The Agenda

Hennessey on GOP Medicare Strategy

Smart, subtle, interesting take from Hennessey:

Last year Congressional Republicans discovered that policy weaknesses in ObamaCare created political vulnerabilities.  One of their criticisms was #2 above, that the pending legislation would slow the growth of Medicare spending but also create a new entitlement program.

Most Congressional Republicans were careful in their language.  They said they opposed “cutting Medicare to pay for a new entitlement.”  Even in being responsible, they were using the intentionally inflammatory word “cut.”  They were turning the seniors card back against Democrats.  This was savvy politics but damaging to efforts to slow the growth of Medicare spending for deficit reduction.  As a policy matter it helped kill a bill that was both fiscally irresponsible and terrible health policy, but at the cost of validating the word “cut” and the senior scare tactic.

Other Congressional Republicans short-handed their criticism to “I oppose this bill, which cuts Medicare by $500 billion.”  This is much harder to justify, unless you go with an ends-justify-the-means argument. [Emphasis added.]

Read the whole thing. My sense is that this tactic will prove very damaging over the long-term, yet I also think that the hydraulic nature of politics — arguments that are going to resonate with a broad, winnable swathe of the public will be used by political entrepreneurs in a competitive electoral system — provides useful context. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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