Picture courtesy: Boston.com
Hopefuls for the 2012 Republican nomination including former Governors Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) have come out in favor of a proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that would dramatically alter Medicare and Medicaid, but in a surprising move with his 2012 Campaign for a full Senate term just a little over two years away in the most liberal state in the country; Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) has also openly come out in favor of it.
“Listen, everything is on the table right now and the people understand everything is on the table,” he said when asked by TPM if he had concerns about privatizing and cutting Medicare. “People recognize that we’re in a financial emergency and as a result of that to say that something is not on the table is really irresponsible and I’m thankful that we have people like Congressman Ryan working and coming up with a plan.”
Under the proposal, starting in 2022 Medicare, a federal single payer plan for Americans over the age of 55. Currently under medicare doctors are paid through the federal program for the medical costs of recipients. Under Ryan’s plan though, the Federal government would put aside a sum of money for recipients that would go towards giving seniors a range of private health care plans to choose from.
Additionally, Ryan’s proposal for Medicaid would turn the Federal-state healthcare program for those of low-income into a block grant, with the Federal government merely providing funding, while leaving ,much of the regulations regarding eligibility, administration, and some of the costs of such to states.
Supporters say such reforms would give states more flexibility and be part of a broader conservative plan to slash the federal budget deficit by six trillion dollars over the next decade. Democrats and critics though say it will only increase the share of wealth and power of insurance companies at a time when healthcare costs are increasing substantially.
Such a plan in deeply liberal Massachusetts where healthcare costs are already extremely high; is likely to be unpopular. Brown didn’t come out with fulsome praise for the plan, but as past elections and efforts at privatizing entitlement programs show even just not coming out and denouncing such a suggestion can be political poison for a candidate. Despite some polls showing strong support for his re-election next year, he is obviously in a very delicate balancing act; taking great pains not to alienate moderates and liberal independents or Democrats with an overly conservative record, while retaining the passion of a small but ardent conservative base. Given the lack of any GOP gains in the Baystate in the mid-term elections last year, Brown knows Tea Party passion can only take him so far electorally. Since taking office early last year (when he promised at the time to be “the forty-first vote against health care reform”), he has cast a number of votes that put him at odds with the tea party base that propelled him to national stardom among conservatives. For example he voted to repeal DADT and more recently slammed a House GOP budget proposal that would end funding for Planned Parenthood, earning him the ire of a leader of the Massachusetts chapter of Tea Party Nation.
Now about a week or two later a move to the right. It seems that Brown is betting that his affability as well as his social moderate/ deficit hawk image will endear him to voters and give him the political cover he needs to make such a declaration. It’s a move that would be risky for any Republican and especially for Brown. There is no doubt that leading up to the elections next year Democratic ads will bring up quotes like this over and over again; painting Brown as an extension of the Tea Party. However, given his likeability, a record that occasionally diverges from the party line, and the absence of any alternative that can excite liberals and win over independents, he very well could survive.