Politics

Senate Plays Political Monkey in the Middle With Medicare

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Yesterday, I noted with some frustration that when John McCain introduced the first GOP amendment to the Senate health care bill on Monday, it was a proposal to stop $500 billion in cuts to Medicare. I wasn't the only one irritated with the move: At the American Spectator, Phil Klein wrote that McCain, who argued that the amendment was necessary to "preserve the solemn obligations we have made to our senior citizens," made "a mockery out of the idea of Republicans as the party of small government." Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Jon Cohn and other liberals called McCain a hypocrite, noting that the Senator had called for massive cuts to Medicare during last year's campaign. And on the Senate floor, according to Congress Daily, McCain responded to Democratic accusations of  hypocrisy by reminding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that Reid had once called reductions in Medicare payments "immoral." 

Couple points on this:

For one thing, this is why I was so frustrated by Michael Steele's ill-considered campaign to marshal support from seniors by defending Medicare. It's absolutely true that Democrats have been misleading the public by claiming that cutting billions from Medicare won't result in benefit reductions. But thanks in large part to Steele, it now frequently seems as if Republicans, ostensibly defenders of limited government, have devoted themselves to endless, unchanging preservation of entitlements for seniors. Granted, changes to Medicare were going to be difficult regardless of GOP tactics this year, but Republicans have now boxed themselves in on this issue in such a way that it may turn out to be virtually impossible to make meaningful changes to the program. 

I'm also not sure how much it's worth pursuing arguments about hypocrisy on this issue given that basically everyone looks bad. Regardless of previous stances, some legislators are bound to use seniors' support for Medicare to their political advantage when there's an opportunity to do so, hypocrisy be damned.  

Indeed, the defense of McCain's amendment isn't that it's great policy, but that it's basically a tactical move designed to kill a terrible bill. Well, it's true that if the amendment were to pass, it would, at minimum, throw up a huge barrier to passage; perhaps it would even kill it. But the fact is that the amendment's not going to pass, and it never had a chance. So McCain may have succeeded in stirring things up a bit, but the long-term effect is to further lock Republicans into defending Medicare as untouchable. To my mind, that's hardly worth a bit of press and some temporary rhetorical point-scoring during floor debate. 

More important, though, is that this incident illustrates rather vividly what happens whenever you mix health care and politics: politics trumps all else. The debate we're seeing here isn't actually about health care; it's about party power, about winning and losing, about elections and interest groups, about polls and press and short-term tactical considerations. That doesn't strike me as a particularly appealing way to approach health care, but if reform legislation passes, I suspect we're in for even more of it than ever. 

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  1. “So McCain may have succeeded in stirring things up a bit, but the long-term effect is to further lock Republicans into defending Medicare as untouchable.”

    Ah earth to Suderman. Medicare is untouchable. Do honestly think that the Republicans are going to sweep into power in 2010 and just cut medicare? Not going to happen. We will go broke before we touch Medicare. You can probably reform it and cut the rate of growth indirectly. But no one short of Jesus himself is going to get away with outright cutting it.

    If that fact is usful in stopping this abomination of a bill, I am fine with that. Let’s stop pissing in the wind for once.

    1. The irony is that Medicare being untouchable, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will ever make the reforms necessary to keep the system from collapsing.

  2. Well, it’s true that if the amendment were to pass, it would, at minimum, throw up a huge barrier to passage; perhaps it would even kill it. But the fact is that the amendment’s not going to pass, and it never had a chance.

    And the amendment, by not passing, still hurts the chances of the overall bill. It draws attention to the cuts in the bill and makes seniors oppose the bill.

    So the result is:
    1) Medicare cuts still in the bill, but
    2) Bill less likely to pass.

    In the short term, you can’t object to that. In the long term, sure, but in the long term Medicare would never be cut anyway.

  3. To my mind, that’s hardly worth a bit of press and some temporary rhetorical point-scoring during floor debate.

    If that rhetorical point-scoring scares seniors and makes the bill fail when otherwise it would pass, is it worth it?

  4. McCain’s “We had to destroy the village to save it” approach to limited government.

    1. It’s a “better the status quo than a bill that makes it worse.”

      You want to get this bill passed because you want to choose your battlefield to be the quagmire of Medicare cuts that will never happen, whether in this bill or not?

      Entitlements, once passed, are never cut. I’ll take the status quo, bad as it is, over this bill that in the long term will make this worse.

  5. At the American Spectator, Phil Klein wrote that McCain, who argued that the amendment was necessary to “preserve the solemn obligations we have made to our senior citizens,” made “a mockery out of the idea of Republicans as the party of small government.”

    HAHAHAHA!

    Apparently Suderman and Klein are some of the VERY few people left who are dumb enough to believe that the GOP is the party of “small government”.

    Maybe the two of them can pool their money to buy a bridge that I’m selling in the Brooklyn area.

    1. Of course, you have the rest of Reason editors thinking that it’s the Democrats and Obamessiah who are the champions of small government.

