Mitt Romney's presidential campaign featured frequent attacks on President Obama for cutting $716 billion out of Medicare. Romney made ads criticizing the president for the cuts, and pegged Obama as the only president who has cut Medicare. "When you see your friends with signs that say keep your hands off our Medicare," Romney said last year, "they are absolutely right."Well, anyone who liked that line may be disappointed. The cuts are back. And this time it's Republicans who are proposing them. Again.
The attacks were politically convenient, and seemed with resonate with seniors. But they never made much sense. In part that's because Romney was simultaneously pretending to be running as someone who wanted to cut spending and reform health care entitlements. An even bigger reason, though, is that Romney's own running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP Chair of the House Budget Committee, had proposed those exact same cuts in budgets that he and most of the House Republicans had voted for.
Romney promised to nix Obama's Medicare cuts, and restore spending to the program. But now it looks like Rep. Ryan will once again propose to keep those cuts in place. The Hill reports that Republicans on the Budget Committee expected that the cuts will remain in the next GOP budget, despite their prominence in the campaign.
Stories like these tell you something about the lack of a strong policy vision in the Romney campaign, as well as the willingness of other Republicans to follow along, despite the campaign's weaknesses. More than that, they offer a reminder that Romney's line of attack was always a gamble for entitlement reformers. And at this point it's clear that it was one that didn't pay off.
No, Romney wasn't the first Republican to run against cutting Medicare, and I suspect he won't be the last. But Romney's attacks, combined with his frustratingly non-specific Medicare reform proposal, helped position the GOP as a party defending against cuts and changes to Medicare. The party that won't make cuts, that wants the government to keep its hands off Medicare, not the party that wants to transform and reform the nation's biggest long-term fiscal problem.
In this case, I suspect that Republicans will just ignore what Romney said during the campaign and proceed to include the $716 billion in cuts in future budgets. But I also suspect that if the time comes to negotiate more substantial Medicare reform, the GOP will have Romney's words thrown back at them.