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GOP picks an odd fight over which party is Medicare's true champion

Republicans seem eager for a fight over which party supports Medicare more. It's a debate Democrats should welcome.
A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)
A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. 

At a White House event on Wednesday, Donald Trump not only described himself as having more successes than any president in American history at this point in his tenure, he added a new boast to his talking points:

"We're saving Medicare. The Democrats want to destroy Medicare. If you look at what they're doing, they're going to destroy Medicare. And we will save it."

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), a U.S. Senate candidate this year, echoed the sentiment, tweeting, "If you want to protect Medicare, vote Republican."

Given Rick Scott's past -- he ran Columbia/HCA at a time when it was accused of widespread Medicare fraud, and the company was forced to pay $1.7 billion in restitution -- this seems like a subject he should probably try to avoid. But even putting the Florida Republican's scandalous past aside, why in the world would GOP leaders pretend to be the nation's true champions of the socialized Medicare system?

For those who keep up on current events, it's an awfully tough sell. For example, prominent Republican officials have already said they plan to pursue Medicare cuts in order to help offset the costs of the GOP's tax breaks for the wealthy.

Complicating matters, as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was quick to remind Rick Scott last night, the latest House Republican budget proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare system.

So what in the world are folks like Donald Trump and Rick Scott talking about?

They're more than capable of speaking for themselves, but I think they want the public to believe that progressive "Medicare for All" proposals would necessarily undermine the existing Medicare program -- which, in Republicans' minds, means that conservatives can now lay claim to being the true supporters to the system GOP policymakers have fought so hard to cut.

But reality points in a very different direction. HufPost's Jonathan Cohn had a good piece this week explaining why the Republican argument "appears to be wrong."

Democrats haven't been terribly specific about what mix they have in mind [to pay for a "Medicare for All" model], which is both unsurprising and fair grounds for criticism by Republicans or anybody else who wants to know what the real trade-offs for single-payer will be. But one thing Democrats have made clear is that raiding Medicare, to use Trump's phrase, is not one of the options they plan to consider.On the contrary, part of their plan is to make Medicare more generous, by eliminating the program's high out-of-pocket costs that lead many seniors to buy supplemental so-called Medigap plans or to enroll in private alternatives.

I can appreciate the political incentives at play. Medicare is widely popular and much of the public understands that Democrats not only created the program, but remain its most stalwart supporters. This creates electoral troubles for Republicans -- as evidenced by the recent congressional special election in Ohio's 12th district, where Danny O'Connor (D) very nearly won an upset in a ruby-red district in part by emphasizing his support for social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security.

But that doesn't mean Republicans should cynically try to fool the public.