fresh voices from the front lines of change







It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Republicans. Almost. The mess the GOP finds itself in, after appointing itself to Medicare’s "death panel," would be laughable if it weren’t also so pathetic.

Especially since it’s a mess of GOP’s own making, and they know it. That’s why Republicans pitched a collective hissy fit when — and this is the beauty part — Newt Gingrich told them the truth.

What is it about Newt Gingrich that makes the GOP so mad?

Instead, it’s what Gingrich about the GOP budget and its plan to virtually destroy Medicare.


Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich distanced himself on Sunday from a House GOP plan to make cuts to Medicare, calling it “too big a jump" for the American people.

…The House GOP budget plan, proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would effectively turn Medicare into a voucher system in which seniors were given money by the federal government to purchase private insurance, creating a radically different system than the current guaranteed benefit plan for seniors.

Gingrich said he would prefer a system that preserved the current Medicare program and also created a private alternative.

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said. “I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare solution for seniors."

That, and none of the rest above, is all it took for the GOP to go from calling Newt their "idea man" to screaming at him, "What’s the big idea, Newt?"

Now, what did Newt say that was wrong? What did Newt say that the GOP hasn’t already heard? Gingrich only told Republicans what their constituents have been telling them at their town hall meetings.


House Republicans returning to their districts on Monday faced harsh criticism for voting to turn Medicare, the federal health care program for retirees, into a voucher system. GOP lawmakers faced this same constituent ire mere weeks ago when they first voted to support House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan, which would lower tax rates for corporations and the wealthy while replacing Medicare with private-insurance subsidies for those under 55.

Speaking in his home state of Arizona Monday night, freshman Rep. Ben Quayle (R), son of former vice president Dan Quayle, took heat from constituents who demanded to know why he supported turning Medicare over to private insurers.

Quayle isn’t the only lawmaker who, after voting in favor of Ryan’s plan, faced anger at home this week. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) faced a similarly boisterous crowd at her first Vancouver town hall, while Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) weathered disapproving audiences in Worcester County.

A town hall meeting held by freshman Allen West (R-Fla.) on Monday night degenerated into a shouting match, with one person having to be removed from the meeting by police.

A recent speech by Ryan, meanwhile, was met with dozens of protesters marching outside a hotel in downtown Chicago and carrying signs that read: "Hands off my Medicare" and "Paul Ryan plan: Let them eat cat food."

Now, mind you, in the wake of all this the GOP has attempted to simultaneously circle the wagons and beat a hasty retreat.

On the one hand, conservatives have vilified Gingrich rallied around Paul Ryan and his budget, essentially making support for the GOP/Ryan budget the latest Republican litmus test. And it’s worked. Gingrich, the former bomb-thrower has been cowed, and has apologized to Paul Ryan for daring to criticize a budget he himself once supported (probably because of what it would do to a program that Gingrich once wanted to see "wither on the vine"). Most recently, Republicans have toyed with the idea of tying Medicare cuts to raising the debt ceiling.

On the other hand, the GOP is failing it’s own new litmus test, starting with the budget’s author. Having shelved any plans for a Senate run — thus putting the kabosh on a 2012 presidential run, despite the idea’s popularity with the tea partyPaul Ryan seems to be giving up on his own budget, failing to mention it a recent speech that was supposed to be a rebuttal to critics of his budget.

If Ryan’s in retreat, he’d better be careful he doesn’t get crushed in the stampede. Now that it looks like Ryan’s budget has already cost them one election, Republicans have grown cool to Ryan’s plan. Boehner is "not wedded to it", and even Michelle Bachmann has concerns about "shifting the cost burden to seniors."

For once, Michelle Bachmann’s concerns may be well founded.

Never mind that this is a plan that would leave as many as 44 million more low-income Americans uninsured, and doesn’t balance the budget without abolishing Medicare.

Many of us on the left thought the hilarity reached its peak when freshmen GOP House members cried "Mediscare!", called for a "truce" and asked Democrats so stop criticizing them for the budget they voted for in the first place.

This has to be one of the funniest political stories of recent weeks: On Tuesday, 42 freshmen Republican members of Congress sent a letter urging President Obama to stop Democrats from engaging in “Mediscare” tactics — that is, to stop saying that the Republican budget plan released early last month, which would end Medicare as we know it, is a plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Now, you may recall that the people who signed that letter got their current jobs largely by engaging in “Mediscare” tactics of their own. And bear in mind that what Democrats are saying now is entirely true, while what Republicans were saying last year was completely false. Death panels!

Well, it’s time, said the signatories, to “wipe the slate clean.” How very convenient — and how very pathetic.

This? from the party that brought us "death panels" in 2009? It had to be a joke. Right?


Republicans are undergoing two strange, simultaneous reactions to the Paul Ryan budget. The first is that they’re recognizing it’s a political disaster and frantically trying to reframe the issue as classic tax-cutting "pro-growth" Republicanomics. Is second, oddly enough, is enshrining the Ryan budget as party orthodoxy.

… This does seem like a worst-of-all-worlds situation for the GOP. They invested a huge amount of energy into branding Ryan’s budget as the Republican plan and the one thing standing between America and the abyss. Republican voters, and many elected officials, took that seriously. So seriously that it’s become an issue where Republican elected officials are going to have to hold the line upon pain of enraging the base.

But at the same time, Republicans — including, from I can tell, Ryan — are panicking over the politics of the issue, and realizing they have handed Democrats a powerful weapon against them. They enshrined as party orthodoxy something that’s so unpopular a Democrat in a heavily Republican district can single-handedly use it to surge into the lead. That’s a horrible combination.

The GOP has met its own private "Mediscare," and can’t handle the truth. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

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