Saturday, November 28, 2009

Grading PolitiFact: Ed Schultz and heathcare reform taxes

I wonder when PolitiFact will get serious about checking facts?

The issue:

"Ninety-eight percent of the American people will not see their taxes go up" due to the House health care bill.
Ed Schultz on Friday, November 20th, 2009 in MSNBC's the 'Ed Show'

Schultz says health care bill will only tax top 2 percent

The fact checkers:

Louis Jacobson: writer, researcher
Greg Joyce: editor


Though I maintain the belief that PolitiFact staffers go about their business in good faith, Louis Jacobson's effort could pass for a decent attempt at deliberate deception. The problems start in the first paragraph:
Republicans have frequently criticized the Democrats' health care bills by saying that they will make Americans pay more. On Nov. 20, 2009, MSNBC host Ed Schultz fired back, arguing that "98 percent of the American people will not see their taxes go up because of this bill."
The opening chosen by Jacobson immediately distances this project from fact checking. If Schultz was responding to the notion that Americans will pay more, then he was unforgivably deceptive by answering in terms of taxation. Fortunately for Schultz, Jacobson mostly created that impression out of whole cloth. Schultz's program had a Republican guest, Sen. John Barrasso (R, Wyo.), and the topic was the Sen. Harry Reid's version of the health care reform bill. Barrasso said the bill reduced the deficit through taxation rather than savings.

So, in context, Schultz as not "firing back" (great objective reporting, there, Jacobson!) at the claim that Americans would pay more, unless we slip the word "taxes" in there at the end.

Next paragraph from Jacobson:
On the show, Schultz didn't specify whether he was referring to the House or Senate health care reform bill. However, a spokeswoman contacted by PolitiFact said he was referring to the House bill, so we will judge him on that basis here.
How ridiculous. The entire segment was focused on the Reid version of the bill, including references to Sen. Reid, the CBO estimate of the costs and deficit reductions of the Senate bill, and to particulars included in the Senate bill such as limiting premium costs to 9.8 percent of income for up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

So, instead of figuring out from the context that the Senate bill was the topic, Jacobson asked Schultz's people and was told that Schultz referred to the House bill. If Schultz referred to the House bill then he was a perfect weasel.

Schultz's comments with some context (bold emphasis added):
SCHULTZ: They‘re going to raise taxes not on the middle class. They‘re going to raise taxes on - on the people that are making over $250,000 a year, and that‘s going to be a Medicare increase of a half a percent. A half a percent. It‘s going to take it to 1.95 percent, and you‘re squawking about that. OK.

BARRASSO: They‘re still cutting $500 billion from services for people on Medicare to start a whole new government program.

SCHULTZ: That‘s not what Senator Reid said last night. He said it strengthens Medicare. He says it strengthens Medicare and expands Medicaid, right?

BARRASSO: Well, expanding Medicaid, of course, as you know, is an unfunded mandate on the states which is why Democrat and Republican governors alike call it the mother of all unfunded mandates.

If you get people off of the federal part of it and then make the states pay for that money, it‘s a way to lower the cost to - to Washington, but I‘ll tell you, in terms of taxpayers across the states, it‘s going to still cost more and taxes are going to go up.

SCHULTZ: Premiums - premiums are going to go up between now and 2013. There‘s nothing reeling in the insurance companies there. There‘s nothing for small business between now and 2013 from what I can see. And they‘re getting 40 million new customers, which is a pretty good deal. Ninety-eight percent of the American people will not see their taxes go up because of this bill.

Jacobson conducts what I see as a worthless fact check of Schultz's claim as though it referred to the House bill. Jacobson and PolitiFact did find Schultz "Barely True" based on the House bill, but even that was probably generous. If Schultz did change the topic to the House version of the bill midstream then he deserves a "False" rating. And if he was talking about the Senate version then he's probably in deeper trouble. First, because his staffers would have falsely reported that he was talking about the House bill. Second, because the Senate bill taxes more heavily than the House bill:
  1. 40% excise tax on health coverage in excess of $8,500 (individuals) / $23,000 (families). Amounts are indexed for inflation by CPI-U + 1% – begins in 2013 – $149 B tax increase
  2. Additional 0.5% Medicare (Hospital Insurance) tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers) – begins in 2013 – $54 B tax increase
  3. Impose annual fee on manufacturers and importers of branded drugs – begins in 2009 – $22 B tax increase
  4. Impose annual fee on manufacturers and importers of certain medical devices – begins in 2009 – $19 B tax increase
  5. Impose annual fee on manufacturers and importers of health insurance plans – begins in 2009 – $60 B tax increase
  6. Cut in half (to $500K) the amount of an executive’s compensation that a health plan can deduct from its corporate income taxes – begins in 2013 – $600 million tax increase
  7. Impose 5% excise tax on cosmetic surgery and similar procedures – begins for surgery in 2010 – $6 B tax increase!

In total the bill would raise taxes by $370 B over ten years.

(Keith Hennessey, sourced in turn from the Joint Tax Committee)

Smile, Mr. Schultz. Jacobson and his editor gave you a gift with that "Barely True" rating.

The grades:

Louis Jacobson: F
Greg Joyce: F

If it had been within the ballpark of reason to accept the notion that Schultz was talking about the House version of the bill without changing the subject on his guest, then both PolitiFact staffers might have earned passing grades.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please remain on topic and keep coarse language to an absolute minimum. Comments in a language other than English will be assumed off topic.