President Obama's Inaugural Address mentioned Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but some news reports seriously mischaracterized his speech.
From a full text of the Inaugural Address provided by UPI, the President said in part:
"We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future…
"The commitments we make to each other--through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security--these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."
These are words that any conservative could have uttered. But several articles in the news media interpreted them in ways that deviated from Obama actually said.
Sam Baker in The Hill wrote:
Obama said it is imperative to reduce healthcare costs, but he made clear that he's not on board with Republican plans to dramatically cut Medicare and Medicaid.
Baker's characterization of GOP "plans" is absolutely untrue. His article is Exhibit A for biased reporting.
Since it is incontrovertible that these programs are financially fragile, some Republicans have suggested the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security be increased and that benefits be means tested.
Previous issues of this newsletter have documented the significant actuarial problems with both Social Security and Medicare.
Another issue of this newsletter explained how an increase in the retirement age and means testing benefits would greatly strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the future.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has also advocated that seniors be allowed to opt into a premium support plan if they like, but with an option to stay in traditional Medicare if they choose.
A different issue of this newsletter praised the revised Ryan plan, which provides maximum choices for seniors. The initial Ryan plan lacked some of those choices--and it was soundly denounced in this newsletter--but to the Congressman's credit, he took note of the criticism and revised his plan so that it overcame its original difficulties.
But in no case has anyone suggested drastic reductions in benefits. Baker's claim, "Republican plans to dramatically cut Medicare and Medicaid," cannot be called anything other than a lie.
No such plans have ever existed. Baker should go to work as a press secretary for a Democratic member of Congress. He is unsuited for objective reporting.
A Politico article by David Nather on the President's Inaugural Address also contained some inaccuracies, but it was vastly superior to Baker's poor article in The Hill. Nather wrote:
President Barack Obama drew a hard line once again Monday against entitlement cuts that could change the basic structure of programs like Medicare or Social Security--making it clear that any measures to reduce the cost of health care must be done on his terms.
As anyone can see from reading the text of what Obama actually said, that is simply not true.
Obama did not draw "a hard line." He did not mention "the basic structure of programs." And he did not say that changes "must be done on his terms."
Maybe that's what Nather would have liked for the President to say. But he didn't say any of these things.
Nather may have been on slightly more solid ground when he wrote:
And in an unmistakable dig at Romney's 47 percent remarks, Obama declared that the main three entitlement programs "strengthen us"--and don't make Americans a nation of freeloaders.
Obama's comments might have related to Mitt Romney, but they were not unmistakable. As this is written, I am unaware whether anyone has asked the President or any of his spokesmen if this was intended as a refutation of Romney's comments that were surreptitiously recorded at a private 2012 fundraiser.
Since the remarks were not uttered in public, it seems likely Romney was not as careful with his words as he would have been under other circumstances.
Ironically, in 2008 Obama was also embarrassed by comments he made at a private fundraiser in San Francisco that became public.
To Nather's credit, he did acknowledge, "Romney and Ryan easily won among seniors even though Obama attacked their Medicare plan at every turn." And he admitted that Obama has entertained the possibility of increasing the age for Medicare eligibility and means testing benefits.
Another inaccurate article was written by Rachelle Younglai of Reuters, who claimed that Obama's speech "did not sit well with Republican lawmakers, who noted that healthcare is one of the biggest drivers of the country's $16.4 Trillion debt."
Now, having made a statement like that, you'd think Younglai would have quoted a Republican lawmaker or two about Medicare's contribution to the national debt. But she did not. She did quote Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who said, "In order to protect them, we've got to reform them."
Of course, Flake is correct. His statement is not controversial.
The fact is that much of the national debt is owed to the Medicare and Social Security trust funds. For decades, Congress has "borrowed" from Medicare and Social Security for the general operations of the federal government.
At the end of December 2012, the Financial Management Service of the Treasury Department reported that the federal government owed $287.199 Billion to the Medicare trust funds (hospital and supplemental medical) and owed $2.733 Trillion to the Social Security trust funds (old age and disability).
Together, the $3.020 Trillion that is owed to Social Security and Medicare makes up 18.4% of the $16.432 Trillion national debt.
What Obama said in his speech on seniors' issues was completely different from what the news media reported. These blatant distortions of fact appear to be intended to harm conservatives.
The previous issue of What's Happening with Seniors Benefits: Obamacare Increasing Health Insurance Costs and Unemployment
The previous issue What's Happening with Conservatives and the Tea Party: There should be NO increase in the debt ceiling UNLESS…
Previous issues of both newsletters.
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