Bust out the noise-makers, America, because we did it! Against all odds, under an ineffective executive and a deadlocked legislature, we've somehow managed to completely snuff out the troublesome U.S. deficit. Our long national nightmare is over!
Oh, you didn't hear this? You may actually have but just don't fully realize it. That's partly because the issue is quite wonkish and difficult to succinctly explain, and partly because of the pervasive journalistic problem of false equivalency. We're going to do our best to break down these issues.
This Tuesday, a report by Republican politician Charles Blahous made the rounds, inspiring another round of spin. The media response was unsurprising; even we ran an article yesterday asking, "'Obamacare' could worsen US debt?"
Blahous had rechecked the costs of health care reform and found them to be off by some $340 billion. To do this, however, he had to break from the traditional methods both parties use to score all legislation.
It all comes down to trust funds, and here's where things get hairy. Medicare funds, like those of other entitlement programs, are distributed via trust fund. This system, generally disliked by conservatives, applies a sort of guaranteed security to these programs, making it difficult for politicians to cut them.
When these trust funds run out politicians simply refill them, because entitlement programs are very popular with voters. These funds are, after all, paid by government bonds. This is why the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the law's costs assumed that Medicare payments would continue even after the fund empties.
Blahous takes issue with this established method and so pretends it doesn't exist. But it does, of course, and will most likely continue to do so.
Turns out an interesting thing happens when you ignore our arcane budget realities:?The real problems disappear. Using the Blahous logic, we needn't worry about rising entitlement costs at all; these programs will, you see, stop paying out as soon as their funds empty. Problem solved!
If only. "If we did things that way,"?says Medicare expert Paul Van de Water, "a lot of stuff would look different." But we don't, and it doesn't.
Do you follow? If so, congratulations. The finer points of budget law are too difficult for most journalists -- let alone the average consumer -- to understand. Which brings us to the problem of equivalency.?Since issues like these can be too nuanced for laymen to fully grasp (we spent six hours researching and still feel out of depth), many reporters revert to "he said this, she said that" rather than qualifying the factual accuracy of individual claims. This allows journalists to ignore the small matter of whether their sources are lying.
In more ways than one, Blahous teaches us what we gain from ignoring reality.
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