If you’ve been filling up at gas stations in Minnesota’s third congressional district, you may have noticed this political ad at the pump:
“Congressman Erik Paulsen voted to cut taxes for millionaires and end your Medicare.”
The signs are part of a media blitz paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the fundraising arm for Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The effort targets 44 Republicans including U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen.
The DCCC’s ad treads a fine line between accurate and misleading.
The DCCC ad focuses on a budget resolution written by Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the House in April.
Paulsen voted for the resolution. It’s important to know that the bill is basically Congressional guidance for spending and revenue changes. So even if Ryan’s plan had passed the Senate – which it didn’t – it would not have cut taxes or changed Medicare.
It’s true that the resolution included a provision to lower the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, which could have affected the nation’s top earners.
The second part of the DCCC’s ad – that Paulsen voted to “end your Medicare” – is more nuanced.
The Ryan plan would have changed Medicare for those currently younger than 55, not seniors already enrolled or about to enroll in the program, as the DCCC ad implies.
Furthermore, Ryan’s plan would not have ended Medicare per se, but it would have changed it dramatically for those 55 or younger.
Currently, the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating Medicare patients. Ryan’s plan would have replaced the system with a voucher program. Beneficiaries would have used the cash to buy a private health insurance policy best suited for their medical needs.
Ryan also proposed linking the value of those vouchers to the Consumer Price Index, which has lagged behind increases in the cost of medical care. Over time, the payments Ryan proposed would buy less coverage as a result, and seniors would end up paying extra for coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Experts PoliGraph spoke with are split on whether the DCCC’s claim is fair. Some, including Richard Kaplan, an elder law expert at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, say that Ryan’s plan would have meant big changes to the current program, but it still would have provided government support.
Meanwhile, Karen Davis, a health policy expert with the Commonwealth Fund, agrees with the ad because Ryan’s plan would have gutted Medicare’s financial commitments and made the current program unrecognizable.
It’s true that Paulsen voted for a budget framework that proposed cutting taxes for the nation’s wealthiest and big changes to Medicare.
But the DCCC ad leaves out some important nuances, including the fact that Ryan’s proposal wouldn’t have affected those currently enrolled or about to enroll in Medicare. Furthermore, the Ryan proposal didn’t “end” Medicare; it changed it dramatically.
For leaving out some important details, PoliGraph says this ad is misleading.
The Star Tribune, Democrats hit Paulsen at the pump, by Jeremy Herb, Aug. 23, 2011
The DCCC, DCCC Launches ‘Accountability August’: Republicans’ Choosing Millionaires over Medicare, Aug. 9, 2011
The Washington Post, Votes on the FY 2012 Budget Resolution, accessed Aug. 24, 2011
The Congressional Budget Office, letter to Rep. Paul Ryan, April 5, 2011
ABC News, House passes Paul Ryan budget proposal in partisan vote, by John Parkinson, April 15, 2011
Health Affairs Blog, Vouchers or premium support: What’s in a name?, by Henry Aaron, April 6, 2011
The Internal Revenue Service, 2011 tax rate schedules, accessed Aug. 24, 2011
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan Plan’s “Path to Prosperity” Is Just for the Wealthy, by Chuck Marr, April 6, 2011
The Wall Street Journal, GOP Aim: Cut $4 trillion, by Naftali Bendavid, April 4, 2011
Interview, Jesse Ferguson, spokesman, DCCC, Aug. 24, 2011
Interview, Henry Aaron, the Brookings Institution, Aug. 23, 2011
Interview, Karen Davis, the Commonwealth Fund, Aug. 24, 2011
Interview, Richard Kaplan, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Aug. 23, 2011
Interview, Jack Hoadley, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Aug. 24, 2011