So how much have you loved the past few weeks?
As we predicted, if we went out and confronted Republicans as they rushed forward with their plans to kill Social Security and Medicare, those very same Republicans would find themselves running backwards, fast –and, even better, we hoped that Democrats might finally figure out that attacking on an issue that matters to the public, day after day, all the way through November of 2012, is a smart thing to do…and, for at least the past three weeks, they did figure it out.
But hey: why should a good thing last?
Over the next eight weeks we are going to see Republicans try to fix all this by turning the Democrats into Medicare-slashing “co-conspirators”; the vehicle through which this is supposed to occur is the debt ceiling negotiation, which has an August 2nd deadline.
That means the question before us today is…will Democrats continue to attack Republicans for their plans to turn Medicare into a “it’s not Government’s problem” kind of program – or do they think there’s political advantage to be found in “meeting them halfway”?
I’d love to tell you there’s nothing to worry about.
Unfortunately, I’m a bit more cynical than all that.
… there are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless.
--From Niccolò Machiavegli’s “The Prince”
You really do have to admire Republicans: after folks began to see the Ryan Plan for the attack on Medicare that it really is, angry crowds of what appeared to be otherwise good and decent Republican folk started showing up at the Town Hall meetings of good and decent Republican Members of Congress…so they fell back, gave it a bit of thought, and it now appears they are going to try something that will sound familiar: they hope to hold the entire United States economy hostage by forcing a deal, as we mentioned above, as the August deadline to increase the National Debt Limit approaches.
And the whole idea is to force the Democrats into sharing the blame for slashing Medicare; here’s what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-He Don’t Represent You) had to say about that:
“If there is a grand bargain of some kind with the president of the United States, none of it will be usable for either side in next year’s election — none of it. We can do something important for the country together, and this is the opportunity.”
You know how they talk about “reading between the lines”? Sounds to me like what’s important in McConnell’s country is to convince Democrats that “if you agree to whack Medicare with us…we would never turn around and blame you, the Democrats, for doing all the cutting, just in time for the ’12 election” – but somehow I just don’t believe him.
That seems to leave the Democrats with three options: they could make every Republican in the world so very happy and do a deal ahead of the debt limit that embraces the Republican “voucher/not voucher” concept, or they could do a “face saving” deal that introduces something benign like cutting by negotiating for drug costs, or they could hang tough and not give an inch as the “Day Of Debt Limit” approaches, and force the Republicans to keep falling backwards, as they have been these past few weeks.
History suggests that hanging tough is not the Democrats’ preferred option, to put it gently; but let’s see if we can’t make an argument for doing just that.
(Fun Fact: did you know that the Medicare Trustees believe the current form of “Obamacare”, all by itself, will cut 25% from the long-term cost of providing Medicare?
According to the House Republican Conference, in 2009, that cost was about $88 trillion – and that means, if you believe the Republicans, that “Obamacare” has already reduced the long-term cost of government by just a bit over 20 trillion dollars. And now, let’s return you to our regular programming.)
It makes perfect sense, if you ask me, to try and get some sort of agreement that allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and looking down the years, the savings would be considerable, but there is a political risk in such an approach.
The 2010 election featured a whole lot of conversation about how Democrats were “cutting $500 billion from Medicare”, and there’s no reason to believe that the same thing wouldn’t happen again.
“But that makes no sense”, you’ll tell me “since the Republicans will have made the same deal to make the same cuts.”
To which I’ll have to reply that 2012 is far, far away, politically speaking, and memories are short, and corporate money is long, and logic and reason will not prevent half the “Hustler Community” from trying to sell America on the idea that only Republicans can save Medicare…and if they go along with cutting, now, the Democratic half of the Hustler Community probably won’t be able to fight the untruths later.
On the other hand…
Congressional Democrats, my dear, dear, friends, has life ever felt better for y’all than it has felt these past few weeks, when you’ve seen Republicans running in fear from their own Campaign 2012 budget because of the public outrage? Did you love the images of 70,000 people descending on the Wisconsin State Capitol more than just about anything?
Well, what do you think is going to happen when you get to stand up in front of the American people and tell them that no matter what Republicans threaten to do, you will not destroy Medicare? That you will not, ever, be bullied into decimating a program that is so popular that nearly every American voter not named Koch or Brother supports protecting it?
Republicans are going to cave, big-time, especially if public anger is well-targeted and in concert with what you’re doing…and recently, it’s been every bit of that.
There are even Democrats who might be inclined to cave – but they need to think about the advantages of standing firm: Senator Ben Nelson’s not going to make friends in Nebraska’s senior centers by trying to cut Medicare; Steny Hoyer (number three Democrat in the House), who represents Maryland’s 5th District, which is rich in retirees, won’t be either.
So this is it, folks: Republicans are, today, trying to tie Democrats in political knots with a debt ceiling vote that includes a deal to make Medicare into the Peggy Bundy of government programs (you know: costs a lot, doesn’t do anything…), and Democrats have a chance to crush the Republicans, politically, for doing it – but knowing the history of dealing with our Democratic friends, the odds are pretty good that unless we force them to stand firm, they’re going to crumble like a substandard Chinese apartment building on a windy day.
I know it feels like we’ve won, but the next 60 days are going to be huge, and it’s up to us to continue to “provide the proper motivation” if we don’t want to end up on the wrong side of this thing.
So keep pushing, stay on the phones, be a pain in the butt to your Member of Congress – and most importantly of all, remind them that they better not do anything too heinous to either Medicare or Social Security…because if they do, they could very well be retired from Congress and depending on these programs a whole lot sooner than they ever could have imagined.
This is your government, and if you want it to represent your future this is the time to be heard – and don’t forget, if you have to be politically active, it’s a lot easier to do it in June than it was to do it in Wisconsin in March…so c’mon, people, get your summer clothes on, and go hit the streets.
We’ll all be glad you did.
FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger's Network Project.