The folks over at National Journal run a Congressional Insiders and Political Insiders poll every week. The informal survey of Members of Congress, Senators and political flaks is a great snapshot inside the minds of some of the key decision-makers in Washington.
Last week, the editors ask how wise it is for Republicans to take on cuts in Medicare funding, particularly in the form of vouchers for Medicare. The idea behind such instruments, of course, is to affix a price point to Medicare usage for seniors and begin to get a handle on the uncontrollable spending in the program, particularly in 2011 – the first year the Boomers begin turning 65.
A lot has been said and written surrounding the integrity of such a voucher plan. So I won’t debate the merits here.
The question put to Insiders was, “Is it smart for Republicans to offer vouchers now?”
Since I wasn’t asked, I’ll give my answer here – No, it’s not. Not now.
While controlling spending of entitlement programs, especially Medicare, must occur if we are to ever return to fiscal balance, the timing is poor. And Republicans would do well to not take the bait of bringing the issue up.
Very few will look at the merits of the initiative, let alone call to Americans’ attention that Medicare as we know it will suffer a catastrophic death in a matter of decades if we do nothing.
But there is a time and a place to wage this battle. The spending fight must occur. But Republicans must first gain some credibility on the issue. They must prove to the American people that they can tackle big-ticket items that are near and dear to them first.
As I’ve said before, that must begin with Defense spending. Such behavior would immediately silence the critics, and then allow the GOP to pose to Democrats, “We’ve shown that we would go after our own programs. Will you be willing to step up and go after yours?”
Only once Republicans have laid this foundation of rhetoric and action can they be assured of a more open electorate when the near-intractable choices arise for cutting Medicare, shoring up Social Security and slashing Medicaid.
The day will come. But Republicans must be politically smart in how they approach this fourth rail of politics known as Medicare.
About Armstrong Williams:
Armstrong Williams is a political commentator, a conservative newspaper columnist, host of a nationally syndicated television program called “The Right Side” as well as a daily radio program.