Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Scary Thing About Ruth Marcus...

...is that she's really one of the better regular columnists on the WaPo op-ed page. I'd put her on the borderline dividing the best one-third from the worst two-thirds.

That doesn't say much for the WaPo op-ed page.

Take this morning's column, "Whose Health Plan?.
The month before a presidential election isn't the best time for reasoned debate about complicated policy.
There's never a good time for the Post to cover policy in a serious way, is there? I remember asking at one of those WaPo online chats over the summer, just when they were going to get to the policy discussions. The gist of the answer was 'not yet - the voters aren't paying attention yet.' So now that the campaign's in full swing, that's a bad time too.

What'll probably happen - I say this because I've seen this happen in numerous previous election cycles - is that they'll have one Huge Policy Piece about each candidate, that will run for pages and pages. It'll be a big, indigestible lump that few people will have the time to read over their morning coffee, but they'll be able to say, 'see - we covered policy,' then rush back to the safety of the horse race.

But back to Marcus.
Overall, Barack Obama's health-care plan is preferable to John McCain's. Obama's approach -- which would require employers to provide insurance or pay into a fund, subsidize those unable to afford coverage on their own and set up new purchasing pools -- would cover more people and would help those who have the hardest time obtaining insurance.
At least she says that. Because the rest of the column is all about defending McCain's health plan. By the end, you'll barely remember that she thought Obama's was better.

But McCain's plan is not the ill-intentioned monstrosity of Obama's ominous portrayal. In important ways, it would be an improvement over current law, making a health insurance system that is now tilted in favor of the rich significantly more progressive.

The central aspect of McCain's approach is to eliminate the existing tax preference for employer-sponsored health care. Under the current system, employees don't pay tax on the value of the health insurance they receive from employers, even though most individuals buying insurance on their own don't get that break and have to purchase insurance with after-tax dollars.

That was yesterday. (Actually, the day before. Jeez, Ruth, can't you keep up?) Currently, the McCain campaign's going to cut Medicare and Medicaid by $130B/year to pay for the $5000-per-family tax credit. (They say they'll only cut waste, fraud, and abuse. Ain't no way - Medicare has a 1% overhead.)

Fortunately, Ezra wrote a post today demolishing Marcus' column. The economics of health care is his area of expertise, so and it damned sure isn't mine, so I'm happy to outsource this to him.

One thing Ezra points out at some length is Marcus' (and McCain's too, by the way) complete and total misrepresentation of Obama advisor Jason Furman's tax credit proposal. McCain and Marcus would both have you believe that Furman's plan and McCain plan are quite similar, but Ezra makes it clear that the only resemblance is that both involve a tax credit.

It's one thing for a typical politician (can we assume that McCain's 'straight-talking maverick' cred has already dissipated?) to misrepresent his own policy proposals to his advantage. But the only thing I can think of is that Marcus essentially took McCain's website at its word, and didn't bother with fact-checking.

Ruth, this is your day job. And it's really not a tough one. Could you at least try to do it right?


Aaron said...

Compare this to Marcus' column - it's like she cribbed McCain's website and added a few minor observations about his omissions.

low-tech cyclist said...

Good catch, Aaron!

And I love the tax table there: it's a supposedly revenue-neutral proposal, but somehow, everybody in every tax bracket comes out ahead. It's magic!