If you want to understand why Mitt Romney and Republicans continue to charge that Obama looted Medicare to pay for Obamacare, the new National Journal poll is a very good place to start.
The poll finds that a big majority of Americans, 67 percent, supports keeping Medicare as it is — a government-run health insurance plan. Meanwhile, only 27 percent support changing the system to provide a fixed sum to seniors for private insurance or remaining in the traditional program — the reform Paul Ryan has proposed and Mitt Romney supports. The poll finds widespread anxiety about the program’s fiscal future, but a majority prioritizes keeping Social Security and Medicare as is (51 percent) over reducing the deficit (34 percent).
And yet the poll also finds that far more respondents think that Obamacare helps the poor than think it helps people like them. Sixty percent say the health law will make things better for people without insurance and for the poor. But only 45 percent say it will make things better for the middle class, and only 43 percent say it will make things better for “people like you and your family.”
And there you have it. The Romney/Ryan game plan all along has been about painting Obama as the true threat to Medicare and themselves as its true defenders, in order to obscure the true nature of their ideological differences with Obama over the program’s future. After all, what they have actually proposed is deeply unpopular. And they have employed the suggestion that Obama is taking hard earned benefits away from seniors to expand health care to other people, because majorities do believe the law is all about helping the poor, and not helping them.
But here’s the funny thing: When Obama’s policy is described to Americans, majorities support it. The poll asked whether it was a “good use” of $716 billion in Medicare “savings” to expand coverage for the poor and working class. Fifty-six percent said Yes.
Along these lines, Medicare may play a larger role in the debates than people expect. We got a preview of this during Obama’s convention speech, when he said: “Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we’ll do it by reducing the cost of health care, not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more...this is the choice we now face.” A debate setting could provide the opportunity to draw out the true nature of this difference; Obama will seek to hold Romney accountable for the proposal he actually supports. Of course, Obama will also feel pressure to be specific about the program’s future; we’ll see how he handles that.
One other National Journal finding: Far more trust Obama and Congressional Dems on Medicare (54 percent) than trust Romney and Congressional Republicans (31). The question, admittedly, ties Romney to the unpopular Congressional GOP on the issue. Of course, that’s what Obama will try to do at the debates, with Paul Ryan as Exhibit A.