LA Times column prioritizes talking points over basic math
This past Friday, a Los Angeles Times column by David Lauter took the novel approach of ignoring basic mathematics in favor of liberal talking points. Rather than take any kind of fact-based look at the Medicare plan of the Romney/Ryan campaign, Lauter's column completely misled readers about what Romney and Ryan plan to do about the president's now-infamous $716-billion cuts to Medicare.
Lauter spent his column mocking Mitt Romney's opposition to the $716 billion in Medicare cuts found in the Affordable Care Act. According to Lauter, Romney's opposition to these cuts would add them back to the national debt over the next decade:
So on Wednesday, Romney made clear that he would eliminate the Medicare savings, and Ryan fell into line. ... And because Romney did not offer any new revenue to cover the $716 billion cost, nor any offsetting reductions, the price tag would simply be added to the national credit card -- worsening the "prairie fire of debt" that Romney decried in a speech this spring.
Unfortunately for Lauter, his claim has no basis in reality, and it seems he knows it -- nowhere does Lauter cite a single source. For my part, I'll take a look at a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report from July 26, which says repealing the Affordable Care Act (which Romney supports, and which is in fact the means by which he would repeal the Medicare cuts in the Act) would do more than simply repeal $716 billion in cuts -- it would also eliminate the expanded Medicaid and insurance coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The CBO estimates that repeal of the Act would increase combined deficits by $109 billion over the next decade -- far less than the $716 billion claimed by Lauter.
Now, conservatives can and should have their issues with the CBO report's expectations of savings in the Affordable Care Act (its analysis doesn't account for political reality, for example, but instead merely for the letter of the law), but since Lauter doesn't actually cite a source for his absurd contention, I'll stick to the CBO's numbers for now.
Another, more minor, flaw in Lauter's analysis is his comparison between the alleged $716 billion in debt Romney wants to add and the Budget Control Act's spending reductions put into law last year. According to Lauter:
How much is $716 billion? It's equal to half of all the money that Congress agreed to cut last summer after a two-month standoff over the national debt.
This is flat-out, incontrovertibly wrong. First, if Lauter is referencing the $1.2 trillion in sequestration, $716 billion is far more than half. If he's referencing the full Budget Control Act, the $716 billion is slightly over one-third of those "cuts." However, if we use the CBO's official $109-billion estimate -- which is far closer to reality than Lauter's claim -- the actual amount added to deficits is 5.2% of the Budget Control Act. So no matter how you look at it, Lauter's attempt to appeal to the layperson is factually inaccurate.
One other, tangentially related point that Lauter misses: in order to find that $109 billion in savings over ten years, the CBO has to count all the tax increases in the Affordable Care Act. According to the aforementioned CBO report, the Act's "savings" come only after raising many times that amount in various taxes and fees. That doesn't sound like savings to me; it sounds like a lot more like raising a whole bunch of taxes in order to balance out a whole bunch of spending.
I have my issues with Romney's declared wish to not touch Medicare for those within ten years of retirement -- implementing reforms that won't start ten years from now isn't close to good enough to prevent Medicare from essentially going bankrupt. I have my issues with Romney's declaration that he wants to increase defense spending. I have my issues with the fact that the Ryan plan doesn't touch Social Security in any way. However, those are issues based around doing proper mathematical calculations, not manipulating the truth in ways that would make the Obama campaign proud. Lauter either needs a better editor or should retake high school math.
Dustin Siggins is a policy and politics blogger who regularly contributes to HotAir.com, HotAir.com's Green Room, Race42012.com, and RightWingNews.com. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on the national debt with William Beach of The Heritage Foundation.