Will Democrats have a Medicare plan?
Last week was not a good one for Republicans. The culprit? Medicare.
The GOP’s problem, if you ask them privately, is not only that they introduced an ambitious plan, but that they went first. “We knew we were putting ourselves out there,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) mused to former President Bill Clinton.
But what about Democrats? The White House has said major Medicare cuts need to be on the table, and as we discussed last week, doing pretty much anything to change Medicare has proven politically perilous.
The problem for Democrats is, if they want to get serious about reforming the entitlement program, they are putting their own necks on the chopping block AND giving up a hugely potent political issue.
So do Democrats need to produce a plan of their own? Some party strategists say no. But not doing so could create the image that Democrats are not looking serious about cutting the national debt — a major issue for many voters.
New York Rep. Steve Israel, the chairman of House Democrats ’ campaign committee, was peppered with questions at a breakfast with reporters Wednesday morning about just what direction the the party would take Medicare.
Israel, like most Democrats, didn’t offer too many specifics about what his party would do, except to note that the costs shouldn’t get shifted to seniors and that certain expenditures need to be cut and certain revenues increased.
“I don’t want to speak out of my lane or out of my pay grade,” Israel said at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast when asked about reducing payments to wealthier Medicare recipients.
Israel smartly didn’t commit to any specific proposals and left the issue up for the White House and Democratic leaders to negotiate. Democrats want the issue to be about what Republicans have tried to do with Medicare not what they would do. Talking about anything Democrats want to do will only reduce the very heavy burden on the GOP.
The question is whether that’s a viable political strategy for the next 17 months.
Democratic strategists point out that Republicans made a pretty good living for themselves in 2009 and 2010 by standing resolutely against nearly everything that Democrats did.
That’s a great strategy for a House minority. But how long can you block and tackle when you’ve got control of the Senate and the White House?
The GOP has been trying to turn the table on the issue ever since its big special election loss in New York’s 26th congressional district last week , a race that seemed to turn on Medicare.
Republicans fume about how Democrats haven’t offered a plan of their own. And worse than that, they point out, when Democrats did change Medicare in the 2010 health care bill, they cut $500 billion from it. And we saw how that ended. (Helloooo Republican majority!)
Republican pollster Jon McHenry said Democrats are playing a game of chicken, banking on the odds that they won’t have to confront the troubled entitlement.
“If Republicans are successful in painting Democrats as unserious on the issue, and remind voters that the Democratic health care plan cut Medicare and will impose rationing, the Democrats lose the issue and the election,” McHenry said.
The question is whether Republican can put enough pressure on Democrats so that they actually have to introduce their own plan. So far, the GOP’s message offensive on Medicare has been lacking.
The White House has expressed the need for a bipartisan approach to the issue, and Vice President Biden is meeting with House Republicans today to iron out the details.
Democrats hope that they can come forward with a plan that has bipartisan backing. If Republicans want to score political points, though, they’ll likely stick to their guns and let Democrats blaze their own trail on the entitlement.
At that point, Democrats would need to decide whether to introduce their own plan, and confront all the potential pitfalls that come along with it.
In short, Medicare may not simply be a Republican problem for much longer.