Saturday, June 12, 2010

GOP Reverses On Medicare, Predictably

Now we know what it really was all about.

It was Mitch McConnell on February 7, 2010, asked about the President's idea to have everyone over at the White House to talk about health care reform, who commented

the White House can start by shelving the current health spending bill, and with it their goal of slashing a half trillion dollars from Medicare and raising a half trillion in new taxes. The American people want lower costs, not Medicare cuts and tax increases.

Three days later, in an opinion piece he co-authored for The Wall Street Journal, Newt Gingrich would warn

Don't cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong. There is no question that Medicare is on an unsustainable course; the government has promised far more than it can deliver. But this problem will not be solved by cutting Medicare in order to create new unfunded liabilities for young people.

And on February 15, John Maccormack of the reliably conservative The Weekly Standard wrote admiringly of the "Roadmap" proposed by Republican faux wunderkind Paul Ryan of Ohio:

Ryan's plan would not cut Medicare benefits* for anyone 55 or older, while Obamacare would reduce access to care or diminish the quality of care for current beneficiaries. “You do not have to take benefits away from current seniors," Ryan told me Friday afternoon. "You have to reform the program for future generations. ... The cost explosion occurs when you go from 40 million to 80 million retirees, so you have to reform the program before it becomes 80 million retirees."

President Barack Obama is asking Republican lawmakers to approve billions of dollars in new spending to avert a scheduled 21 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

So you can be excused if you were surprised to read today that the Charles Babingon of the Associated Press has found

President Barack Obama is asking Republican lawmakers to approve billions of dollars in new spending to avert a scheduled 21 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

If GOP senators don’t allow the stalled proposal to pass, some doctors will stop treating Medicare recipients, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.

Obama also urged congressional leaders Saturday to approve his proposals to pump more federal money into states where thousands of teachers, firefighters and other public officials face likely layoffs. In a letter, Obama described his plans as “critical and timely ways to further the economic recovery and spur job creation.”

Republicans, only a few months ago decrying cuts to Medicare, now are balking at approving funding to prevent a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. Better to encourage as many doctors as possible to turn Medicare patients away, presumably.

Oh, they have their reasons, do the GOP legislators who ony a few months ago contended that "Obamacare" included Medicare cuts and those rhetoricall colorful "death panels." According to Babington, House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) "said his party wants to avoid reducing physicians’ Medicare fees, but do it without adding to the deficit — meaning spending cuts elsewhere." Nevertheless,

The president noted that since 2003, Congresses led by Democrats and Republicans have blocked similar proposed cuts in doctors' reimbursement rates. But now, he said, Republicans are "willing to walk away from the needs of our doctors and our seniors."

But only if a larger objective can be met. The claim of concern over rising debt would be more credible if these Republicans did not select the increase in defense spending as one of the few areas in which they might agree with the President. Or if they, or at least a few other members of their party, had shown even a small fraction of concern when that debt was being run up by Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush 43.

But those deficits were different. "Deficits don't matter," cried Vice President Cheney as long as they were created by tax cuts for the wealthy. But now that it's being done in (relatively small) part as incentive for doctors to continue taking Medicare patients or to stimulate an economy in recession by creating new jobs, it's time to get exercised by the national debt.

Better the GOP be exorcised, than exercised. Seven-eight months after Bush the Younger was selected president, The New York Times noted he called the dwindling federal surplus ""incredibly positive news' because it would halt the growth of the federal government."

The GOP's tune has changed but the intent has not. With a Democratic Administration, Republicans don't call for cutting services and gutting government but conveniently for "deficit reduction." But "'deficit reduction" doesn't mean deficit reduction. It means welfare state reduction, period. Military spending is sacred --- like the right to pack heat in church and gas guzzling. It is non-negotiable."

And if reducing the deficit means starving a popular program, weakening its value to the American people and boosting cynicism about government, it's all the better. As Ed Kilgore has identified the strategy, "stop government before it can help again."

For the GOP, it's a different sermon, but the same church.

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