Columns » Ernest Dumas

Money trumps facts

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It will take years to sift out all the losers in the great debt battle of 2011 while the certain winners — the nation's richest people, who will bear no burden — can already celebrate. But even now there is one clear victim of the struggle that almost brought the nation to ruin, and may yet: truth.

The lies and deceptions in the everyday debate and in the vast propaganda network make it impossible for the average working American to know what happened in the battle over the debt ceiling and how it might affect him or her. Lies do work.

Let's take our own little laboratory, the bailiwick of Congressman Tim Griffin. Griffin was in some hot water after voting for the Republican debt plan that would wipe out Medicare for people who turn 65 or become disabled after 2021. They would have to buy medical coverage from insurance companies with the help of a voucher that would pay part of the premium but decline in value. That is how the Republicans would cut the federal deficit. People who are under 55 now would go back to paying for their own medical care at 65, as they did before 1966. Griffin and other Republicans were catching hell for the vote although he used the script prepared for GOP congressmen: He was only "saving" Medicare by bringing in the insurance industry and requiring people to pay much more.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette turned over part of its op-ed page to Griffin last week to explain what he was doing in the debt battle. He created his own astonishing set of facts and declared that he was going to work to save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. More about that in a minute.

The real masters of propaganda went to work during the week. Saturday, the Democrat Gazette published a huge ad attacking President Obama for trying to balance the budget on the backs of old people by damaging Medicare. The ad praised Griffin for standing up to Obama and protecting Medicare.

None of it is true. Incidentally, you may remember that the Democrat Gazette last year refused to run ads by state Sen. Joyce Elliott criticizing her congressional opponent, Griffin, for undermining his friend, Bud Cummins, to get his job and for making political calls on state time in 1996 while he was running a Republican campaign from the prosecuting attorney's office. The facts of her ad were verified by the newspaper's own files. A different standard prevails when the attacks are on Obama or a Democrat.

More ads are coming, and seniors will get slick flyers in the mail carrying the same message: Obama is going after the old folks, and Griffin is protecting them. It's part of a $1 million ad campaign supporting 22 Republican congressmen who are deemed to be in trouble. The ads are paid for by American Action Network, which sprang up last year after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which said that corporations could spend unlimited sums on political advertising and do it secretly.

The group, run by right-wing multi-millionaires, spent $25 million last year to elect Griffin and the other tea-party Republicans. Its ads were celebrated for their ruthless deceptions.

The cookie-cutter ads for the congressmen claim that Obama has a plan that would "Balance the Budget on the Backs of Seniors" by increasing Medicare premiums. It refers you in tiny print to a website, which cites the group's own "study" to prove that. It turns out that the plan is not Obama's at all but a bill by couple of liberal Democrats who are Congress's leading defenders of Medicare. It is actually supposed to help Medicare beneficiaries and cut Medicare spending by requiring drug companies to provide discounts on many expensive drugs.

The group's study calculated that the discounts would have the opposite effect and somehow cause insurance companies to raise people's Medicare drug premiums. The author's best-known previous study predicted that Bush's tax cuts, particularly the elimination of inheritance taxes on huge estates, would produce millions of new jobs. How did that work out?

Griffin can say he's not responsible for the lies because he had nothing to do with the ads, although he knew about them. But the article in the paper under his byline was hardly better. It says the Affordable Care Act, which he calls Obamacare, was "a prescription to end Medicare," which was the mantra of the attacks on the law. He cited the 2011 report of the Medicare trustees, which he said concluded that the health-care law would require future deep cuts in benefits or huge tax increases for Medicare recipients in addition to a direct $500 billion cut in benefits. The act cuts not one benefit.

What the report actually said was that the law greatly extended the solvency of the Medicare trust fund and slowed future growth in Medicare spending by a fourth by cutting the huge subsidies given to insurance companies in the Republican Medicare law of 2004 and reducing the size of future increases in reimbursements to physician specialists and clinics.

Early in his essay, Griffin said the mammoth deficits were not caused by a decline in revenue. Sure, he wrote, federal revenues fell from 2001 to 2006 but it had nothing to do with the Bush tax cuts for the rich. He said the downturn was caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For the record: The recession began in March 2001, the month the tax cut was introduced, and ended in October, the month after the attacks. Terrible though they were, the attacks proved to be an economic stimulus.

Facts. Who needs 'em?

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