Scarborough mischaracterizes Obama proposal as “nationaliz[ing] health care”

On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough mischaracterized President Obama's proposal for health care reform, claiming that Obama has “cho[sen] this time to nationalize health care.” In fact, as noted, Obama's health care reform proposal “leaves in place the private health care system” and “is very different from some European-style health systems where the government owns health clinics and employs doctors.”

During the March 9 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough claimed that President Obama has “cho[sen] this time to nationalize health care with a $635 billion down payment.” Scarborough's assertion echoes Sen. John McCain's false characterization of Obama's health care proposal during the 2008 presidential campaign, when he suggested that Obama and then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton both “are convinced the solution is to move to a nationalized health care system.” In fact, Obama has not proposed nationalizing the health care system. As The New York Times reported in a May 3, 2008, article, “McCain has been repeatedly suggesting that his Democratic rivals are proposing a single-payer, or even a nationalized health care system along the lines of those in countries like Canada and Britain” but "[t]he suggestion is incorrect." Additionally, noted in a March 4 post that “Obama's plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured” and that “the plan is very different from some European-style health systems where the government owns health clinics and employs doctors.”

According to the White House health care web page: “On health care reform, the American people are too often offered two extremes -- government-run health care with higher taxes or letting the insurance companies operate without rules. President Obama and Vice President Biden believe both of these extremes are wrong.”

The White House website further states:

The Obama-Biden plan provides affordable, accessible health care for all Americans, builds on the existing health care system, and uses existing providers, doctors, and plans. Under the Obama-Biden plan, patients will be able to make health care decisions with their doctors, instead of being blocked by insurance company bureaucrats.

Under the plan, if you like your current health insurance, nothing changes, except your costs will go down by as much as $2,500 per year. If you don't have health insurance, you will have a choice of new, affordable health insurance options.

Further, Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget outline, which Scarborough referenced in stating that Obama had called for approximately $635 billion as a health care reform "down payment," also provides “eight principles” for that reform. One of these principles, “Guarantee Choice,” explicitly states that "[t]he plan should provide Americans a choice of health plans and physicians. They should have the option of keeping their employer-based health plan."

As Media Matters for America has documented, media figures and outlets have also advanced the false characterizations that Obama's health care reform proposal constitutes "government-run health care" or "socialized medicine."

From The New York Times' May 3, 2008, article, “Parsing McCain on the Democrats' Health Plans”:

McCain has been repeatedly suggesting that his Democratic rivals are proposing a single-payer, or even a nationalized health care system along the lines of those in countries like Canada and Britain.

The suggestion is incorrect. While both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are calling for universal health care and an expanded role for government, they stop well short of calling for a single-payer plan.

Mr. McCain has made the assertion several times in recent days, even as he and the Republicans have made repeated calls for accuracy on the campaign trail. They have been complaining indignantly that the Democrats were grossly distorting his position by suggesting that he favors a “100-year war” in Iraq, when he has simply said that he would be fine with stationing troops there for 100 years as long as there were no more American casualties.

Yet on repeated occasions, Mr. McCain, of Arizona, has inaccurately described the Democrats' health care proposals, using language that evokes the specter of socialized medicine.


Both candidates have called for universal health coverage, with Mrs. Clinton saying she would require everyone to have insurance and Mr. Obama saying he would mandate coverage for children. Both would maintain the existing private insurance system, providing government subsidies or tax credits to help the low-income uninsured afford premiums. And they would give consumers a new option to buy insurance from the federal government, with policies along the lines of Medicare.

From the March 9 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): I think you could make the RTC [Resolution Trust Corp.] comparison early on, but now I feel like we are in nowhere's land. And everyone seems, Maria, to be very confused, and I don't hear a clear message from the administration.

MARIA BARTIROMO (CNBC anchor): No, it's obvious [inaudible].

BRZEZINSKI: Am I missing it?

BARTIROMO: No, you're not missing it at all. It's obvious there's no clear message. We need to know that the president and the Treasury are focused 100 percent on recapitalizing the banks; we need to know that there is a deadline in place in terms of bailing out every institution; and we need to believe that there is an end in sight in terms of this recession, instead of hearing, you know --

BRZEZINSKI: Health care summit.

BARTIROMO: Health care, energy summit, you know, taxes going higher. People are confused. They're saying, you know, what is the plan?

BRZEZINSKI: But, Jack, is it fair that they can work on health care, they can work on energy, they can try and combine those into the ultimate goals that will help our economy and our country grow, and the fact that they are working on these stress tests for the banks. Those are things I don't think you want to publicize. I don't think you want that to be a complete open book -- or do you?

JACK WELCH (former General Electric CEO): No, I think -- look, I think you can have your staff working on all kinds of long-range problems, but you can't be out yourself in front of the crowd telling them on Wednesday we're gonna be health care; on Thursday we're gonna be something else; on Friday -- the country is confused. I think your staff should be working night and day on the long-range problems.

If you're the -- if you're the education secretary, you're working on trying to deal with the teachers' union, vouchers, getting a better merit system. If you're in -- if you're in energy, you're working on a carbon tax; you're comparing it to Europe, which was a total failure in cap and trade. And you're going to see what did Europe do wrong, let's be sure we don't do the same thing, so then when we have cap and trade --


WELCH: -- we have a real plan.

BRZEZINSKI: So -- so, Joe, is it naïve then to think that all of these efforts are interrelated? And, I mean, the White House will tell you: Hang in there. Wait, we are dealing with it, but it will take weeks, months, even years for recovery --

BARTIROMO: It -- you know what, Mika --

BRZEZINSKI: -- to sink in.

SCARBOROUGH: Of course -- of course it's -- not only is it naïve, it's reckless to suggest that in the midst of a banking crisis that may have a $2 trillion price tag that you are going to choose this time to nationalize health care with a $635 billion down payment. Of course it is reckless. It's not naïve, it's reckless. And some would say -- Democrats would say politically astute. But --

JON HILSENRATH (Wall Street Journal chief economics correspondent): Let me --


HILSENRATH: Let me throw in another problem with having this multipronged agenda. You need -- and you just pointed to this -- you need a lot of political capital to get the country behind pouring more money into banks. Nobody likes doing this. If you're spending political capital on energy and on health care and on so many other things, it's going to be very hard to mobilize everybody to do -- to make some very hard choices, which we are going to have to make in the next six months to a year to two years.

You've gotta, you know, they're going to have to come back to Congress for more money, and they've already -- [former Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson and now [Treasury Secretary Tim] Geithner have demonstrated it's a very politically challenging thing to do -- to get Congress behind writing checks for banks which caused the problem.