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Rove Vs. Brokaw, and Other Sunday Squabbles

Republican strategist Karl Rove and NBC’s "Meet the Press" guest host Tom Brokaw got into a tussle on that program Sunday over whether the Bush administration had planned to use oil money to partly fund the Iraq war. Rove also overstated opposition to Democratic health care legislation.

We’ll start with the health care claim. Rove, a former top adviser to President George W. Bush, said:

Rove, March 14: If you step back for a minute, it’s a pretty remarkable year that we’ve had, the, the concept of health care reform had a 2-to-1 advantage when the process begin a year ago. Today, if you ask over the last couple of weeks these questions and polls about do you approve of the bill President Obama and the Democrats are pushing, it is 60 percent disapprove, 38 percent approve. If you average all those poll questions again, that’s a pretty remarkable decline in support …

Rove is wrong about the average of recent polling. According to Pollster.com’s weighted average of recent polls, 48.8 percent oppose the Democrats’ health care plan and 44 percent favor it. Rove is correct in saying that health care "had a 2-to-1 advantage" last year, though many of those surveyed were also undecided. (A Harris online poll in January 2009 found 50 percent of respondents favored health care overhaul, 20 percent opposed it, and 29 percent were undecided.) Pollster.com’s graph shows that opposition grew over the past year but has dipped down in recent weeks.

Later in the interview, Rove took exception to Brokaw saying that the Bush administration had planned on using a share of oil revenues from Iraq to "help offset the cost of the war." The two argued back-and-forth over who was right:

Brokaw: Now, Mr. Rove, there was also sharp criticism, and justified from a lot of quarters, of the management of the war once you did go to war. The insurgency was more swiftly activated on the part of those Islamics who wanted to fight back. We were not greeted as liberators beyond the first couple of days. We didn’t have enough troops to provide internal security. The cost of the war skyrocketed almost from the beginning. There was not a sharing of the oil revenues that a lot of people had promised, including the, the vice president.
Rove: I–let me correct you. There–you put down a lot of things here. I’ll be happy to deal with them serially or together whichever you like. But, for example, on that one, the administration emphatically said that this was not about oil. And we thought right from the beginning…
Brokaw: No, no, no, not about oil, but it was about…
Rove: Let me finish.
Brokaw: …how it would–we would share oil revenue, and it would help offset the cost of the war.
Rove: No. No, no. Tom, with all due respect, that was not the policy of our government that we were going to go into Iraq and take their resource in order to, to, to pay for the costs of the war.
Brokaw: But it would be part of the consequence of getting the country stabilized.
Rove: No. Well, part of the consequence would be that, that Saddam Hussein, who used the oil market to manipulate prices and deny supplies to the West, would no longer be in a position to do that. But the suggestion that somehow or another the administration had as its policy, "We’re going to go into Iraq and take their resource and pay for the war" is not reality.
Brokaw: I, I didn’t say that. What I said was that there would be an oil-sharing and the revenue from that would help offset the cost of the war. And I didn’t say it was a principal factor, but it was part of the larger scheme.
Rove: No. With all due respect, we’re simply going to disagree on this.

So what did Bush administration officials say about Iraq’s oil money in 2003? Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense at the time, said this to Congress that March (the full quote is only available via Nexis):

Wolfowitz, March 2003: [T]he oil revenues of that country [Iraq] could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but that’s — we’re not dealing with Afghanistan that’s a permanent ward of the international community. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.

And then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters:

Rumsfeld, October 2003: The bulk of the funds for Iraq’s reconstruction will come from Iraqis — from oil revenues, recovered assets, international trade, direct foreign investment, as well as some contributions we’ve already received and hope to receive from the international community.

We can’t give a straight Rove-or-Brokaw ruling on this one. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other officials with the Bush administration said that Iraq’s oil revenues could be used for that country’s reconstruction. Some viewers may not consider reconstruction to be part of the United States’ war costs. Others may see paying for the clean-up as part of the cost of doing battle. We’ll leave it to our readers to decide.

More Sunday Spin

On ABC’s "This Week," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it was "complete spin" to claim that the Democrats’ health care plan was similar to Massachusetts’ health care overhaul.

Graham, March 14: Are you trying to tell me and the American people that Scott Brown got elected campaigning against a Washington bill that really is just like the Massachusetts bill?

The American people are getting tired of this crap. No way in the world is what they did in Massachusetts like what we’re about to do in Washington. We didn’t cut Medicare — they didn’t cut Medicare when they passed the bill in Massachusetts. They didn’t raise $500 billion on the American people when they passed the bill in Massachusetts.

