Medicare Bamboozlement Comes to Minnesota

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 28 2012 9:30 AM

Medicare Bamboozlement Comes to Minnesota

The Romney campaign's sag interrupted a promising line of Republican attack: That their candidates would save Medicare from granny-hating Democrats. You remember Paul Ryan's mantra: "We want this debate, we need this debate, and we will win this debate." When Ryan actually gets in the ring with Joe Biden, I imagine that he'll get his last best chance to argue that the "premium support" plan will save Medicare, while Democrats' cost savings will hurt the elderly.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

But outside of the presidential race, in campaigns lower down the ballot, the argument is alive and thriving. Republicans cast any vote any Democrat has taken to change Medicare as a vote against Medicare -- please ignore the incumbent Republican's vote for the Ryan plan. The best and most misleading example of the genre is this new ad against Rick Nolan, who's running to take back Minnesota's sprawling iron range district, one of 2010's surprise GOP gains.

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You notice the elipses before AND after the line "Medicare eliminated"? That should tell you that there's bogosity on display. The "elimination" referred to is the Health Security Act, a bill introduced by rumps of liberal Democrats during the end of the Ford years and the beginning of the Carter years. It was designed to make "every resident of the U.S. (and every non-resident citizen when in the U.S.) eligible for covered services." So, yes, had it passed, Medicare would have been replaced by another system of universal coverage for the elderly. Saying Nolan wanted to "end" coverage for old people is like looking at someone who prefers a 100% tax cut to a 25% tax cut, and telling voters "hey, that guy's against tax cuts!"

This is pretty clear in the December 1980 Washington Post story briefly cited in the ad, as proof that Nolan was "radicalized." The larger quote:

Congress is relatively impotent to make the changes the country needs: mandatory wage and price controls, drastic tax reform, national health insurance, arms cutbacks, new directions in energy, mandatory conservation, a redirection of agriculture. But there is no political will in Congress; no will in the outgoing or incoming administrations. Being here, I've become more liberal and radicalized.

That actually is radical! Mandatory wage and price controls were stupid ideas then and now, and I think Nolan's figured that out. (He was 37 when he quit Congress.) But it's clear, again, that Nolan favored expanding health care coverage, not snatching it away from the elderly. Maybe Paul Ryan wants a debate about the future of Medicare, but what we're getting -- as was the case in 2010 -- is Republicans scrambling to portray Democrats as the Medicare cuts party.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.