Sometimes it seems that the forces of socialism have no greater ally than the modern Republican Party. After all, how else to explain a hot new Republican attack on "Medicare for all" that is premised on the idea that enacting it would endanger Medicare?
“If you want to protect Medicare, vote Republican,” Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, tweeted. “If you want a socialist experiment with Medicare, by all means vote Democrat.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee has run an ad against liberal Democratic congressional candidate Antonio Delgado saying his support for government-run healthcare would be the “end of Medicare as we know it.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, launched a similar line of attack against his liberal opponent.
The short-term political calculus is clear. Republicans are back on defense on healthcare due to their bungled handling of efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and Democrats are more confidently talking about their next planned expansion. By portraying Democrats as a threat to Medicare, Republicans are hoping they can shake up the dynamic on healthcare and attract the votes of seniors.
Yet it’s precisely this sort of myopic strategy on healthcare that has put Republicans in their current hole in the first place. Instead of spending the Obama era developing a coherent approach to healthcare, Republicans jumped on whatever line of attack would gain them short-term messaging victories. They would, for instance, lambaste the high-deductibles of Obamacare plans without considering that one of the central theories of free market healthcare involves allowing for plans with higher deductibles that protect people from financial ruin in the case of significant medical events, but offer lower premiums.
At various points, Republicans promised lower premiums, lower deductibles, better coverage, protection of benefits for those with pre-existing conditions, broad access, more choice, less taxes, and lower spending. At no point did they make an actual case for market-driven healthcare. It was no surprise that the repeal and replace effort went down in flames in such epic fashion (in fact, I predicted that very outcome in this space years ago).
The latest Medicare attack is a new twist on an old favorite. During the Obama era, Republicans routinely attacked Obamacare for cutting Medicare, without considering how their charges would undermine their push to radically overhaul the program.
To be clear, Medicare as it stands is an unsustainable juggernaut that’s the biggest driver of the nation’s long-term debt crisis. It’s already paying out more than it takes in, and absent changes is expected to be insolvent in eight years, triggering steep cuts. The program has a long-term deficit approaching $40 trillion.
Any coherent long-term strategy for making the U.S. government sustainable would involve significant changes to Medicare, but all Republicans are doing with their current rhetoric is helping to cement the third rail status of the program.
Furthermore, Medicare is one of the programs that functions most like a socialist-style healthcare plan in the U.S. system. Any rational strategy to stop its expansion would involve pointing out its unsustainability. By portraying it as sacrosanct instead, Republicans are providing liberals with the easiest counter-argument in politics: How could socialized medicine be so bad if you think the already socialized Medicare program is so great? And if Medicare for some is so great, why not expand access to all?
The latest line of attack is particularly perplexing when the type of plans that liberals are endorsing provide such a massive target. Multiple studies across the ideological spectrum have pegged the cost of extending Medicare to everybody at $32 trillion – meaning that doubling income taxes on individuals and businesses would be insufficient to pay for it. It would mean that the roughly one half of Americans who enjoy employer coverage would stand to lose it. Keeping down costs would mean low payment rates for doctors and hospitals that would create devastating access problems, whereas more generous coverage would cause costs to explode beyond even the currently outrageous estimates.
Countering the threat of expanded socialized medicine by defending existing socialized medicine is completely philosophically incoherent and utterly bonkers. It is destined to backfire on Republicans in the long-run, and only helps make the spread of socialism more likely.
[Also read: Democratic lawmaker unveils Medicare for All PAC ahead of 2018 midterms]