Democrats are poised to open a new and potent attack on Mitt Romney’s proposed governing agenda. And they have Bill Clinton to thank.
For largely political reasons, Democrats have devoted a great deal of time and effort to attacking Romney’s plan to phase out traditional Medicare and very little attacking his much more abrupt plan to slash Medicaid spending by a third and turn the program over to the states. That’s because Medicare is perceived as a politically bulletproof retirement program that beneficiaries have earned, whereas Medicaid’s main function is less politically palatable: providing health insurance to poor people.
But even though they constitute a minority of eligible beneficiaries, the overwhelming majority Medicaid’s expenditures cover health care costs for elderly people in nursing homes, and disabled people. Moreover, though they only constitute about 20 percent of Medicaid’s expenditure, about half of Medicaid’s enrollees are children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In a statement to reporters Thursday, Neera Tanden of the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund previewed the attack, including a gracious tip of the hat to Clinton.
“Last night, President Clinton reminded the country that the Romney-Ryan plan would slash federal Medicaid spending by one-third over the next 10 years,” Tanden said. “The brunt of these cuts will be borne by elderly and disabled Americans, who receive two-thirds of all Medicaid benefits. Millions of seniors who rely on Medicaid to pay for nursing homes and other long-term care would see their benefits drop by an average of $2,500 a year. Millions of poor children would also lose critical health coverage. To look into the eyes of a poor child and say we can’t afford health care for her, but we can afford massive tax cuts for the well off and well connected is not politically courageous. It is cruel. The Romney-Ryan plan will not move us forward, it will only take us backward.”
Here’s how Clinton put it. “They also want to block-grant Medicaid, and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years. Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. Lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors who are eligible for Medicaid. … And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down syndrome or autism or other severe conditions. And honestly, let’s think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.