Published on TheHill.com on April 1, 2014
In 1983, the British Labor Party issued its manifesto for the coming election, demanding a radical move away from the West, dismantling the United Kingdom’s military and increases in taxes and more government regulation. The manifesto so alienated the British electorate that Labour Party Member of Parliament Gerald Kaufman called it “the longest suicide note in history.”
The Medicare changes suggested by Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposed budget give it a similar flavor. Republicans would do well not to be recorded as voting in its favor.
The key line in the Medicare changes outlined in the program is the phrase “beginning in 2024.” While congressional procedure demands 10-year budgeting, why should the Republican Party give Democrats ammunition for the next five elections? Why should House Republicans put their necks on the line every two years for changes that are proposed to take effect a decade hence?
Ryan’s earlier attempts to rein in Medicare, while substantively admirable, cost the party dearly in the election of 2012. By then, he had retreated from his original position and, with the cover of some support from wayward Democrats, had amended his plan to allow seniors to continue the current Medicare program.
But nobody read — or will read — the fine print. The headline will be, as it has been: “Republicans propose Medicare cuts.”
At a time when the Republican Party is newly attracting the elderly, as they feel the pinch of the $500 billion Obama cut to actual benefits, Ryan’s prescription for long-term cuts a decade away will give them pause.
Democrats can easily counter the Medicare Advantage cut, which hurts one-third of all seniors, by saying that the GOP wants to cut Medicare too.
We must realize that the Republican Party is at a great innate disadvantage over the Medicare issue. Having opposed the initial program and pushed cuts in its rate of growth in 1995-96 — even closing down the government to achieve them — the party has not always been the darling of America’s elderly. The Ryan budget will only serve to re-ignite fears that the GOP hasn’t changed and still is gunning for the program.
The cuts President Obama is forcing on Medicare this year are drastic and have begun rippling through America’s senior population. Gallup reports that “U.S. seniors … have moved from a reliably Democratic group to a reliably Republican one over the past two decades,” and have “shown an outright preference for the Republican Party since 2010.”
Gallup notes that “today’s seniors were once Democrats.” In 1993, today’s seniors voted Democratic +14. But they have shifted with time and age, driven by ObamaCare and his Medicare cuts.
House Republicans should not adopt a budget that will drive them back from whence they came.
Were the Medicare cuts on our immediate agenda, it would be different. But because they are to take effect only “beginning in 2024,” why must we go on record voting for them now?
Eventually, the system must move toward a private one paid for by government vouchers and subsidies. But the elderly will still worry that the government payments will fall short and will be concerned that the system as a whole will be fatally weakened by making participation in traditional fee-for-service Medicare voluntary.
Ryan’s plan is a good one and deserves passage some years hence, but why vote for it today? Indeed, Republicans can make a virtue of necessity and trumpet their votes against the proposal as they campaign around the country this year. Has Ryan done them a favor by giving them the chance to vote “no?”
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