Will the voters in 2012 punish the Republicans for having voted to abolish Medicare?
The Republicans potentially put themselves in play last Friday, when all but four GOP House members approved Paul Ryan’s reverse Robin Hood budget (take from the poor, give to the rich) – a budget that aspires to eradicate the hugely popular guaranteed government health care program for seniors, and replace it with a privatized voucher plan that would force seniors to pay way more money out of pocket.There will surely be a slew of issues in campaign rotation next year, benefiting and hurting both parties, but this anti-Medicare vote is likely to stay in the top tier, if only because it’s rare to see ideologues so blatantly defy the will of the people. Americans love Medicare, but the House Republicans are officially on record with their desire to kill it anyway.So the big question, going forward, is whether the party will pay a political price for its hubris, for seeking to replace Medicare with a privatization plan that would sharply hike seniors’ health costs. In the words of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the expenditure hikes for a typical 65-year-old “would be almost 40 percent higher with private coverage under the GOP plan than they would be with a continuation of traditional Medicare.”Democrats are trying to reap the political rewards as we speak. Today, the House Democratic strategists are launching radio and online ads against 25 of the Republicans who “voted to end Medicare.” Last Friday, they targeted a slew of Republicans who represent swing districts, including three in suburban Philadelphia.It’s also a safe bet that Democrats, during the 2012 presidential campaign, will cite the anti-Medicare vote in senior-heavy key states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. Barack Obama lost seniors by eight percentage points in 2008; the GOP’s House action could give him a much-needed boost. (Current seniors would be exempt from the Republican privatization plan, but seniors typically resist all attacks on Medicare. The GOP “reforms” would adversely affect their adult children.)Some liberal commentators are over the moon about this political opportunity. A blogger on The Huffington Post insisted the other day that the anti-Medicare vote “will go down as the turning point that doomed Republican chances to keep control of the House in 2012. For Democrats, it will be like shooting fish in a barrel.” I question that degree of certitude. For starters, the Democratic brand isn’t so pristine that targeted voters will automatically buy whatever the party is selling. Second, as I mentioned earlier, other issues will be in the mix, competing to cut through the clutter. Third, the House vote didn’t actually change anything, because the Democratic Senate and Democratic president would never sign off on Medicare’s abolition.Nevertheless, as evidenced by all the surveys that detail the popularity of Medicare, there is strong potential for a backlash against the GOP. Voters might well be persuaded to ask themselves: If abolishing Medicare is truly the Republicans’ cherished goal, then what would happen if they ran the whole government?Two months ago, the NBC-Wall Street Journal pollsters reported that 76 percent of Americans oppose cutting Medicare in order to balance the budget. And last Wednesday, just 48 hours before the GOP’s House vote, Gallup delivered an even more definitive verdict: Only 14 percent of independents and only 14 percent of Republicans agreed that “government should completely overhaul Medicare to control the cost of the program.” A 33 percent plurality of Republicans wanted no changes, and another 28 percent wanted only “minor changes.”In other words, the House ideologues voted against the mainstream of their own right-leaning party. Their animus toward Medicare is so extreme that even uber-opportunist Donald Trump has now told NBC, “I think the Republicans are too far out in front in terms of Medicare….I think Paul Ryan is too far out front with this issue.”But that animus is deep-seated, poll-resistant, and rooted in the early ’60s, when conservatives fought hard to prevent Medicare’s 1965 enactment. The sentiment has always been the same. George H. W. Bush, who was seeking to make his mark in Texas politics in 1964, denounced the Medicare bill as “socialized medicine.” Barry Goldwater caustically remarked that if the government was to provide seniors with health care, “why not good baskets…why not vacation resorts.” Back in 1961, aspiring politico Ronald Reagan warned that if health insurance for seniors was ever passed, “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in America when men were free.” (With Reagan’s warning in mind, I’d love to know whether any conservative-voting seniors have ever [a] refused out of principle to participate in Medicare, or [b] felt enslaved by their participation in Medicare, to the point where they’ve spent their sunset years telling their children what it was once like in America when seniors were free to risk poverty without a safety net.)Anyway, what’s most noteworthy about the GOP’s anti-Medicare animus is that so few prospective Republican presidential candidates have rushed to embrace it. Over the weekend, for instance, Mitt Romney said that the House budget plan “is not identical, I don’t imagine, to what I’ll be putting forward in a campaign that will potentially go forward…It’s essential for us to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as safety nets for the American people.”Translation: “I’m not gonna touch that anti-Medicare vote with a 10-foot pole. I don’t want to schmooze the seniors in Florida with that albatross on my back.”Hence the potential political peril for the GOP in 2012. Tim Pawlenty knows it as well. At a tea-party rally the other day, he said oh so carefully, “I like Paul Ryan’s plan directionally. I don’t think it’s fully filled out…”Then a guy from a liberal website asked him, “Do you support the Medicare cuts in his plan?”Pawlenty’s full response: “Anybody else have a question besides this guy?”