  6. Senate Plays Political Monkey in the Middle With Medicare

    Are we still yelling out “racist”? If so, RACIST!

    1. Somewhere, Xeones smiled.

      1. Smiling is ableist. What about all those people who can’t smile or don’t have faces?

    2. I’m offended.

  7. but the long-term effect is to further lock Republicans into defending Medicare as untouchable.

    Ah yes, the long-term effect of hypocrisy is to lock in those politicians and prevent them from being hypocritical in the future. Interesting argument there too.

  8. a bit of press and some temporary rhetorical point-scoring during floor debate

    Um, this is for the negative ads in 2010: “Senator Snort voted against maintaining quality care for seniors…”

    They’re just painting the broad outline of the corner now. Next election they’ll paint themselves in nice and tight.

    Sigh… I hear the Cayman Islands are nice… Canada… Denmark…

    1. They’re just painting the broad outline of the corner now. Next election they’ll paint themselves in nice and tight.

      Yes, this act of hypocrisy will make it impossible to be hypocritical and pass impossible cuts over a Democratic filibuster and veto in the future.

  9. Political Monkey in the Middle

    Monkey in the middle? Isn’t that the taxpayer? That’s usually the one who gets it in both ends.

    1. my friends call me “lucky”

  10. From Senator Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) floor remarks today:

    “Just for a second — health care reform, whether you use a ten-year number or when you start in 2010 or start in 2014, wherever you start at, so it is still either $1 trillion or it’s $2.5 trillion, depending on where you start?”

    http://republican.senate.gov/p…..e8d671645b

  11. My take:

    (1) If scaring/informing seniors about Medicare cuts in this horrid monstrosity of a bill helps kill it, then that strikes me as Good for the Republic.

    (2) If putting Dems on the spot with an amendment to stop the Medicare cuts hurts the Dems pushing this bill and the bill, then that strikes me as Good for the Republic.

    (3) Anyone who thinks Medicare will be cut because this bill says it will is a fool. Congress has promised to cut Medicare in the past, and has failed to do so every time. If anything, the McCain amendment is a blow for truth in legislating, and is thus Good for the Republic.

    1. In agreement with all 3 points.

      The proposed medicare cuts are a fantasy and opposing them is fully justified if it damages the party responsible for the healthcare bill.

      Suderman’s missing a major point: Democrats will (mostly) all vote for Obama’s program. Republicans will all oppose.

      The ammendments (Stupak, etc.) are all just a tactical matter of trying to get the thing passed or rejected in Congress. In this light, McCain’s strategy was correct.

  12. Shorter Suderman:

    Damn you Michael Steele! Damn you to hell!

  13. Somewhere, Xeones smiled.

    It’s true, i did do that.

    Also, i hate to agree with ChiTom, but i agree with ChiTom. If McCain has made “a mockery out of the idea of Republicans as the party of small government,” he’s had an awful lot of help in recent decades.

    1. Xeones smiled into the mirror, and was, as always, horrified by the deformed rictus that smirked back at him. The memories washed over him, and he chanted to himself.

      My father was…a drinker. And a fiend. And one night he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not-one-bit. So – me watching – he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it! Turns to me, and he says, “why so serious, son?” Comes at me with the knife… “Why so serious?” He sticks the blade in my mouth… “Let’s put a smile on that face!” And…

      Xeones shuddered violently and tore his gaze from the mirror. No more booze today, he decided. But as soon as he left the baleful stare of the mirror, his hand strayed to the bottle of Bushmiller’s once again.

  14. Since the RACIST! part is taken care of —

    There’s a thing called “monkey in the middle?” Since when?

    Is this something the whole civilized world has a settled term for, but a single inbred lump of white people call it something else to show how inbred they are, like the cretins who say “sauce” for the gander instead of “good,” or “eat your cake and have it?”

    What the fuck?

  15. At best the GOP is the party of “not quite as big government”.

    That’s hardly gonna draw me away from voting for the handful of libertarians on any given ballot.

  16. I don’t think Senate Democrats really want to bring up the topic of 2008 presidential candidates reversing the positions they campaigned on.

  17. yes. I believe the Republicans joined Medicare true-believers when they signed up for Mr. Bush’s senior drug benefit addition to Medicare.

    There is absolutely no hypocrisy in Mr. McCain. Confusion? Perhaps. But not hypocrisy. Hey, the guy is pretty old now so he’s entitled to lapses in memory, judgement, etc.

  18. “unchanging preservation of entitlements for seniors”

    Medicare is not an entitlement for seniors. Before reaching age 65, many of them had deductions come off their pay checks, when younger and gainfully employed, to fund Medicare so they could reap the medical benefits once they retired and were on a fixed income. To cut Medicare benefits is to breach a commonly accepted contractual agreement between taxpayers and government.

    Fyi, Medicaid – which the Dems want to expand per the fine print of their glorious health care reform package – is an “entitlement.”

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