By Bob Cesca: Something hilarious and weird happened yesterday. No sooner had I posted my column here about the Republican Medicare Scam, but Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu returned to CNN, clipped on a microphone and shouted down Soledad O'Brien with the same crap-on-a-stick that I wrote about yesterday. Specifically, he repeated the whopper lie that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka. "Obamacare") cuts $700 billion from Medicare, implying that benefits were cut.
$700 billion. Keep that number in mind.
Sununu said, “When Obama gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it, the Romney plan does not do that. The Ryan plan mimicked part of the Obama package there. The Romney plan does not. That’s a big difference.”
So let's get this straight. Sununu just said the Paul Ryan Medicare Plan -- the one that Romney said he would've signed into law had he been president -- cuts $717 billion from Medicare? Interesting. Thanks for clarifying, Mr. Sununu.
Lanhee Chen, Romney's chief policy director told TPM, “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have always been fully committed to repealing Obamacare, ending President Obama¹s $716 billion raid on Medicare and tackling the serious fiscal challenges our country faces."
It's $716 billion now?
Mitt Romney said to First Read, "But my plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan, which is ‘Do not change the program for current retirees or near-retirees but do not do what the president has done and that is to cut $700 billion out of the current program."
RNC Chairman and Star Wars Cantina Alien Reince Priebus said, "President Obama... stole $700 billion from Medicare."
Right-wing apparatchik and Sarah Palin fanboy Rich Lowry repeated the $700 billion number on Meet the Press last Sunday.
Now it's $700 billion. This is the number I wrote about yesterday, and today the flood gates opened wide and this lie has been released into the world like the Motaba Virus.
Back in June, however, not a single Republican was saying $700 billion. Back then, the commonly repeated number was $500 billion. That's a huge difference.
After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obamacare, Republican Rep. Jon Runyan said, "My constituents simply cannot afford the $500 billion in new tax increases and $500 billion in Medicare cuts required to pay for this flawed legislation."
Mitt Romney said something similar in June, "Obamacare cuts Medicare -- cuts Medicare by approximately $500 billion dollars."
As far back as a year ago, the quoted number remained $500 billion.
Here's Michele Bachmann during a debate in June, 2011: "Senior citizens get this more than any other segment of our population, because they know in Obamacare the president of the United States took away $500 billion -- a half-trillion dollars -- out of Medicare, shifted it to Obamacare to pay for younger people."
Mitt Romney in the same debate, "Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare."
So somehow in the last few days, the amount that was "stolen" from Medicare has magically increased by $200 billion! That's amazing.
But of course it's all lies. The notion of $500 billion in "cuts" ostensibly "stolen" from Medicare has been thoroughly debunked and discredited by everyone from Politifact to The Washington Post, both of which note that there aren't any cuts to benefits -- none. So it's no surprise to learn that the bigger lie about $700 billion (or $717 billion or $716 billion) in cuts has also been widely debunked by fact-checkers everywhere including Bloomberg.
And yet they keep repeating it over and over and over, and, in fact, as we get closer to Election Day, the number is mysteriously increasing. At this rate, I suspect the Republican number to reach $1 gazillion-gajillion by October.
To repeat what I wrote yesterday, Obamacare doesn't cut a single penny from Medicare benefits. In fact, it increases benefits through a variety of new programs including full coverage for preventative medical care without coinsurance or deductibles, discounts on prescription drugs and the gradual closure of the Part-D "donut hole." In total so far, 220,000 retirees have saved $3.4 billion they would have otherwise paid out-of-pocket without the dreaded Obamacare legislation.
Meanwhile, Obamacare trims $428 billion in waste, fraud and abuse. Not $500 billion and certainly not $700 billion. No cuts to benefits, just increased efficiency, fraud protection and a reduction in Medicare Advantage payments to the same levels as Medicare proper. That's all. The savings will add another decade of solvency to Medicare, while, according to the CBO, Medicare spending is expected to nearly double by 2020. Meanwhile, Medicare Advantage premiums are lower and enrollment is up.
The Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are vocally against these obviously positive changes to the system, and they've vowed to repeal Obamacare and all of the Medicare provisions within, including the streamlined savings, the preventative care coverage and they'll re-open the donut hole, leaving retirees with potentially thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket drug expenses every year. At the same time, the Romney camp is positioning itself as the true savior of the program -- a claim that's absurd on its face and exactly the opposite of their true intentions.
So it turns out that the $717 billion number that Sununu was screeching about on CNN was pulled out of a July 24 CBO memo about the House plan to repeal Obamacare. Doug Elmendorf explained, "Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over that 2013–2022 period." There's nothing in there about benefit cuts or anything else the Republicans have said. Nothing.