Jacob Sullum

According to the more plausible "illustrative alternative scenario," Medicare's share of GDP will be nearly 11 percent in 2085.

Another way the trustee report, daunting as it is, fails to communicate the full fiscal fiasco: It says Medicare's hospital insurance "trust fund" will be "exhausted" in 2024, five years earlier than projected in 2010. But since the trust fund consists of Treasury bonds that can be redeemed only with taxpayer money or additional debt (which means more taxes in the future), the more relevant date is 2008, when the hospital insurance program started spending more than it takes in and therefore began draining money from the rest of the budget. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Medicare's share of federal spending, currently 12 percent, will double by 2035.

Although Gingrich opportunistically complained last year that Democrats planned to "cut Medicare," he understands that the program in its current form is unsustainable. In fact, after he trashed Ryan's plan on TV, his spokesman, Rick Tyler, told The Weekly Standard "there is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich" on this issue.

When Gingrich called Ryan's plan a "radical" form of "right-wing social engineering," Tyler said, he merely meant that the failure to include a Medicare-like option along with a choice of private insurance plans was "a political mistake." Gingrich's over-the-top exaggeration of small differences, which provided heavy ammunition to opponents of reform, may prove to be a bigger one.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jacob Sullum's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.
©Creators Syndicate