Republicans were scrambling this week to defend their proposed revamp of Medicare as part of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) deficit-reduction plan included in the House-passed budget. Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have recently sought to leverage perceived public hostility to the Republican plan, which would create insurance “premium support” or “vouchers” for future Medicare beneficiaries, to go on the offensive.
How unpopular is that Medicare plan?
“Look, I don't want a $200,000 tax cut that's paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in Medicare costs,” Obama told attendees at a April 27 Democratic National Committee fundraiser. He was referring to Democratic calculations of the various financial impacts of the Republican House-passed plan.
That was a typical riff by Obama and one echoed by senior administration officials in recent congressional testimony.
“The combination of the votes on repealing the Affordable Care Act…combined with the voucher program would basically destroy the commitment to ongoing healthcare” coverage, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in testimony Thursday before the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
The expected hostility of the voting public toward Republican Medicare changes was so strong that Democrats launched a slew of media campaigns in recent weeks using it to target congressional Republicans that they perceive as particularly vulnerable to Democratic challengers in 2012.
Overwhelming opposition to Medicare cuts is the long-held expectation in American politics and one Republicans used to savage the Affordable Care Act's $500 billion in cuts to future Medicare growth.
So the only question is how deep and pervasive voters' hostility is to a plan that runs directly into the biggest third rail of American politics, right?
Surprisingly, some new polls have found that the Republican plan is not rejected by huge majorities of voters.
The latest Quinnipiac University study, released Wednesday, came closest among recent polls to reflecting the conventional wisdom about Medicare: 60% of registered voters favored keeping Medicare as is, while 34% supported changing it to give seniors money to buy private health insurance beginning in 2022.
More surprisingly, a late April Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found 49% favored leaving Medicare as it is, while 49% preferred Ryan's proposal.
An April 27 USA Today/Gallup national poll again found the Republican Medicare plan, as included in the House-passed budget, was not totally toxic. Forty-three percent favored that approach, while 44% preferred Obama's debt approach.
The split between the Medicare views in the three polls reflects similarly split views in earlier polls released in the week of April 16. A poll by CBS News and The New York Times found 47% supported changing Medicare to a private insurance program and 41% opposed that. That same week, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found 78% opposed cutting Medicare to reduce the national debt and 21% supported doing that.
The explanations for the different poll results vary as much as the polls themselves. But the most important fact may be that the public's views on changing Medicare are not necessarily predictable and set in stone. That could give Republicans an opening to push their approach—with caution.
You can now follow Rich Daly on Twitter @mhrdaly.
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