The Follies (of the distorted debate and a lie from Phil Berger)

The Follies (of the distorted debate and a lie from Phil Berger)

- in Fitzsimon File

Politicians stretching, distorting, and misrepresenting the facts to support their ideology is hardly a new phenomenon.

It has been happening for years, though it certainly seems to be on the rise lately. This week’s legislative debates about unemployment insurance and Medicaid expansion are compelling examples.

Supporters of the proposal to slash worker benefits to repay the state’s unemployment debt to the federal government keep saying the package is balanced and requires both workers and employers to sacrifice.

Putting aside the troubling assumption that we should demand sacrifices from people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, the assertion that the package is balanced is simply not true.

Seventy-five percent of the debt is repaid through benefit cuts for laid off workers. And some of the higher taxes that business must pay under the proposal will expire when the debt is repaid while the reductions in benefits will be permanent.

Some business will actually pay lower taxes in the long run under the plan, not to mention the fact that the debt was created largely because of a series of unemployment tax cuts for businesses in the last 20 years.

Maybe there are reasons folks can find to support this draconian rewrite of state unemployment law—though it’s hard to think of any—but defending it as balanced is simply absurd, and the politicians trotting out that falsehood surely know it. But it hasn’t stopped them from repeating the claim again and again.

Then there’s the debate over legislation that would forbid North Carolina from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and providing health care coverage for more 500,000 low income people in the state with the federal government picking up the full cost of the expansion for three years and 90 percent after that.

The expansion would bring in $15 billion dollars for hospitals in the state, many of them struggling to pay for care for the uninsured, the very people who would have access to coverage under the Medicaid expansion.

It’s no secret that many Republicans and the right-wing think tanks that support them are viscerally opposed to having anything to do with the Affordable Care Act and can’t admit to themselves that is the law of the land and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court that has a conservative majority.

That bitterness leads many lawmakers to vote against the health care law any time they can, never mind the people it would help and is already helping or the hospitals it will save.

The law is increasingly popular and the ideologues know it, so they have gone into overdrive with their distortions, claiming it’s a “job-killer” when studies show it will create 23,000 jobs in the state. The proclaim that it will “bust the state’s budget” when in reality it will save the state money in the long run, roughly $63 million in the next ten years according to the widely respected Institute of Medicine.

And they claim it will force thousands of medical providers to leave their profession, though they offer no evidence to support the assertion. Dozens of doctors who support Medicaid expansion were sitting in the Senate gallery Monday night watching the debate.

There’s plenty more misinformation offered as fact during the health care debate and in some cases there’s a kernel of truth somewhere buried deep in the distortion or maybe a faux study to support to a faulty claim.

It’s still irresponsible to repeat the misleading statements and politicians ought to have more integrity than to rely on distortions of reality to support their view.

But it all pales in comparison to the offensive fear tactics currently being used by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger in his opposition to Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act as a whole.

Berger’s office is now circulating a petition in support of the legislation blocking Medicaid expansion and the ability of North Carolina to set up its health exchange under the federal law.

As the News & Observer reported Friday, the petition says lawmakers need to pass the legislation to protect us from three things, the first being “the government turning over our health records to the IRS.”

The only thing that the IRS has to do with the Affordable Care Act is to make sure people have coverage that the law requires. Folks who don’t obtain coverage must pay a tax penalty and the law provides a subsidy for people who can’t fully afford an insurance policy on their own and of course it expands Medicaid to cover people with low incomes.

To suggest that the “government” will be turning over health records of illnesses and operations and medications to the IRS would be shockingly irresponsible coming from a right-wing tea party group. Coming from an elected official, the man who runs the state Senate, it’s simply astonishing and Berger ought to be ashamed of himself and apologize immediately for trying to scare people into agreeing with him.

Then he ought to recall his pathetic petition before he disgraces himself and the Senate he leads any further.

There are distortions and then there are offensive lies. The latter that is what Berger is spreading.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.