Republican House Budget chief Paul Ryan still doesn't get it. He blames Tuesday's upset victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul over Republican Jane Corwin to represent New York's 26th congressional district on Democratic scare tactics.
Hochul had focused like a laser on the Republican plan to turn Medicare into vouchers that would funnel the money to private health insurers. Republicans didn't exactly take it lying down. The National Republican Congressional Committee poured over $400,000 into the race, and Karl Rove's American Crossroads provided Corwin an additional $700,000 of support. But the money didn't work. Even in this traditionally Republican district -- represented in the past by such GOP notables as Jack Kemp and William Miller, both of whom would become vice presidential candidates -- Hochul's message hit home.
Ryan calls it "demagoguery," accusing Hochul and her fellow Democrats of trying to "scare seniors into thinking that their current benefits are being affected."
Scare tactics? Seniors have every right to be scared. His plan would eviscerate Medicare by privatizing it with vouchers that would fall further and further behind the rising cost of health insurance. And Ryan and the Republicans offer no means of slowing rising health-care costs. To the contrary, they want to repeal every cost-containment measure enacted in last year's health-reform legislation. The inevitable result: More and more seniors would be priced out of the market for health care.
The Ryan plan has put Republicans in a corner. Some, like Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and, briefly, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, are rejecting the plan altogether. Most, though, are holding on and holding their breath. After all, House Republicans approved it -- and voters don't especially like flip-floppers.
Senate Democrats will bring the Ryan plan for a vote Thursday in order to force Senate Republicans on the record. Watch closely.
Some GOP stalwarts say the Party must clarify its message -- a sure sign of panic. Former Republican congressman Rick Lazio says the GOP "must do [a] better job explaining entitlements."
It's just possible the public knows exactly what entitlements are -- and is getting a clear message about what Republicans are up to.
All this should give the White House and Democratic budget negotiators more confidence -- and more bargaining leverage - to put tax cuts on the rich squarely on the table.
And, while they're at it, turn Medicare into a "Medicare-for-all" system that forces doctors and hospitals to shift from costly tests, drugs, and procedures having little effect, to healthy outcomes.