Published on TheHill.com on May 11, 2011
“How many deaths will it take till they know that too many people have died?” sang Bob Dylan of the civil rights struggle and the war in Vietnam. But the same might be said of efforts to cut, curtail or curb the rate of growth in Medicare.
Count the corpses:
1. Hillary Clinton’s healthcare proposals led to the Democrats’ loss of Congress in 1994.
2. Newt Gingrich’s proposed cuts in the rate of growth in Medicare led to Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996.
3. Obama’s and Pelosi’s cut of $500 billion in Medicare led to the Republican victory in the House in 2010.
Now, the GOP, unmindful of the odds, is falling into the very same trap. As George Santayana said, “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”
Having defeated Nancy Pelosi in 2010 over the Medicare cut, the Republicans marched right back into the House of Representatives — now under their management — and voted to affirm the cut in their budget. All $500 billion of it. The House Republicans took their signature issue and broke their pledge to stop the Medicare cut. They took the noose they had fashioned for Nancy Pelosi and put their own necks into it. They fell into a trap of their own making!
It will make no difference to the voters that the $500 billion will be kept in the Medicare trust fund to prolong the program’s existence. Especially when one’s life is at stake, funding for tomorrow’s medical care is scant comfort today. Except for a tiny $10 billion restoration of funding for Medicare Advantage programs, the entire cut that got the Republicans elected in 2010 is still there. And now they have added to it a plan to replace Medicare with a voucher in 10 years.
The voucher plan might well work like the prescription drug benefit did — companies might well bring down their costs to fit within the parameters of the voucher. But voters will have 10 years to worry about it and to vote Democratic to prevent it.
And the Medicare cut is totally unneeded and gratuitous. It is not Medicare that got us into this budget deficit. And, until the boomers start to retire in droves in the next decade, we do not need to reduce Medicare spending to get out of it.
Medicare has only gone up by 16 percent since Obama took office. Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment compensation, Section 8 housing, AFDC and other welfare entitlements have risen by 54 percent. And regular discretionary domestic spending has risen by 41 percent. By directing the nation’s attention to Medicare — as opposed to these other programs — the House Republicans have totally played into Obama’s hands.
The leadership has it backward. The Tea Party does not demand cuts in Medicare. It opposed them in 2010 and opposes them now. It wants welfare spending slashed. The watchword must be welfare, not Medicare. Medicaid, not other entitlements. Discretionary government spending, not aid to the elderly.
By making all but four of their members vote for the Medicare cuts in the Ryan budget, the House Republicans have set the stage for their own demise. The leadership, if it wishes to be known by that moniker in the future, must offer its members a chance to backtrack on that vote. Wisely, the budget negotiators have indicated that they will not put Medicare on the table in their talks with the White House and the Senate. But the House freshmen, if they wish to become sophomores, must demand that Speaker Boehner set a vote that permits them to undo their support for the Medicare portion of the Ryan budget.