David Brooks partly correct, greatly wrong

David Brooks notes that Paul Ryan’s biggest mistake was voting no against the final report of the deficit commission in December 2010. As Brooks puts it:

To put it another way, Ryan was giving up significant debt progress for a political fantasy.

I agree that Rep. Ryan’s bravery is greatly overrated, and in this case when his vote and leadership could have brought the fiscal commission to an up or down vote in Congress, he walked away. Brooks has it wrong on Ryan’s logic, however. He says

Ryan voted no for intellectually coherent reasons. He argued that the single biggest contributing factor to public debt is the unsustainable growth of Medicare. Yet the Simpson-Bowles plan did nothing to restructure Medicare, and it sidestepped health care issues generally.

The statement that the fiscal commission report had nothing to address Medicare is absurd. The commission chairman’s mark assumed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, took faster, more direct steps to limit the tax advantage of employer paid health insurance than the cadillac tax, had more aggressive cuts to Medicare than anyone has called for so far, called for a new physician payment system to end the SGR charade, mandated a move of dual eligibles to managed care, would have implemented the malpractice reforms that Republicans wanted, and called for a strengthened Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) by allowing it to focus on hospitals beginning in 2014. Here is a summary post I wrote in Spring 2011 on the health policy provisions of the deficit commission report with a link to the report itself.

You don’t have to like or agree with the ACA, but it does plenty to reform Medicare (see title III). And the deficit commission went even further by correctly saying that the ACA was the only horse we have to ride so lets ride it, and here are some more steps to go further. I generally like reading David Brooks and think he is typically thoughtful, but in this case a crucial part of his narrative is just not based in reality.

As an aside, it is interesting that 4 of the 5 House members voted no, while 4 of the 5 Senate members voted yes. While the Senate is generally noted to be the bastion of gridlock, if we ever do have some sort of grand bargain, it seems mostly likely to bubble out of the Senate.

cross posted at freeforall.

Author: Don Taylor

Don Taylor is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, where his teaching and research focuses on health policy, with a focus on Medicare generally, and on hospice and palliative care, specifically. He increasingly works at the intersection of health policy and the federal budget. Past research topics have included health workforce and the economics of smoking. He began blogging in June 2009 and wrote columns on health reform for the Raleigh, (N.C.) News and Observer. He blogged at The Incidental Economist from March 2011 to March 2012. He is the author of a book, Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority that will be published by Springer in May 2012.

13 thoughts on “David Brooks partly correct, greatly wrong”

  1. Great column. Of course it is hard to express just how greatly wrong Brooks is. He is wrong about Medicare provisions in the Simpson-Bowles proposal. He is also totally wrong about Ryan’s Medicare proposals. In his current proposal he claims that he will match, not surpass, the savings in the ACA. he also promises that he will give the elderly a voucher worth the cost of the second cheapest of a set of options including traditional Medicare. His proposal to cut Medicare spending is Medicare Advantage on steroids (because those who take the cheapest option get cash). It would increase Medicare spending. He also counts the savings from reining in Medicare Advantage while proposing a much more expensive version.

    Or maybe the GDP growt + 0.5% isn’t a forecast but a binding rule (he hasn’t said) so his promise to make current Medicare available is a lie.

    His plan is to promise that, in the future, private insurers will be much more efficient than the CMS even though they have always been less efficient in the past. It is a fantasy not a plan.

    Brooks is wrong twice — Simpson and Bowles had a Medicare reform plan and Paul Ryan doesn’t.

  2. By the way, I know this is totally totally old media and unhip, but have you sent the post to the NY Times as a letter to the editor (they might refuse it on the grounds that it is published already for all I know).

  3. When it comes to Ryan, David Brooks exemplifies the will to believe better than almost anything I can think of. And he’s just one. He has a whole legion of Tinkerbell cohorts, the people Krugman has been battering his head and keyboard against ever since Ryan’s budgets started getting attention. It really is something to behold.

  4. “I generally like reading David Brooks and think he is typically thoughtful, but in this case a crucial part of his narrative is just not based in reality.”

    Do you generally think that David Brooks is thoughtful in areas of your expertise, or do you think he’s thoughtful only outside your zone? If the latter, is it possible that you are being snowed? Just sayin’.

    1. He talks about lots of things I don’t think about so much (big picture culture stuff) in ways that I find interesting and he is a very good writer. On health policy, I think he has been a bit schizophrenic (early on getting that the Rs were only clear on what they are against) but now putting lots more credence now in a campaign proposal than a concrete law and forgetting that it takes 218, 60 and 1 to pass anything. I generally share his notion that there needs to be a political deal on health reform, but this column was a pretty big miss on the policy details of the Simpson-Bowles chairman’s mark.

  5. Brooks is not wrong. Brooks is a lying sack of shinola. Important difference.

    A person of integrity in Brooks’s position would be so busy correcting his many gross errors that he would not have time to make so many new ones. Brooks is not that person. He is another pathetic lickspittle servant to wealth, one who fully understands that while you’re judiciously analyzing his many lies, as your reality based community tends to do, he is busy creating an entirely different reality and selling it to millions through one of the great perches in society.

  6. Don,

    Not everyone undertand this kind of humor:

    “I generally like reading David Brooks and think he is typically thoughtful….”

    People might actually take you for the kind of soul-dead middlebrow who thinks this a badge of open-mindendness.

    I myself can think of no more perfect epitome of all that’s wrong with America than the staggering success of David Brooks — phony, coward, dolt, toady — yet Rich,Famous, Admired!

    Here’s perhaps the most damning thing I’ve ever seen on the man:


    — after giving a little lip service to Rheinhold Neibuhr, he immediately besmirches the man’s memory by flat out lying about his own villification of Iraq-war opponents. Very courageous, and “thoughtful” too!

  7. “I generally like reading David Brooks and think he is typically thoughtful, but in this case a crucial part of his narrative is just not based in reality.”


  8. Just to add to the pile-on, because it’s so well-deserved… are you really saying that from where you sit, David Brooks is not a deeply malevolent, profoundly duplicitous, pathetically transparent apologist for the neo-fascist right-wing movement known as the Republican Party circa 2012?

  9. For the most part, many liberals don’t watch Fox News or listen to Hannity, Limbaugh, etc. They’re view of the GOP is often limited to what they see on News Hour, and read in the NY Times. David Brooks is the “nice guy” the GOP uses in these cases to make the Republicans seem less crazy. The problem is, the GOP really is quite crazy. The only way Brooks can do his job is to just ignore reality and facts. There’s a lot of people running around with PBS tote bags who think that maybe the GOP has some reasonable ideas an that Paul Ryan is a serious thinker. Quite a lot of this is nearly entirely because of David Brooks. In some ways, he’s the most insidious person in all of American politics.

    Most people, when they think of monsters like Jim Jones or Charles Manson, think they’re bad because they had ideas that led to people’s deaths. But, what really made them frightening is not the ideas themselves, but that they were able to convince people that they were good and reasonable ideas!

    1. As if to illustrate your point, we have, from a Brooks demolition job in June, captioned “What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people’s faces as unfinished as their minds.”:

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