The Republican Death Wish-- At Least In the Senate-- Is Much Exaggerated
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich posted an excellent opinion piece Thursday, The Republican Death Wish. He wrote it even before Miss McConnell came out and declared that the Senate Republicans had decided to force the U.S. to default if the Democrats insist on protecting Medicare.
The Senate's top Republican said Friday that lawmakers should not fear voter backlash for trying to squeeze savings from Medicare to reduce federal debt, because it will take a bipartisan deal to tackle the popular program.
The remarks by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were noteworthy because they came three days after a Democrat won a special House election in a heavily Republican district in upstate New York after accusing the GOP of wanting to kill Medicare.
Many Democrats have made clear that they intend to stick with that theme when they try to recapture the House and defend their slim Senate majority in next year's elections.
But McConnell told reporters that he believes Washington will agree to "something significant" to curb the giant health care program for the elderly well before the 2012 election, taking some of the edge off the issue.
..."Frankly if it were up to me, we'd be discussing Social Security as well," the GOP leader said, mentioning another costly program for the elderly that politicians have long avoided discussing as a source of budget savings.
Underscoring the political stakes, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of "holding the United States' credit hostage to ram through their plan to end Medicare."
Their determination, even in the face of what Reich terms a "death wish," to upend the two most popular and successful social programs in the history of the United States, Medicare and Social Security is going to destroy them... in the House, but, significantly, not in the Senate. I'll explain why in a minute, but first Reich:
Forty Senate Republicans have now joined their colleagues in the House to support Paul Ryan’s plan that would turn Medicare into vouchers that funnel money to private health insurers. They thumbed their nose at the special election in upstate New York earlier this week that delivered a victory to Democrat Kathy Hochul, who made the plan the focus of her upset victory.
So now it’s official. The 2012 campaign will be about the future of Medicare. (Yes, it will also be about jobs, but the Republicans haven’t come up with any credible ideas on that front, and the Democrats seem incapable of doing what needs to be done.)
This spells trouble for the GOP. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans-- even a majority of Republican voters-- want to preserve Medicare. They don’t want to turn it over to private insurers.
It would be one thing if Republicans had consistency on their side. At least then they could take the high road and claim their plan is a principled way to achieve the aims of Medicare through market-based mechanisms. (It isn’t, of course. It would end up squeezing seniors because it takes no account of the rising costs of health care.)
But they can’t even claim consistency. Remember, this was the same GOP that attacked the President’s health-reform plan in 2010 by warning it would lead to Medicare cuts.
Former President Bill Clinton counsels Democrats not to say Medicare is fine the way it is. He’s right. But instead of talking about Medicare as a problem to be fixed, Democrats should start talking about it as a potential solution to the challenge of rising health-care costs — as well as to our long-term budget problem.
Can we be clear about that budget problem? It’s not driven by Medicare. It’s driven by the same relentlessly soaring health-care costs that are pushing premiums through the roof and causing middle-class families to shell out more and more money for deductibles and co-payments.
Some features of Obama’s new healthcare law will slow the rise-- insurance exchanges, for example, could give consumers clearer comparative information about what they’re getting for their insurance payments-- but the law doesn’t go nearly far enough.
That’s why Democrats should be proposing that anyone be allowed to sign up for Medicare. Medicare is cheaper than private insurance because its administrative costs are so much lower, and it has vast economies of scale.
If Medicare were allowed to use its potential bargaining leverage over America’s hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical providers, it could drive down costs even further.
And it could force the nation’s broken health-care system to do something it must do but has resisted with a vengeance: Focus on healthy outcomes rather on costly inputs. If Medicare paid for results-- not tests, procedures, drugs, and hospital stays, but results-- it could give Americans better health at lower cost.
Let the GOP go after Medicare. That will do more to elect Democrats in 2012 than anything else. But it would be wise and politically astute for Democrats to go beyond just defending Medicare. Strengthen and build upon it. Use it to reform American health care and, not incidentally, rescue the federal budget.
True dat... every word.
I was on the phone with one of the guys planning the strategy for winning the momentous Wisconsin state Senate recalls. He's worried. They estimate that the American plutocracy means to flood $20 million dollars into the races. That kind of money has never been spent in state legislative races before. "They going to try to buy the elections, " he told me. He's talking about between six and nine state Senate seats in Wisoconin. $20 million. What will they give to capture the U.S. Senate?
A third of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs. Several Democratic-held seats are in red or purple states including one in Montana and, worse yet, open ones in Virginia, New Mexico and North Dakota. As far as a Republican "death wish," the only GOP seats in blue territory that are coming up in 2012 are the ones held by Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe, respectively in Massachusetts and Maine. But they both shrewdly voted against Ryan's Medicare-killing budget. And both are very popular in their states... among Democrats and independents.
The only two sitting Republican senators who look seriously in danger of losing their reelection bids are Dick Lugar (IN) and Orrin Hatch (UT), both in both cases, the danger comes from the right, not the left. Each could lose a primary-- although I don't think either will-- to a deranged right-wing fanatic demanding the abolition of Medicare and Social Security. They dodged the "death wish" by voting for Ryan's budget.
Now the zombie-like voters who completely dominate Wyoming, Tennessee and Mississippi are way, way too far gone into Fox-land to hold their incumbent Republicans accountable for Medicare or even Social Security. These places are hopeless; national Democrats have given up on them and the state parties are moribund. That leaves open red seats in Texas and Arizona and the Nevada seat to which Dean Heller was just appointed. Heller holds the distinction of being the only Member of Congress who voted to kill Medicare twice, once in the House and once in the Senate. Shelley Berkley could beat him. It's a toss up. Heller is really the only incumbent who could be described as exhibiting the traits of someone with a death wish.
Cacheris has been waiting quietly to pounce... he did so on Thursday
At this point, the Republicans will win back the Senate, even as Obama wins a second term and the Republicans lose the House, which really is where the GOP have demonstrated an actual and very consistent-- and deranged-- death wish. And a right-wing judge in Virginia, James Cacheris, may have saved their asses in a ruling that makes elections into a financial free-for-all.