Democrats are riding high off their political victories this week on Medicare. On Wednesday, the Senate defeated Paul Ryan's 2012 budget, which passed the House earlier this month. The Dems held the purely political vote in an attempt to pin the Ryan plan even more firmly on the GOP, and in that regard, they succeeded. Despite their increasingly mealy-mouthed defense of the Ryan plan, all but five Senate Republicans stood by the budget despite the political risks of supporting its deeply unpopular plan to phase out Medicare.
The Senate vote now gives the Democrats full leeway to use the Ryan plan to attack Republicans in 2012, given the party's surprising unity behind the House budget. But that doesn't necessarily bode well for the future of Medicare itself. Yes, the Dems have succeeded in beginning to turn the political tide against the GOP by attacking their plan for Medicare, but they've done so by playing offense, not defense: Dems have raised fears about the Ryan proposal but haven't made a full-throated defense of their own Medicare reform plan—namely the major provisions for bringing down health-care costs through the Affordable Care Act. And, without strong defenders, some of those key changes have been under increasing threat of being weakened or dismantled.