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Michael Steele and the GOP's Inside Poop on Medicare

July 4, 2010

Republican leaders are calling for Michael Steele's head in the wake of his remarks calling the conflict in Afghanistan "a war of Obama's choosing" which is destined to fail. But it's hardly the first time the GOP threatened Steele with the chopping block for bucking the party line. Last year, when the RNC chairman rolled out his "seniors bill of rights" committing the GOP to "no cuts to Medicare", Republicans told their chairman to "quit meddling in policy." Of course, given the 50-year Republican war on Medicare, their fury should have come as no surprise.
Responding to critics in his own party over his handling of the Medicare issue and the health care debate, Michael Steele last fall called the episode "typical Washington inside poop" and claimed, "There's some staffers who clearly have a bug up their you know what."
But their backside discomfort wasn't the result of Steele's almost daily, run of the mill buffoonery. At the height of the health care imbroglio, the leading lights among the Capitol Hill Republicans were apparently livid over Steele's foray in their turf when it came to scaring the bejesus out of the 46 million American seniors served by Medicare. While Mitch McConnell and company want to terrify the elderly about mythical benefits cuts they falsely claim President Obama will produce, the GOP braintrust is even more terrified by Steele's pledge in a Washington Post op-ed and August RNC ad calling for a "Seniors' Bill of Rights":

"Let's agree in both parties that Congress should only consider health reform proposals that protect senior citizens. For starters, no cuts to Medicare to pay for another program. Zero."

The response during a heated meeting last September was fast and furious:

The congressional leaders were particularly miffed that Steele had in late August unveiled a seniors' "health care bill of rights" without consulting with them. The statement of health care principles, outlined in a Washington Post op-ed, began with a robust defense of Medicare that puzzled some in a party not known for its attachment to entitlements...
Steele was taken aback by the comments from Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Senate GOP conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senate GOP policy Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and grew defensive during the 10-minute discussion, according to two people in the room.

Of course, Politico's description of the GOP as a "a party not known for its attachment to entitlements" is a comical understatement when its comes to the perpetual Republican war on Medicare.
As Michael Steele may have forgotten, Republicans tried to block the creation of Medicare in the 1960's and unsuccessfully sought to gut its budget by 15% in the 1990's.
The words of Republicans past and present tell the tale. Before his later canonization by the GOP faithful, Ronald Reagan announced in 1961 that the failure to stop Medicare meant "you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free." Three years later, his future successor George H.W. Bush decried it as "socialized Medicine." Just this July, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, a one-time orthopedic surgeon and current chairman of the Republican Study Group, proclaimed:

"Going down the path of more government will only compound the problem. While the stated goal remains noble, as a physician, I can attest that nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare."

When asked at a rally last September, Rep. Price refused to defend Medicare after stating "we will not rest until we make certain that government-run health care is ended."
Throughout the 1990's, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell and their Republican colleagues continued the GOP war on Medicare. Hoping to slowly but surely undermine the program by shifting its beneficiaries to managed care and private insurance, in 1995 McConnell was among the Republican revolutionaries backing Gingrich's call to slash Medicare spending by $270 billion (14%) over seven years. As Gingrich put it then:

"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."

When President Clinton and his Democratic allies in Congress rushed to defend Medicare from the Republican onslaught, Gingrich launched a blistering assault:

"Think about a party whose last stand is to frighten 85-year-olds, and you'll understand how totally morally bankrupt the modern Democratic Party is."

Fast forward to the health care battle of 2009 and Gingrich's Republicans were precisely that morally bankrupt. Throughout August, GOP demagogues falsely claimed Democratic health care proposals would gut Medicare benefits. (For more background on this fraudulent GOP talking point, see FactCheck, Politifact and the AARP.) Sarah Palin and Obama negotiating partner Chuck Grassley warned about mythical government"death panels" which would "pull the plug on grandma." Amazingly, a poll last fall showed that 59% of self-identified conservatives and 62% of McCain voters believe that the government should "stay out of Medicare." As for Mitch McConnell, who a decade ago wanted to take a butcher knife to Medicare, the Senate Minority Leader is using a rhetorical scalpel to slash Democrats:

"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."

(Within days of rolling out that seniors bill of rights, Chairman Steele reflected incarnate the GOP contradictions - and hypocrisy - over Medicare. He called for "no cuts to Medicare to pay for another program," only to announce on NPR just days later, "You've got to deal with those inefficiencies, absolutely.")
It is worth noting, as Steve Benen did, that far from protecting Medicare, Republicans in Congress are actively intent on "privatizing it out of existence." As he pointed out, "this year, 137 Republicans -- more than three-fourths of the caucus -- voted in support of a GOP alternative budget plan that called for 'replacing the traditional Medicare program with subsidies to help retirees enroll in private health care plans.'" And in a jaw-dropping Wall Street Journal op-ed just three weeks earlier, Sarah Palin called for fundamentally altering the program by "providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage."
Palin's privatization campaign was publicly echoed by a host of other Republicans, including Jack Kingston (R-GA), Paul Broun (R-GA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the latter of whom insisted "what we have to do is wean everybody" off Medicare and Social Security. And in February, as Joe Conason wrote of the GOP's new found concern for Medicare:

This charade ended when Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, author of the House Republican budget proposal, revealed that nothing had really changed. Like every right-wing Republican, Mr. Ryan still wants to kill Medicare, leaving seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry. His budget plan proposes a "defined benefit" voucher system that would eventually abolish traditional Medicare in order to control future deficits.

Of course, as Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and TPM (among others) noted, Ryan's "Road Map for America's Future" would inevitably lead to the rationing of Medicare.
And so it goes. Republicans opposed Obama's health care reform not because it might fail, but out of fear that it would succeed, and thus for years make Democrats the party of choice for grateful Americans. So the GOP now pretends to defend the Medicare program it has always opposed and doubtless will again in the future. Michael Steele almost lost his job last fall because he almost tied their hands in their perpetual war on Medicare.
And, as ever, that is war of the Republicans' choosing.

One comment on “Michael Steele and the GOP's Inside Poop on Medicare”

  1. "... we think [seniors] are going to leave it voluntarily."
    Yeah, "voluntarily" in the sense that they die sooner for lack of timely medical care.
    Do any of these morons realize what the monthly stipend from SS is for the person who made $46,000 in their last year of work? And that's if they're lucky and didn't lose their "good paying job" and end up working a part-time minimum-wage job for the last five years before retirement.
    Yeah, I'm sure I'll be able to afford private insurance when I'm in my late sixties out of the $600 or $700/month I'll be lucky to get, along with rent, utilities and food. I can always get clothes from church donations.


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

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