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Medicare Poised To Be Major Issue in 2012 Congressional Races

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) controversial Medicare proposal could be a key issue during congressional races this year as Democrats seek to regain control of the House, the New York Times reports.

Background on Ryan's Plan

Ryan's Medicare plan would give Medicare beneficiaries a fixed amount of money to purchase coverage from a number of private health plans as a way to reduce spending. After facing criticism, Ryan released a revised version of the plan with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would allow beneficiaries to choose to remain in Medicare or switch to a private plan.

While the House overwhelmingly voted for Ryan's fiscal year 2012 budget blueprint that included the Medicare changes, the Senate rejected it. Ryan said he intends to introduce a comparable budget plan with similar Medicare changes this year. "Not one member thinks we should backtrack on these ideas," Ryan said of the House Republicans.

Medicare To Be Key Issue

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Medicare will be "a defining issue in the 2012 elections." He said he is advising candidates to "make sure that at every opportunity you mention the following three issues in alphabetical order and in order of priority, Medicare, 1; Medicare, 2; and Medicare, 3."

Automated telephone calls and radio advertisements from Democrats running for the House accuse Republicans of favoring "millionaires over Medicare." In Florida, Democrat Keith Fitzgerald plans to make Medicare a "major theme" of his campaign against Rep. Vern Buchanan (R). Fitzgerald accuses Buchanan of "marching in lockstep with his party" when he voted for the Ryan budget blueprint.

House Republicans plan to respond to the Democrats' campaign push by attacking the federal health reform law. "If House Democrats want to engage in debate about Medicare, we are happy to remind them about $500 billion in Medicare cuts they made to pay for their government takeover of health care," Paul Lindsay, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said.

Another wrinkle in Democrats' strategy is that President Obama had proposed major cuts in the growth of Medicare spending as part of deficit reduction negotiations with congressional Republicans, including increasing the program's eligibility age (Pear, New York Times, 1/27).

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