HOUSE GOP WEIGHS MEDICARE PRIVATIZATION…. To help finance the Affordable Care Act and ensure health care reform didn’t add to the deficit, Democrats committed to $500 billion in cost savings from Medicare. Republicans, who’ve always been hostile to the system of socialized medicine, feigned outrage.

Indeed, in the midterm elections, one of the single most common attacks levied by Republicans was that Democrats “voted to cut Medicare.” It was a bizarre argument on the substance — Dems actually strengthened the Medicare system, and approved a host of new benefits for seniors — but it was stranger from an ideological perspective. Since when does the GOP pretend to be champions of Medicare?

This week, the Republican mask began to slip.

Months after they hammered Democrats for cutting Medicare, House Republicans are debating whether to relaunch their quest to privatize the health program for seniors.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is testing support for his idea to replace Medicare with a fixed payment to buy a private medical plan from a menu of coverage options.

The plan has a humorous quality, at least in a sinister sort of way. In effect, Republicans won a majority by saying Democrats cut Medicare too much, and are now using their majority to propose far more drastic cuts to Medicare.

Substantively, the GOP idea here is to give seniors a fixed payment, instead of the current open-ended benefit, which they could then use to purchase private insurance, thereby privatizing the system. The problem, of course, is that the Republican proposal calls for the value of the health care voucher to grow slowly over time — far short of the rate of growth in health care costs. Very quickly, seniors would realize that the cost of their care far exceeds the size of the payment.

Keep in mind, this is not just idle speculation. Republicans seem quite serious about this.

House Republicans are considering a measure to privatize Medicare that would be included in their alternative to President Obama’s annual budget.

House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas said on Wednesday that he expects Republicans to support a provision to convert Medicare into a voucher system, which would effectively turn the government-backed health care program over to private insurers. Hensarling is the second-ranked Republican on the Budget Committee.

That’s the same Hensarling, by the way, who can’t even begin to comprehend the basics of American health care, as evidenced by his remarks last week urging the government not to interfere with his mother’s life-saving Medicare coverage. (He’s also one of the Republicans who blasted Dems for cutting Medicare last year.)

My advice to Ryan and Hensarling? Go for it. I dare you. Is the GOP really convinced that Americans love the far-right agenda? Then by all means, let’s put that to the test.

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.