You’re going to read and hear a lot about Paul Ryan’s speech on Wednesday night. And I imagine most of it will be about how Ryan’s speech played—with the party loyalists in Tampa, with the television viewers across the country, and eventually with the swing voters who will decide the election.
I’d like to talk, instead, about what Ryan actually said—not because I find Ryan’s ideas objectionable, although I do, but because I thought he was so brazenly willing to twist the truth.
At least five times, Ryan misrepresented the facts. And while none of the statements were new, the context was. It’s one thing to hear them on a thirty-second television spot or even in a stump speech before a small crowd. It’s something else entirely to hear them in prime time address, as a vice presidential nominee is accepting his party’s nomination and speaking to the entire country.
Here are the five statements that deserve serious scrutiny:
1) About the GM plant in Janesville.
Ryan’s home district includes a shuttered General Motors plant. Here’s what happened, according to Ryan:
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.
It’s true: The plant shut down. But it shut down in 2008—before Obama became president.
By the way, nobody questions that, if not for the Obama Administration’s decision to rescue Chrysler and GM, the domestic auto industry would have crumbled. Credible estimates suggested that the rescue saved more than a million jobs. Unemployment in Michigan and Ohio, the two states with the most auto jobs, have declined precipitously.
2) About Medicare.
Ryan attacked Obama for “raiding” Medicare. Again, Ryan has no standing whatsoever to make this attack, because his own budget called for taking the same amount of money from Medicare. Twice. The only difference is that Ryan’s budget used those savings to finance Ryan’s priorities, which include a massive tax cut that benefits the wealthy disproportionately.
It’s true that Romney has pledged to put that money back into Medicare and Ryan now says he would do the same. But the claim is totally implausible given Romney's promise to cap non-defense spending at 16 percent of gross domestic product.
By the way, Obamacare's cut to Medicare was a reduction in what the plan pays hospitals and insurance companies. And the hospitals said they could live with those cuts, because Obamacare was simultaneously giving more people health insurance, alleviating the financial burden of charity care.
What Obamacare did not do is take away benefits. On the contrary, it added benefits, by offering free preventative care and new prescription drug coverage. By repealing Obamacare, Romney and Ryan would take away those benefits—and, by the way, add to Medicare's financial troubles because the program would be back to paying hospitals and insurers the higher rates.
3) About the credit rating downgrade.
Ryan blamed the downgrading of American debt on Obama. But it was the possibility that America would default on its debts that led to the downgrade. And why did that possibility exist? Because Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling, playing chicken not just with the nations’ credit rating but the whole economy, unless Obama would cave into their budget demands.
4) About the deficit.
Ryan said “President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him” and proclaimed “We need to stop spending money we don’t have.” In fact, this decade’s big deficits are primarily a product of Bush-era tax cuts and wars. (See graph.) And you know who voted for them? Paul Ryan.
5) About protecting the weak.
Here’s Ryan on the obligations to help those who can’t help themselves:
We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves. … We can make the safety net safe again.
The rhetoric is stirring—and positively galling. Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 62 percent of the cuts in Ryan budget would come from programs that serve low-income people. And that’s assuming he keeps the Obamacare Medicare cuts. If he’s serious about putting that money back into Medicare, the cuts to these programs would have to be even bigger.
Among the cuts Ryan specified was a massive reduction in Medicaid spending. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Urban Institute, between 14 and 27 million people would lose health insurance from these cuts. That’s above and beyond the 15 million or so who are supposed to get Medicaid coverage from the Affordable Care Act but wouldn’t because Romney and Ryan have pledged to repeal the law.
I realize conservatives think that transforming Medicaid into a block grant, so that states have more control over how to spend the money, can make the program more efficient. But Medicaid already costs far less than any other insurance program in America. And even to the extent states can find some new efficiencies, the idea that they can find enough to offset such a draconian funding cut is just not credible.
Update: I clarified the passage on Medicare.
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