GOP Pundits: Party Must Define Medicare Message

Saturday, 28 May 2011 10:59 AM

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Republican lawmakers are revamping their plans to remake Medicare and vow they will vigorously counter the scare tactics Democratic used to frighten seniors following a defeat in a special House election in upstate New York.

The task will not be easy, and House and Senate Republicans will face some tough choices as they approach the 2012 elections in the wake of Kathy Hochul’s defeat of Jane Corwin to become the first Democrat to represent New York’s 26th Congressional District in 40 years.

Democrats used Corwin’s support of Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to remake Medicare into a voucher program as a weapon, repeating the Republicans, Medicare, Paul Ryan, John Boehnermessage in ad after ad -- and her defeat is viewed by many Democrats as a roadmap to victory in 2012.

However, the election as a referendum on the Medicare plan was muddied by the presence of Jack Davis on the ballot. Davis, 78, a former Democrat, sunk millions of his own money into his run as a tea party candidate, skimming off 9 percent of the vote. Huchul won 47 percent to 43 percent.

In speaking to reporters, Medicare remake architect Ryan was quick to point to the presence of Davis on the ballot, explaining that it “shows that a Democrat running as a tea party candidate dumping a couple million dollars in the race” will have an effect. As to the “Medicare takeaway,” he said: “Democrats are happy to shamelessly distort and demagogue the issue trying to scare seniors to win an election.

“We have a year and a half for the truth to come out, and when it does, the American people are going to know they’ve been lied to, and I think we’ll be doing very well. If you demagogue entitlement reform, you’re hastening a debt crisis; you’re bringing about Medicare’s collapse. And I don’t think seniors are going to like that truth when they discover it.”

House Speaker John Boehner also pointed to the third party candidate as a major factor in the election but did acknowledge the role Medicare played.

“Special elections are just that, they’re special, and when you look at what happened in this election, you have a third party candidate that spent nearly $3 million attacking the Republican candidate, and I could be somewhat critical of how the campaign was run, but the fact is we didn’t win,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “The small part of the reason we didn’t win clearly had to do with Medicare.” 

Nonetheless, political observers note the GOP will have to make some choices on how to handle Medicare and debt reduction going forward to 2012 when the House, Senate and White House will be up for grabs.

Those choices include simply staying the course, doing a better job in explaining the Medicare plan or trying to level the playing field with votes designed to show GOP support for Medicare and insisting that any changes to Medicare be included in debt-limit measures to put Democrats on the record backing Medicare reform.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said staying the course would be a dumb move that could lead to the GOP losing the House in 2012.

“The GOP congressional and party leadership isn’t dumb,” he said, predicting the party will adopt a combination of strategies that “might alter the political reality.”

In the meantime, both sides are pressing ahead.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pushed a series of votes to force Senate GOP members to go on the record in their support of the Ryan plan. However, the GOP stood firm. Of the 47 Senate Republicans, only five failed to support the Ryan plan.

On the Republican side, supporters of Ryan’s plan are moving quickly on the education front.
“I think we need to be stronger in marketing who we are and our message, and not just Medicare but in every aspect — with the jobs situation, with the economy, with national security. That’s what we need to do,” Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., told The Hill.

“When you continue to talk to people and keep them informed, then there are no surprises,” he said.

Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist has also seized on education, according to The Washington Post. His group plans to distribute five minute videos of Ryan describing his Medicare plan to 150,000 activists and is looking into conducting training sessions for grass- roots operatives.

“The best defense is clarity,” Norquist said according to the Post. “The challenge will be to teach each of our activists to deliver the Ryan speech.”

Sabato said many Republicans will gravitate to explaining and defending the Ryan plan but predicted that alone will not be “sufficient to solve their political problem while making progress on the overall debt dilemma, which should remain central to this entire debate.”

“The bad news for Republicans is that, like it or not, the Ryan proposal on Medicare has put them behind the electoral eight ball,” he said. “The good news for Republicans is that they have almost a year and a half to fix it before the next election.”

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