Up for a vote last month was a budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee. In it was a plan to radically alter Medicare, the health-care program America’s elderly depend on. While the current version of Medicare would apply to citizens 55 or older under Ryan’s bill, those younger would depend on a voucher program with an ever-dwindling supply of federal cash.
The budget passed the House 235-193. All but four Republicans supported the measure and no Democrats voted against it. Local Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, was among those lawmakers supporting the phase-out of Medicare as it’s currently operated.
A few days after the vote during a visit to Anniston, Rogers noted that the plan wasn’t likely to move forward. “It will die a painful death in the Senate, but at least we’re saying what we want done,” he said.
On that last point, the congressman is spot on. House Republicans were clearly underlining their version of America’s future. The afflicted can count on less help. The comfortable are barely disturbed. And private insurance companies that would benefit from the vouchers see their bottom lines expand.
It’s a bleak vision that would dismantle an important government program, one that sought to keep our elderly from suffering needlessly in their retirement years.
Many of Rogers’ GOP colleagues have endured complaints from constituents who value Medicare and don’t wish to see it reshaped into something less valuable. Town hall meetings have not been friendly to some who approved of Ryan’s plan.
Now comes word that House Republican leaders are going to gingerly back away from Medicare privatization. It won’t be part of budget negotiations with the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
There’s a certain acknowledgement of legislative reality here. Rep. Rogers is correct that Democrats in the Senate and White House will not agree to fundamentally restructure Medicare.
A political reality also must be considered by 235 Republicans who approved the Ryan plan. Each representative faces a daunting prospect in the 2012 election. Their opponents can claim with a reasonably high degree of accuracy that those Republican incumbents voted to destroy Medicare as we know it.