If both sides of America's political divide can agree on anything, it is that this presidential election offers voters two distinct choices on which direction to lead the nation. Yet the dispiriting campaigns so far have been more about who can spend the most to tell the biggest lies and get away with it. The shift in emphasis from the economy to Medicare has produced more distortions instead of clarity, and voters deserve better from President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Here's a good place to start: Obama should stop suggesting Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, would create Medicare Armageddon, with millions of grandmothers thrown into the street. A new Obama radio ad on Monday featured an elderly male voice complaining Romney would "end Medicare and replace it with a voucher.'' That's not true. Ryan's plan embraced by House Republicans would give Medicare recipients a voucher that they could use to buy private coverage, and the Congressional Budget Office found one version of that plan would require seniors to pay an average of $6,400 more by 2022. That's bad public policy, but Ryan would allow those 55 years old and older now to keep traditional Medicare. Everyone under 55 could choose between traditional Medicare and a private plan.
For his part, Romney needs to quit claiming Obama wants to eliminate work requirements for welfare recipients. That is simply not true, yet the campaign ad keeps airing in Tampa Bay and elsewhere. He also ought to quit criticizing Obama for slowing the growth of Medicare spending by $716 billion over the next decade when the Ryan budget passed by the House does the same thing. Romney says he would not embrace that approach, but that would only make Medicare's financial challenges worse.
At a campaign stop Saturday at the Villages, Ryan also was less than truthful in his broad criticisms. He claimed Obama "raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obamacare program.'' The Medicare savings are in the Affordable Care Act, but there is no raid. And that money is tied to cutting Medicare payments to insurers, promoting efficiencies and paying for quality care rather than the number of procedures. It has nothing to do with the other controversial parts of the law, including covering millions of Americans with subsidized private insurance or Medicaid.
Ryan also repeated the tired attacks on "unelected unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.'' At least he didn't talk about death panels. But the truth is that the Independent Payment Advisory Board will be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The advisory board is charged with recommending to Congress ways to slow increases in health care spending — but not in ways that ration health care or cut benefits. Ryan knows as well as anyone that it is important to get the specifics right.
Despite their incestuous relationships with third-party groups, Obama and Romney can't stop the mudslinging by the super PACs. It's probably wishful thinking, but the candidates could lead by example. They can stop airing their own inaccurate television ads, and they can be more precise in their campaign speeches. With any luck, the presidential debates in the fall should force both candidates to stick closer to the facts.
The presidential election is less than 80 days away. Voters are already turned off by the negative advertising, and they deserve a campaign that accurately contrasts the two choices and does not insult their intelligence.