Back in their home districts for the Easter recess, some House Democrats have put the GOP overhaul of Medicare front and center with their constituents. On Wednesday night, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) asked all the callers participating in a telephone town hall to vote on whether they supported the GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare “with a voucher system to help seniors defray the cost of health insurance.” Of some 1,300 callers who responded, the choice seemed overwhelming: 73 percent wanted to keep Medicare as is, while only 27 supported the GOP overhaul.
The informal telephone poll falls in line with a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that found that 65 percent of Americans oppose the Ryan plan for Medicare. That number that jumped to 84 percent when respondents were told that the cost of private insurance is supposed to outpace the cost of Medicare insurance, weakening the value of the “premium support” that recipients would receive under Ryan’s plan.
Throughout the call, Connolly hit upon the main talking points that Democrats have been using to assault RyanCare, calling the plan a “radical proposal” that would force seniors out of Medicare and into the private market. “I’m going to fight tooth and nail…to make sure we preserve Medicare, and we don’t adopt the Ryan proposal which would dismantle it as we know it.” To be sure, Connolly’s district is also one that’s more likely to be sympathetic to such arguments: the 11th district is just north of Washington, DC, heavily populated by federal employees and contractors, and swung for Connolly by more than over 10 points in 2010. But it’s a message that’s beginning to hit the airwaves in Democratic attack ads—and that other Democratic members, like Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), are pushing in their home districts this week.
Connolly also swatted down an emerging counterargument to the Democratic attack on the Ryan plan. During the town hall, one participant a year away from retirement criticized the Connolly for misrepresenting the Republican plan. The public might get “the impression that you’re talking about me losing my Medicare coverage this year,” the caller said. “The proposal doesn’t kick in for that sort of thing for 10 years.” It’s the same reason that PolitiFact attempted to discredit a new Democratic attack ad that portrays seniors being forced to work (and, in some cases, work it) to pay for Medicare. “Ryan’s plan leaves Medicare as is for people 55 and older…all seniors would continue to be offered coverage under the proposal,” Politifact writes.
Republicans are hoping that their graduated timeframe will help build political support for the Ryan plan: most older Baby Boomers and all current Medicare beneficiaries won’t be affected by their plan. It’s a demographic that’s more likely to vote for Republicans in the first place. But Democrats are hoping it won’t be enough to convince voters that RyanCare will ultimately benefit the public good. “You and I would be grandfathered in. What about the next generation? I don’t think that’s right,” Connolly concluded.