WH Rebuts Biden Medicare Gibe With His Own Words

WH Rebuts Biden Medicare Gibe With His Own Words
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
WH Rebuts Biden Medicare Gibe With His Own Words
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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"Well this is awkward,” the text message read. “Maybe he didn’t read his own budgets?”

That comment sent to RealClearPolitics came courtesy of a White House aide. And the occasion for the schadenfreude were remarks made by Joe Biden criticizing the new White House budget proposal for 2020.

"I was going to stay away from this, but I can't," the former vice president told an appreciative crowd gathered Tuesday for a conference of the International Association of Firefighters in Washington, D.C. “Did you see the budget that was introduced? It cuts $845 billion -- almost a trillion-dollar cut in Medicare.”

The only potential problem? The reductions Biden took a dim view of are not so different from ones he once promoted.

“These are similar reforms that were in Obama-Biden budgets,” the aide argued. The Medicare spending cuts, mostly to health care providers and pharmaceutical companies, are meant “to reduce payments based on location of services or lower costs of prescription drugs.”

The Biden attack comes after the White House released its Fiscal Year 2020 budget on Monday, and could complicate his presidential ambitions. As the elder statesman of his party, the former longtime senator has become the de-facto frontrunner in the Democratic primary even though he has yet to announce his intentions. And as Barack Obama’s vice president, he has to defend his time in the last Democratic administration.

This will mean revisiting contentious issues regarding Medicare, particularly in light of the 2012 vice-presidential debate. That’s when Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, hammered Biden over Medicare cuts.

“Look at what Obamacare does. Obamacare takes $716 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare,” Ryan said. “Even their own chief actuary at Medicare backs this up. He says you can't spend the same dollar twice. You can't claim that this money goes to Medicare and Obamacare.”

Biden, seated across the table, had a ready response: The Obama administration was not cutting Medicare (something that the Trump administration also currently claims); it was simply reducing payments to health care providers.

“What we did is we saved $716 billion and put it back — applied it to Medicare. We cut the cost of Medicare. We stopped overpaying insurance companies when doctors and hospitals -- [and] the AMA supported what we did,” Biden explained before adding that AARP also backed the decision.

“They want to wipe this all out,” he concluded.

That answer isn’t so different from the one delivered Monday by the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought. Asked how Trump could say he was honoring his promise to preserve the perennially popular program if the White House reduced spending, Vought responded that the administration wasn’t cutting anything.

“He's not cutting Medicare in this budget.  What we are doing is putting forward reforms that lower drug prices, that because Medicare pays a very large share of drug prices in this country, it has the impact of finding savings.  We're also finding waste, fraud, and abuse,” Vought said.

“Medicare spending will go up every single year by healthy margins, and there are no structural changes for Medicare beneficiaries,” he concluded.

The similarity between the current and previous administration on this issue did not go unnoticed. Before Vought even spoke, an Axios analysis noted, “Trump's budget proposal includes Obama-era health care plans.”

Obama embraced Medicare policies to reduce prescription drug costs and stop hospitals from over-charging the federal government for services. At the time, Trump was still a real-estate mogul with a reality television show.

The Biden remarks, and the White House rebuttal, could preview a much larger fight should the former vice president eventually square off with the current occupant of the Oval Office.

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