You can crunch the numbers all day long, but in politics it???s perception that matters.
And though it???s still early, Republicans have a chance to turn the Medicare debate into a political advantage (or a wash, which is as good as a win). The conventional thinking, the media thinking, and actually, the thinking (if we???re to believe Politico) of the entire hand-wringing GOP establishment, was that Paul Ryan???s vice presidential candidacy would make Medicare an issue and surely sink the ticket. Democrats, we were told in story after story, were just giddy over the prospect of facing the Wisconsin congressman.
The debate hasn’t exactly evolved the way we were told it should. Why?
One: It???s possible that voters have already priced-in the hysterical warnings from liberals about the GOP’s intent to destroy all entitlements. They???ve heard it all a million times, yet the programs’ price tag continue to grow exponentially, and often under Republican rule. Add to that increasing numbers of Americans who believe that Medicare is unsustainable and the issue has probably lost some potency for Democrats.
Two: It???s not what you fear; it???s what you fear more. Seniors might be more anxious about Republicans expanding Medicare to include premium support , but they are more nervous about what Obamacare means to their future.
Three: When the Affordable Health Care Act passed, Obama handed Republicans a political gift.
Obamacare sucks over $700 billion from Medicare. Not that it means much, because surely few people really believe any Affordable Health Care Act cost estimates. But the president made a political calculation to keep the price tag of Obamacare under a trillion dollars to make it an easier sell to American people.
So now, if Democrats argue that the $700 billion is just a cut in future growth (the truth), they are undermining the age-old left-wing definition of government ???cuts?????? in fact, they are undermining their argument about how Ryan???s budget ???slashes??? spending (it doesn???t).
If Obama???s campaign argues that Ryan???s budget also cuts $700 billion (the truth), they offer Republicans another opening: Because not only did Obama decide to cut $700 billion from Medicare, unlike Ryan, he did so to fund a new entitlement program that, according to nearly every poll conducted since its passage, Americans really dislike ??? especially seniors.
So, all of a sudden Romney-Ryan can focus on Obama???s Medicare cuts, which Obama must defend, which steers the entire conversation back to Obamacare.
Romney could also mention that Obama’s Medicare cuts draw heavily from the Medicare Advantage program, which is a privately-administered health care plan that is, in spirit, similar to the premium-support programs that seniors are supposed to fear. Both Medicare Advantage enrollees and traditional Medicare enrollees oppose cutting the program under any circumstance in large numbers.
Now, obviously, there is a plenty of time for Democrats to scaremonger entitlement reform to death in Florida and other swing states, but right now Obama isn???t on the attack, which is itself a victory for Romney.