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Medicare has long been considered one of the third-rail issues of politics.
Touch it, and the chances of recovery are slim. So it should be no surprise that political rivals depict their opponents as being on the wrong side of a high-voltage issue like Medicare funding.
MoveOn.org, a political organizing group that endorsed Democrat Russ Feingold in May, put it bluntly June 11, 2015 in a Facebook post about U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the man Feingold hopes to unseat in 2016:
"Senator Johnson just voted to cut $700m from Medicare."
Below the headline, the post indicated the cuts were part of a vote on legislation to give President Barack Obama additional latitude to negotiate trade deals.
Let's start at the beginning.
Medicare and international trade?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which aims to open trade between the United States and several countries, including Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Canada and Mexico, would leave some American workers unemployed as a result of the increased competition from abroad.
To compensate for that, a second bill would temporarily reinstate a program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, to help retrain and provide temporary benefits to those who become unemployed because of the trade measure.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost $2.7 billion between 2015 and 2025. The cost of the program would be offset with user fees, cuts to tax credits, changing where Medicare recipients get some kidney treatments and a $700 million reduction to Medicare’s budget a decade from now, in 2025.
For his part, Johnson argues it is not a cut at all.
"The senator feels MoveOn’s statement is patently false," his communications director Melinda Schnell wrote in an email.
A closer look
With a budget of $505 billion in Fiscal Year 2014, Medicare is the federal government’s second-largest program, behind only Social Security.
Between 2016 and 2025, the federal government is expected to spend a total of $7.3 trillion on Medicare.
And the program is expected to grow -- even when the $700 million reduction is factored in.
In 2025, when the $700 million budget reduction would go into effect, the federal government is expected to spend $981 billion on Medicare.
Johnson's campaign points to a budget projection from the Congressional Budget Office that estimates what the federal government spends on Medicare will grow by 13.3 percent, or $115 billion, between 2024 and 2025.
Even with a $700 million reduction, spending on the program will grow by about $114 billion, or 13.2 percent between 2024 and 2025. In other words, spending will increase, just by a smaller amount.
The shoe was on the other foot in 2014, when Republicans argued that Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- voted for a $700 billion cut to Medicare.
PolitiFact National checked numerous variations of that statement, rating them Half True of Mostly False, depending on how they were worded.
The Affordable Care Act reduced the expansion of Medicare by $700 billion over 10 years, while still allowing Medicare to grow. It just grew at a slower rate than it would have without the law.
That's essentially what is happening here.
The twist (and a primary source of complaint): In the new scenario, the Medicare money would go toward something not related to health care.
Moveon.org criticized Johnson, saying he voted to cut $700 million from Medicare.
But the $700 million budget reduction would not go into effect until 2025 and to say Medicare is being cut when it is still expected to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars is misleading at best.
Our definition of Mostly False is "The statement contain some element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression." That fits here.
Moveon.org Facebook post, "Senator Johnson just voted to cut $700m from Medicare," June 11, 2015
Office of the United States Trade Representative, "Overview of the Trans-Pacific Partnership"
Dierdre Walsh, "House sends key trade bill to Obama," CNN Politics, June 25, 2015
"Budget Explainer: Medicare," Peter G. Peterson Foundation, April 10, 2014
"Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate," Congressional Budget Office, May 4, 2015
"H.R. 1314 - Trade Act of 2015" Congress.gov
"U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 114th Congress - 1st Session," Senate.gov
"Updated Budget Projections: 2015 to 2025," Congressional Budget Office, March 2015
Louis Jacobson, "GOP ad says Bruce Braley 'voted to cut $700 billion from Medicare to support Obamacare,'" PolitiFact Wisconsin, Sept. 9, 2014
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