Democratic Party officials believe they have a major opening in the upcoming budget wars after two Republican congressmen laid out deficit-reduction proposals that rely on the privatization of Social Security and Medicare.
In a rather blunt and aggressive move, a host of Democratic lawmakers released a document of compiled statements on Tuesday calling the GOP budget proposal the revival of an old (and discredited) playbook that would put seniors at risk. Below are a few of the sharpest remarks, each generally echoing the others:
Rep. John Larson (D-CT), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus: "Their plans would put an end to these programs as we know them and deny millions of seniors the stability and security they've provided."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus: "The Republican budget proposes to end Medicare as we know it...I don't understand how replacing the nation's most effective health insurer with inefficient health insurance companies...would ensure that our seniors continue to have access to quality, affordable health care."
Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL): " Their renewed call to privatize Social Security and tie benefits to the ups and downs of the stock market is nothing more than a game of Russian roulette."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL): "The Republican's plan of giving seniors vouchers that don't keep pace with medical costs, privatizing Social Security into the stock market, and providing massive tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% are the failed policies that Americans rejected just two years ago."
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY): "This is the Republican version of the movie 'Groundhog Day,' but instead of waking up to the same day over and over, Americans are waking up to the same radical proposals from the GOP... This strategy to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, two of our most successful social programs, was rejected the last time Republicans tried to offer it and will be rejected again."
The swift response says something about how Democrats believe Republicans are vulnerable on the Social Security front. On Monday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), who sits on the Budget Committee, told MSNBC that his party was going to "have to shoot straight with the American people" and propose cuts in retirement benefits to those under 55.
"I'm willing to say that that part of the social contract is going to have to be re-engineered," Hensarling said. "Ultimately, I believe you can get better health care and better retirement security if you go to a defined contribution plan. We had this debate in Social Security a few years ago... if you want to say that those under 55, as a transition, are they going to get the same deal as their parents? No, probably not."
The ranking member of the Budget Committee, Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), meanwhile, has put together an alternative budget document that would convert Medicare into a voucher program.
Strategists within the Democratic Party are acutely aware of how GOP lawmakers' poll numbers dipped when they pushed for a privatization agenda in 2005. The fate of Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) was essentially sealed by that policy proposal. The hope, naturally, is for them to dust off the playbook they used then to cast the Republican agenda as dangerous for seniors. This compilation of quotes is the first step. But officials on the Hill say that much more is coming. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), indeed, also put out a fact sheet on Tuesday titled: "Republicans Reprise Bush-Era Proposal to Privatize Medicare and Social Security."