Politifact calls Democratic talking point on Medicare the ‘lie of the year’

Chris Moody

Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize winning project of the St. Petersburg Times, has labeled the Democrats' charge that the Medicare provisions in the budget plan passed by House Republicans "ends Medicare" as the 2011 "lie of the year."

PolitiFact debunked the Medicare charge in nine separate fact-checks rated False or Pants on Fire, most often in attacks leveled against Republican House members.

Now, PolitiFact has chosen the Democrats' claim as the 2011 Lie of the Year.


A complicated and wonky subject with life-or-death consequences, health care is fertile ground for falsehoods. The Democratic attack about "ending Medicare" was a pervasive line in 2011 that preyed on seniors' worries about whether they could afford health care.

Even when explained accurately, the Republicans' Medicare plan was not particularly popular with the public, nor with some independent health policy analysts. But the plan was distorted and attacked again and again.

All but four House Republicans voted for the plan proposed by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, which passed 235-189 in April despite unanimous Democratic opposition. The bill in part would offer subsidies for seniors to buy health insurance plans on a private market. Democrats responded by saying the plan, which failed in the Senate, would "end Medicare as we know it," a rallying cry the party planned to use during the 2012 House races. One liberal group, The Agenda Product, ran a television ad that showed a man who looks like Ryan pushing an elderly woman and her wheelchair off a cliff.

In the weeks leading up to the publication of the 2011 "Lie of the Year," Ryan urged supporters to write to the website to urge the editors to make the line this year's winner. "Help me fight the lies, falsehoods, and attacks of the Left by casting a vote to show the Democrat's lie that Republicans voted to 'end Medicare' is the worst political lie of 2011," a Dec. 7 letter from Ryan read; it included a link to the site where people could vote for their favorite "lie."

The vote on Ryan's budget plan is expected to play a significant role in the House races next year. Republicans will no doubt fire back to Democratic charges by citing the "Lie of the Year" article, just like Democrats did last year when the site gave the award to the Republican charge that the Affordable Care Act was a "takeover of health care." That's not to say that Politifact stopped Republicans from using the "government takeover" line--many continued to use it--just as Democrats will probably continue to say their opponents want to "end Medicare" next year.

Liberals and Democrats assailed the site's decision. Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, stood by the claim that the Ryan plan "ends Medicare."

"Politifact doesn't have its facts straight on the Republican plan to end Medicare," Ferguson said. "As Noble Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said today, the House Republican scheme ends Medicare and leaves seniors with a voucher and no guarantee they can afford health care costs that would double."

Economist and liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went even further,  saying the choice made Politifact "useless and irrelevant."

"This is really awful," Krugman wrote in a post titled, "Politifact R.IP." "How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the 'Lie of the year'?"

"Way to go guys," Krugman said.

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