Jonathan Chait

Scarborough And The Courageous Republicans

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In Politico, Joe Scarborough flays President Obama for ignoring entitlement spending and the deficit crisis:

For two years now, I have been assured by Obama’s closest aides that their man is going to get serious about the deficit and soon. But in Obama’s White House, “soon” never comes.

Right after he got into office, Obama passed the largest spending bill in U.S. history and then convened, without the slightest trace of irony, the “Fiscal Responsibility Summit.” Presidential aides claimed that Obama wanted to discuss Social Security at the conference but Nancy Pelosi would not permit him to do so.

That didn’t stop him from telling the truth. In his Feb. 23, 2009, address to the summit, Obama called the long-term solvency of Social Security “the single most pressing fiscal challenge we face by far.” He also told audience members that when it came to entitlement programs, Washington leaders could no longer “kick the can down the road.”

White House watchers believe the president will not touch Social Security until he is safely ensconced in his second term.

The same goes for the two entitlement programs that cause economists the greatest concern, Medicare and Medicaid. So it looks like it will once again be the task of courageous Republicans to save programs put in place by liberal Democrats.

What's missing in this tale of the feckless Obama administration, and the courageous, entitlement-confronting GOP? Right: the Affordable care Act, which attacks the single largest driver of rising entitlement costs.

Fortunately for Politico's readers, but Unfortunately for Scarborough's argument, Politico also has a news story today (by Carrie Budoff Brown) pointing out that the debate over the Affordable Care Act featured $500 billion in Medicare cuts, and a massive Republican campaign of attacking Democrats for it:

In the halls of Congress and on the TV airwaves, Republicans nailed Obama and congressional Democrats for backing almost $500 billion in reduced Medicare spending over the next decade, mostly by trimming subsidies for Medicare Advantage, a privately administered program.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Crossroads GPS, one of the biggest third-party spenders last year, tried picking off Democrats across the country with ads specifically attacking their votes on Medicare.

“When Obama and [Nancy] Pelosi cut hundreds of billions from Medicare, Conway still said yes,” stated an NRSC ad against Senate Democratic nominee Jack Conway in Kentucky. “Big Government running health care. Big cuts to Medicare. Jack Conway took their side.”

It paid off: Conway lost, and across the country, seniors backed Republicans over Democrats, 59 percent to 38 percent, compared with an even split in 2008, according to CNN exit polls.

The party has kept the attack in rotation. When Obama campaigned for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) last week in Florida, the NRSC went after the senator for defending the health care law, “including its $500 billion in Medicare cuts.”

Medicare Advantage is the boondoggle passed by George W. Bush and his GOP allies in 2003 that pays private insurers to offer Medicare services at a substantial markup. If you can't cut a program that provides the same service for 17% more money, you can't cut anything. Bordoff reports the Republican argument that the cuts "may or may not materialize, given the whims of Congress," but that of course is a bizarre Republican justification given that Republicans are the ones trying to repeal the cuts.

Courage!

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