Republicans in the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a budget bill that, if it became law, would end Medicare as we currently know it and give tax breaks to the wealthy Americans. While this seems like a political gift for Democrats, will they once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
The White House spokesman pounced on the vote, "The House Republican plan places the burden of debt reduction on those who can least afford it, ends Medicare as we know it, and doubles health care costs for seniors in order to pay for more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."
The bill, authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), does not alter Medicare for Americans 55 and older. But the program would be converted into a voucher plan for those who are currently younger than 55 years old. The voucher would be used to purchase private insurance. But the purchaser would have to contribute money as the vouchers lose value over time. The savings on Medicare spending would then be given to wealthy Americans in the form of tax breaks, which Republicans say will stimulate job growth.
In a speech Wednesday to reveal his long awaited budget proposal, President Barack Obama attacked Congressman Ryan's budget. "They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that's paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs," the president said, "That's not right, and it's not going to happen as long as I'm president." He continued, "The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America."
In fact, the president laid out a very different vision, "We can't just think about ourselves...We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community. And we have to think about what's required to preserve the American Dream for future generations." He proposed reductions in the growth of Medicare spending, cuts in defense, an overhaul of the tax system to eliminate many loopholes, and an end to Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier Americans.
Raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans polls very well. But Republicans have been able to play the "tax increase" card very effectively to defeat Democrats in the past. "We don't have a tax revenue problem, we have a spending problem," has been a favorite Republican mantra since Ronald Reagan. And who was one of the biggest deficit spenders of all? The Gipper.
Still, Democrats are fortunate that there is no Reagan running for the White House in 2012. Recent polls show real estate mogul Donald Trump to be leading among possible Republican presidential candidates. Trump is ranting about the "birther issue" and claiming that President Obama is the worst president ever. Polling second is former Governor Mitt Romney, the author of "Romney Care", which is the law in Massachusetts and the blue print for the president's health care plan that is despised by Republicans.
So heading into the 2012 campaign Democrats can coalesce around several key positions that are popular with most voters including preserving Medicare and asking the rich to pay a little more in taxes. Assuming the economy continues to improve, albeit slowly, and two and one-half wars can be successfully managed, President Obama, who has begun his re-election bid, is in a good place.
So the race is on! But the president cannot play not to lose. He must at all times be a strong leader who makes tough choices on handling the deficit while protecting programs that help middle class Americans and those less fortunate. And all Democratic Senators and Congressmen must get solidly behind President Obama between now and November 2012. Otherwise, President Donald Trump will fire every one of you!