WASHINGTON -- In a bold political about-face, a group of freshman Republicans who won office campaigning against cuts to Medicare last year called on Democrats Wednesday not to do the same in 2012.
Complaining that Democrats were using "Mediscare" tactics, they touted a letter signed by 42 members of the 2010 GOP class to President Obama, asking him and his party to stop using Medicare to score political points.
"We ask that you stand above partisanship, condemn these disingenuous attacks and work with Congress to reform spending on entitlement programs," reads the letter, orchestrated by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
Democrats pounced on the Medicare issue after the House passed a budget proposal authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in April. His plan would shift Medicare from a public program to a voucher-like private system, with the already expected rise in costs to seniors under the current system jumping by an extra $6,000 in 10 years.
The plan could cut some $1 trillion from the program, by some estimates.
Yet in the run-up to the 2010 elections, many Republicans campaigned aggressively against the Democratic health insurance reform law, in part because it cuts $500 billion from the privately run portion of Medicare, the more expensive Medicare Advantage.
The Huffington Post identified at least a dozen signers of the letter to President Obama who made a political issue out of the Medicare Advantage cuts last year.
Among those running against the $500 billion cut was Scott Tipton, who upended Democratic Rep. John Salazar in Colorado. "Unlike John Salazar, I'll never put our seniors' future at risk, he charged in one ad. "Our seniors deserve better."
Current Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who defeated Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey, slammed her for the $500 billion cut and a "government takeover" of health care.
The charges were typical and widespread. Others who campaigned against Medicare cuts during the 2010 campaign are Reps. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).
But this year, they are on the defensive, and point to remarks made by Democrats like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who charged recently that under Ryan's plan, seniors would be reluctant to use medical services that were more expensive and would "die sooner."
The freshman legislators said such remarks were out of bounds, although phrases such as medical "rationing" and "death panels" were watchwords of the 2010 contests.
Asked if the freshmen may have committed the sin they were accusing Democrats of -- and why it was not hypocritical of them to now gripe about the Democrats' stance -- Kinzinger admitted that mistakes were made during Republicans' campaigns. "To say that one side is blameless in trying to use issues to win votes is just dishonest," he told reporters.
But he didn't blush at trying to "reset" the tone now that his party controls the House, and Democrats have the Medicare argument at their disposal.
"I'm not going to defend anything done in the past," he added. "Let's get past the past. Let's move forward to the future, and say OK, today is today. We have a real problem. Let's get past the entrenched politics and move forward together."
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) suggested Democrats were knocking the GOP Medicare plan because they know Republicans are serious about carrying it through.
"Typically when you don't think a proposal is serious, you ignore it. When you think it's serious and a threat, you yell at it and attack it as hard as you can," Lankford said. "We feel the attack, we understand what's going on. But we're saying let's get past all the attacks, let's get on to the serious business that we've got to get onto."
Democrats showed no sign of letting up on their strategy of highlighting the GOP's Medicare proposals, and accused their rivals of taking something of a Hypocritic Oath.
“House Republican freshmen used false and misleading scare tactics against seniors last year but are now afraid of the truth: their constituents are outraged that they voted to end Medicare while protecting Big Oil,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson, referring to Republican objections to ending federal subsidies for the top five petroleum producers.
“Voters are smarter than the freshmen give them credit for. They can see through House Republicans’ hypocritical stunt to try silence their constituents’ outrage," Ferguson said, pointing to recent town halls sessions in members' districts where voters raised concerns about the Ryan budget.