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Durbin Half-Ducks on [Financing] Health Care Reform, as Face the Nation’s Schieffer Confuses the Public

Bob Schieffer’s Face the Nation interview of Sen. Dick Durbin, discussing health care reform, is another example of how a misinformed and lazy media misrepresents the issues and confuses the public.

Schieffer first confuses what Obama said in the campaign. McCain proposed to tax all employer-provided health insurance benefits, then give everyone tax credits to purchase private insurance. Obama opposed that proposal because it would have threatened the entire structure of employer-sponsored health insurance, without putting an affordable, effective alternative in its place.

But Schieffer falsely equated the McCain proposal with Sen. Baucus’ limited proposal to tax only the additional benefits above a very high price – such as benefits costing more than $12,000 or so, which the Administration hasn’t endorsed yet. He repeats this false comparison twice.

Then Schieffer reveals he doesn’t understand the basic debate. Obama and leading Dems want to reform the incentive structure so that Medicare’s actual costs are lower while providing equal or better care than we have today. Strong federal oversight of the Medicare payment incentive structure – not just lowering fee-for-service payments – is the key, coupled with open access to a public option (e.g., Medicare or something like it) to both expand these reforms and put pressure on private plans to follow suit and “keep them honest.”

If we fix these and similar incentive issues, the argument goes, then the federal government’s payments to Medicare and drug makers can go down – not because we’ve cut benefits to consumers but because the actual cost of treating people will be lower. The quality of health care improves for those with coverage, and more people will get coverage via open access to the public option using the same approach.

Schieffer seems unaware of any of this, even though it’s the heart of the health care reform debate. And he doesn’t seem to learn from any of Durbin’s patient answers. Watch/listen to how confused this becomes with Bob Schieffer:

[After showing the clip of Obama arguing against McCain’s proposal . . .] “So, I have to asked you, Senator Durbin. Does the President still stand by the words and what he said during the campaign?”

Unfortunately, instead of telling Schieffer he’s confused and is falsely equating two different proposals, Durbin repeatedly ducks the question.

“Well, will the President just leave Senator Baucus out there on the limb, then? Is he gonna say at the start, ‘that’s a no go, that’s a non-starter?’ I mean, how’s he gonna say . . . what’s he gonna say when this becomes part of the plan, because every indication we have is that it is gonna be part of the plan?”

At this point, Schieffer’s misrepresentation is complete. The “it” that is “gonna be part of the plan” is now misdefined as the same across the board tax proposal McCain proposed and Obama opposed. We’ve lost track of the very limited proposal to tax only excessive benefits, which is still on the table.

Having confused himself and misled his audience, Schieffer now becomes argumentative, both in tone and in choice of words:

“. . . let’s talk about what the President said yesterday. He said that he is going to be able to do all this health care reform without adding to the deficit. Now some people are saying this is going to cost as much as $1.6 trillion. Isn’t that just straining credulity to say he can do that without adding to the deficit?” . . .

“But isn’t it, again, we’ve all lived through rosy scenarios and all that kind of thing where all these savings can be made, and somehow it never comes true, and in this thing yesterday, where he’s talking about all these savings . . . he’s talking about reducing federal subsidies to hospitals, in some cases by as much as 75 percent. I mean, is that feasible? Does anyone really believe you can do that and maintain health care at the levels it is now?”

Note that Schieffer expresses his own bias against reducing “subsidies” to hospitals without asking what they’re for; are subsidies warranted, unjust profits, or the result of having to cover inflated costs under the perverse incentive system? Instead, it’s OMG, Obama wants to reduce payments to hospitals, which is exactly how it will be played by reform opponents. E.g., see WaPo headline and this lead paragraph:

President Obama yesterday outlined measures to trim spending on federal health programs for the elderly and the poor by an additional $313 billion over the next decade.

Only now does Durbin explain a part of what the President actually said and meant about changing the compensation structure and its perverse incentives. The "subsidies" Obama mentioned are simply payments to hospitals to reimburse them for providing emergency care to uninsured patients; if more people are insured, the "subsidy" payments can be reduced.

But instead of following up to show he understood what Durbin just explained, Schieffer moves on to drug payments and repeats the same misconception about drug costs.

“Well another thing he says is he’s gonna realize $75 billion in savings by lowering the costs of drugs. Well, again, that’s a lovely thing to say, but he doesn’t give any explanation as to how he’s gonna lower the cost of drugs. Don’t we need a lotta detail on that before we can even take that seriously?”

Memo to Dems: If you hope to win, when you hear patently false framing, call it out; don’t just answer the question as though we’re in some polite debate. The other side is usually lying [see more below], and the media pretends it doesn’t know or matter. Tell Schieffer his premise is wrong and ask why he’s spreading confusion.

It’s also clear Bob Schieffer isn’t following the health care reform debate, didn’t understand what Obama said and wasn’t listening to Durbin. Yet he’s the senior CBS newsman, who has covered Washington for decades, and he’s now responsible for interviewing the most important newsmakers of the week.

“Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps” — Brad DeLong et al.

To his credit, Schieffer does slightly better in his interview with Mitch McConnell. He pushes back against McConnell, who repeats Luntz’ talking points — Washington in between patients and doctors, Canadian care is bad and causes delays, Obama wants "a national rationing board," waiting in line for government permission, lie, lie, lie.

He asks McConnell about proposals to reduce hospital subsidies by up to 75 percent, but Schieffer never explains what Obama meant and never clarifies the difference between a percent reduction in the amount of the subsidy, and a percent reduction in the total payments including the subsidies. They’re not the same thing. And of course, Mitch McConnell exploits this confusion by concern trolling the likely opposition to 75 percent cuts.

They never stop.

Digby, endures John King/CNN coverage
John Amato/Crooks and Liars, catches video of CNN’s Sebelius interview; more here.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley