Newt Gingrich's political triangulation notwithstanding, I thought most Republicans would wait for the outcome of tomorrow's special election in upstate New York before deciding to scramble off the sinking ship that is Paul Ryan's draconian budget cutting proposal.
If you haven't been following the race in New York’s 26th congressional district--to fill the seat vacated by Craigslist Congressman Chris Lee--in a solidly Republican district GOP State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin now trails Democractic challenger Kathy Hochul in some polls. And the issue that has scuttled Corwin's cakewalk has been Ryan's plan to slash Medicare.
Well, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown--a Republican who will face re-election in a very blue state--didn't wait for the election, scrambling off the Ryan boat in a guest colum in Politico this morning.
While I applaud Ryan for getting the conversation started, I cannot support his specific plan — and therefore will vote “no” on his budget.
Why can’t I go along with the Ryan Medicare plan?
First, I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support— and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays. Protecting those who have been counting on the current system their entire adult lives should be the key principle of reform.
Second, Medicare has already taken significant cuts to help pay for Obama’s health care plan. The president and Congress cut a half trillion dollars to the private side of Medicare — meaning seniors are at risk of losing their Medicare Advantage coverage.
Another key principle is that seniors should not have to bear a disproportionate burden.
Brown's arguments are all reasonable. But they're also a rhetorical screen behind which lurks one simple political reality--seniors vote, and seniors don't want Medicare cut--and two complex political realities--first, that after years of conservative demagoging about the evils of government spending the electorate is profoundly confused about just what the government does; and second, that for all the political potency that demonizing government spending seems to posses, people don't actually like to see government spending cut if it's spending that benefits them.
For evidence of the confusion and ambiguity one needs to look no farther than the GOP sponsored town hall meetings in recent years at which angry voters continually and routinely tell GOP lawmakers to keep government out of their Medicare!
Even after the Ryan budget proposal goes down in flames, as it inevitably will, Republican candidates like Brown--who was for the Ryan plan before he was against it--will be on the defensive, and they will certainly be continually tested on the issue of entitlement cuts by every Democratic challenger. But for Dems, the brouhaha over Medicare ought to be something they use not just as a means of tarring their opponents but also as an opportunity to explain their principles: that government isn't inherently bad; that we form governments to do for one another collectively what we can't do so easily for ourselves as individuals; and that in fact there are many things on which government spends tax dollars--Medicare included--which, like that biggest of budget lines, the GOP spending sacred cow of defense, make us better and stronger as a people and as a nation