If you wanted to know why CBS’s Face the Nation has become a completely useless — no, damaging — interview program, all you had to do was watch Harry Smith of CBS interview Eric Cantor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I don’t have the transcript, but the sequence of the twin interviews went something like this:
1. First, Eric Cantor lied about Medicare.
2. Harry either believed the lies or didn’t know enough to challenge the lies.
3. Harry asked Wasserman-Schultz to respond to Cantor’s assertion, in a tone indicating he believed the lie.
4. Debbie didn’t know how to answer the lie or couldn’t because she’s compromised by having to cover the Obama Administration’s position.
5. No one was invited who could sort out this mess.
There were other topics covered, but that’s the pattern.
The lie surrounds whether the Democrats have a plan to fix Medicare. That’s become the Tea-GOP talking point, a way to divert attention from their politically disastrous vote to dismantle Medicare. But first we have to note that the premise of the exchange is just wrong.
Medicare is not in trouble because seniors get too much health care, though that was Cantor’s unchallenged starting point. Rather, the national economy faces an economy-wide cost problem because private health care providers and drug makers are paid far more in the United States than they are in all other advanced countries, all of whom provide at least equal or better care than we get here.
So the entire exchange was off base. As Dean Baker often reminds us, if we paid our providers what other nations do to get equal or better results and universal coverage that we don’t have, we would not have a long-term debt problem.
So the problem isn’t caused by Medicare; its budget impact is just the symptom of a national problem in health care provision, compensation and delivery. Or to put it another way, if we eliminated Medicare tomorrow, and let everyone pay private providers without government insurance, the country would still face the same long-run health care fiscal crisis, because private health provider costs are escalating much faster than our GDP, let alone stagnant or declining working-middle-class incomes. It’s the cost of the private health care provider system that is pushing us towards “broke,” not Medicare per se.
Those essential, relevant facts never entered today’s interviews. Instead, Eric Cantor simply lied about the “Medicare problem” and lied again saying the Obama Administration had “no plan” on how to deal with that.
Even in Cantor’s misleading framework, Harry should have reminded Cantor that the whole reason Obama’s budget director was closely involved in the health care discussions leading to the Affordable Care Act was to get as many of the Administration’s preferred cost-cutting measures into the ACA as he could. That includes the independent advisory board, whose job it will be to examine which treatments are the most cost-effective and encourage providers to use them instead of more costly treatments whose outcomes are no better or worse. And there are many other measures in the ACA all designed to reduce Medicare costs by reducing subsidies to private Medicare Advantage insurers, reforming the payment structure and reducing the payments we make to drug makers, care providers and medical device vendors.
Of course, Eric Cantor and the entire Tea-GOP not only voted against these measures; they demonized the advisory boards as “death panels” and more. CBS’s Harry couldn’t remember any of that, so Cantor’s lies were home free.
Then it was Debbie’s turn to unenlighten us. To Harry’s question, “why don’t Democrats have a plan,” she did not say, “there is a plan, and it’s in the ACA that Cantor and Republicans voted against.” Instead, she mumbled, stumbled and fell back on her talking points.
But even if she’d given at least the stock “it’s in the ACA” answer, it’s highly doubtful Harry would have thought to ask, “but why did Democrats exempt important items from the advisory boards, and delay their implementation? Isn’t the problem private provider and drug costs? And if so, why didn’t the Democrats’ bill go after the drugsters? Impose drug negotiations? Repeal anti-trust exemptions? Tighter controls on hospital charges? Do you think it was a mistake for the White House to cut separate deals with PhRMA and the hospitals and to secretly kill the public option even though the CBO said that would lower costs? And since Medicare is cheaper than Medicare Advantage and other private options, why did the Democrats allow Joe Lieberman to kill a Medicare buy-in for those under 65?”
Despite all the interest and questions/answers relating to Medicare, there was no one on that show who could enlighten us on what really matters. We had a GOP liar, an uninformed interviewer who may believe the lies, and a compromised Democrat who had to protect Obama’s deals rather than fight not only for the people who actually need Medicare but for a structure that benefits everyone else too.
And that failure illustrates everything that’s wrong with most of these talk shows, and especially Face the Nation. Fix it or shut it down.
More from Digby: NBC’s Meet the Press panel was just as bad.