Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, takes a look at post-Memorial Day politics.
After the Democratic upset in New York's 26th Congressional district, the political attitude in Washington is largely to keep government hands off of Medicare. Yet some Republicans, like Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan continue to defend Ryan's plan to privatize the system.
Republicans have been pretty united behind this plan despite the costs that are likely. One is that a lot of them believe it's the right thing to do, you need to do something bold on Medicare to make it sustainable for the future. Secondly, having backed this plan originally as part of the Ryan budget they don't really have a choice to back away from it. They're going to be criticized for it regardless of what they do know, they might as well look like they're taking a principled stand.
Ryan acknowledges that his plan shifts the burden of health care costs away from government and onto seniors. But he says a competitive market will keep costs low. On the other hand, it's possible that for the first time since Medicare was enacted, the country will see seniors without health insurance—the very crisis during the Great Depression that led to the creation of the government entitlement.
It does two things that critics cite. One is it shifts the burden for rising costs onto seniors and other thing is it minimizes the power the government has as a huge buyer of health care to lower doctors fees or push for lower costs on medical procedures.
But Page predicts politicians on both sides are too afraid of upsetting their constituencies to have a true debate on Medicare reform until after the 2012 elections.
Raising the debt ceiling is not only a point of contention among Republicans on Capitol Hill, it's also extremely unpopular among the American public—a recent poll showed people are more worried about it than the prospect of government default. But it's got to happen assuming we want the government to keep functioning—even House Speaker Boehner acknowledges it must be done. Page says it comes down to widespread misunderstanding about what raising the debt ceiling means.
Even some of the freshman members of Congress do not seem to understand that raising the debt ceiling isn't only so you can borrow more money it's also that you can pay social security checks and so you can pay the troops on duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is truly a critical measure. John Boehner can say that they're gong to raise the debt ceiling in the end—but he's got a caucus that's pretty resistant to the idea of doing that unless you have really enormous spending cuts and no tax hikes.
Bartering tax hikes and spending cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling are at the crux of the battle. Democratics want to see tax hikes on the wealthy, Republicans want to see spending cuts. Eric Cantor wants to see Medicare reform as part of the deal (good luck to him).
Today we'll see the first vote in the House on the administration's proposal to raise the debt roof above the $14.3 trillion limit. It's expected to fail miserably.