As both parties continue to spar over Medicare following Republicans’ loss in a New York special election, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stood by the his party’s budget plan, while conceding that the House GOP’s proposal to overhaul Medicare was a “small part” of his party’s stinging defeat on Tuesday.
House Democrats, meanwhile, kept up their attacks on the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arguing that the 40 Senate Republicans who voted in favor of the budget blueprint on Wednesday were the latest indication that the GOP has “a tin ear” on the issue.
“You know, special elections are just that: they’re special,” Boehner said at a Thursday news conference on House Republicans’ latest jobs agenda. “When you look at what happened in this election, you’ve got a third-party candidate who spent nearly three million dollars attacking the Republican candidate. I could be somewhat critical of how the campaign was run, but the fact is we didn’t win it. And part of, the small part of the reason we didn’t win clearly had to do with Medicare.”
Boehner went on to cite what he said were “three facts about Medicare” – points, naturally, that Democrats have disputed during the debate over Ryan’s controversual budget plan.
The first fact, Boehner said, is that the only plan that would “preserve and protect Medicare for current and future retirees” is the proposal that House Republicans have advanced. The second fact, he contended, is that “the only people in Washington, D.C., who have voted to cut Medicare have been the Democrats,” who included $500 billion in cuts to Medicare in the national health-care law. Boehner added that the third fact was that “Democrats’ plan is to do nothing,” noting that the Medicare and Social Security Trustees’ report released earlier this month has “made clear that doing nothing means the Medicare plan will go bankrupt and seniors’ benefits will be cut.”
Democrats have argued that rather than protect Medicare, the House Republican plan would “end Medicare as we know it” by transforming the program for seniors, an important voting bloc, into a voucher system.
They have also contended that the $500 billion figure – for which they were hammered by Republicans on the campaign trail last cycle -- refers to cuts in projected Medicare spending and would not affect services for Medicare beneficiaries. In addition, Democrats claim that the best way to preserve Medicare is to lower overall health-care costs, which they point to as the biggest contributor to skyrocketing Medicare costs.
In making his case for the House Republican plan, Boehner and House Budget Chairman Ryan called on Democrats to be “honest” in the Medicare debate.
“We have outlined a plan, frankly, that we believe in,” Boehner said. “And the other fact is that the Democrats have no plan, which is going to lead to bankruptcy and cuts in seniors benefits. It’s about time they were honest with the American people.”
Democrats on Thursday, however, showed no sign of stopping their relentless political attacks on the issue.
At a news conference ahead of Boehner’s, Pelosi on Thursday stood next to a familiar prop that Democrats have used in the Medicare debate: a giant posterboard of an oil rig drilling down into a Medicare card.
“What’s interesting to me is the tin ear that the Republicans had” following the New York special election, Pelosi said. “Forty Republicans yesterday voted for the Republican plan that ends Medicare and gives tax breaks to big oil. This is what they believe.”
She added that the race in New York’s conservative-leaning 26th district was not one that Democrats had initially targeted, but the passage of the Ryan plan had shifted the race in Democrats’ favor.
“This is an issue that emerged in this district,” Pelosi said. “Public sentiment is everything, and the public sentiment in this district was very negative toward these Republican plans to end Medicare and continue tax cuts at the high end and especially for big oil. ... Every race is a different one, and again, this is not one that was, shall we say, a priority early on this year that we would go into, but it drew us in.”