From a Wall Street Journal editorial:
Our advice is that Mr. Romney go on offense on Medicare. He could hit Mr. Obama with ads in Florida and elsewhere for his $716 billion in Medicare cuts...
No sooner had the advice been given than it was taken. From a Yahoo! News account of the joint Romney-Ryan interview with "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday night:
"There's only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare," Romney said. "Seven-hundred-sixteen billion dollars to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare."
This may be good politics (though I wouldn't even necessarily assume that), but it's terrible for the country.
Here are Medicare annual spending totals from President George W. Bush's final year and from President Obama's first three complete years, according to the White House office of management and budget:
These numbers make it clear that the charge that Mr. Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare is, to put it kindly, not correct. First of all, there isn't $716 billion in the program to cut. To come up with that high a number, you have to take ten year totals and work from forecasts or baselines that are so far off that Mr. Obama is being given credit (or blame) for "cuts" that, if they ever happen, would happen long after he left office. Second, federal Medicare spending has increased by tens of billions of dollars every year that Obama has been in office. A federal spending increase of tens of billions of dollars is not a "cut."
If one can get past the factual problem (a big "if"), there are other problems. Accusing Mr. Obama of cutting Medicare muddies the Republican message. The Republicans have been telling us the problem with Mr. Obama is that he's a socialist big spender who is burying the country under mountains of debt and wants to raise taxes to pay for his spending. Now they want to attack him for going too far in cutting back Great Society-era entitlement programs? Doesn't the second message contradict the first?
Finally, what if the Republicans actually succeed with this line of criticism and succeed in getting themselves elected by turning Medicare "cuts" — defined as not actually achieved reductions in some long-off future projected baseline increases — into a Social-Security-like, third-rail, touch-it-and-you-die type of issue? What are they supposed to do then when they find themselves in office and discover that ratcheting back projected growth rates in Medicare spending in ways that opponents can demagogue as "cuts" turns out to be pretty much essential to putting the federal budget back on a sustainable fiscal path? Haven't they set themselves up to be defeated by the same attacks they used on Mr. Obama?
I wrote about this issue a bit back in January. Since then, Mr. Romney has upped the amount of Mr. Obama's supposed Medicare cuts by a couple of hundred billion.