President Obama and his allies kicked off an unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, taxpayer-subsidized political campaign this week to sell to the public a legislative program that has already been signed into law.
The obvious coordination between the White House and its allies outside government who are running a $125 million campaign raises troubling questions. But, first, I’ll address the substance of what the president talked about, and ignored.
On Tuesday, the president trumpeted a provision in his plan that will give seniors a $250 rebate check if they reach the Medicare prescription drug benefit “doughnut hole” coverage gap in 2010. The president also spent a great deal of time repeating his talking points from last year’s health care debate. He claimed his plan would reduce the deficit and claimed the arguments of his critics were not “anchored in reality.”
As a practicing physician with more than 25 years of experience, and as a former business owner in the health care sector, I’d suggest this new PR campaign is grounded in politics rather than reality. The so-called experts behind this effort appear to be political hacks and career politicians who have zero real-world experience in the health care sector.
First, the president’s claims about the supposed benefits of a $250 rebate check for seniors are wildly out of proportion to both the reality of Medicare and his own program. Less than 10 percent of seniors enrolled in Medicare will receive a rebate check.
On the other hand, a greater percentage of seniors enrolled in Medicare – the 25 percent participating in Medicare Advantage – will see their benefits cut because the White House ultimately wants to kill the program for ideological reasons. Seniors are about to learn that if they like their plan, they can’t keep it. Medicare Advantage providers are already planning on cutting benefits and raising fees because of the law.
The president’s interest in the doughnut hole also suggests the PR campaign is willfully overlooking and exacerbating a much greater threat – Medicare’s $38 trillion unfunded liabilities. Our real national challenge is not the doughnut hole but our financial black hole of debt that is threatening to swallow not only Medicare but our entire economy.
During the most recent meeting of the president’s debt commission two esteemed economists, Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard and Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland, declared that our debt is already at 90 percent of our GDP, which they view as a tipping point at which economic growth slows considerably.
Borrowing from future generations and foreign governments to pay for rebate checks represents the kind of perverse short-term decision making that has brought our nation to the edge of a fiscal black hole. At best, throwing rebate checks at Medicare is an exercise in futility that will postpone real reform.
The president made a number of other claims that weren’t anchored in reality, such as his claim that his plan will reduce the deficit. When real-world accounting is applied to health care spending and necessary expenses like the doctor fix are included, all of the so-called savings evaporate.
Even the Congressional Budget Office, which the White House cites as its authoritative source, has contradicted the White House. CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf recently said, “The rising costs of health care will put tremendous pressure on the federal budget during the next few decades and beyond ... In CBO’s judgment, the health legislation enacted earlier this year does not substantially diminish that pressure.”
Yet, perhaps the most important reality check in this debate is to acknowledge the obvious. This new PR campaign has nothing to do with improving the health of Americans and everything to do with improving the job security of politicians who voted for this bill against the wishes of their constituents. Turning federal agencies into de facto direct mail and political advertising branches of the Democratic political establishment will refill the swamp and remind voters why they loathe Washington.
The American people have not only made up their minds about this bill, they are fatigued with this debate and the condescension of the Washington establishment who considers their objections to be based on fear, scare tactics and hysteria.
The American people have studied this law more intently than the politicians and unelected staff who wrote it. They have made decisions based on information, not misinformation. The campaign’s rhetoric of victimization is not a comeback at Republicans but an insult to the millions of Americans who did their homework and made good faith, informed judgments about a bill that fixed the wrong problem.
The reality is Congress and the White House had a chance to do something bold and bipartisan to fix the real problem, and they blew it. This law represents a failure of content, not communication. Sooner or later, a nation that aspires to a future beyond a rendezvous with debt will insist that this misguided law be repealed and replaced.
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn represents Oklahoma.