The relentless drive to cut Medicare and Social Security is real, omnipresent and extremely well-funded (see: Peterson, Pete). Politicians on both sides of the aisles can always be counted upon to stand there with their hands out, ready to oblige — that is, if it doesn’t cost them their seat to do so.
So which of these is real, and which is political theater meant to minimize political fallout for doing that?
There’s the media brawl:
Rep. Paul Ryan scolds President Barack Obama for calling his Medicare plan a “voucher.” Obama fires back at House Republicans for accusing him of cutting Medicare in the health reform law.
There’s the insider strategy:
With Senate Republicans divided on how to deal with Medicare amid potent Democratic charges that the GOP wants to gut it, the Kentucky Republican is looking to an eventual debt ceiling deal not only to score a long-sought policy victory on the popular health care entitlement for seniors, but also to do so without damaging his party’s 2012 prospects.
And there’s the electoral triumphalism:
Cuts to seniors’ Medicare benefits are “absolutely” off the table in the current legislative-White House deficit-reduction talks, Pelosi said.
Now, they are all at least partially “real.” Pelosi definitely knows that keeping the upper hand on Medicare would be key to maximizing the Democrats’ ability to beat the crap out of the GOP in 2012, just as they did with Social Security in 2006. Mitch McConnell really does want to grab that ace away out of Pelosi’s hand, and at this point Obama probably does loathe Paul Ryan. And really, who could blame him.
But the question is — who’s going to see their game through to the end?
My money is on McConnell. He can force the Democrats to give up their advantage by giving Obama what he wants — a compromise on the debt ceiling. It means Obama’s poll numbers will rise when he gets the “w,” which is what he always wants. But, it means forcing the Democrats in Congress to walk the plank once again on Medicare, and share responsibility for the cuts. Since Pelosi won’t need to deliver that many Democrats to make it happen, she’ll probably be willing to hand over that ace once again when the time comes. Of course, everyone will crow about how they’re going to do this to “save” Medicare.
It’s all just a guess, of course. But I feel pretty good about the odds.