Aside from every imaginable form of deep-fried food product on a stick, Republican presidential candidates (and non-candidates) were the featured attractions at the Iowa State Fair today. Not to be outdone, however, Democrats dispatched a political ambassador of their own to Des Moines: DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Call it an attempt at achieving an all-important "balanced approach." Ever since her elevation to her new perch atop the Democratic National Committee, DWS has generated a great deal of attention for her unique brand of partisan invective -- from accusing the GOP of seeking to "literally drag" the country back to the Jim Crow era, to labeling the Tea Party "tyrants," to conjuring a Republican "war on women."
Perhaps her most infamous season of hyperbole came during the political fight over the House-passed 2012 budget resolution. DWS labeled Paul Ryan's bold, forward-thinking blueprint a "death trap for seniors," and a "tornado" tearing through America's nursing homes. She also repeatedly lied about what the plan would actually do, claiming -- among other things -- that it throws future seniors "to the wolves," and leaves them "on their own." In light of her hysterical opposition to Ryan's budget, one might assume that Wasserman Schultz's party has an alternative plan to stave off Medicare's impending demise. What might that be? I managed to catch up with DWS in Des Moines, and put that question to her directly. Because I wasn't mic'd up, the beginning of the exchange may be slightly difficult to hear -- but DWS' piercing voice makes her response clearly audible. After making some small talk about an internship I once held in her district, I guided our discussion to Medicare:
"You have called Paul Ryan's plan a 'death trap for seniors,' even though it explicitly excluded current and soon-to-be seniors. As a 26-year-old, I see the Medicare actuaries say that Medicare as we know it is going to go bankrupt and become insolvent in 13 years. I'm wondering what your, and your party's plan specifically is, to avoid that fate?"
Wasserman Schultz's three-part reply begins at around the :30 mark.
Part One: DWS says Democrats have already extended Medicare's lifespan by eight years. They've accomplished this, mind you, by cutting half-a-trillion in supposed inefficiencies, waste, and abuse out of the system. Two problems. First, they turned right around and double-applied those not-yet-realized "savings" as "found" funding for their brand new health care entitlement program. As Paul Ryan has explained, it's an accounting gimmick of the highest order to count the same $500 Billion as both a means to lengthen Medicare's solvency, and as a funding mechanism for Obamacare. Second, the Medicare trustees' report I cite in my question (linked above) already takes into account these alleged "savings" -- and still concludes that Medicare will go belly-up by 2024.
Part Two: Pressed for a specific plan for achieving future savings, DWS assures me that Medicare can be saved by identifying and eliminating "waste fraud and abuse." I could decry the unseriousness of this "plan," but I think I'll let someone else do the honors:
"Politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse –that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices."
That quote comes from an April speech delivered by noted right-wing operative Barack H. Obama. Why, it's almost as if he knew that four months later, a rascally politician would eagerly attempt to feed the impression that the coming Medicrash can be solved by eliminating waste and abuse. (In fairness to DWS, Obama actually resorted to this line of fantastical thinking later in the same speech).
But let's tease this out anyway. Let's assume for a moment that truly massive and systemic waste, fraud, and abuse does exist in Medicare. For argument's sake, let's say that a ludicrously-high 20 percent of all Medicare payments are fraudulent or wasteful. Let's also give Democrats the benefit of the doubt that they really would implement a flawless strategy to excise every last dime of that abuse. Medicare's unfunded liabilities (ie, unpaid-for future promises) were estimated at $74 Trillion in 2008. This hypothetical and breathtakingly efficient waste/fraud/abuse reduction campaign would drop that number to about $60 Trillion. This is not a solution. Plus, as the president admitted in April, everyone knows this "strategy" is pretty much a joke. Democrats triumphantly claim they've already eliminated half-a-trillion bucks in Medicare waste. The notion that they could find trillions more, and would follow through on rigorously rooting it out, is laugh-out-loud preposterous.
Part Three - "Working together" to find "other ways to bring cost down." Well, I guess we can all go home now! The Party that has taken to branding its ideological opponents as “terrorists” will soberly facilitate a “let’s hold hands and work together” mystery masterstroke to save Medicare. Problem solved. One last question, though: Where and when might this bipartisan solutions binge occur? At the very end of the clip, DWS tells me she places her faith in the newly-formed Super Committee – which is comprised of six Democrats who are opposed to significant Medicare changes. But I’m sure things will work out just fine. With that, Wasserman Schultz was whisked away by her handlers. Shortly thereafter, a Democratic official approached me and tersely asked, “who are you with?”
The looming destruction of “Medicare as we know it” – the unsustainable fee-for-service model – is no laughing matter. If you have any doubts whatsoever about the existence or validity of this rapidly-accelerating death spiral, click here, here, here, and here. Once you’ve come to terms with the magnitude of the problem, take a second look at Paul Ryan’s solution, watch this video again, and draw your own conclusions about which side is genuinely and pro-actively striving to save the social safety net.
UPDATE - One word DWS didn't use, but what would undoubtedly be a central element of Democrats' comprehensive plan to save Medicare (if they had one): Rationing.