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False Equivalency Takedown: Social Security and Medicare vs. Grover Norquist

by: Michael Conrad

Tue Dec 20, 2011 at 21:52:07 PM EST

FYI: This was written before I read that PolitiFact had decided to label an accurate claim its "lie of the year." It seems Paul Ryan's "contact PolitiFact and tell them to give me an intellectual bailout" lobbying campaign paid off for him. For more on this, see Brian Beutler, Dean Baker, and Paul Krugman.

I won't be backing down on this one bit and I seriously doubt anyone else will be either. Truth doesn't change just because PolitFact, in all of its posturing glory, wishes it would.

Original post

The usual suspects, still pining for a Beltway "Grand Bargain" -- a bad solution that focuses on the wrong problem -- are reliant on a false equivalency. Their line goes something like this: Social Security and Medicare supporters like the NCPSSM (National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare) and the Strenghten Social Security coalition are no different than Grover Norquist.

To turn a popular phrase at the moment, this is a DC drone's idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like. Whether the person giving voice to this "analysis" actually believes it or they're repeating it as a testament to their own Seriousness, they're out of their depth in a kiddie pool.  

Michael Conrad :: False Equivalency Takedown: Social Security and Medicare vs. Grover Norquist
Social Security

Social Security is a 75-year plus success story that works exactly how it was designed to work. It's good to go for decades and very popular across the board. Glenn Beck, Pete Peterson, and the hopelessly out of touch cocktail circuit desperately want needless cuts to Social Security. A strong majority of voters; including majorities of Democrats, Independent, and Republicans; are adamantly opposed. Unless you're a fringe right-winger, a billionaire preacher of Wall Street values, or David Brooks, Social Security cuts are not for you.

This is where the "But, but... the deficit!" routine kicks in. So once again, for the record, Social Security is not a driver of the deficit and has no place in an honest discussion about it. To ensure that Social Security is solvent for decades upon decades, lift the cap on the amount of taxable income or get the economy going again.  


Again, we are talking about a successful, popular program. Opponents of it seek to conflate Medicare with the real problem -- rising health care costs, but remember that Medicare does a better job of containing these costs than private insurance. The answer is to expand Medicare and stop giving PhRMA the special treatment that results in the sky-high prices we pay for prescription drugs in this country. Those who claim the obstacle to actual reform is beneficiaries and their advocates at the NCPSSM have it backwards.

The obstacle to better, broader Medicare is AHIP, PhRMA, and those on K Street who want to maintain and exploit the worst aspects of a fee-for-service model to enrich themselves at the expense of effective care.

Notes on reform

A Winning Coalition

Physicians are vocal about their disdain for the role insurance companies play. Nurses are among the most passionate advocates for progressive health care reform (read: Medicare for All). The system we have now is definitely not in the best interest of patients; it has abetted untold suffering and financial ruin in working America, as all but the most wealthy are subject to desolation simply because they share a universal vulnerability to sickness and injury.

Patients, nurses, doctors are the real "stake holders"; those whose interests should carry the day. The optimal policy would be Medicare for All. Politically, as a final compromise, progressives could support Medicare Choice open to everyone. The message here is straightforward: stop propping up insurance companies and let anyone who wants to buy in to Medicare. (As far as reimbursement rates go, talk to progressive and populist Democrats in the House.)

The Fraud

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is not a Medicare "reformer" unless by "reform" you really mean "end as we know it" "kill off" or "phase out."

This is worth repeating: Paul Ryan's act is thoroughly disingenuous. He is a self-avowed Ayn Rand acolyte would-be destroyer of Medicare who professes to care about the budget when he's not busy doing everything in his power to extend and intensify the budget-busting Great Recession. Ryan also voted for the Bush tax cuts for the most wealthy, the Iraq war, the giveaway to PhRMA known as Medicare Part D, and TARP. Like his hero Ayn Rand, Ryan benefited from the very programs (for Ryan Social Security, for Rand Social Security and Medicare) he is so eager to do away with.

Grover Norquist's Agenda

Fringe. Ahistorical. Failure.

In his defense, Norquist is fueled by the tragedy he experienced as a child: his father took a bite out of his ice cream cone and said "taxes." Seriously, that's the kind of person we're dealing with here. Grover wants ice cream.

The Advocates

It's painfully clear that movement conservatives want to end Social Security and Medicare because the programs work. Because Social Security and Medicare work, people like them a lot. And because people like the programs a lot, conservatives have to be careful about how they go about undermining the programs. Conservatives' only play is to pledge that they are trying to save the programs from an imminent threat; a threat that, as we're seeing now, conservatives have no problem inventing.

The Republican base is slightly more complicated. It can be difficult to tell who is lying, who is repeating lies, who is clueless, and who is knowingly hypocritical. Do they realize that carrying around a "Keep Guvment Out Of My Health Care" sign on their Medicare-provider scooter is quite the contradiction? There's a lot of overlap between the liars, the lie repeaters, the clueless, and the blatant hypocrites. One thing is for certain -- they have zero credibility.

On the other side, progressive groups and the NCPSSM routinely give accurate answers about the drivers of the debt, and when and how debt impacts the real economy.

The bottom line: Social Security and Medicare supporters engage in advocacy. Grover Norquist engages in advocacy. But that's where any similarity stops. The merits of what they're advocating for, whose interests its in, and the way the go about their advocacy are as different as it gets.  

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