Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 5, 2011

BACKING AWAY FROM MEDICARE PRIVATIZATION.... Just last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about his caucus' budget plan, which included, among other things, the elimination of Medicare. The Speaker said he supports the agenda, but added, "I'm not wedded to one single idea."

It was the first meaningful hint that Republicans may not be fully prepared to go all the way in support of their own radical vision. The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports today that GOP leaders now appear to be backing away even faster than expected.

Senior Republicans conceded Wednesday that a deal is unlikely on a contentious plan to overhaul Medicare and offered to open budget talks with the White House by focusing on areas where both parties can agree, such as cutting farm subsidies.

On the eve of debt-reduction talks led by Vice President Biden, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said Republicans remain convinced that reining in federal retirement programs is the key to stabilizing the nation's finances over the long term. But he said Republicans recognize they may need to look elsewhere to achieve consensus after President Obama "excoriated us" for a proposal to privatize Medicare.

Republicans are certainly entitled to their spin, but I have a hunch the president's excoriation had less to do with the GOP's change of heart than polls (Americans hate the Republican agenda) and two weeks of town-hall meetings (angry constituents gave GOP lawmakers an earful).

Regardless of the motivation, though, Montgomery's report suggests Republican leaders, at least for now, are scurrying away from their hard-right line and embracing a more "conciliatory tone."

That search could start, Cantor said, with a list of GOP proposals that would save $715 billion over the next decade by ending payments to wealthy farmers, limiting lawsuits against doctors, and expanding government auctions of broadcast spectrum to telecommunications companies, among other items.

Democrats said they were encouraged by the move, which could smooth the way to a compromise allowing Congress to raise the legal limit on government borrowing and avoid a national default.

Obviously, we'll need to wait for more details, but at this point, the shift seems encouraging. There are, however, some angles to keep an eye on, and two jump out right away.

The first is that senior Republican officials may be prepared to narrow the scope of their demands, but it remains to be seen whether the GOP's rank-and-file agree. As we've seen in recent months, party leaders aren't always the ones doing the leading.

The other is that Republicans, if they are prepared to scrap their Medicare privatization plan, made a terrible strategic decision when it came to pursuing their agenda. They knew ending Medicare would be unpopular, they knew Democrats would never go for it, but they voted for it anyway. Now GOP leaders are prepared to negotiate it away, which makes sense, but what about the 235 House Republicans -- 98% of the caucus -- who stuck their necks out and voted for this ridiculous agenda because their leaders asked them to?

The attack ads they'll face next year will be brutal -- and accurate -- and they'll have nothing to show for their risk.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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If the House Republicans are serious they should vote again on the Ryan Medicare Phase-Out. But don't hold your breath.

Posted by: max on May 5, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

"The attack ads they'll face next year will be brutal -"

-And another "don't hold your breath" moment!

Posted by: DAY on May 5, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

How does tort reform help save $715 Billion. Is the argument that they can use far fewer federal judges? Or that the government subsidizes the awards somehow? Or is the underpants gnome somehow involved in this scheme?

Posted by: Danp on May 5, 2011 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, they need to hang this around every Republicans neck EVERY election from now on out!!!

But why is it that I have the sneaking suspicion that somehow or other the Republicans will convince the stupid corporatist Democrats to do their dirty work for them sometime in the next decade?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 5, 2011 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

And once Heller is seated in the Senate, Harry Reid ought to force the vote anyway - how embarrassing for the Republicans to have to vote against their own plan! (And Heller would get to decide whether to support his original vote for it in the House or to jettison it this time - talk about a flip-flop!)

Posted by: blondie on May 5, 2011 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

They are getting their asses handed to them on Medicare so it makes sense they are backing away. What is hysterical though, is the way that Cantor put it - Obama yelled at him and hurt his feelings. There is no way to spin that one positively.

Posted by: jomo on May 5, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

They own it. They are bold. They are brave. They are fucked.

Posted by: SW on May 5, 2011 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Jeez, I wish Obama had done more excoriating over the last two years.

Posted by: George Colombo on May 5, 2011 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

"The attack ads they'll face next year will be brutal -- and accurate -- and they'll have nothing to show for their risk." Maybe they forgot that the Tea Party was first an astroturf group designed to create artificial buzz.

They should have known they would have their hats handed to them. Seniors might be not know a lot about national defense or creating jobs, but they know what about government works for them. There are a lot more retirees who care about Medicare and Medicaid, than billionaire Ayn Rand follwers and the billionaire money won't make up the difference on a subject they care about.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 5, 2011 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Compare and contrast the passage of HCR despite a more orchestrated, vehement, and prolonged town hall opposition, and the Republicans folding up so quickly. If they can't stand up to a few seniors at a town hall, how can we expect them to deal with the likes of Iran and Syria?

Posted by: John Dillinger on May 5, 2011 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, the Mr. Smith goes to Washington moment for our Freshman Tea Partying Republicans has come crashing down behind their wet ears!

To review: A vote for Big Oil subsidies, and a vote to end Medicare by duly elected legislative officials representing "the people" - talk about screwing up big time!

Now they want a redo? We may take it, but to paraphrase Gandhi,

Congressional civilization?
That would be a good thing!

