JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 16, 2011
National Review editor Rich Lowry does not share the prevailing bravado on the right about cutting Medicare and Social Security:
House Republicans are all-in entitlements, as Bob Costa and Andrew Stiles detailed in their piece yesterday. This is principled and brave (just like the intellectual godfather of this effort, Paul Ryan). We’ll have to see how it plays politically. The public opposes cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and most Republicans did nothing to signal on the campaign trail that they’d do anything to touch them — in fact, most of them ran against Obama’s Medicare cuts.
He's probably correct about this. Here, then, is his proposed solution:
The best course would probably be to put off Social Security for now (doesn’t get you much over the next 10 years, and is absolutely radioactive unless Republicans get bi-partisan cover); get a start on Medicare reforms (by repealing Obama’s cuts and then getting no more than the same dollar amount in more market-oriented ways — defusing the charge that they are “gutting” Medicare); and to be bold on Medicaid (a big contributor to the fiscal mess in the states and an issue where they can get support from governors).
I think Republicans will end up following this advice, so it's worth unpacking what Lowry means. Putting off Social Security is straightforward. On Medicare, Lowry proposes repealing Obama's Medicare cuts. Then he says to match those with different cuts, but in a more "market-oriented" fashion. I'm not sure what he means here. Since "market-oriented" Medicare benefits consistently cost the government more money -- they funnel profits through a private middleman but deliver no efficiencies -- I'm guessing this means repeating the Bush-era policy of chanting "free market" over and over so as to dismiss the budgetary costs.
And then "be bold" on Medicaid means cutting health care benefits for poor people. Since they don't vote for the GOP anyway, it's not exactly bold. But it would allow Republicans to say they attacked "entitlements." Yup, cut the cheap program for the poor, expand the popular program for the middle-class, wave it away with some privatization voodoo rhetoric -- I think that's the ticket.