Understandably, Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is more focused on running for vice-president than he is on seeking re-election to his southern Wisconsin House seat.
But his House opponent, Democrat Rob Zerban, continues to run hard against him.
The former Kenosha County supervisor used his first TV ad, released Oct. 4, 2012, to attack Ryan. He repeats one of the most common -- and debunked -- claims of the past year.
"Paul Ryan -- his controversial budget for America has been called dangerous, cruel and deeply wrong," a narrator says of the House Budget Committee chairman as the ad begins.
"The Ryan plan ends Medicare."
No maybes. No qualifiers. Just a straight declaration.
As the claim is uttered by the narrator, the words "End Medicare" (in quotation marks) appear on the screen, along with a citation to a June 2011 opinion article in The New York Times.
Paul Krugman, who writes The Conscience of a Liberal column, had written that "Republicans are trying to end Medicare. The program we now call Medicare is one in which the government acts as your insurer, paying your major medical bills; coverage is guaranteed to all seniors. The program Republicans want gives you vouchers and tells you to go buy your own insurance, if you can. That’s not at all the same thing."
It’s important to underline the fact that Zerban’s ad cites an opinion column. We asked Zerban if he had other evidence.
Campaign spokesman Karthik Ganapathy sent us a statement citing news articles that say Ryan’s plan would effectively end Medicare; end Medicare as we know it; or reform Medicare into a voucher system relying on private insurers.
The statement also quoted the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington, D.C. think tank, as saying Ryan’s plan would raise Medicare recipients’ premiums and "lead more of Medicare’s healthier enrollees to abandon it for private plans, very possibly setting off a spiral of rising premium costs and falling enrollment for traditional Medicare. Over time, traditional Medicare would become less financially viable and could unravel."
So, Zerban cites news accounts and a think tank report on how Ryan would change Medicare -- substantially, to be sure -- but not end it.
And then Zerban wavered on his claim.
The statement his campaign sent us quotes Zerban as saying: "We don’t say anything we don’t mean -- Paul Ryan’s budget ends Medicare."
But then Ganapathy e-mailed us to say he wanted to emphasize the ad’s reference to the Times opinion article: "We are citing other folks who claim the Ryan plan will end Medicare, not coming up with a new accusation ourselves."
Zerban is hardly the first to claim Ryan’s plan ends Medicare. But, no bones about it, he clearly made that allegation.
So what would Ryan’s plan do?
In December 2011, more than nine months before Zerban’s TV ad, PolitiFact National rated as its Lie of the Year for 2011 the oft-repeated Democratic line that Republicans voted "to end Medicare" by voting for Ryan’s plan.
(FactCheck.org has also knocked down the ends-Medicare claims.)
PolitiFact National noted that the allegation ignores the fact that people 55 and older would remain on traditional Medicare and that, even with the privatized system under Ryan's bill, younger people would still receive a guarantee of care. Moreover, around the time the top lie was chosen, Ryan announced he was altering his plan and would retain an option for people to stay in traditional Medicare if they want.
In other words, Medicare doesn’t end.
Which isn’t to say there wouldn’t be major changes.
PolitiFact National rated as Mostly True a charge by President Barack Obama that Mitt Romney and Ryan want to turn Medicare into a voucher program.
In that item, our colleagues noted that under Ryan’s original plan, Medicare would have changed from a program that pays doctors and hospitals fees for particular services to one in which beneficiaries would be paid an amount by the government that they could use toward private insurance premiums. This would have affected people who today are under 55 only. But Ryan later proposed allowing beneficiaries under 55 a choice -- they could use their payment to buy private insurance or for a plan that acts like traditional Medicare.
So, Medicare would remain the same for people 55 and over and it would remain an option for those who are younger.
Long after the claim had been debunked, Zerban flatly stated that Ryan’s budget plan "ends Medicare."
People 55 and older would remain on traditional Medicare, while those who today are under 55 could use a voucher they would receive to buy either a private insurance plan or a plan that acts like traditional Medicare.
We rate Zerban’s statement Pants on Fire.