Hey Republican political neophytes, we can see perfectly by your votes whose side you're on!

Quit screwing around on our dime!

Oh, and Harry, go ahead and schedule that Ryan Plan vote at your earliest convenience!-Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 5, 2011 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

@DAY on May 5, 2011 at 8:47 AM

No kidding, right? I'm wondering who this opposition party is that's going to spring up in 18 months to run "brutal" ads.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 5, 2011 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans will always have the "liberal" press on their side. They are well aware of this. SO, the liars have a good chance of lying their way to or out of whatever they want. They also have unlimited money.

AND, don't write off the gullibility of Republican voters. A few months of saying that Obama likes Medicare will turn lots of them against the program, even if they are seniors using Medicare (I know that sounds stupid, but my parents bought the theme that Obama wants to get government involved in Medicare and ruin the program - so is there a limit?).

AND, remember that crap never sleeps. If they don't kill Medicare this year, there's always next year.

This ain't over yet - not by a mile.

Posted by: Mark-NC on May 5, 2011 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Now That They're On the Run...

... Democrats need to press the advantage. Call your Senators & Representatives. Tell them to start pushing the Progressive budget. Remind them the Repubs have given way on Medicare privatization, that the President has KILLED OSAMA bin LADEN, that they have tremendous "political capital" at the moment and it's time to invest it in the future.

Posted by: zandru on May 5, 2011 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Montgomery is a tool of GOP Hill staffers, so I would assume she's credible, although you'd have to wonder why one of them leaked it.

Posted by: Rich on May 5, 2011 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

"....what about the 235 House Republicans -- 98% of the caucus -- who stuck their necks out and voted for this ridiculous agenda because their leaders asked them to?

The attack ads they'll face next year will be brutal -- and accurate -- and they'll have nothing to show for their risk."

Works for me! (And it's already started.)

Posted by: June on May 5, 2011 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

All it took was Harry Reid threatening to make Senate GOPers vote on the Ryan plan. Please Harry, take the damn vote now.

Posted by: T2 on May 5, 2011 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

OK, so GOP leaders are prepared to negotiate away something they knew they had no chance of getting for another round of huge budget cuts that will slow the economy and that Democrats would never agree to if they had a better negotiating strategy.

This is supposed to be good news for Dems??

Posted by: bruce k on May 5, 2011 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Hint to Dem negotiators: unless and until the
Republicans figure out for themselves whether they
*do* or *don't* want to kill Medicare, don't offer
them a damn thing in exchange for not doing it.

Also note that Ryan's so-called deficit reduction
plan looks even more threadbare if you take away
the (always implausible) decimation of Medicare.

They got nothing. Don't give 'em anything.

Posted by: Richard Cownie on May 5, 2011 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK
I'm wondering who this opposition party is that's going to spring up in 18 months to run "brutal" ads.

They might not, wusses that they are- but various advocacy groups surely will do it for them.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on May 5, 2011 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, Harry Reid was gonna, might, plans to, could, maybe will, been thinking about forcing the Republicans to vote up or down on the Ryan plan.

See how swiftly the opportunity is disappearing? See the Democrats blow another opportunity?

Posted by: dweb823 on May 5, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

It got back to the House leadership that a vote on they Ryan bill would fracture the Senate caucus.

Maybe Obama's plan of getting the GOP to the table is based on playing chicken to force the Republicans to stick their neck out on their own ideas, hammer them when they do, and force a chastined party to the table instead of facing the voters.

Posted by: Archon on May 5, 2011 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

@archon -- You know, early in Obama's term people would alway sspeculate on whether he was playing 47-level chess. You seem to be wondering the same thing. But I think at this point, it's clear that he's not. They have no coordinated strategy -- or perhaps more importantly, no demonstrated appetite -- for pinning the GOP once they have them on the mat.

Posted by: John from Minneapolis on May 5, 2011 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

That House republican "leadership" is one great big stinking heap of stupid, isn't it?

So, how many jobs have they created so far? If the Democrats had the will to capitalize on this the slaughter next year could be historically bloody but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: Roger the Cabin Boy on May 5, 2011 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican vote was so irrational and made so little sense politically, I have to think that they were crazy enough to assume Obama would give them cover in the name of bipartisanship. Maybe it was 47 level chess, maybe not but it was definitely a political opportunity that the POTUS took advantage of.

Posted by: Archon on May 5, 2011 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans met reality for the first time in decades: no matter how hard their die-hard supporters (including the New York Times) tried desperately in the polls (The NYT somehow managed to find 55% support for Ryan's Medicare attack), slanted articles and talking heads, the PEOPLE knew, and they let the Republicans know.

It shocked Republicans to find that not all politics is conKOCHted theatrics. Let's hope it sobers them up a bit, drunk as they are on their imaginary total power based on winning the House.

Let us hope this power is very short lived; that they get real, and that the people realize how dangerous they are to grant any power to.

Posted by: jjm on May 5, 2011 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

I have already seen some fairly harsh AARP ads about "calling your Senators and Representatives to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security". Old people vote. They ain't, in my opinion, gonna vote for Team Voldemort in 2012, because TV tried to knife their babies.

Posted by: David Derbes on May 5, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK
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