John O'Connor

Some readers may remember when Dick Cheney fed the New York Times a bogus story supporting a battle with Iraq — and then cited the resulting article as justification for war.

Even fans of our former vice president would have to admit that was a pretty cynical move.

But for those of you who think such trickery is dead, please let me point you in the direction of Capitol Hill. For we appear to be in the midst of one of the better con jobs to come along in quite some time.

The latest stunt works this way:

Congress approves a tax-reform bill that adds a trillion dollars or two to the national debt. Then the same lawmakers cite mounting debt as a justification for gutting funds for Medicare and Medicaid. Yes, this ruse really is in the works.

As McKnight’s reported Friday, The House GOP caucus plans to address “entitlement reform” in these programs next year in order to “tackle the debt and the deficit,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told talk radio host Ross Kaminsky.

Ryan cited Medicare and Medicaid as “the big drivers of debt,” and called Medicare the “biggest entitlement that’s got to have reform” in the coming year.

Of course, if Speaker Ryan and similar-minded Republicans are so terribly concerned about our unpaid bills, it’s probably fair to ask why they can’t wait to pass a tax bill that will only make things worse?

One possible explanation is that they simply believe systemic tweaks will compensate for the lost billions of dollars this sector will have to deal with. It’s also possible to believe that 20-foot unicorns once roamed the earth.

A second possibility is that they believe giving corporations and the uber wealthy massive tax breaks will make it that much easier to gut funding for, shall we say, less desirable programs?

Feel free to embrace either option. But unless you happen to believe in gigantic prehistoric unicorns, the correct answer should be obvious.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.