaigned in Florida and made Medicare a top issue. Obama has warned that the plan from GOP nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would cost seniors $6,400 more a year for their health care.

It may not be what voters hear on the campaign trail from Obama and his surrogates, but converting Medicare from a government program that covers all of seniors’ health needs into subsidies that seniors use to buy private health insurance is the future—not the apocalyptic event Democrats would have voters believe.

One private e-mail exchange illuminates this point well. In e-mail exchanges with the staff of the White House-appointed  fiscal commission  that were obtained by National Journal, David Cutler and Jonathan Gruber, who have both advised Obama, gave qualified support to a Medicare voucher plan offered by Ryan and former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin in talks to reduce the deficit.

Cutler and Gruber are both hot shots of the health economics world. Cutler is a professor at Harvard, Gruber at MIT. Both advised Obama on health care in the 2008 campaign, and both had major roles in helping develop Democrats’ 2010 health care law. When they offer counsel, the White House is listening.

Staff from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — which was led by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson —  asked Cutler and Gruber in November 2010 for their thoughts on the Ryan-Rivlin plan, which did not keep traditional Medicare as an option for seniors. Both experts offered suggestions to make it more palatable to commission Democrats. Neither balked at the plan, which is arguably more conservative than the Medicare plan offered by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“How about this … removing the special status of [traditional] Medicare,” Cutler wrote. He then suggested giving an executive board created by the Democrats’ health care law the option of “moving the Medicare population into the exchanges.”

“That would be the same as the voucher,” Cutler concluded.

As Bill Clinton might put it–were he being honest–”it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you want to do yourself.”

Anyway, all of this should keep the fact-checkers busy for a while. Assuming, of course, that they are actually interested in fact-checking rather than just shilling for Team Obama.

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