Republican Leaders Remind Steele GOP Hates Medicare
As Politico reported Monday, Republicans leaders took RNC chairman Michael Steele to the woodshed for his high profile role in the health care debate. Furious that Steele's so-called "seniors' bill of rights" committed the GOP to "no cuts to Medicare," the Congressional Republicans told their chairman to "quit meddling in policy." Of course, given the GOP's 50-year war on Medicare, their fury should come as no surprise.
Beyond his almost daily, run of the mill buffoonery, the leading lights among the Capitol Hill Republicans were apparently livid over Steele's foray in their turf when it comes 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 month 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 month, 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 2009 and Gingrich's Republicans are precisely that morally bankrupt. Throughout August, GOP demagogues falsely claimed Democratic health care proposals would gut Medicare benefits. Sarah Palin and Obama negotiating partner Chuck Grassley warned about mythical government"death panels" which would "pull the plug on grandma." Amazingly, a recent poll 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."
(Earlier this month, Chairman Michael 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 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."
And so it goes. Republicans are worried not that Obama's health care reform might fail, but 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.
It's that second part Michael Steele got wrong. And his bosses won't let him forget it.
UPDATE: Michael Steele responds scatologically, calling the episode "typical Washington inside poop" and claiming, "There's some staffers who clearly have a bug up their you know what."