WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign and a like-minded conservative group launched seemingly uncoordinated but highly telling attacks Monday morning, both accusing President Barack Obama of trying to change Medicare dramatically, if not end the program outright.
The line echoed the type of criticism Democrats often level toward Republicans, who in turn deride them for using "Mediscare" tactics. But after Republicans successfully criticized Democrats for trying to cut Medicare benefits in the lead-up to the 2010 elections, the latest coordinated assault seems like an effort on their part to revive that politically potent script. It also seems designed to give cover to the budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which will be introduced in the coming days and is likely to include major Medicare reforms.
The conservative advocacy group 60 Plus on Monday launched an ad campaign that targets incumbent senate Democrats, accusing them of slashing Medicare coverage. But a more detailed attack came in the form of a memo from the Romney campaign, which said Obama was attempting to end "Medicare as we know it" via the following five methods:
- Allowing Medicare to go bankrupt in less than 15 years
- Cutting Medicare by 500 billion to help fund the Affordable Care Act
- Creating the Independent Payment Advisory Board, "an unaccountable board to ration care" for today's seniors
- Destroying Medicare Advantage for today's seniors
- Ending access to care for today's seniors
The memo is rife with fact-bending assertions and outright contradictions. For example, it accuses the president of contradictory goals: cutting and bankrupting Medicare at the same time. It attacks him for slashing spending on Medicare Advantage (where much of those $500 billion in savings come from) without noting that the program has had difficulty in controlling costs. It doesn't mention that the $500 billion cuts will be spread out over ten years. Finally, it demonizes the Independent Payment Advisory Board, even though the idea has been supported by Republicans in the past and can help achieve the cost savings that Romney supports.
The most glaring omission in the memo, however, is a mention of Romney's own plan, which would create an optional voucher system for beneficiaries -- something that, absent bankruptcy, is far more likely to "end Medicare as we know it" than what the president's proposed.
Memos like these aren't meant to be spark plugs for substantive policy debates. Instead, they are political documents that provide clues as to how candidates, groups and even political parties want to wage campaigns. In that light, it's telling that the Romney campaign isn't the only Republican institution trying to flip the Medicare script.
The ad campaign from 60 Plus criticizes Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) using similar arguments to the Romney memo. The ads, featuring singer Pat Boone, argue that the president's health care law has cut $500 billion from Medicare while creating a "Medicare IRS" like organization.
"This IPAB board can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending,” Boone says. “Your choices could be limited and you may not be able to keep your own doctor.”
House Republicans are currently pushing a bill that would repeal the IPAB, under the auspices of preventing unelected bureaucrats from making decisions about Medicare.
That conservative groups are ramping up the Medicare-based attacks at this juncture is hardly shocking. Democrats made a major political issue last summer out of Ryan's first budget, which proposed converting Medicare into a voucher-like system for those under 55, and he is expected to introduce a new version of his budget in the coming weeks.
Republicans also are aware of the opportunities at hand. The most commonly aired attack ads in 2010 were those accusing Democrats of voting to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare. Reprising that theme has its benefits, even if it is done decidedly without context.
“The 60 Plus Association is spending millions of dollars to distract voters from the Republican plan to privatize Medicare which would make seniors pay thousands more for their coverage,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Independent fact checkers have already denounced this ad, and it is no coincidence that this new false attack comes just weeks before Republicans issue another budget that would end Medicare."