The Campaign Spot

Will the Super-Committee Louse Up the Scare-Granny Campaign?

Politico, this morning:

President Barack Obama’s health care law has high negative ratings, and they’re not getting any better. But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan has high negatives, too — and they’re not healing either.

It’s almost enough to suggest that the two plans will just cancel each other out as liabilities in 2012, with the Democrats and Republicans fighting to a draw as they try to scare voters to their side. The big health care question of the election would be: Whose albatross is bigger?

In all likelihood, though, the Ryan plan may be more damaging to the Republicans than the health reform law is to the Democrats. That’s because voters have more of a history of switching their votes over Medicare than they do over health care in general, according to independent health care experts.

I’m not sure that past history is quite so illuminating on this front, partially because we’ve never had legislation like Obamacare before. We have never had legislation that directly effected the health care of every American like this; we’ve never had a law that required every American to purchase health insurance from a private insurer before, we’ve never had a roughly 50-50 chance that the Supreme Court will strike it down as unconstituional before, and we’ve never had promises so quickly broken (“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan“). We’ve never seen legislation trigger mass layoffs by U.S. medical device manufacturers and moves to shift operations to China. At least on this scale, we’ve never seen legislation whose primary selling point that it would save money suddenly become a financial liability so fast.

But if we are insistent upon looking at past history, we notice that the two recent GOP landslides of recent memory – 1994 and 2010 – both had a Democratic president’s attempt to dramatically change the health care system front-and-center in it.

In the Politico story, they write, “That doesn’t mean most Americans want it repealed, though. A Bloomberg poll in June found that 35 percent of Americans want to get rid of the law, but 51 percent want to ‘see how it works’ — perhaps with small changes — and 11 percent want to leave it alone.”

But support for repeal, as measured by Rasmussen on a weekly basis, is remarkably consistent. No more than 43 percent have ever opposed repeal (and it has been as low as 32 percent) and no less than than 47 percent have ever supported repeal (and that figure has been as high as 63 percent). The most current split is 55 percent supporting repeal, 39 percent opposing repeal.

However, the article does make the intriguing point that if Obama were to agree to even modest Medicare cuts as part of a future deal with the Super-Committee (or whatever they’re calling the bipartisan group assigned finding another $1.5 trillion in savings), it complicates the Republicans-want-to-push-granny-off-the-cliff narrative:

…now that Obama has put some big Medicare changes on the table as he tried to negotiate with Republicans — such as raising the eligibility age, increasing premiums and changing deductibles and co-payments — some Democratic operatives are worried that the tables will become unturned.

“I definitely think it muddies the waters,” said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. “I do think that no matter what happens, things have gotten murkier.”

How badly could a pre-election Medicare savings deal muddy the waters? A June poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that most seniors think it’s more important to keep current benefits in Medicare and Social Security than to reduce the deficit. But the difference was especially lopsided among older voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic: Eighty-one percent of those seniors said it’s more important to leave their benefits alone.

By the way, what are those big Medicare changes that Obama put on the table? Paul Krugman writes, “according to many reports, the president offered both means-testing of Medicare benefits and a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility.” A good step if true, but you can’t get credit for being a bold reformer if you insist upon proposing all of the most unpopular ideas in secret behind closed doors.

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