Brave or politically suicidal?
For the second year in a row, Republicans voted Thursday to effectively dismantle Medicare — this time, just over seven months before a presidential election. And Democrats are salivating at the political opportunity, eager to hang the vote around the neck of the party’s presidential nominee and its candidates in tough congressional races.
“A year ago, nobody was talking about Democrats having a shot at the House. Now we’re talking about it,” a Democratic leadership aide told TPM after the vote, a party-line 228-191 that didn’t win a single Dem.
The blueprint by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan is similar to his controversial Medicare plan last year, in that it ends the health insurance guarantee for seniors and replaces the program with a subsidized insurance-exchange system. Unlike last year’s plan, seniors can buy into traditional Medicare as a sort-of public option, and the vouchers it provides are more generous.
Conservative Republicans see the vote as an opportunity to lay down their marker for the sort of sweeping reforms they hope to enact if they win the presidency. Ryan has urged his party’s presidential candidates to cast the election not as a referendum on President Obama but a choice between two competing visions for the nation’s future.
“Today we will pass our budget that proposes real, honest solutions to create a stronger economy and a more certain future for our country,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on the floor. “Our budget takes bold steps that will get the fiscal house in order and will manage down the debt and deficit.”
As it turns out, Democrats would love to fight the battle on those terms. They’re expected to make Medicare a focal point of their election message, portraying Republicans as seeking to “break the Medicare guarantee” in order to fund large tax cuts for the rich.
“Our main focus will be on Medicare,” the Democratic aide said. “There’s clear evidence that seniors are very worried about what Republicans are doing with Medicare. And we want people to know that this is who they are in a nutshell. There’s no wiggle room for them.”
Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, praised the Ryan plan. “Owing in no small part to the leadership of Paul Ryan, [the House] has put conservative fiscal principles into action and passed a bold budget that directly addresses the drivers of our nation’s spending crisis,” he said in a statement. “The House budget and my own plan share the same path forward: pro-growth tax cuts, getting federal spending under control, and strengthening entitlement programs for future generations”
The White House also offered a preview of the contrast it hopes to draw.
“House Republicans today banded together to shower millionaires and billionaires with a massive tax cut,” spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement, “paid for by ending Medicare as we know it and making extremely deep cuts to critical programs needed to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.