2012 Budget War Taking Shape Around Medicare Battle

It did not take long for the battle lines to be drawn in the upcoming 2012 fiscal budget. The war had been looming, but where the specific battles would be fought had been a matter of some conjecture. The two sides had also been drawing up plans and organizing their forces, attempting to ascertain the strategies of their opponents while developing their own. And although it would appear that there will be myriad flashpoints and firefights, there now appears to be one massive battle, one Gettysburg-type conflict, that will be a no-holds-barred affair that could carry into the next national election and perhaps beyond. That defining winner-just-might-take-all political conflict will most likely be over Medicare.

Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 midterm elections, doing so with more than a little help from senior citizens, convincing the aging population and those that will soon reach retirement age that the Democrats were not only fiscally irresponsible but determined to make cuts to Medicare and Medicaid programs that would directly impact senior citizens.

Many seniors responded to the Republican attacks and came out in force to vote for GOP candidates, many of which also curried favor among the tea party movement. According to a CBS exit poll, seniors and those approaching retirement, which constituted 53 percent of the voters in November, were a big part of the Republican retaking of the House of Representatives.

But fiscal responsibility and cutting government spending became the overriding mantra of the GOP, so much so that they presented “The Path To Prosperity,” Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget plan that would cut spending costs by over $6 trillion in 10 years and calls for a restructuring of the Medicare system into a voucher program that would increasingly pass the burden of health costs onto the seniors that need it. Ryan’s plan postpones the beginning of such a transition for ten years. However, the legal groundwork is laid out in the 2012 budget.

Much like the idea of the privatization of Social Security, the privatization or reduced government spending on health care and/or placing more of a financial burden on the aged is an unpopular idea. A recent CBS poll showed that an overwhelming 76 percent of respondents do not agree with measures to cut the federal budget deficit if they involve cutting government spending on Medicare.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, backed the plan, playing on the common assumptive fears that many of the entitlement programs — like Social Security and Medicare — need reformation to continue existing. “And the fact is,” he said, “is that the responsible plan put forward in the Path to Prosperity will, in fact, reform these programs and make sure that they’re around for the long term. And understand: The greatest danger that America faces today is doing nothing.”

The Republican House passed the 2012 budget bill proposed by Ryan on April 15. The first battle had been won by the GOP.

The bill will most likely be rewritten or completely defeated in the Senate, where the Democrats hold sway. Although the counterattack had yet to truly begin, a call to arms was made.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, ” The Republican plan to end Medicare and immediately raise prescription drug costs for seniors in order to pay for millionaire tax breaks will never pass the Senate. The fact that it passed the House shows just how far to the right the tea party has dragged the Republican Party.”

And as the political budget battles continue toward some legislative Gettysburg in the future, the hearts and minds of the electorate will be fought over as well. In fact, the most interesting question to be answered when all the political posturing and maneuvering is over might be how many of those aging and retired voters, those who helped usher in the tea partiers and hardline Republicans of the 112th Congress, feel betrayed and how many will continue to support them through the Congressional budget battles and into the coming 2012 elections.