Breaking down Republicans on Medicare

Published 10:41 am Friday, May 27, 2011

In a special election in New York House district 26 this week there was a political upset. The Democrat, Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin in a race widely regarded as a public response to the Republican plan to change Medicare.

The district has been reliably Republican with about 30,000 more Republican voters registered than Democrats. But the campaign by Hochul was focused upon a single issue, the Republican House passed a bill to end Medicare as it now exists.

In exit polling voters acknowledged that they did vote based upon their perceptions of the Medicare positions of the two leading candidates (a third party Tea Party candidate captured 9 percent of the vote).

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There were other factors that may also have influenced the outcome; independent reports agree that Hochul, the Democrat, ran a good campaign. Analysts also agreed the Corwin campaign was troubled. Both national political parties spent significantly and sent in their popular leaders in support of the candidates. And the third party candidate spent a whopping $3 million to capture a timid 9 percent of the vote.

But the outcome of this one election may have national implications.

Democrats are energized, convinced that the Republican plan to change Medicare will cause a majority of Americans to abandon Republicans at the polls in 2012. There is little doubt that Democrats at all levels will campaign on this issue next fall.

Republicans, on the other hand, argue that while their plan may not be perfect the Democrats offer no plan of their own, and if Medicare is not changed, then the budget can never be balanced.

The truth may lie somewhere in the middle:

1. While the Democrats would like to believe this one special election means they will win back the House next year and keep control of the Senate, in politics a year is a dog’s life…much could happen to change the campaign focus in a year.

2. Democrats should also know that the 2012 election will largely be about a referendum on the president.

3. If Democrats continue to attack the Republican plan on Medicare, which they will, they need to fully embrace the Affordable Care Act, which they passed into law, or advance a third plan.

4. Republicans might want to consider that the Ryan plan called for sacrifice only upon the American middle class, and that probably will not win a national election. Ignoring things like taxpayers supporting Big Oil to the tune of $4.5 billion and proposing in the Ryan plan tax cuts on the top earners, will not win much voter support.

5. Voters are absolutely not willing to give up Social Security or Medicare … nor are they willing to reduce or change those programs significantly.

If Republicans do not get that message 2012 could be a very painful year.

In the 2010 election Republicans ran, in part, on the Obama administrations’ plan to save $500 billion over a decade in Medicare by both reducing hospital payments and de-funding Medicare Advantage programs. The argument contributed to successful campaign for Republicans. But now Representative Ryan calls the Democratic Medicare charges “Mediscare tactics.” Ryan argues it is false to claim that the benefits of those 55 will be changed at all.

Ryan is both correct and misleading. His plan does enact changes only on those 54 or younger, many who have paid into the plan for 30 years or more.

Those individuals would, by the politically independent CBO, self pay 68 percent of their health care costs by 2030, compared to 25 percent today.

And Medicaid payments would be reduced by even greater amounts through block grants to the states.

Republicans and Democrats need to stop the public posturing and sit together and make smart, reasonable solutions to Medicare that protect the program, not dismantle it.

That is why they were sent to Washington.

Jim Crawford is retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.