UPDATE AT END OF POST: Krugman tries to clarify what he said.
Although he was likely taking a swipe at former governor Sarah Palin with the reference, Paul Krugman on Sunday recommended "death panels" as a means of helping to balance the federal budget.
In a Roundtable discussion on ABC's "This Week," the New York Times columnist said of what recently came out of the President's deficit commission, "Some years down the pike, we're going to get the real solution, which is going to be a combination of death panels and sales taxes" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
RUTH MARCUS, WASHINGTON POST: Right now, 75 percent of people believe you could balance the budget without touching Medicare or Social Security; 75 percent of people believe that you can balance the budget without raising taxes. Well, you could, but it would be extraordinarily painful.
People need to get a little bit of reality therapy. There's going to be another dose coming on Wednesday when another group is going to submit their recommendations, very concrete recommendations about how to do it. That's the conversation we need to have before we start picking apart solutions.
PAUL KRUGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: If they were going to do reality therapy, they should have said, OK, look, Medicare is going to have to decide what it's going to pay for. And at least for starters, it's going to have to decide which medical procedures are not effective at all and should not be paid for at all. In other words, it should have endorsed the panel that was part of the health care reform.
If it's not even -- if the commission isn't even brave enough to take on the death panels people, then it's doing no good at all. It's not educating the public. It's not telling people about the kinds of choices that need to be made.
A few minutes later:
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: But what is going to happen? I mean, are you clear on where a compromise is going to be? It's got to be discussed before the end of the year, no?
KRUGMAN: No. Some years down the pike, we're going to get the real solution, which is going to be a combination of death panels and sales taxes. It's going to be that we're actually going to take Medicare under control, and we're going to have to get some additional revenue, probably from a VAT. But it's not going to happen now.
So, we've got to get Medicare under control by deciding "what it's going to pay for...which medical procedures are not effective at all and should not be paid for at all."
AKA "death panels."
Now, to be sure, Krugman was likely being derisive using that term. However, the point Palin and others were making during the ObamaCare debate - and getting great criticism from folks in the media for doing so - was that once government gets involved in these decisions, it's a slippery slope to federal officials determining who lives and who doesn't.
There are many medical procedures today that are costly and might preserve life for a short period of time. When Medicare decides it's not going to cover them, the government has indeed made a life and death decision for a citizen.
With that in mind, I imagine Sarah Palin will be smiling somewhere when Krugman's comments are brought to her attention.
*****Update: Sensing he may have opened up a can of worms, Krugman posted a rather hapless clarification at his blog Sunday.
*****Update II: Our good friend Gary Hall reminds us in the comments section that former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich made a similar observation back in 2007:
We're going to have to, if you're very old, we're not going to give you all that technology and all those drugs for the last couple of years of your life to keep you maybe going for another couple of months. It's too expensive...so we're going to let you die.