Democrats Should Link Medicare’s Long-Term Fiscal Health to Bush’s Tax Cut, New Republic Editor Says
If Democrats want to make a politically sustainable argument for rolling back the 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last year, they should link the tax cut's resulting decrease in federal revenues to the long-term fiscal health of Medicare, New Republic assistant editor Noam Scheiber writes in the magazine's current issue. Scheiber states, "Democrats could argue that Bush's budget shortchanges Medicare by as much as $550 billion over 10 years." "The case" for Democrats, Scheiber writes, "seems clear: Republicans are cutting taxes for the rich on the backs of the elderly." He states that critics might object to the "demagoguing" of Medicare because such a technique helps to "put off dealing with the root causes of America's looming Medicare crisis" or "will make it harder for the parties to come together once difficult choices are no longer avoidable." But Scheiber says that this criticism ignores the fact that using Medicare and Social Security as a political tool has worked to shore up both programs in the past. According to Scheiber, the reason "it's so important to repeal the tax cut in the first place [is that i]f the Treasury has been drained of trillions [of dollars] just as the baby-boomers begin to retire, saving Social Security and Medicare will be much, much harder -- even with all the bipartisan goodwill in the world." (Scheiber, New Republic, 2/11).
This year's congressional elections could depend on the "swing group" of senior citizens, "giving Democrats a chance to use Medicare and Social Security as issues to offset Republican advantages on defense and homeland security," Morton Kondracke writes in his Roll Call column. Kondracke states that Democrats "can argue, truthfully, that President Bush's past and recommended tax cuts will leave too little money to provide a generous prescription drug benefit." While seniors have been "trending Republican in recent elections," a Battleground poll released last month found that respondents ages 65 and older favor Democrats by seven percentage points, compared to a two-point lead for Republicans among the whole population. The poll found that the biggest concern among seniors is health care costs, most notably prescription drugs. Kondracke writes that Bush's $190 billion proposal to reform Medicare and introduce a drug benefit is less than even congressional Republicans' proposal, a situation that will allow Democrats to argue that the tax cut has not left enough money to provide an adequate benefit. But according to John Rother, AARP's policy director, arguing about Medicare is all that is likely to occur before November's election. "The Republicans just want a vote on this to protect themselves, and the Democrats want the issue to run on in the fall." Kondracke concludes, "You can hardly blame the Democrats. It's one of the few issues they have" (Kondracke, Roll Call, 2/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.