Tea Partiers: leave Medicare alone

TEA PARTIERS: LEAVE MEDICARE ALONE…. About a month ago, Politico ran a much-discussed piece, insisting that the Republican Party and its base have become “fanatically anti-spending.” Tea Partiers, the article added, are obsessed with “cut, cut, cut,” and “taking a cleaver to government spending.”

I’ve pushed back against this, but a new Marist poll out today makes this much easier. The poll asked respondents:

“Do you support or oppose doing each of the following to deal with the federal budget deficit: cut Medicare and Medicaid?”

Among all registered voters, 80% opposed these cuts. Among self-identified Tea Party supporters, 70% opposed these cuts. Among self-identified Republicans, 73% opposed these cuts.

We’re talking about taxpayer-financed, socialized medicine, which Tea Partiers should oppose reflexively if they’re desperate to “cut, cut, cut.”

Except, they’re not.

When pressed on the radical nature of their agenda, congressional Republicans consistently claim the “American people” are on their side, even suggesting they have a popular mandate to pursue drastic policy measures that voters didn’t know about last year. But the data is hard to ignore — not only does the American mainstream oppose GOP cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, but even the Republicans’ own base isn’t on board.

I often think of this piece from Matt Taibbi, who attended a Tea Party rally last summer.

After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.

“I’m anti-spending and anti-government,” crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. “The welfare state is out of control.”

“OK,” I say. “And what do you do for a living?”

“Me?” he says proudly. “Oh, I’m a property appraiser. Have been my whole life.”

I frown. “Are either of you on Medicare?”

Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

“Let me get this straight,” I say to David. “You’ve been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?”

“Well,” he says, “there’s a lot of people on welfare who don’t deserve it. Too many people are living off the government.”

“But,” I protest, “you live off the government. And have been your whole life!”

“Yeah,” he says, “but I don’t make very much.”

The point is that congressional Republicans are desperate to make devastating cuts, and think they’re on safe political ground. GOP officials might be surprised to learn just how many Americans rely on government spending, and want to keep the benefits that apply to them.