Through The 2008 Campaign Looking Glass–John McCain on Medicare Cuts, Now And Then

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One can be forgiven for the double take. Back during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama was the one accusing John McCain of wanting to cut Medicare benefits for seniors–a claim that independent fact checkers called “false.” (McCain had proposed vaguely defined cost savings in Medicare, not benefit cuts.) Now everything is all reversed and upside down. President Obama is the one proposing the spending cuts, and McCain is raising a ruckus claiming that this will mean reductions in benefits. Here is McCain on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009:

Slashing Medicare by nearly $500 billion, one-half a trillion dollars, to create a new federal health care entitlement is not health care reform. These reductions include $120 billion to the Medicare Advantage program, $150 billion to providers including hospitals, hospice, and nursing homes, and $23 billion in unspecified decreases to be determined by an ‘Independent Medicare Advisory board.’  Simply put, these Medicare cuts will impacts senior’s access to quality care.  This is a price that American’s should not be asked to pay.

Now compare that statement to Presidential Candidate John McCain, per the Wall Street Journal on October 6, 2008:

John McCain would pay for his health plan with major reductions to Medicare and Medicaid, a top aide said, in a move that independent analysts estimate could result in cuts of $1.3 trillion over 10 years to the government programs. . . . Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Sen. McCain’s senior policy adviser, said Sunday that the campaign has always planned to fund the tax credits, in part, with savings from Medicare and Medicaid. . . . He said the savings would come from eliminating Medicare fraud and by reforming payment policies to lower the overall cost of care.

During the campaign, McCain’s aides even identified Medicare Advantage as place ripe for savings. Here is Presidential Candidate John McCain, per USA Today on May 19, 2008:

Medicare Advantage plans — private alternatives to Medicare that cover 9.4 million people  — ought to “compete on a level playing field” with traditional Medicare, a top adviser to Sen. John McCain said today.

McCain was never too specific about his proposals, so he can argue that he has not changed positions by opposing the precise cuts backed by Obama–even if he seemed to rhetorically support this sort of thing just over a year ago.

The topsy turvy nature of this whole debate is a bit dizzying. For another example, take a look at this campaign stump from Obama, where the future president decries McCain’s plan to tax health care benefits–“just like George Bush.” Obama now effectively supports raising taxes on those people with the most expensive health care plans.

If anything, it should be a lesson to us all about just how unsubstantial and non-prognostic campaign policy “debates” can be.

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