THE ‘CHAMPIONS’ OF MEDICARE…. It’s hard to pick the single most frustrating aspect of the debate over health care reform, but listening to Republican officials and lawmakers pretend to care about Medicare has to be right up there.

After years of trying to cut Medicare spending, Republican lawmakers have emerged as champions of the program, accusing Democrats of trying to steal from the elderly to cover the cost of health reform.

It’s a lonely battle. The hospital associations, AARP and other powerful interest groups that usually howl over Medicare cuts have also switched sides. […]

With the Finance Committee set to resume deliberations Tuesday, cuts to government health programs are expected to account for at least half the funding for its health-care reform package. A competing bill drafted by House leaders would cut spending even more sharply.

AARP and other groups say the cuts are small enough to be absorbed without affecting services, and many health policy analysts tend to agree.

Tim Fernholz added, “If the GOP in Congress prioritized the substance of their beliefs, they would be all for curbing rising prices — cutting spending is supposedly their raison d’etre…. A Republican in Congress who actually cared about spending but opposed health care reform on other principles would support these cuts, but not the whole bill. Instead, they are trying to scare seniors with false claims about benefit cuts (for example) and gain political traction with the issue, throwing their historical search for entitlement control to the winds of political expediency.”

Right. It gets back to the “power vs. policy” argument — for congressional Republicans, the goal isn’t to pursue policy goals, it’s to defeat Democrats.

The Medicare rhetoric is especially shameless. Most Republican lawmakers opposed the creation of Medicare; GOP lawmakers pushed for Medicare cuts in the ’80s and ’90s; and as recently as last year, the McCain/Palin platform called for significant cuts to the popular program. Some prominent GOP lawmakers continue to think Medicare is unconstitutional.

This year, 137 Republicans — more than three-fourths of the caucus — voted in support of a GOP alternative budget plan that called for “replacing the traditional Medicare program with subsidies to help retirees enroll in private health care plans.” In other words, the same congressional Republicans trying to scare seniors now voted in April for a plan that would have killed Medicare as we know it, privatizing it out of existence.

“Emerged as champions of the program”? I don’t think so.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.