Another snippet from my way-too-long fact-check in the House of Representatives race in the north country.
Mr. Doheny's position on the Ryan and Medicare budget is frequently cited in Democratic ads and news releases.
What, exactly, is his position?
He would have voted against it, because it wouldn't have balanced the budget quickly enough. In the parlance of the Owens campaign, that translates to: “Matt Doheny is the one who wants to cut Medicare. Matt Doheny said the Ryan budget that essentially ends Medicare didn't go far enough.”
That was from a commercial that started airing in the Watertown market in mid-September.
But Mr. Doheny hasn't said that he wants to “cut Medicare.” In fact, he hasn't said anything about Medicare as of Sept. 17, other than to say that the program should remain unchanged for current beneficiaries or those approaching retirement age. The Owens campaign is engaging in a bit of mind-reading on Mr. Doheny's positions.
Asked whether he would cut Medicare, Mr. Doheny said the campaign would address specifics on the program at a later date. Fact-checkers have also pilloried the claim that the Ryan budget “essentially ends Medicare.” Similar claims were named the “Lie of the Year” by PolitiFact.com. The "essentially" qualifier might — repeat, might — save the Owens campaign from Politifact's wrath.
The Ryan budget would maintain Medicare for anyone current receiving benefits, and wouldn't change it for anyone over the age of 55. It would provide federal subsidies for future seniors to buy private insurance on a regulated market in the future.
But again, it's important to note that in the year that he's been actively campaigning, Mr. Doheny hasn't taken a position on the matter.
And on his opposition to the Ryan budget, he also doesn't specify how much faster he'd like it to close the budget gap. The Ryan plan could take as long as 50 years, according to Mr. Doheny.
The broader question here isn't factual. It's actuarial. Can one support cutting taxes, not changing Social Security for retirees and those approaching retirement age, not changing Medicare for those who are over 55, and also more limited cuts to the military than the $500 billion that are currently on the table, while also advocating for a budget that eliminates the deficit more quickly than the Ryan budget?
Mr. Doheny said it's possible, because tax cuts could spur the economy. He also said that he's not averse to military cuts per se, but won't put a number on it.
“Things would be different if we had unemployment at 6 percent, wage growth, people are investing, people are growing,” Mr. Doheny said.
But it strikes some liberals as difficult to accomplish.
“That sounds to me like something that's impossible, particularly since a lot of that spending, if you are going to cut spending, is in places like Medicare,” said Mr. Volsky, of the Center for American Progress. “So if you're not touching Medicare for 10 years, not touching Social Security, not making that up with revenue, that's hard to do. We heard that during the Bush years, these magical pro-growth policies that are going to make our economy grow. That's certainly not what happened.”
The Heritage Foundation, meanwhile, has put together a budget that would close the deficit within 10 years, much more quickly than the Ryan plan. But it also cuts Social Security and Medicare for those who are older than 55, which Mr. Doheny said he wouldn't support.
“I think this really illustrates the fact that there are some really really difficult choices to make,” said Alison A. Fraser, the Heritage Foundation's director of economic policy study.