One talking point Republicans and Mitt Romney’s campaign have used repeatedly is that President Obama “raided” Medicare in order to pay for the Affordable Care Act. The health reform law did cut $716 billion out of the program, but it did so on the provider side in order to avoid harming seniors’ benefits. Paul Ryan included those same cuts in his latest budget proposal, but now that Ryan’s on the GOP presidential ticket, Mitt Romney is insisting the cuts will be undone. That still leaves Ryan needing to explain why he’s attacking President Obama for Medicare cuts he himself signed off on. The distinction Ryan has landed on is that he used the cuts to “shore up Medicare,” while Obama used them to pay for Obamacare.
Jonathan Cohn flagged a new poll by United Technologies and National Journal Congressional Connection which suggests the talking point hasn’t taken hold with the public, and voters approve of Obama’s use of the cuts:
It’s important to note that Ryan’s distinction on the Medicare cuts is rather spurious as policy substance as well. Under trust fund accounting, both Obama and Ryan’s Medicare cuts have the same effect: They reduce payment rates to health care providers, netting seniors more benefits per Medicare dollar, and thus extending the life of the program’s trust fund.
But the Congressional Budget Office uses unified budget accounting, which assumes government spending will ignore the exhaustion of the trust fund. This is the methodology that produced the long-term predictions both Obama and Ryan have relied on to sell their respective laws and budgets. And under this accounting method, their Medicare cuts also make room in the budget to accomplish other goals.
Those goals are where Obama and Ryan differ. Obama uses that new room to expand Medicaid and to fund Obamacare’s support for Americans on the exchanges to buy health insurance. Ryan uses that room to offset his massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and as part of his mix of spending cuts to ostensibly eliminate the debt – assuming his tax reform works, which it almost certainly won’t. In other words, Ryan’s route “shores up” Medicare only if you buy the assumption that his budget shores up the government’s finances as a whole.
Paul Ryan has staked his attack on the assumption that voters would approve of his use of the Medicare cuts, but not Obama’s cuts. This survey suggests that assumption was wrong.