Saturday, July 09, 2011

Tossing Away Electoral Advantage

Exultant after the Democrat's upset win in NY-26 in May, DNC Chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz boasted that Kathy Hochul's victory was a triumph

for Americans who believe that our elected leaders should fight to protect Medicare and ensure that our government works for our seniors, working families and young people.

Politico couldn't help but notice

Republicans recaptured the House last year running on a platform that accused Democrats of slashing Medicare in their health reform law. Then Tuesday’s win by Democrat Kathy Hochul in a solidly Republican district was seen as a strong rebuke of the GOP budget that changes the basic structure of Medicare.

Kaiser Health News, referring to the corporate-based group aiming to be an alternative to AARP, noticed

If 60 Plus' goal was to inoculate Corwin from attacks on the Medicare issue, the effort failed badly. Corwin was beaten soundly by Democratic opponent Kathy Hochul, partly because of voter fears about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's proposal to sharply transform Medicare.

Even Fox News couldn't ignore the obvious:

Democrats are exultant over their win in the Republican-rich 26th District in Western New York not just because it breaks a long season of defeat for the party, but because it vindicates the Democratic plan to bash Republicans for suggesting changes to Medicare.

One source described as "familiar with the internal budget discussions over the Ryan budget plan warned "Members know that you don’t piss off senior citizens, and they know that this was handled badly, that there was no messaging, that Ryan’s not making his case and they are all looking down the road thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s coming..'"

Not to worry- Barack Obama to the rescue. The New York Times reported Thursday

Mr. Obama, who is to meet at the White House with the bipartisan leadership of Congress in an effort to work out an agreement to raise the federal debt limit, wants to move well beyond the $2 trillion in savings sought in earlier negotiations and seek perhaps twice as much over the next decade, Democratic officials briefed on the negotiations said Wednesday.

The president’s renewed efforts follow what knowledgeable officials said was an overture from Mr. Boehner, who met secretly with Mr. Obama last weekend, to consider as much as $1 trillion in unspecified new revenues as part of an overhaul of tax laws in exchange for an agreement that made substantial spending cuts, including in such social programs as Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — programs that had been off the table.

Lest we think that President Obama is in severe pain from his right arm being twisted by Speaker Boehner, it appears that reductions in entitlement programs were largely the idea of the White House, whose officials

argue that Democrats will be in stronger shape politically heading into November 2012 if they help enact a credible deficit reduction deal, allowing them to mount the argument that they protected Medicare from a much more drastic overhaul by Republicans.

One Democratic official said Messrs. Obama and Boehner worked through the Independence Day weekend to craft a grand deal, and that the White House proposed "serious things" regarding Medicare and Social Security, including means testing Medicare- that is, providing different levels of benefits depending on a beneficiary's financial status.

The Administration is determined to convince Democrats that a reduction in Medicare spending proposed by President Obama is necessary to prevent more drastic cuts by Republicans, who, still smarting from the smackdown in NY-26, appear not to have raised the issue. Must save the program from itself, saith the man who cut the payroll tax 2% in December, thereby reducing its revenues. Paul Krugman observes

It's getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama's motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.'s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that's not a false impression; maybe it's the simple truth....

I don't believe that it's all political calculation. Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it's hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit,not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts. It's worth noting that even Republicans weren't suggesting cuts to Social Security; this is something Mr. Obama and those he listens to apparently want for its own sake.

President Obama clearly believes that drastically cutting spending- even during an economic downturn, with unemployment now up to 9.2%- will enhance his re-election prospects. The impact upon other Democrats- congressional candidates- would be far worse, but not all is lost and there is little to fear. The country survived eight years, 2001-2008, of a Republican President. It can survive four, or even eight, more.

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