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Mitch McConnell Reveals He’ll Hold US Debt Limit Hostage to Force Huge Medicare Cuts

The one thing every interviewer should know about Kentucky’s Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is that he never answers any question he’d rather duck. He demonstrated this remarkable evasive skill today in a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, summarized here by HuffPo’s Amanda Terkel.

But McConnell also revealed (again), notwithstanding his evasions, that Republicans are willing to hold the debt limit issue hostage, and to risk a credit default for the US Government, to force hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid cuts. Their cover story is that they’re “saving” Medicare from President Obama’s plan to “ration Granny’s health care.” It’s remarkable for its cynicism and dishonesty.

McConnell said that none of the current budget proposals — Paul Ryan’s, Toomey’s Rand Paul’s — would pass Congress. But he said what must happen is that there be hundreds of billions in Medicare/Medicaid cuts tied to raising the debt limit. You’re not likely to get a clearer statement of the Republican plan to slash Medicare benefits — without Mitch ever using the words “cut benefits” — as the price for preventing a financial and economic debacle.

The “ration Granny’s health care” lie is a reference to the Medicare Advisory Boards set up under the Affordable Care Act to reduce Medicare costs, not by reducing benefits or denying care but by finding the most cost-effective ways to provide it. The Board would evaluate the effectiveness of drugs and health treatment practices and encourage (or not pay) health care providers to avoid those that are too costly when cheaper, acceptable alternatives are available. In a rational era, recognizing how rapidly private health care costs are rising, this common sense concept would receive broad approval.

But we’re not living in a rational era. As Krugman notes today, the conversation is dominated by Charlatans and Cranks who, in addition to buying Ryan’s crank economics, are insisting the US need not worry about breaching the debt limit, since it has trillions in public assets it could readily sell on the private market to raise cash and avoid a default. But if we have trillions in readily convertible assets, then the argument that “we’re broke” is plainly false, even in their silly worldview.  [cont’d.]

McConnell was the most evasive trying to dodge Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher bullet with which House Republicans already shot themselves in the foot. He surely knows that if Paul Ryan’s Medicare privatization and voucher plan is accurately described, Republicans could be toast in 2012. So his goal on Fox was to evade the truth and create a fog of confusion.

In McConnell’s telling, Ryan’s is not a “voucher” plan; it’s a “premium support” plan that “empowers” Granny with choices, whereas “Obama’s plan” is to “ration Granny’s care.” Of course, since Ryan’s premium support/voucher would be insufficient to afford the choices Granny needs, it just shifts the costs and rationing to Granny, but hey, it was her choice to go without the care she needs but can’t afford.

Another evasion: Wallace asked, what is the difference between a voucher and premium support? McConnell: “Ryan says they’re different.” Oh, okay.

So the bottom line from the Senate Republican leader is this: The Tea-GOP won’t let Congress raise the debt limit unless we impose hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts, but they oppose trying to reduce Medicare costs via maintaining benefits and instead asking what works and what doesn’t. Instead, they’re pushing a de facto rationing scheme using increasingly insufficient premium vouchers that put the blame on Granny, and not on the Tea-GOP, when she’s forced to forego care she can’t afford. But don’t worry; we can always sell condo lots in Yosemite.

Thanks, Mitch, for clearing that up.

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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