A swing and a miss from Boehner on Medicare

Two weeks ago, a large group of House Republicans got together to call for some sort of rhetorical truce on Medicare. They acknowledged that they may have engaged in a little demagoguery to get elected in 2010, but they want to “wipe the slate clean” and “hit the reset button” now that they’re in office. No more “Mediscare” tactics, they said.

Two weeks later, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided he’s not quite done with these tactics after all.

“The only people in Washington, DC who have voted to cut Medicare have been the Democrats,” said Boehner, “when they voted to cut $500 billion in Medicare during Obamacare.”

The line quickly answered questions about how the GOP would respond to the embarrassing defeat in the Buffalo-area special election this week. Republicans know they’re getting slammed over Medicare, so the House Speaker was sending a not-so-subtle about the new GOP message: “Against Medicare? Us? It’s those rascally Democrats who cut the program.”

Pressed by Greg Sargent, Boehner’s chief spokesperson went a little further.

“The Democrats’ health care law siphoned more than $500 billion away from Medicare into an unsustainable new entitlement — that’s a Medicare cut. Now, they are insisting on the status quo, which means Medicare’s bankruptcy and steep benefit cuts….”

Got that? Slam #1: Democrats undercut Medicare last year. Slam #2: By refusing to cut Medicare now, Democrats are indirectly supporting more Medicare cuts later.

The entire argument is such a shameless fraud, I almost feel embarrassed for Republicans. I mean, really, it’s as if the party isn’t even trying anymore. Practically every GOP lawmaker in both chambers is now on record supporting a ridiculous plan to end Medicare entirely, privatizing it out of existence, and replacing it with a voucher scheme. Suddenly realizing that the public hates this idea, the party is going back to the cheap rhetoric of 2010 that Republicans said two weeks ago they’re eager to move away from.

But if the Speaker’s office really wants to go down this road, fine. Let’s set the record straight.

First, Dems didn’t really “cut” Medicare, so much as they eliminated a wasteful and unnecessary giveaway to insurance companies. This didn’t undermine the program, it did the opposite, extending the health of Medicare financing for nearly another decade.

Second, Boehner’s argument is self-defeating since the House Republican budget plan keeps those alleged cuts in place — and the GOP caucus just endorsed the House Republican budget plan. In other words, the Speaker said yesterday that “only people” who’ve cut Medicare are Dems through the Affordable Care Act, but Boehner and his fellow Republicans voted to keep those same cuts in place.

Third, Boehner would prefer not to look back on his own record, but over the last 20 years, he personally has voted to cut more than $800 billion from Medicare. (Sorry, Mr. Speaker, Google still exists, and your record hasn’t disappeared down a memory hole.)

And finally, Boehner and his party want to end Medicare altogether. Why start a fight over which side of the aisle loves the program more when one party wants to privatize the program away?

Republicans created quite a mess for themselves and now appear to be flailing. They’re realizing that Americans love socialized medicine after all, which necessarily puts the GOP in a bit of a hole.

I can appreciate the party’s need for a new strategy, but Boehner’s message yesterday won’t cut it.