I thought the recent Politifact on school choice was bad. The fact checkers concluded that, even though the only evidence that exists shows that participation in the choice program improves student learning, Mary Burke's statement that there was "no evidence" to that effect was "mostly true."
We can argue about whether the evidence of improvement is robust or whether the improvement that was found is "enough," but to say that there is "no evidence" is wrong.
One of last week's Politifacts tests the Paul Ryan's claim that Medicare is going broke and that its trust fund will run out in nine years.
The verdict: Mostly false.
The truth: He's right.
Let me explain. Of course, Ryan was not saying that the trust fund would file for bankruptcy protection. It could not so so. He's using the term in its general rather legal term.
A common definition of bankruptcy equates it with insolvency, i.e., a person is "bankrupt" when he or she will be unable to pay his or her debts as they come due. Note that this does not mean that a "bankrupt' person is "penniless" or unable to pay some of her debts.
Medicare is an entitlement program. Congress doesn't appropriate a limited amount for it to spend; it mandates that certain benefits be paid out. Thus, Medicare is obligated to provide specified benefits to eligible persons - no matter what the aggregate cost.
It is undisputed that, under current projections, the amount of revenue currently generated by Medicare taxes and premiums and held in trust for the program (actually nothing is really held in trust but that's another matter) will eventually be insufficient to meet the current legal obligations - the "debts" if you will - of Medicare in 2026.
In other words, Medicare will be unable to pay its bills as they come due. It will be "insolvent." It will, by a common dictionary definition, be bankrupt.
So how does Politifact get around this?
The first move is to say that current law provides for automatic transfers from general - non-Medicare - revenue to cover the program's part B obligations. I still think it's fair to say that Medicare Part B itself will become bankrupt and therefore will need a bailout. That the bailout is already written into the law is certainly a pertinent fact, but it does not change that.
But even that argument does not work for Medicare Part A. There is no automatic bailout there, so what does Politifact say?
First, it points out that - at least initially - Medicare will still be able to pay most of its bills. (As time goes on, the percentage that it will be able to cover will become less and less). But that doesn't mean that the program is not insolvent and, in common parlance, bankrupt. The YMCA just went into bankruptcy. It could pay most of its bills.
Second, it argues that Congress will certainly do something - either reduce coverage or increase taxes - so the program will continue. As a matter of political prediction, this is probably so. (As someone who will be eligible for Medicare in 2026, I certainly hope it is.)
But to say that someone or something that is going bankrupt - becoming insolvent - is likely to be bailed out either by an infusion of revenue or a reduction in obligations does not change the fact that that they are going bankrupt and will require such an intervention. Indeed, the whole point of Ryan's comment was to illustrate that just such an intervention is required, i.e., that something must be done.
Politifact is wrong, in any event, to assume that Congress will "certainly" reduce spending. In fact, Ryan proposed that. He got accused of wanting to roll Grandma off the cliff. Remember, guys?
At worst, Ryan has made a true statement that should be tempered by the recognition that we can fix the problem. It is, of course, silly to criticize him for that since he's been banging on about "fixing" the problem for his entire career. In other words, he has repeatedly recognized both the problem and the need for a fix.
Politifact Wisconsin takes cover in the fact that two other fact checkers have engaged in the same manuevers. In general, I have thought that the local Politifact writers have been better than the national crowd although it is incompletely inconsistent in its use of the silly Truth-O-Meter emoticon.
But this one is itself a whopper.