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Scott Brown
Sen. Scott "I LOVE Medicare! Really!" Brown

Remember when Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) was all brave and out there in supporting the House Republican budget that ends Medicare as we know it?

You're supposed to forget all that now. He's taken to the opinion page at Politico to let the world, and more importantly the voters of Massachusetts, know that he's just not all that into vouchers.

While I applaud Ryan for getting the conversation started, I cannot support his specific plan — and therefore will vote “no” on his budget.

Why can’t I go along with the Ryan Medicare plan?

First, I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support— and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays. Protecting those who have been counting on the current system their entire adult lives should be the key principle of reform.

Second, Medicare has already taken significant cuts to help pay for Obama’s health care plan. The president and Congress cut a half trillion dollars to the private side of Medicare — meaning seniors are at risk of losing their Medicare Advantage coverage.

Another key principle is that seniors should not have to bear a disproportionate burden. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing. If Medicare is to survive for current beneficiaries and future generations, we must act. The sooner Congress addresses this, the less painful it is likely to be — but more difficult adjustments will be required if we delay.

See how he tried to cleverly thread that needle? Sure the Republican plan decimates Medicare, but it's really premium support, not eventually worthless vouchers. But he can't support it anyway, even though Paul Ryan was really, really brave to put it out there. And sure it cuts Medicare to the bone. But Obama did it first!

Brown's callow approach to policy-making aside, his defection shows the real problem the GOP has on this stinker of an issue. As presidential hopefuls are supposed to be lining up in fealty to it, Republicans like Brown recognize just how toxic it is. The House Republicans are probably thinking that the Dem Senate is going to save their bacon. The plan can' t possibly make it through the Senate so they won't be blamed for truly draconian cuts. But the Senate will stop it, and then they'll have the irresponsible Dems who won't deal with the deficit to run against. Not a bad plan, really, except that this proposal is so extreme and so unpopular, it's hard to see how they escape the taint of it.

That is, if Dems are willing to make the political most out of it, and really go for the jugular. That also means holding tough on Medicare and resisting all cuts on the benefit side. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has the template: "It is a flag we've planted that we will protect and defend. We have a plan. It's called Medicare."

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