Is Obama Squandering the Dems' Advantage on Medicare?

| Tue Jul. 12, 2011 1:15 PM EDT

Back in April, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) gift-wrapped a sure-fire, can't-lose campaign talking point for endangered Democrats: the Path to Prosperity, Ryan's "mature" budget proposal, which cut some $4.3 trillion in spending—mostly from programs benefitting the poor and middle class—while preserving the disastrous Bush tax cuts for the rich and privatizing Medicare by transforming it into a voucher program that would eventually shift much of program's cost onto seniors.

That last bit didn't go over so well. After the measure's introduction, GOP lawmakers who supported it were met with strident protest in their home districts. The lesson: Medicare, as it currently exists, is quite popular. That left Democrats chomping at the bit to pummel Republicans over their "courageous" votes for Ryancare in the run-up to next year's election.

So recent reports that the White House is prepared to curb entitlements—specifically by boosting the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 as part of a deal to increase the debt ceiling—is raising the ire of top Democrats charged with helping the party take back the House and maintain its tenuous majority in the upper chamber. Curbing Medicare eligibility and throwing seniors into the wilderness of the private market would effectively surrender an electoral advantage signed, sealed, and delivered by Paul Ryan.

From the The Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

"We shouldn’t be giving away our advantage on Medicare," said a source familiar with [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Sen. Patty Murray]’s thinking, in characterizing her objections in private meetings. "We should be very careful about giving away the biggest advantage we've had as Democrats in some time."

"For the first time in the past two and a half years we have an unmitigated advantage on a single issue where our entire caucus is united," the source continues. "This is a case where the whole morale of our party was lifted by the fact that we were taking the fight to Republicans."

The Obama administration's sudden concession on including Medicare cuts as part of a "grand bargain" to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit complicates things in the here and now, too. Democratic challengers for House seats, Sargent reports, have already begun campaigning against the Republicans' Medicare plan.

The GOP can't seem to quit the young, ambitious, visionary, Reaganesque Ryan, pasting him front and center on recent fundraising blasts. Those blasts, though, make no mention of Ryan budget plan. That means that even as the GOP accepts the obvious—that the Path to Prosperity is also the Path to Electoral Defeat—the White House appears ready to tempt electoral fate and throw away a rare "unmitigated advantage."

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