An honest conversation on entitlements? Good luck

at 08:13 AM ET, 04/21/2011

The conservative retiree group 60 Plus is going up with $800,000 worth of ads in 39 districts, thanking House Republicans for passing a budget that it says saves Medicare.

“The House passed a budget that protects and preserves Medicare for years to come,” says one ad running in Arizona. “And our congressman, Paul Gosar, voted to protect Medicare and keep it secure for future retirees.”

The 60-second radio ads, which will be complemented by phone calls and mail from 60 Plus, represent the latest media offensive this week on the increasingly contentious issue. And it’s clearly a direct response to recent attacks from Democrats on the issue.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a Democratic-leaning super PAC have already gone up with radio ads this week making the opposite case, accusing Republicans of “ending Medicare” and forcing recipients to pay more in order to foot the bill for tax cuts for the wealthy. The DCCC’s Republican counterpart, meanwhile, responded Wednesday by saying that it is in fact the Democratic plan that would “gut Medicare.” (To be clear, the 60 Plus ads make no mention of Democrats, instead simply praising Republicans.)

All the ads and charges come as the White House and Republicans are professing the desire to have an honest conversation about the national debt and reforming entitlement programs like Medicare.

And it all begs the question: with all the noise on Medicare, is that honest conversation even a possibility?

The problem with entitlements is that it’s far too tempting a political issue to just ignore. Survey after survey shows people entirely unwilling to sacrifice any part of Medicare, and there is simply too much to be gained by accusing the other side of pulling the rug out from underneath seniors. Retirees are an extremely active voting bloc, of course, but the issue also polls horribly among the general population.

So while the two sides profess to wanting reasoned debate, their political arms are angrily exchanging aggressive charges that poison the very same well that negotiators are drinking from.

As more and more incumbents start seeing the issue pop up in their districts, whether it be in media coverage or on the radio, it will undoubtedly have an effect on their willingness to support this or that proposal. And whenever the political attacks are this pitched — incoming Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the GOP budget is “literally a death trap for seniors,” while the fact-checking website Politifact has deemed the Democrats’ ending-Medicare charge “highly misleading” — it has a tendency to create hard feelings between the people who are actually trying to cut the deal.

Entitlement attacks are some of the most potent in politics; over the last few elections, Democrats have gained significant traction by tying Republicans to the attempt by the GOP in recent years to privatize Social Security.

These attacks are very much along those same lines, and as we’ve discussed before, Republican in particular are playing with fire.

They are fighting back more and more, but the tenor of the debate is clearly not conducive to any kind of progress. The negotiators will probably need to call off the dogs first.

Nevada House seat race grows crowded: Nevada Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei has decided to enter the state’s open 2nd congressional district race, joining former state Assemblywoman and 2010 Senate nominee Sharron Angle and retired Navy commander Kirk Lippold in the contest to replace Rep. Dean Heller (R)

In an interview with Las Vegas Review-Journal political reporter Laura Myers, Amodei also said that state Sen. Greg Brower (R) would be entering the race, although Brower’s camp offered no comment on the report.

Amodei spent a single term in the state Assembly before being elected to the state Senate in 1998. He was subsequently re-elected in 2002 and 2006. He also ran in the GOP U.S. Senate primary in 2010, but he dropped out before the primary, having gained little traction.

The larger the Republican field, the better chance Angle has to win due to her proven fundraising capacity — she raised $710,000 in the first three months of 2011 — and committed followers. That formula paid dividends for Angle in 2010 when she was the surprise winner of the Senate nomination.

Whoever wins the GOP nomination will have an advantage in the general election in this rural Nevada seat.

Turnabout is fair play in Wisconsin: Democrats are set to file recall petitions against a fifth Republican state senator in Wisconsin, Alberta Darling, for her vote to limit collective bargaining rights.

But, in return, Republicans are planning to file signatures against two Democrats today — state Sens. Dave Hansen and Jim Holperin — saying they were derelict in their duties when they fled the state to avoid the vote. These would be the first recall petitions against Democrats in the state.

Republicans have been less vocal about their efforts. “We are going to underpromise and overdeliver,” the Wisconsin GOP’s executive director told The Fix last month.

The GOP has about a week to file most of its petitions (there’s a deadline of 60 days from the date a petition was first filed).

Democrats overall have a little more time, and the last of their papers are due May 16. Democrats need to win three seats to take back the state Senate. If any of the Republicans’ petitions hold, it will be less of a one-sided fight.

Fixbits:

A judge has cleared Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis (D) to run for state Senate in New Jersey. Republicans had challenged his residency.

Donald Trump is going to New Hampshire. The Union Leader’s John DiStaso, as usual, has the details.

Kentucky state Senate President David Williams has a big fundraising advantage in the Republicans primary for governor this year, but Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is outraising him more than two-to-one.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) is urging citizens to fight back against the state House’s budget. Lynch is battling huge GOP majorities in the state legislature.

A businessman joins the GOP Senate primary in Virginia, potentially diluting the field running against former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). As far as Allen is concerned, the more, the merrier.

After egging Trump on, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) now says it’s time to move past the birther debate.

Must-reads:

What history will apply to the 2012 election?” — E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post

11 political myths we still fall for” — Ed Hornick, CNN

Sarah Palin ‘fatigue” diagnosed in Alaska poll” — Catalina Carnia, USA Today

Freshman Republican’s bind: Vote convictions or help economy by raising debt limit?” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

 
Read what others are saying