Posted Friday, May 20, 2011, at 12:19 PM
My final dispatch from New York comes after spending some time with the GOP and Democratic candidates, and hearing them finesse the Medicare issue. No one is saying, as you hear at Tea Parties (some, not all) and on talk radio, that Medicare can be ended, and society can adapt. Nope -- the contest is to be the biggest Medicare-protector in the race.
The Democratic message is the easier sell, and Hochul is good at selling it. She's a local politician who rose through the ranks to become the clerk of Erie County, home to a nice plurality of voters in the 26 th district. She's risen to that level while sounding exactly the way most of the people here sound, with a flat western New York accent and sentences that play some havoc with clauses and tenses.
"What it does," she continues, "is instead of having guaranteed health insurance, like we've all come to rely on the last 45 years, it says you'll have a voucher, instead. Now, they're saying: Don't worry, seniors! It's not going to affect you. It's only the people my age, 55 and up. But they actually did something that made your prescription drugs cost more. Current seniors would actually pay more for prescription drugs, and future seniors—and I hope to be a senior someday myself—will have a voucher program. I've gotta tell ya, I'm the candidate in this race who's gonna look out for your interests."
She wraps up and gets polite applause. She's won over the room, a little. There's one older lady who's murmuring about how she wants to keep watching the documentary about Mexico that Hochul interrupted. There's more applause. Hank Janicki, who will later tell me he's a World War II veteran who was relieved at the end "because Truman saved us," raises his hand. How does Hochul save Medicare?
"We have problems in Washington," says Hochul. "We have to cut our expenses." For example: "You know how much money we give a year to Pakistan? About $3 billion a year! They're not exactly our friends these days. You know where they caught Bin Laden? Yeah, right in the middle of Pakistan! The downtown area, practically. You're right, sir. I think their priorities are wrong. They're worrying about Pakistan and giving the people who had more some tax breaks."
One thing I didn't get into there -- both candidates are bolstering their Medicare stances by promising never to cut Social Security. Corwin will only talk about means testing the program. And that's to the left to a lot of Democrats in Washington, including those who endorsed Bowles/Simpson, who are leaving open the possibility of deeper reforms.