VOINOVICH: MORE MACHINE NOW THAN MAN

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We keep hoping that Senator George Voinovich will show some evidence of deserving the "moderate" and "deficit hawk" descriptors that the mainstream lazily bestow on him at every mention. But he keeps disappointing us — and frankly, it hurts. We can't go on like this, so we're ending it, now. And for the record, it's not us, it's him.

The last straw was a recent press release outlining his oh-so-principled stand against healthcare reform. The release was sent before Senator Joe Lieberman screwed his own party again and unilaterally shoved a Medicare buy-in option off the table. That rendered much of what Voinovich discussed moot, but the hypocrisy and blatant partisan hackery should not be forgotten:

There is some indication that in order to reach a compromise on the public option, it is being suggested that Medicare be expanded to all individuals age 55 and over. I think this is an outrageous suggestion and makes a government takeover of our healthcare system all the more likely.

The Medicare program is already on shaky ground, and this bill does nothing to fix that. Despite $37 trillion in unfunded future Medicare costs and the prediction that the Medicare trust fund is expected to be insolvent by 2017, the health care bill calls for $465 billion in cuts to Medicare to create brand new programs.

Stop. Right. There.

Senator Moderate is certainly no honesty hawk. The numbers he cites are essentially meaningless; he's parroting rightwing talking points that are intended to confuse and scare you. Factcheck.org reports:

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity has released a new 60-second ad through its Patients First project. The ad, which features a family doctor, Dr. Amy Siems, talking to viewers, recycles a few misleading talking points against health care legislation in Congress, but includes a new claim that is quite startling. Dr. Siems says that "Medicare will be bankrupt in eight years."

Yikes. Quite a scary claim to make about a program that encompasses 16 percent of the federal budget and benefits 45 million Americans. But the word "bankrupt" is far too strong to accurately describe Medicare’s problems.

And as is typically the case with GOP talking points, they leave out the inconvenient truths.

Voinovich went on to refer to his "Democrat colleagues" (will Republic hacks ever tire of this juvenile little dig?) and to whine, "Democrats should stop meeting behind closed doors and bring their issues and protections into the light of day — we need open and transparent health care conversations.” As if the Democrats hadn't spent most of this year compromising on compromises of compromises. As if it's perfectly reasonable for the debate to be framed by the most ideologically hardcore members of the party voters soundly rejected in 2006 and 2008.

And as if the GOP would never dream of pulling the sorts of shenanigans it now projects onto Democrats.

Slate revisits the GOP's Medicare prescription-drug bill of 2003:

Today the Medicare prescription-drug debate is remembered mainly for the political shenanigans Republicans used to get their bill through. Bush officials lied about the numbers and threatened to fire Medicare's chief actuary if he shared honest cost estimates with Congress. House Republicans cut off C-SPAN and kept the roll call open for three hours — as opposed to the requisite 15 minutes — while cajoling the last few votes they needed for passage. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay was admonished by the House ethics committee for winning the eleventh-hour support of Nick Smith, a Michigan Republican, by threatening to vaporize Smith's son in an upcoming election. It's worth remembering these moments when Republicans criticize Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid for his hardball tactics.

The real significance of that episode, however, is not their bad manners, but what Republicans ordered the last time health care was on the menu. Their bill, which stands as the biggest expansion of government's role in health care since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, created an entitlement for seniors to purchase low-cost drug coverage. … Simply stated, the bill cost a fortune, wasn't paid for, is complicated as hell, and doesn't do all that much — though it does include coverage for end-of life-counseling, or what [Republican Senator Chuck] Grassley now calls "pulling the plug on grandma."

In their 2009 report to Congress, the Medicare trustees estimate the 10-year cost of Medicare D as high as $1.2 trillion. That figure — just for prescription-drug coverage that people over 65 still have to pay a lot of money for — dwarfs the $848 billion cost of the Senate bill. The Medicare D price tag continues to escalate because the bill explicitly bars the government from using its market power to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers or establishing a formulary with approved medications.

And unlike the Democratic bills, which won't add to the deficit, the bill George W. Bush signed was financed entirely through deficit spending. While Grassley and his colleagues accuse Democrats of harming Medicare through cost cuts, it is their bill that has done the most to hasten Medicare's coming insolvency. Between now and 2083, Medicare D's unfunded obligations amount to $7.2 trillion according to the trustees. Numbers like these prompted former Comptroller General David M. Walker to call it "... probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s."

And "moderate" "deficit hawk" George Voinovich voted for it.

It was just a few months ago that Voinovich (belatedly) lamented the GOP's takeover by southerners. Now he sounds just like them as he either lies or displays inexcusable ignorance of the real costs of Medicare, and just flatly refuses to acknowledge the rising human cost of lack of access to insurance.

The baffling thing about this is how unnecessary it is. Voinovich has long since announced that he won't seek re-election, so there's no need to protect his flank from a teabagger-backed primary challenger. Maybe he just likes being, and wants to be remembered as, a hypocritical obstructionist. Whatever the case, we're done deluding ourselves that he's different, that he's somehow above the madness afflicting most of the party. Clearly he's not the man we thought he was. For a guy who claimed to have brashly counseled President Bush to wise up and consider his legacy, the much-older Voinovich is shockingly cavalier about his own. — Frank Lewis

UPDATE: Voinovich also voted for the Bush policies that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities cites as the primary causes of the rising deficit in a new report:

Some commentators blame recent legislation — the stimulus bill and the financial rescues — for today’s record deficits. But those costs pale next to other policies enacted since 2001 that have swollen the deficit. They are less conspicuous now, because many were enacted years ago, and they have long since been absorbed into CBO’s and other organizations’ budget projections.

Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and $7.1 trillion in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs. These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts) do not fade away as the economy recovers.

Without the economic downturn and the fiscal policies of the previous Administration, the budget would be roughly in balance over the next decade. That would put the nation on a much sounder footing to address the demographic challenges and the cost pressures in health care that darken the long-run fiscal outlook.

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