Karl Rove's column in today's Wall Street Journal begins with what sure sounds like an endorsement of the Patients' Choice Act of 2009. Mr. Rove writes that Republicans must "offer proposals that families, small-businesspeople and health-care providers will applaud. Fortunately, Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Devin Nunes of California have devised a plan that will likely appeal to anyone interested in making health insurance more affordable and portable." The Rove column goes on for three more paragraphs about the supposed virtues of the Patients' Choice Act.
Here is some actual language from the 13-page summary (pdf) of the Patients' Choice Act that is available from its congressional sponsors:
Reduce Government Handouts to Wealthier Americans
The Act would ask wealthy retirees to pay a little more for their Medicare benefits in order to avoid prevent their grandkids from
facing future tax hikes. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this would reduce entitlement spending by $30.6 billion over the next 10 years.
Couples making more than $170,000 (without an annual index to inflation) would pay more for their Part B premiums. Part D would be means‐tested at the same level for wealthy retirees.
So Mr. Rove and the Republicans in Congress -- as well as the Heritage Foundation -- have now signed on to a definition of $170,000 a year for a couple, without indexing to inflation, as "wealthy." That's a lower income threshold than even that set by President Obama, who has generally put the lower boundary of "rich" at $250,000. How are these Republicans supposed to, with a straight face, oppose Mr. Obama's plans for income tax increases on "the rich" when they themselves are running around proposing to raise Medicare premiums for "wealthier Americans" by $30.6 billion over 10 years? Those "wealthier Americans" have already more than paid for their Medicare with Medicare taxes of 2.9%, which, since 1993, have not been subject to the same cap that applied to the Social Security payroll tax. Asking them to pay more while those making less than $170,000 pay less is classic redistribution of the sort you'd expect to see from left-wing Democrats, not Mr. Rove and conservative Republicans in Congress. What's more, it encourages retirees to game the system to get their income below $170,000 -- doing everything from investing in municipal bonds for tax-free interest that may not count toward the income limit, to giving assets away to their children, to spending money on fancy cars or big houses that they otherwise would have saved or invested in income-producing assets. It encourages them to sit around and play golf rather than work. It is the equivalent of a marginal tax increase.
It's all packaged in Orwellian language, too. "Patients' Choice Act?" Right. The only "choice" available to those earning more than $170,000 a year will be to pay more money in "premiums" that amount to a tax, or to find a way to get their income down below $170,000. Not an attractive choice.