Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush appeared at a New Hampshire event last night sponsored by the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, and the former governor raised a few eyebrows with his comments
on the future of Medicare.
"The left needs to join the conversation, but they haven't. I mean, when [Rep. Paul Ryan] came up with, one of his proposals as it relates to Medicare, the first thing I saw was a TV ad of a guy that looked just like Paul Ryan ... that was pushing an elderly person off the cliff in a wheelchair. That's their response. "And I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something -- because they're not going to have anything."
Remember, Jeb Bush is the ostensible moderate candidate in the massive GOP presidential field. It says something important about Republican politics in 2015 when the most mainstream candidate is also the candidate who wants to scrap Medicare altogether.
Regardless, there's quite a bit wrong with his take on the issue, both as a matter of politics and policy. Let's start with the former.
The Florida Republican is convinced that "people understand" the need to get rid of Medicare. He's mistaken. Given the polling from the last several years, what people understand is that Medicare is a popular and successful program, and a pillar of modern American life.
Previous attempts to "phase out" the program have met with widespread public scorn and if Jeb Bush believes he can "persuade people" to get rid of Medicare, he's likely to be disappointed.
As for the policy, there's no point in denying that the Medicare system faces long-term fiscal challenges, but to argue, as Jeb Bush does, that Democrats have ignored the conversation is plainly incorrect. On the contrary, while Republicans fight to eliminate the Medicare program, Democrats have had great success in strengthening Medicare finances and extending its fiscal health for many years to come.
The secret, apparently, was passing the Affordable Care Act.
Before "Obamacare" was passed, Medicare was projected to face a serious fiscal shortfall in 2017
. As of yesterday, Medicare trustees now believe the system is fiscally secure through 2030
Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090. Six percent! That's half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn't spectacular, I don't know what is.
Obviously, all of these projections come with caveats because no one can say with certainty what will happen in the future, but the projections are encouraging -- and far more heartening than they were before the ACA passed.
But Jeb Bush is under the impression that Medicare is, without a doubt, doomed, so we might as well get rid of the program now and see what Paul Ryan has in store for seniors in his far-right bag of tricks.
There's a better way. Medicare's future is looking brighter, it's as popular as ever, and its fiscal challenges can be addressed without tearing down the entire system. It's a matter of political will -- either elected policymakers will fight to protect Medicare or they'll push to eliminate it.