There is no truth to the rumors that Democratic Reps. Fortney “Pete” Stark of California and John Dingell of Michigan secretly jumped ship and are helping Republicans recapture the majority in the House. But you would never know it based on their health-care agenda. The two liberal old bulls who face little-to-no personal electoral vulnerability seem determined to march their caucus back to minority status by forcing them to cast a highly unpopular vote to cut Medicare.
A peak below the surface reveals why these two lawmakers’ ideological crusade could put House Speaker Nancy Pelosi back in the minority leader’s suite. This week, two House committees began consideration of legislation to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Initiative Program. Predictably, Democrats want to balloon it into a massive Leviathan costing more than $50 billion over the next five years. This large an expansion will induce millions to drop their private insurance coverage to feast at the taxpayer’s expense. The program could accomplish its objectives with a lot less money, but consider who is in charge of Congress now.
But here’s the kicker. To pay for this new largesse, Messrs. Stark and Dingell set their sights on cutting Medicare Advantage — a popular alternative to traditional fee-for-service. Medicare Advantage offers seniors an option of lower costs and more benefits in a managed-care setting. For over 8 million people in this rapidly growing program — nearly one out of every five seniors — this is their Medicare. For them, reducing funding means higher health-care costs and fewer benefits.
A recent national survey by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman underscores this point, noting “a vote to cut Medicare Advantage will elicit major negative political consequences.” Mr. Mellman’s data shows over half (52 percent) believe “a member of Congress who promised not to cut Medicare would be breaking their promise if they voted to cut Medicare Advantage.” It’s now Messrs. Stark and Dingell who want to “end Medicare as we know it” for a good number of seniors.
And while they will claim cuts to Medicare Advantage simply bring the program’s funding into parity with fee-for-service, the real motivation is different. This alternative to traditional Medicare is one of the only hopes of reforming this exploding entitlement program. It provides seniors choices in health care and uses private -sector competition to drive down costs. But its biggest offense in eyes of the left is it doesn’t fit their one-size-fits-all ideology. The Democrats should beware following Messrs. Stark and Dingell’s ideologically driven lead. They are marching their party back to minority status while by breaking promises to seniors.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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