To suggest that Scott Brown is basically campaigning against the bill in Washington that is like the one in Massachusetts is complete spin.

Certainly, in terms of scope and the amount of money needed, the state bill isn’t "just like" a piece of federal legislation. But both Democrats and Republicans have been drawing similarities between Massachusetts’ health care overhaul and the main elements of the Democrats’ federal bills. Both the state and federal legislation include an individual mandate requiring people to have insurance or pay a penalty; both have employer requirements (the House bill’s employer rules being stronger than the Senate’s); both provide subsidies to lower-income individuals; both set up an exchange or exchanges through which individuals can purchase insurance on their own; both say that a minimum level of benefits must be offered by plans sold through the exchange; both expand Medicaid.

Many of the details differ, and the financing measures aren’t the same. Graham mentioned savings from Medicare in Congress’ bills and said "they didn’t cut Medicare when they passed the bill in Massachusetts." Of course, Medicare is a federal program, not one the state could cut. The Senate bill proposes a tax on high-cost health plans, and the House bill calls for a surcharge on income of the wealthy. Those financing measures are not in Massachusetts’ legislation, either.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio also talked health care on CNN’s "State of the Union." Boehner told host Candy Crowley that the health care bill included "$500 billion worth of Medicare cuts." We’ve dealt with that claim before, most recently in advance of the health care summit.

The truth is that those "cuts" are really reductions in the growth of future spending, not changes to current benefits. The proposal is to reduce waste in Medicare in order to bring costs down, not to reduce benefits — though Medicare Advantage members, about 22 percent of the Medicare population, could see fewer additional benefits as the bill reduces discrepancies between Medicare Advantage payments and regular Medicare payments. Boehner may not believe that it’s possible to reduce Medicare costs by $500 billion without cutting benefits, though he did not answer directly when Crowley asked him: "You don’t think there’s enough waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare to pay for that?" Boehner’s response: "If there’s money to be saved in Medicare, and I believe there is, it ought to be returned to the Medicare program to extend the life of the program."

Boehner was right, though, when he questioned the Democrats’ refrain "if you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance." We’ve written about this before, too.

Crowley: I want to point out that the Democrats clearly have argued and will argue that it’s not a government run program. That if you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.

Boehner: Well, that’s not true, though. …

Boehner: It’s one of those things that keeps being said, but it’s not true, and here’s why. First, if — with the employer mandate, some employer is going to look at this, at the penalty and say, you know I spent a lot more than that providing health care to my employees. And so I’m going to drop it. Forcing — force — (crosstalk)

Crowley: But they’ll have a menu of choices to pick out.

Boehner: Forcing you then to go to the health exchange.

Crowley: Sure.

Boehner: And — and so, you can’t keep it.

CBO estimates that between 8 million and 9 million people who would previously have gotten insurance through their employers wouldn’t be given that option after the Senate bill took effect. An additional 1 million to 2 million would opt to get coverage through the health insurance exchanges, even though their employers continued to offer coverage. About 6 million would gain employer-sponsored insurance who wouldn’t have had it before. So not everyone would have control over whether they could keep their current insurance.

Finally, David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, made his own claim about public support for health care legislation on "This Week."

Axelrod, March 14: The polls are split, Jake. I mean, one of the interesting things that has happened in the last four or five weeks is that if you look at — if you average together the public polls, what you find is that the American people are split on the top line, do you support the plan? But again, when you go underneath, they support the elements of the plan. When you ask them, does the health care system need reform, three quarters of them say yes. When you ask them, do you want Congress to move forward and deal with this issue, three quarters of them say yes. So we’re not going to walk away from this issue.

It’s true that a number of polls show that most Americans support changing the nation’s health care system to some degree. But do three-quarters say they "want Congress to move forward and deal with the issue"? That depends on what it means to "move forward." For some, it means to scrap the current legislation and begin from scratch, an idea that’s highly unpopular in the White House.

A CNN poll from Feb. 12-15 found that 73 percent of people said Congress should either "pass a similar health care bill" or "start over." However, 48 percent favored telling Congress to "start over."

Another February poll, from the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, found that 61 percent "either favors the current health care bills or would prefer that Congress keep working" on health care. But 26 percent preferred "Congress pass nothing and leave the current system as it is."

And a recent Associated Press/GfK Custom Research poll from March 3-8, 2010, found that while 43 percent wanted Congress to "keep working to pass a health care plan by the end of the year," 41 percent wanted Congress to "scrap the current negotiations and start over from scratch," and 15 percent wanted to "leave the health care system as it is now."