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GOP Turns to Scare Tactics, Double-Talk on Medicare

July 31, 2009

In his latest fear-mongering on health care reform, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that Democrats are intent on "sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare." Of course, McConnell's statement isn't merely false, it is comically so. After all, even as the program marked its 44th anniversary this week, his Republican colleagues like Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tom Price (R-GA) continued the GOP's decades-long war against "government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare." More laughable still, Mitch McConnell was among the Republicans in the 1990's pushing draconian cuts to Medicare, an ill-fated crusade against America's elderly stopped by Bill Clinton.
In his broadside Thursday, McConnell tried to scare America's 46 million Medicare beneficiaries by declaring, "The administration plans to use Medicare cuts to fund yet another new government program." Hoping to build on the momentum of the GOP's disgusting and demonstrably false "euthanasia" talking point, McConnell cautioned:

"Some in Congress seem to be in such a rush to pass just any reform, rather than the right reform, that they're looking everywhere for the money to pay for it -- even if it means sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare."

That salvo comes just two weeks after McConnell promised to defeat health care reform in the Senate, warning America's highest turnout voting block:

"They are going to pay for this plan by cutting Medicare, that is cutting seniors."

Of course, in 1995, that was precisely what Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries in Congress like Mitch McConnell promised to do. As it turned out, Bill Clinton's veto threat backed by overwhelming public support for Medicare not only stopped the Republicans dead in their tracks, it helped reverse their gains in the pivotal 1994 elections.
As ThinkProgress recalled, Team Gingrich hoped its harsh cuts would lead Medicare to "wither on the vine":

All of the bills before Congress help finance health care reform by eliminating wasteful spending within the Medicare and Medicaid programs, something McConnell supported in 1997. In fact, Republicans have been such enthusiastic proponents of cutting Medicare spending that in 1995, they sought to cut 14% from projected Medicare spending over seven years and force millions of elderly recipients into managed health care programs or HMOs. As Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich admitted, "We don't want to get rid of it in round one because we don't think it's politically smart," he said. "But we believe that it's going to wither on the vine because we think [seniors] are going to leave it voluntarily."

For his part, President Obama cited $177 billion in potential savings from the Medicare Advantage program at an AARP town hall meeting Tuesday. (AARP has announced its support for Obama's reform agenda.) But he was quick to note, "Nobody is talking about trying to change Medicare benefits," adding, "What we do want is to eliminate some of the waste that is being paid for out of the Medicare trust fund."
And as ThinkProgress again noted, that approach is one Mitch McConnell supported 12 years ago:

Rather than "cut Seniors," as the Republicans proposed in the 1990s, this bill would eliminate overpayments and slowly phase in payment adjustments that encourage providers to deliver quality care more efficiently; it cuts out the waste, while patching up shortages. For instance, the legislation increases seniors' access to rural care by increasing funding to rural providers, improves the affordability of Medicare by expanding the number of seniors eligible for assistance with premiums and co-pays, and helps seniors afford prescription drugs by filling in the drug donut hole in Medicare part D.
The cuts are designed to reduce insurance company subsidies and reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions. Some of these cuts have been endorsed by the health insurance industry and they're also the kinds of proposals that McConnell voted for as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. That act decreased Medicare spending by 12.7% over 10 years and instituted the very same kind of payment updates that McConnell is now condemning.

All of which brings us to the Republicans' transparently cynical two-faced attack this week. Mitch McConnell (who voted against allowing the government to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower prices for Medicare participants) pretends to be a protector of Medicare even as his allies continue the perpetual GOP war against a program they insist never should have existed.
Sadly, the Republicans' hypocritical disinformation campaign seems to be working. While the AP features stories such as "Seniors Uneasy over Medicare Cuts in Overhaul," the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman highlighted an episode which sadly encapsulates the success of Republican fear-mongering:

At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to "keep your government hands off my Medicare." The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program -- but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, "wasn't having any of it."

And somewhere, Mitch McConnell was smiling.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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