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Republicans heart Medicare -- for now


Jonathan Cohn is about the most even-tempered writer I've met. His calm hand and good cheer verge on the comical. So when he loses his patience, as he does today, it's a fair indication that something truly indefensible is going on.

And indeed it is. It's been amazing to watch Senate Republicans embrace the inviolability of Medicare as a core political principle. John McCain, who proposed $1.3 trillion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts during the campaign, is now filing amendments to remove every Medicare reform in the health-care reform bill. Scores of Republicans who voted for the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which cut Medicare much deeper than anything being considered today (as you can see in the Kaiser graph above), are condemning Democrats for even entertaining the notion of slight reductions in fees to private insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program.

To watch the proceedings, you'd think Mike Enzi's advice "to start with a blank piece of paper and develop a bipartisan bill" would mean writing "Medicare for All" in big letters on the piece of paper and then handing it to Mitch McConnell while his caucus claps and cheers.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 1, 2009; 1:06 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: Obama's speech tonight probably won't matter


The problem with calling Republicans hypocrites is that everyone already knows this. Including Republicans and their supporters.

It is not news.

The fact that they are monumental hypocrites is deemed immaterial because everyone knows it and yet they still are elected.

Posted by: MyrtleParker | December 1, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

This is unbelievable. Ezra and some other liberal types keep mentioning that the fiscally prudent types are inconsistent with respect to Medicare.

The whole point is that subsidizing 30 million more people per Obamacare will make it harder to sustain Medicare, since you've added another large entitlement program and have to find ways to finance these social programs.

The BBA '97 really had more to do with deficit reduction (by definition, balanced budget act), as opposed to expansion of government spending / entitlements. Don't forget welfare reform back in the 90s either, forged by bipartisan compromise, unlike Obamacare.

In contrast, in this go around, Medicare cuts are used to pay for another entitlement program.

So you can be for Medicare cuts to lower the deficit, and be against Medicare cuts to finance wasteful government spending. There's no inconsistency here.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | December 1, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

MyrtleParker, you are wrong.

There are those who are against cutting Medicare to pay for new wasteful government programs. Those same people might be in favor of cutting Medicare to lower the deficit. Individuals, corporations, and governments cannot indefinitely live beyond their means.

Now I'll tell you what is inconsistent: voting for the war before voting against it.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | December 1, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

RandomWalk1, John McCain's and the Republicans rhetoric doesn't match your comments. What's more, stripping the Medicare cuts from the current bill does *nothing* to help the deficit. If John just wanted to recommit to the committee to eliminate the new entitlement, then he should have proposed that. And he should have debated for that. He did not.

So, RandomWalk1, you are either putting your words in John McCain's and the Republican Senator's mouths or you are woefully ignorant. Or both I guess.

Posted by: MyrtleParker | December 1, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

"So you can be for Medicare cuts to lower the deficit, and be against Medicare cuts to finance wasteful government spending. There's no inconsistency here."

Except that you seem to be defining all government spending as effectively wasteful. Or at least you're not explaining why expanding private coverage to people under 65 is somehow more wasteful than providing public coverage to seniors. If we're just shuffling money around from one "wasteful" program to another, what's the problem? (Note: I DON'T think that's what we're doing). It certainly couldn't be that seniors are more likely to vote Republican, could it?

Posted by: NS12345 | December 1, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

At this point it is all ideology and politics, and any facts will be twisted any which way. Hence McCain's new love for Medicare, Cornyn's website saying ALL americans insurance will increase $2100, etc. It is sad.

Posted by: scott1959 | December 1, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

If I were Dems, I'd take Enzi up on his offer to rewrite the bill--provided he can bring along 20 Republican votes. Back it up to the point where he was still on board with the Gang of Six. Even his 2007 plan is close enough to Obamacare that it would be okay. Dems do not want to own this HCR!

Posted by: bmull | December 1, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

randomwalk1, i know you think you're just the cleverest thing around with your "voting for the war before votring against it," but of course, all you are doing is revealing that you are not someone we need to pay attention to, since clearly you know not whereof you speak.

in reality land, john kerry believed that, you know, wars aren't free and should be paid for with taxes and not just with a credit card. the gop was proud to oppose that, and the reason they were proud to oppose it is that the party, as a whole, has not the slightest interest in fiscal discipline.

after all, the entire republican congressional delegation voted against the war before they voted for it: do you even understand that? i doubt it.

and i certainly doubt that you have the slightest interest in fiscal discipline either, since if you did, you would have supported kerry's position, not play silly games the way that the thug party did.

Posted by: howard16 | December 1, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - Of course this is all about what is currently politically convenient. It's convenient for Repubs to support Medicare against all potential cuts right now. Just as it was politically convenient for Obama to bash McCain for wanting to tax health insurance during the campaign. Now Obama supports the tax. And sometime in the future Repubs will be back to wanting to reduce Medicare spending.

But please don't pretend that only 1 party behaves in this way. It's par for the course for EVERY politician.

Posted by: MBP2 | December 1, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Only in Washington DC is half a trillion dollars a slight Medicare cut. I'm also curious Ezra how you feel about past Democratic campaigns that used Mediscare tactics that accused Republicans of wanting to throw granny into the street for daring to even suggest any changes to Medicare.

Posted by: RobT1 | December 2, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

"It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation
away from extinction. We don't pass it to our children in the bloodstream;
we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that
they shall do the same, or we're going to find ourselves spending our
sunset years telling our children and our children's children about a time
in America, back in the day, when men and women were free."
--Sarah Palin, quoting Reagan's remarks about...what?

"Give him the ability to stand before his colleagues in Congress and say, "I have heard from my constituents, and this is what they want." Write those letters now, call your friends and tell them to write them. If you don't, this program, I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will wake to find that we have Socialism. And if you don't do this, and I don't do this, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America, when men were free."
--Reagan, urging the citizenry to rise up against the passage guessed it...Medicare

Posted by: Bertilak | December 2, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

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