The president’s speech yesterday was notable to my ears for two things: the surprisingly direct attack on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan and the ideology underpinning it (un-American!), and Obama’s general vagueness on how he would achieve the ambitious goals he set.
To be fair, though, it wasn’t as detail-lite as some of his previous orations, and pundits can often forget that a speech is a speech is a speech, and not a policy document. It has to be digestible, hit certain points, and steer clear of boring the less engaged members of the audience. Cicero probably would have been fuzzy on the details of Medicare reform, too.
The reaction to the speech has been notable for two things as well: firstly, it was better received by the liberal press than had been anticipated, and secondly, the speech showed that conservatives are much more entertaining respondents when it comes to this sort of thing.
Take The Wall Street Journal’s fantastically angry editorial this morning, “The Presidential Divider: Obama’s speech and even worse plans for deficits and debt.” If you thought Obama was hard on Ryan phew. How’s this, from the lede:
President Obama’s extraordinary response to Paul Ryan’s budget yesterday—with its blistering partisanship and multiple distortions—was the kind Presidents usually outsource to some junior lieutenant. Mr. Obama’s fundamentally political document would have been unusual even for a Vice President in the fervor of a campaign.
Other choice highlights: the speech was “toxic” and its claims “ludicrous” and “dishonest even by modern political standards.” The gentlemanly Times editorial page this is not.
One of the sticking points in the Journal editorial is the superiority of the Ryan plan that was so maligned by Obama in the speech. As opposed to Ryan’s “trying to maintain a social security safety net and the economic growth necessary to finance it,” Obama offered a “false choice of merely preserving the government we have with no realistic plan for doing so, aside from proposing $4 trillion in phantom deficit reduction over a gimmicky 12-year budget window that makes that reduction seem larger than it would be over the normal 10-year window.”
As for the Independent Payment Advisory board the president touted, which would step in if per capita Medicare costs grew by more than GDP plus 0.5 percent, well:
So 15 sages sitting in a room with the power of the purse will evidently find ways to control Medicare spending that no one has ever thought of before and that supposedly won’t harm seniors’ care, even as the largest cohort of the baby boom generation retires and starts to collect benefits.
Mickey Kaus at The Daily Caller hit the same note, sarcastically writing of the “Anti-Ryan speech”:
The all powerful Independent Payment Advisory Board will save us! This is always Obama’s deficit solution. Democracy can’t handle the truth!(“It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels.”) But will Congress freely cede power over who gets what treatment to an unelected “advisory” board of experts? It happens with the Fed. But health care involves actual constituents living and dying
Paul Krugman, one of those liberals pleasantly surprised by a speech that wore its progressivism on its rolled up, blood-splattered sleeves, disagreed with those assessments of the Board.
The main thing, though, is the strengthened role of and target for the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This can sound like hocus-pocus—but it’s not.
As I understand it, it would force the board to come up with ways to put Medicare on what amounts to a budget—growing no faster than GDP + 0.5—and would force Congress to specifically overrule those proposed savings. That’s what cost-control looks like! You have people who actually know about health care and health costs setting priorities for spending, within a budget; in effect, you have an institutional setup which forces Medicare to find ways to say no.