FactCheck

Germany Not Seeking Ambassador’s Removal

Quick Take

Viral posts online claim incorrectly that Germany has requested the removal of the American ambassador. An opposition party lawmaker in Germany’s Parliament called for that, but the German government itself has not taken that position.

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America’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has been in Berlin for a little less than a year and has been at odds with some German officials from the start.

But the claim that Germany has called for his removal isn’t true, although it has been shared widely on social media. That claim came from the Twitter account of a user who describes himself as “very left” and, on March 19, tweeted: “In a first, Germany is requesting the removal of the Trump appointed ambassador to Germany, #RichardGrenell. They consider him to stoke racism and fascism on the country. That’s where we’re at, folks. The Germans want the American gone, because he’s a Nazi.”

It has been retweeted more than 23,000 times on Twitter and it was made into a meme that has been shared 13,000 times on Facebook. The Kerr County Democrats, in Kerrville, Texas, posted the text on their Facebook page, for example.

But Germany has not requested that Grenell be removed. Rather, Wolfgang Kubicki, a member of the Free Democrats, an opposition party in the German Parliament, said that the German foreign minister should consider declaring Grenell “persona non grata.”

“Any US diplomat who acts like a high commissioner of an occupying power must learn that our tolerance also knows its limits,” Kubicki reportedly said.

Carsten Schneider, another member of Parliament, reportedly called Grenell “a complete diplomatic failure.”

The comments from both members of Parliament were made in response to Grenell’s criticism of Germany’s plans for defense spending, which won’t meet NATO spending goals, not because they “consider him to stoke racism and fascism,” as the tweet claimed.

This isn’t the first time that Grenell has sparked the ire of German politicians, though. In June 2018, Grenell said in an interview with the conservative news website Breitbart that he wanted to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe.” That prompted rebukes from some German politicians, including Martin Schulz, a member of the Social Democrats Party, who said, “If a German ambassador in Washington said, ‘I’m here to strengthen the Democratic Party,’ he would be thrown out immediately.”

Despite the criticism, Grenell remained in his post.

So, while some German politicians have criticized Grenell, that’s not the same as the German government formally requesting his removal.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.

Sources

Gregor, Andrew James (@andrewjgregor). “In a first, Germany is requesting the removal of the Trump appointed ambassador to Germany, #RichardGrenell. They consider him to stoke racism and fascism on the country. That’s where we’re at, folks. The Germans want the American gone, because he’s a Nazi.” Twitter. 19 Mar 2019.

Germany: US ambassador Richard Grenell should be expelled, says FDP deputy leader.” Deutche Welle. DW.com. 19 Mar 2019.

Gramer, Robbie. “State Department Defends Trump’s Man in Berlin After Diplomatic Firestorm.” ForeignPolicy.com. 6 Jun 2018.

Tomlinson, Chris. “Trump’s Right Hand Man in Europe Rick Grenell Wants To ‘Empower’ European Conservatives.” Breitbart.com. 3 Jun 2018.

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A Made-Up Quote and a Made-Up Target

Quick Take

A popular meme attributes an ageist and inflammatory remark to a supposed Democrat from New York, but there is no trace of any elected officials by the name Jenna Tull.

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We’ve debunked a number of viral memes that have attempted to tie erroneous quotes to well-known political figures.

But the latest example to gain traction on Facebook takes aim at a woman who doesn’t appear to exist.

The meme claims that a “recording has been found of Democrat, Jenna Tull, of New York” that contains an inflammatory quote: “Americans should be euthanized when they hit 70. They just become too dumb…and think of the money we’d save!”

Including a photo of a smiling, blonde-haired woman, the meme implores people to share “so people know and we can get rid of her!”

The meme implies the individual is an elected official or at least a Democrat of some degree of prominence, and such a quote would no doubt be perilous to one’s career. But there is no Jenna Tull from New York in Congress or in the state Legislature, and we could find no trace of local Democratic elected officials by that name, either. (The name may be a play on words.)

Instead, reverse image searches show that the image used in the meme is of a businesswoman whose Ireland-based company, THEYA Healthcare, makes bras for breast cancer patients and other healthcare garments.

The meme confused and deceived some. A number of readers asked us about the meme’s veracity, and several users who came across it contacted an actual woman named Jenna Tull from Indianapolis on Facebook.

Tull, a 34-year-old self-described socialist who makes podcasts, told FactCheck.org that her Facebook posts are public in part because she wants to publicly show her support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. But she was confused when several individuals she didn’t know began commenting on her posts and sending her messages referencing the supposed quote from the meme.

“People started saying that I said this…totally ridiculous thing,” she said.

