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January 25, 2015

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Republicans ready to take on Democrats on Medicare

For more than a year, Democrats have owned the issue of Medicare.

Seeing an early opportunity in a cadre of special elections in 2011, Democrats used a proposal crafted by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to accuse Republicans of seeking to end Medicare.

The line has become a ubiquitous part of their advertising in a number of races, most notably the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Shelley Berkley and Republican Dean Heller.

Heller had the notable distinction of voting twice for the so-called Ryan budget, which proposed transitioning Medicare into a premium support model for people younger than 55—a fact Berkley and Democrats have used as a hammer to pound Heller in TV ads, mailers and web ads.

Polls show the issue is a winner for Democrats. Voters generally trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to Medicare and oppose dramatic changes to the existing program.

So, on first blush, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s decision to put Ryan—the Democrats’ quintessential Medicare boogeyman—on the ticket was a risky move.

But that wasn’t news to the Romney campaign, which fully anticipated Medicare would be the initial attack from Democrats.

In response, Romney and Republicans have launched their own counter-offense on Medicare, fully engaging on the issue for perhaps the first time since Democrats identified it as a sweet spot.

Last week, the Romney campaign unleashed a television ad accusing President Barack Obama of cutting $700 billion from Medicare.

In his stump speech, Ryan issued his own “bring it on” declaration.

“We want this debate. We need this debate. And we will win this debate,” Ryan told a crowd in Florida.

The message Republicans hope to convey: We have proposed a plan that will sustain a Medicare program, while Democrats have actually cut funding and have done little to address its long-term instability.

Not only have Republicans found a message, they now have a messenger with a bullhorn on the presidential ticket.

Whether either will be successful remains to be seen.

Democrats have their own counter to the Republicans’ attack. Ryan proposed the same $700 billion cuts to Medicare—cuts the Democrats actually call savings since they represent a slowing of the spending growth of spending, rather than less money to the program.

And the health care law passed by Democrats extended the life of the Medicare trust fund by a few years, according to the latest trustees report.

But the fact Republicans have chosen to engage on the issue means they will likely have at least some success in blunting Democrats’ attack.

And that will have ramifications beyond the presidential race—perhaps most importantly for the Senate race.

So far, Berkley’s main line of attack against Heller has been on Medicare. She has saturated inboxes, mailboxes, door handles and airwaves with it.

Is it working? A poll released last week by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee indicates voters care more about Medicare than they do about the on-going ethics investigation against Berkley by a 20-point margin.

Now, however, Republicans are putting money behind a counter-attack.

While Ryan says he’s eager for the debate, so are Democrats.

With polling on their side and a year of groundwork laid, they argue Republicans are playing catch up.

“The Republican budget proposal that essentially ends Medicare was written by Paul Ryan, endorsed by Mitt Romney and voted for twice by Senator Dean Heller,” Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas said. “They own it. And over the past year, voters have become very familiar with their plan to put private insurance company bureaucrats in between seniors and their doctors while raising Medicare premiums by an average of $6,000 a year. So this most recent Republican attack on Medicare is not only late to the game, but easily refutable given that the Ryan-Romney-Heller budget includes these exact savings.”

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  1. As I've said before, Republicans have been trying to kill Medicare since it passed in 1965. The unpaid for Part D prescription benefit passed by Republicans was nothing more than a giveaway to big pharma and cut the solvency of Medicare by 20 years and costs more than the ACA.

    Watch this 60 minutes story that highlights the waste in end-of-life care here

    If both sides were serious about healthcare costs they would ban prescription advertising. The prescription ads have caused more problems than they have helped. Once a drug becomes over the counter, advertise as much as you want.

  2. Mr. Gordon: I asked Senator Reid to DO SOMETHING about Medicare several years ago--when Dems had control of the House too. No, no, they had too wait and wait. I specifically asked him to introduce legislation to remove the cap on wages to SS and Medicare--employee portion only. If they won't do anything when they have majorities, why bother voting for them?

  3. "Mr. Gordon: I asked Senator Reid to DO SOMETHING about Medicare several years ago--when Dems had control of the House too. No, no, they had too wait and wait."

    This is just a lie. Without Reid's action, Mediare would be going broke in 2016.

    Reid's accomplishment is law. Thanks to the ACA, Medicare is more solvent today than it was in 2009. Solvency of the program was extended by years under the ACA.

    "Without the ACA, Medicare's insolvency date would be just around the corner, in 2016 -- four years from now. The 2012 Medicare Trustees' Report projects a stable solvency date of 2024, the same as last year's report."

    There are solutions to Medicare that don't involve putting our seniors' health care at risk. Lowering the cost of prescription drugs by allowing the government to negotiate prices, and/or allowing the importation of safe drugs from Canada. Speeding cheaper generic drugs to the market. Allowing younger adults to "buy-in" to Medicare at 50 or 55, supplementing the government program with younger, healthier individuals paying premiums, or even opening up the program to all as an efficient public option can put real downward pressure on escalating health care costs, and can keep Medicare solvent for decades.

    The GOP doesn't favor these approaches. They favor the Romney-Ryan plan turning Medicare into CouponCare and forcing seniors onto the open market to fend for themselves.

    That's the choice we face in November: do we keep Medicare, the popular, effective coverage for all seniors, or do we destroy it and the promise we've made to our seniors by allowing the Romney-Ryan plan to end the guarantee of health care for seniors?

    Nevada's seniors need and enjoy the security of knowing Medicare is there to take care of them. They will reject the Romney-Ryan plan in November.

  4. Why in the world would someone like Mitt Romney, who claims to want an efficient and inexpensive government, favor Medicare Advantage? It's a huge waste of taxpayer money.

    "A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Wednesday by House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark (D-CA) found that the private insurance companies administering these plans have spent less than projected on beneficiaries, while raking in an extra $1.4 billion on top of their $35 billion in profits."

    Medicare Advantage is a failed project of Newt Gingrich's congress during the 1990s. It's less efficient than Medicare and bilks taxpayers out of billions to line the pockets of health care CEOs.

    Any actual conservative would demand it be axed immediately.

    So why is Paul Ryan denying the effects of his own budget?

    Then there's what Paul Ryan doesn't want you to know about his record on women's health and equality:

    "An examination of Ryan's record reveals a congressman who, with few exceptions, has hewed to his party's far-right base on social issues. He has supported a federal ban on abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and a ban on gay adoption."

    "In January 2011, days after Republicans took over the House, Ryan co-sponsored legislation to declare that "each human life begins with fertilization," providing fetuses the same rights as a person, thereby permitting states to ban all abortion, without exceptions."

    That's right, Paul Ryan co-sponsored a federal personhood amendment. Meanwhile his buddy from Louisiana is going on and on about "legitimate rape?"

    "Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of "legitimate rape" have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy."

    What is wrong with these men?

  5. Now there is one more reason not to vote for the GOP. I never thought in my lifetime I would see the GOP implode before my very eyes. President Obama has rattled these knuckle draggers so much that they can't control their seething hate for him. We are fighting back and President Obama is showing us how by hitting back hard and frequent and it is working. It is time to vote these nuts out and get to work putting our country back to where it was before George W. Bush stole the election both times and created this religious hate party we are dealing with now. We need to get the Tea Party out of the supreme court or were doomed and only President Obama can do that. We have a lot of work to do and the right will not help so they must be voted out. Vote Obama and all Democrats 2012!