Medicare and Kratovil
For decades, Democrats have played on the insecurity of seniors by warning that Republicans would cut Social Security or other programs such as Medicare, the health insurance program for older Americans.
There is one simple reason why this scare tactic became a staple of Democratic campaigns: it works.
Now, as the battle over health care prepares to enter what could be a decisive phase this fall, Republicans are the ones who are warning senior voters about a dire threat to Medicare.
This role reversal, which began in earnest earlier this month with an op-ed by Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, makes ample political sense. National opinion polls show that seniors are among the biggest skeptics of the Democratic health care overhaul plan; they fear that they could lose benefits as a result.
A new attack ad against vulnerable Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland is part of the latest salvo in this crusade by Medicare's Republican protectors (historically, Republicans were less likely than Democrats to support Medicare; however, it was under Republican President George W. Bush that the program was most recently--and expensively--expanded by adding a drug benefit that substantially increased Medicare's long-term cost, which threatens to bankrupt the country if it isn't fixed).
Below is a link to the new attack ad, which targets the freshman congressman from Maryland during the final days of Congress' summer recess.
The ad buy is quite limited: it is running only on cable channels and only on the Eastern Shore, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is sponsoring it. (On the other hand, Kratovil is one of only 5 Democrats currently being targeted for a TV ad, as opposed to radio attack ads and robo-phone calls, even cheaper means of political attack, which are being used against 35 other Dems. Thus, the backhanded compliment of having getting whacked on video is a reflection of the Marylander's extreme vulnerability, in the eyes of Republican strategists).
Click here to watch the Republican attack ad against Kratovil, then come back to check out the facts.
Unsurprisingly, given the way both sides have played fast and loose with the facts of the admittedly complex health care debate, the ad's claim that Democrats would cut $500 billion from Medicare stretches the truth.
Neutral analysts consider that estimate an exaggeration, one that only looks at reductions and does not balance it with new spending on the program. On the other hand, there would be changes to Medicare benefits and costs, despite President Barack Obama's claims to the contrary.
Here's a good primer from Politifact, the award-winning fact-checking team.
For those who want to dig deeper, below are links to reports by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
The first is the cost estimate on the House Democratic plan that has attracted the most fire from Republicans and other critics.
But that plan will be amended before it reaches the House floor, to fill many of the holes punched through it during the August recess.
One possible addition would be the inclusion of an independent advisory council that could recommend changes in Medicare that would produce savings and help make the program more financially sound over the long run.
Here is CBO's analysis of that proposal, plus other ideas that the agency would like Congress to consider.
Kratovil says he is opposed to the House bill (HR 3200) as currently written. He has not yet had an opportunity to vote on the measure.