“Are you the same Jenna Tull that said that all people should be euthanized when they turn 70 because they start getting too dumb? And who decides what is dumb, a mind numbingly stupid person like you?” one user commented. “This is the socialist/communist mindset to remove anyone including babies that they consider an inconvenience. Of course those in charge never take the time to examine how useless they are.”

Tull said she and a friend tracked down the meme and eventually traced the image back to THEYA; she was relieved to learn that the meme invoking her name did not also use her image.

Still, the episode left Tull “disheartened for our country and society,” she said.

“I just don’t understand. We have unlimited resources and people still can’t Google something,” Tull added. Instead, “people are continuing to misuse the Internet to spread hate and to troll.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.

Sources

Our Story.” THEYA Healthcare. Accessed 21 Mar 2019.

Tull, Jenna. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 21 Mar 2019.

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Democratic Medicare Spin

Democratic lawmakers claim the president’s proposed 2020 budget would “ransack” or “slash” Medicare and Medicaid, likening it to an “assault on Medicare” and “the health care of seniors and families across America.” Experts agree the proposed cuts to Medicaid are significant, but many of the Medicare proposals echo those of Barack Obama and wouldn’t directly affect beneficiaries.

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 budget includes a net $777 billion reduction in Medicaid spending and funding for the Affordable Care Act marketplace subsidies over 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. Those cuts would come from repealing the ACA, including the Medicaid expansion, and turning Medicaid into a block grant program. Several Democrats have misleadingly used a higher gross figure of $1.5 trillion in cuts.

As for Medicare — a program politicians of both parties often highlight in lines of attack (see “A Campaign Full of Mediscare,” 2012) — those proposed spending reductions total a net $515 billion to $575 billion over 10 years, depending on how they’re measured, says the budget watchdog group the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That’s 5 to 5.6 percent of projected Medicare spending over the next decade. Several Democrats have used a higher figure of $845 billion, but that includes two programs that the Trump administration proposes moving to other parts of the budget.

Notably, several of the Medicare proposals in Trump’s budget are similar to cost-cutting measures Obama had espoused when he was president — some of which Republicans lambasted at the time. Readers of FactCheck.org may remember repeated claims from GOP lawmakers in years past that the Affordable Care Act would “cut” or “gut” Medicare by $500 billion or $716 billion “at the expense of the elderly.” Now, the shoe is on the other party’s foot, with Democrats claiming these spending growth reductions would harm Medicare.

At least one of the Trump administration’s proposals — a change in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage — would directly affect beneficiaries, causing some to pay less and others to pay more. And one lawmaker’s office argues that Trump’s proposed cuts, which include a repeal of the ACA, can’t be compared to many of Obama’s, because the cuts proposed by Obama were part of the ACA, resulting in an overall increase in health care spending and reduction in the uninsured.

It’s important to note that a president’s budget proposal is more a symbolic statement of priorities than something Congress would vote on. Indeed, Congress passed — and Trump signed — a very different bipartisan two-year spending bill a few days prior to the White House releasing its FY 2019 budget proposal.

Let’s take a look at what the president proposed.

Medicare Budget Proposals

Democrats have pointed out that Trump, as a presidential candidate, said he would “save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts,” and yet his budget proposal includes spending reductions to all three.

“After exploding the deficit with his GOP tax scam for the rich, President Trump is once again trying to ransack Medicare, Medicaid and the health care of seniors and families across America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a media availability on March 12: “The Trump budget calls for a $1.5 trillion cut in Medicaid, $850 billion cut in Medicare.” Schumer called it “hypocritical.”

“President Trump: ‘I will not cut Medicare or Social Security.’ President Trump’s budget slashes it,” Schumer said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the budget an “assault on Medicare,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders asked Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a congressional hearing, “How many thousands of people do you think will die because of massive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid?”

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget called similar Medicaid cuts proposed in Trump’s 2019 budget “substantial,” but the group said in a March 12 post that the claim that Medicare would be cut by $845 billion, and the implication that this is a significant cut to Medicare beneficiaries, is “largely false.” The true budget reduction figure is $515 billion or $575 billion over 10 years.

The left-leaning CBPP agreed with that figure, putting the “net” amount at “nearly $600 billion.”

Two programs in Medicare — payments to hospitals for uncompensated care (called Disproportionate Share Hospital payments) and for graduate medical education — would be moved to other parts of the budget, with “most” of that spending continuing, CRFB explained.

The watchdog group estimated that 85 percent of the Medicare cuts “comes from reductions in provider payments – many of which closely resemble or build upon proposals made in President Obama’s budgets.”

Paul N. Van de Water, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said CRFB’s characterizations of some Trump policies mimicking those of Obama were “generally correct.”

Proposals to reduce post-acute care payments ($110 billion reduction over 10 years) and to cut payments for bad debt ($40 billion) are similar to Obama policies, CRFB said. In fact, Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget included nearly $100 billion in reduced post-acute care payments.

