The GOP's Medicare Problem


Congressman Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future—his sweeping entitlement and budget proposal—would cut Medicare. It would cut Medicare by a lot—more, as Paul Krugman notes, than even ObamaCare would cut it. Indeed, that's exactly the point, and the virtue of the proposal: In its current form, Medicare is unsustainable. Unlike ObamaCare, Ryan's proposal would fix that. And unlike ObamaCare, it would not plow funds generated from those cuts back into propping-up and expanding a failing, third-party-payer, employer-provided insurance system that pretty much everyone dislikes. But yes, it would cut Medicare significantly.

Medicare is awesome! Except when it's not!

That's a good thing, except that the Republican party is going to have a tough time fully embracing it. The problem is that by using opposition to Medicare cuts to build opposition to ObamaCare, the GOP has rendered itself unale to seriously deal with the program's long-term problems.

I've called out Michael Steele for this on a number of occasions, but he's not the only one. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned against Medicare cuts earlier this week. And yesterday, Newt Gingrich offered "ten GOP health ideas for Obama." One item on the list: "Don't cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong." That's the same Newt Gingrich who shut down the government in 1995 because then-president Bill Clinton wouldn't agree to cuts in Medicare, among other programs.

There's room to disagree over the mechanisms that Ryan has proposed, but even White House OMB director Peter Orszag has called it a legitimate plan. Yet legitimacy only goes so far when much of the rest of the party seems less interested in workable policy and more interested in short-term political advantage.?