Going into the 2010 midterms, congressional Republicans came up with an attack they considered quite potent: because Democrats supported the Affordable Care Act, and the ACA includes some Medicare cost savings, it was time to tell voters Dems “cut Medicare.” In 2012, the Romney campaign tried the same thing.
There were, of course, quite a few problems with the criticism. The ACA, for example, doesn’t actually cut Medicare – if it did, the AARP wouldn’t have endorsed the reform law – so much as it reduces payments to insurance companies and hospitals, extending the program’s financial health while expanding benefits. What’s more, Republicans ultimately embraced the Medicare savings in “Obamacare,” incorporating them into their own budget plan.
And yet, the same attack is back for 2014. Over the weekend, it was even the basis for the latest Republican weekly address.
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida, slammed President Obama for not doing his part to help lower health care costs for older Americans, calling his health care promises a “breach of faith” for seniors.“Across the country, millions of seniors are now paying more money for fewer choices, less access and far less peace of mind,” Rooney said. “This goes well beyond a glitch or a pocketbook issue. This is a breach of faith.”
The weekly address came just two days after the entirety of the House Republican leadership team wrote a letter to the White House, condemning the Medicare “cuts” in the Affordable Care Act.
Whether GOP leaders understand this or not, this is a very bad idea, as evidenced by the fact that this exact same strategy failed miserably less than two years ago.
First, it’s more than a little problematic for House Republicans to embrace and condemn the same Medicare cost savings at the same time. Indeed, Sy Mukherjee noted that Tom Rooney himself, despite decrying Medicare “cuts” in his party’s weekly address, has actually voted for the exact same policy three times.
If Rooney and his colleagues find the cost savings offensive, why haven’t House Republicans proposed increasing Medicare spending, instead of incorporating the ACA provisions into their own budget plan?
Second, this is ultimately a political loser, too. The more the parties debate over who Medicare’s true champions are, the more Democrats eagerly remind the public that the GOP plan, for the last several years, has been to scrap Medicare altogether and give seniors a voucher they can apply to buying coverage in the private market.
Effectively privatizing Medicare out of existence is a wildly unpopular idea, but it’s nevertheless an idea House Republicans have endorsed – and voted for – several times in recent years.
In fairness, as Sahil Kapur recently explained, the Medicare cost savings haven’t been hassle free – there have been some disruptions, especially for those enrolled in Medicare Advantage. One can defend those disruptions as ultimately worthwhile or not, but they exist.
But that’s not actually the Republican message. Rather, GOP officials are criticizing reductions they support, while quietly pushing for Medicare’s elimination, all while hoping no one will notice.
As an electoral matter, it’s probably in the party’s interest to choose a different subject.