On Medicare, the Romney campaign is borrowing the strategic logic of a long-ago military legend.
Taking command of the French ninth army in 1914 as it retreated before the Germans, Marshal Ferdinand Foch uttered his immortal words: “Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.”
The best Mitt Romney ad of the campaign is the current spot on President Barack Obama’s cuts to Medicare. It points out that the president took $700 billion from Medicare to fund “Obamacare,” robbing one unsustainable entitlement to create a new one. The ad is truthful, unadorned, and — for any senior who feels protective of Medicare — damning.
In the Medicare debate, schoolyard rules apply: Punch the bully in the mouth twice as hard.
It’s impossible to have a reasonable discussion with people who insist you are going to “kill people” (Paul Krugman’s words). If Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t yet said that the Romney-Ryan Medicare premium-support plan will lead to the reinstitution of chattel slavery, just wait until the next time he gets worked up before a largely African-American audience.
Never before, though, have Democrats passed the largest Medicare cuts in history immediately prior to launching their tried-and-true assault. This time, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle a danger to America’s seniors.
Confronted with Obama’s Medicare cuts, Democrats and their friends in the media resort to denial.
On Meet the Press the other day, I asked Rachel Maddow if she supported the $700 billion in cuts, and she simply wouldn’t say. Here was the Oxford-educated pride of liberal punditry professing to have no opinion on a primary means of funding what she considers a glorious legislative achievement.
Others pooh-pooh the significance of the cuts. They supposedly hit only “nonessential services.” This may be the first time in the debate over entitlements that Democrats have deemed anything related to Medicare “nonessential.”
What Democrats mean is that $156 billion of the cuts fall on the Medicare Advantage program. They have always hated this feature because it gives seniors access to private-sector coverage options. But seniors like it.
The Obama cuts also rely on grinding, year-after-year reductions in payments to doctors and other providers. This is a way to maintain that there are technically no changes in “benefits,” though access to and quality of care inevitably will be affected.
No one concerned with the health of Medicare would go about it in this fashion. But “Obamacare” was helter-skelter legislating, a desperate attempt to make the numbers temporarily add up.
Medicare’s actuaries consistently sound the alarm about the consequences. A May 2012 report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, “The large reductions in Medicare payments rates to physicians would likely have serious implications for beneficiary access to care.” It also noted the punishing effect on hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities, and home health agencies, which “would have to withdraw from providing services to Medicare beneficiaries, merge with other provider groups or shift substantial portions of Medicare costs to their non-Medicare, non-Medicaid payers.”
Oh, is that all? If a Republican president had done this, the New York Times would have called for impeachment proceedings.
Is the Republicans’ counter-assault on Medicare hypocritical? No. How — not whether — to restrain Medicare is the question. The Democratic approach, now and in the future, is blunt-force price controls. Republicans want to get savings through competition and choice.
This is how the popular Medicare prescription-drug program works. The cost of the program is 40 percent below projections, as James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center points out, and the $30-per-month premium is only $6 more than in 2006.
Even if it stays on offense, the Romney campaign is on perilous ground with Medicare. But there is no heading back. Best instead to take more inspiration from old Ferdinand Foch: “A battle won is a battle which we will not acknowledge to be lost.”
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.