The Trump budget’s proposal to “equalize site-of-service payments,” meaning pay the same for outpatient services whether in a doctor’s offices or other facilities ($160 billion), and to change graduate medical education payments ($50 billion) are expansions of Obama proposals, CRFB said. Van de Water noted in a post on CBPP’s website that the site-of-service measure was similar to one from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent congressional entity that advises Congress.

“The proposals are similar to those in last year’s [fiscal 2019] budget,” Van de Water told us in an email. “Except for the proposed changes in the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and perhaps the medical liability reform, the proposals would not directly affect beneficiaries.”

Both of the budget groups were critical of Trump’s overall budget, with CRFB writing it was “riddled with gimmicks and unrealistic assumptions” and CBPP calling it “a disturbing vision” that would “make poverty more widespread, widen inequality and racial disparities, and increase the ranks of the uninsured.” CBPP, however, didn’t mention Medicare in that assessment. 

Tricia Neuman, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of its Medicare policy program, also agreed that many of Trump’s Medicare spending proposals were similar to his predecessor’s: “In a sense, yes, they are similar in that they generally aim to lower the growth in Medicare spending by reducing payments to providers, though the specific proposals differ,” she said in an email.

One proposal that would directly affect beneficiaries is a change to out-of-pocket spending in Medicare Part D ($65 billion over 10 years).

Van de Water explained in a post on the CBPP website: “The proposed changes in the Medicare Part D drug benefit would reduce out-of-pocket costs for some beneficiaries, including those with the highest spending, while raising costs for others. The budget would limit beneficiaries’ annual out-of-pocket drug spending and eliminate cost sharing on generic drugs for recipients of Medicare’s low-income drug subsidy (LIS), which could improve LIS recipients’ access to care and promote medication adherence. At the same time, the budget would raise Part D premiums and charge more to beneficiaries whose drug spending is high but below the threshold at which catastrophic coverage kicks in.”

Neuman too, said: “When it comes to out-of-pocket spending on drug costs, the Administration’s budget is a double-edged sword; it helps some, but increases costs for others.” She said most of the proposals in the budget “would reduce the growth in spending for hospitals and other health care providers, without directly affecting beneficiaries,” though it was “very hard to predict” precisely how the proposals would affect seniors.

For comparison, Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget included $401 billion in Medicare spending reductions over 10 years, but it called for a $39 billion increase in Medicaid spending, according to CRFB’s breakdown.

Industry, Democratic Response

Henry V. Connelly, deputy communications director for Speaker Pelosi, told us that Medicare advocacy groups had “concluded [Trump’s] cuts would indeed hurt Medicare beneficiaries.” He pointed to a joint statement from the Center for Medicare Advocacy and the Medicare Rights Center: “Among other things, the administration’s proposal would curtail Medicare beneficiaries’ appeal rights and increase the amount many would pay for needed prescriptions,” the groups said. “It would also jeopardize beneficiary access to critical services by significantly cutting provider payments.”

Schumer’s office told us that while Obama’s proposed budgets also called for cutting provider payments, that was in the context of the ACA and an overall expansion of health care coverage. “The Trump Administration’s proposed reductions in Medicare spending aren’t being reinvested into health care programs,” Schumer’s office said.

The ACA included a $716 billion reduction in the future growth of Medicare spending over 10 years, according to a 2012 assessment by the Congressional Budget Office, with most of that ($415 billion) in reductions in the growth of payments to hospitals. Schumer’s office said “providers supported the ACA because they were able to now treat a significant influx of newly insured patients instead of providing uncompensated care.”

There’s support for that. Chip Kahn, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of American Hospitals, criticized Trump’s budget for including “arbitrary and blunt Medicare cuts to hospitals who care for the nation’s most vulnerable,” saying it was “no time to gut Medicare.”

But in March 2010, when Congress was debating the ACA, Kahn said in a letter to then-Sen. Harry Reid that the legislation would expand coverage to millions of Americans and provide “a framework for health care delivery reform.” He wrote: “That is why hospitals will forgo $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments over 10 years as part of a shared sacrifice to bring about the benefits that health reform will deliver to all Americans.”

So, the FAH supported cuts to the growth of hospital payments as a trade-off for a reduction in the uninsured.

It’s true that Trump’s proposed budget doesn’t offer that. Instead, it would reduce Medicaid spending and eliminate the ACA premium subsidies for a net $777 billion reduction over a decade. Together with proposed reductions in Medicare spending, that comes to about $1.35 trillion less in future Medicare and Medicaid spending.

But lumping them together also glosses over the fact that several of the administration’s Medicare proposals bear some resemblance to measures Democrats once supported and Republicans criticized.

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