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Posted at 03:58 PM ET, 05/16/2012

The real record on entitlements

Suzy Khimm has a great item out today about the Peter Peterson deficit confab yesterday, noting a crucial difference between the parties: Democrats are willing to consider cutting entitlements, but Republicans have an absolute hard line against ever raising taxes ever, ever, ever.

(Okay, House Republicans did vote to raise taxes by cutting the child tax credit for low income filers. but for some reason that doesn’t count).

What should be added to this point whenever it is made are two things. First, that Democrats chose to pay for the Affordable Care Act by, in part, cutting Medicare. That really happened, and just a couple of years ago. In other words, Democrats haven’t just said they might cut entitlements; they really did it. Republicans don’t want to credit that one because it came in the context of other spending increases, but I don’t see why that’s relevant. After all, if Republicans had paid for the Bush-era tax cuts by slashing Medicare – or paid for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – then the deficit would presumably be lower. The bottom line is that a cut is a cut, and Democrats were willing to cut entitlements to pay for their priorities.

And the second thing? That when Democrats cut Medicare to pay for the ACA, Republicans slammed them for it. I haven’t seen a good study, but my strong impression is that cuts in Medicare Advantage – and not “death panels” or the individual mandate, and certainly not the basic structure of exchanges and subsidies – are overwhelmingly responsible for the lack of popularity of health care reform.

I don’t expect Republicans to broadcast any of this, and to tell the truth I don’t really expect Democrats to, either; cutting Medicare is unpopular! And I'm not saying what parties should do on either deficits or entitlements; that's another story altogether. But anyone who actually cares about federal budget deficits should be very aware of this stuff. There is a very large difference between the parties. And as long as Republicans are treated by deficit hawks as serious deficit cutters for the harshness of their anti-deficit rhetoric while ignoring their actual, deficit-exploding proposals, that’s not going to change.

By  |  03:58 PM ET, 05/16/2012

 
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