Using Medicare as a political weapon

If you support Medicare, does it make more sense to search for reforms that would preserve the program or instead to wield the unsustainable existing program as a political weapon?

Tevi Troy’s latest Commentary article suggests Democratic leaders have chosen option No. 2.

Recent statements and actions by Pelosi and other Democrats reveal that the Democratic Party believes that making political use of Medicare is more important than ensuring the viability of the program itself. Recent history shows that the hunger to be simultaneously on offense and defense—fighting aggressively against efforts at reforming Medicare in order to save it—may well succeed in undermining any prospects for meaningful reform and further poison the relations between the two parties.

The eagerness to exploit the politics of Medicare is already influencing the Democratic party’s approach to policy. The Washington Post recently reported that Senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) -and newly appointed Democratic co-chair of the deficit reduction super committee, is working behind the scenes to stop any Democratic compromise or effort to reform Medicare. A source close to Murray described her political rationale: “We shouldn’t be giving away our advantage on Medicare….We should be very careful about giving away the biggest advantage we’ve had as Democrats in some time.”

For Murray and other Democrats, the Medicare “advantage” means rekindling the politics of the 1990s, when Democrats in Congress teamed up with a Democratic president to turn a Republican attempt to reform Medicare from an honest debate into a decisive victory against conservatives in 1995. This “advantage,” as Murray sees it, means ignoring the Medicare trustees who have warned that the long-term liability of Medicare is in the neighborhood of $30 trillion. It also means ignoring the lessons of Greece, Portugal, and Italy, whose unsustainable entitlement programs are sending shockwaves throughout the international monetary system.

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