Michele Bachmann and the Great Republican Enchickening on Medicare
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Minnesota Representative and would-be 2012 GOP White House hopeful Michele Bachmann announced she was placing an "asterisk" next to her vote for the Paul Ryan budget plan to end Medicare as we know it. Given her usual hyperbole, such as her warning this week that the federal tax burden now at its lowest level since 1950 is a "disenfranchisement" akin to the Holocaust, Bachmann's fear about "shifting the cost burden to seniors" is unexpected. And very surprising. After all, this is the same Michele Bachmann who has now voted twice to turn the Medicare into an under-funded voucher system in order to "wean everybody off" the system providing health insurance for 46 million elderly Americans.
Earlier this month, Bachmann joined 234 of her House Republican colleagues in blessing the Ryan budget plan which as its centerpiece would "voucherize" and ration Medicare. As the value of the vouchers fails to keep up with the skyrocketing premiums charged by private insurers, future seniors would face spiraling out of pocket costs and the inevitable rationing of care. As the CBO forecast, by 2030 beneficiaries' share of their health care costs would catapult to 68%.
Which may explain why Bachmann, one of the rising stars of the same Republican Party which tried to kill Medicare in the 1960's and gut it in the 1990's, is now getting cold feet about privatizing the program out of existence. As Politico reported, she refused to endorse either the Republican study committee draft or the draconian Ryan budget plan she just voted for:
Bachmann, one of many Republicans mulling a run for president in 2012, said she was concerned that Medicare cuts proposed in both budget plans -- which she carefully described not as bills, but as "aspirational documents" -- put an undue burden on America's seniors.
"I put an asterisk on my support, I put a blog posting up that said just as much. That is my area of concern," she said on "Fox News Sunday." "I support this bill with that proviso."
"I'm concerned about shifting the cost burden to seniors," she added.
If so, she had no such qualms two years ago.
In April 2009, Bachmann was one of 137 House GOP members who voted for an alternative budget scheme similarly converting Medicare into a voucher system. As Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly explained:
In April, 137 Republicans voted in support of a GOP alternative budget. It didn't generate a lot of attention, but the plan, drafted by the House Budget Committee's Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called for "replacing the traditional Medicare program with subsidies to help retirees enroll in private health care plans."
The AP noted at the time that Republican leaders were "clearly nervous that votes in favor of the GOP alternative have exposed their members to political danger."
It was with good reason the Democratic National Committee targeted Rep. Bachmann with an ad declaring, "Michele Bachmann voted to abolish Medicare."
In February 2010, Bachmann explained why. Citing Glenn Beck's fanciful figure of $107 trillion in "unfunded liabilities" for Social Security and Medicare, she announced the federal government needed to "wean" Americans off the programs that dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly:
"We're $14 trillion in debt, but that doesn't include the unfunded massive liabilities. That's $107 trillion, and that's for Social Security and Medicare and all the rest. You add up all those unfunded net liabilities, and all the traps that could go wrong we're on the hook for, and what it means is what we have to do is a reorganization of all of that, Social Security and all. We have to do it simply because we can't let the contract remain as they are because the older people are going to lose. So, what you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don't have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can't do it. So we just have to be straight with people. So basically, whoever our nominee is, is going to have to have a Glenn Beck chalkboard and explain to everybody this is the way it is."
Of course, with the 2012 elections now just over the horizon, some Republicans are having second thoughts about betraying the older voters they rode to victory in November. Just days after trumpeting "I fully support Paul Ryan's budget, including his efforts on Medicare," Speaker John Boehner last week said of the Ryan plan he and all but four House Republicans voted for:
"It's Paul's idea. Other people have other ideas. I'm not wedded to one single idea, but I think it's -- we have a plan."
With vulnerable GOP moderates like Susan Collins already voicing opposition to the Ryan bill, Democratic Senator Majority Leader is promising to hold vote to out all 47 Republicans on the record. And with good reason: recent polls from CBS and NBC each found that 76% of Americans opposed cuts to Medicare.
As it turns out, Republican support for privatizing Medicare is inversely proportional to the distance of the next Election Day. With its draconian spending cuts, Medicare rationing, tax cuts for the rich and Social Security privatization, a GOP platform based on Ryan's Roadmap would have been about as popular as the Ebola virus. As the Washington Post put it last summer:
Many Republican colleagues, who, even as they praise Ryan for his doggedness, privately consider the Roadmap a path to electoral disaster...
The discomfort some Republicans feel for Ryan's proposals goes beyond November. If Republicans were to take control of Congress next year, Ryan will rise to chairman of the Budget Committee. He could use the position to hold colleagues accountable for runaway budget deficits and make it more difficult for fellow Republicans -- and Democrats -- to stuff bills with expensive projects that add to the problem.
As the New York Times noted before the midterm vote that produced the new GOP majority, only 13 House Republicans had signed on as co-sponsors of Ryan's Roadmap:
Republican leaders, hoping for gains in the fall and, ultimately, in 2012, seem concerned at the possibility that the Roadmap may eventually become something candidates will be forced to take a position on. After all, what candidate wants to talk about major changes to Medicare and Social Security?
Just ask Michele Bachmann. Trying to cover her retreat from her 2009 and 2011 votes to eradicate Medicare and its guaranteed health insurance of millions of American seniors, Bachmann ducked and dodged:
"What I'm saying with that vote is that we have to make decision, we're not saying every single decision in that bill -- that aspirational document -- will be the final result. What we are saying is that we have a conviction."
A conviction, that is, to hold onto power. Or put to it another way, Republicans were against the Ryan plan to kill Medicare before they were for it, and now many are turning against it again.
Welcome to the Great Republican Enchickening.