Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush caused a stir Wednesday night, telling a Koch-backed political group that he wants to “phase out” Medicare entirely. At a town-hall event in New Hampshire yesterday, an unhappy voter asked for an explanation. Here’s what the former Florida governor said in response:
“To my point last night, here’s what I said. I said, first and foremost, whenever you get into a conversation about reforming entitlements, the first thing that you can be guaranteed of is that the left will attack you and demonize you. It took about six hours for that to happen [on Wednesday night]. I woke up in the morning and words taken out of context – exactly what I predicted would happen.“I told the story of Paul Ryan who had a plan to deal with this over the long haul. The first thing I saw, that happened to him was, a guy looking like Paul Ryan was in a TV ad attacking him, wearing a red tie and a suit, throwing granny off the cliff.“This is, we’ve got to get beyond this, because this is not a sustainable system. We need to protect it for people that have it, and we need to make sure that we reform it for people that are expecting it.”
He then transitioned to talking about the latest report from the Medicare trustees, which was released this week, and which Bush seems to believe bolsters his argument.
I didn’t really intend to return to the subject – here’s yesterday’s piece if you missed it – but so long as the GOP candidate is doubling down on a poor argument, it’s probably worth clarifying further why Bush is mistaken.
Bush is concerned, for example, about being “attacked” and “demonized.” I don’t imagine it’s fun being a candidate facing irate voters, but when those seeking public office talk about giving tax cuts to millionaires while taking health benefits away from seniors on a fixed income, they shouldn’t be too surprised when there’s pushback.
He also believes his comments from Wednesday were “taken out of context.” For what it’s worth, I published the entire context and linked to a video of Bush’s comments. Unfortunately for the candidate, there’s nothing in the context that makes the argument any stronger.
Finally, the Florida Republican characterizes his approach as if it were simply common sense. Medicare is not “sustainable,” he says, which means it’s up to responsible officials to agree now to “phase out” – a phrase he replaced with “reform” yesterday – Medicare altogether.
The reality, however, is far different. As Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum explained yesterday, “So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can’t afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would – what? I don’t even know what the story is here…. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That’s it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?”
For Bush, among other GOP candidates, Medicare is facing fiscal challenges in the future, so the system must be eliminated. We must destroy Medicare, the argument goes, in order to save it. This is, of course, absurd – the challenges are perfectly manageable without radical changes to anyone’s health security.
The more Jeb Bush talks about this, the more it seems he doesn’t fully understand one of his signature issues.
Postscript: Just as an aside, the Medicare trustees’ report he encouraged voters to read shows Medicare’s fiscal health getting considerably better, not worse, in large part because of the Affordable Care Act. Jeb Bush, of course, wants to repeal the ACA, which would necessarily make the Medicare system he wants to “protect” far weaker, far faster.