If you are feeling a sense of deja vu about where the current budget debate in Congress is headed, you aren’t alone, and I offered an explanation at New York:
In the partisan messaging battle over the federal budget, Joe Biden seems to have Republicans right where he wants them. Beginning with his State of the Union Address in early February, the president has hammered away at GOP lawmakers for plotting to gut wildly popular Social Security and Medicare benefits. This has driven Republicans into a defensive crouch; they can either pretend their proposed cuts aren’t really cuts or forswear them altogether. It’s a message that Democrats would love to highlight every day until the next election, or at least until Republicans figure out a better response than lies, evasions, and blustery denials.
But as Ron Brownstein points out in The Atlantic, there is a logical path Republicans could take to counter Democrats’ claims that GOP policies threaten popular retirement programs. It’s based on pitting every other form of federal domestic spending against Social Security and Medicare, and on making Democratic support for Big Government and its beneficiaries a political problem among seniors:
“Republicans hope that exempting Social Security and Medicare [from cutbacks they are demanding for raising the federal debt limit] will dampen any backlash to their deficit-reduction plans in economically vulnerable districts. But protecting those programs, as well as defense, from cuts—while also precluding tax increases—will force the House Republicans to propose severe reductions in other domestic programs … potentially including Medicaid, the ACA, and food and housing assistance.
“Will a Republican push for severe reductions in those programs provide Democrats with an opening in such places? Robert J. Blendon, a professor emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health, is dubious. Although these areas have extensive needs, he told me, the residents voting Republican in them are generally skeptical of social-welfare spending apart from Social Security and Medicare. ‘We are dealing with a set of values here, which has a distrust of government and a sense that anyone should have to work to get any sort of low-income benefit,’ Blendon said. ‘The people voting Republican in those districts don’t see it as important [that] government provides those benefits.’”
And so Republicans will very likely return to the messaging they embraced during the Obama administration. Back then, self-identified Tea Party conservatives constantly tried to convince elderly voters that the real threat to their retirement programs stemmed not from GOP budget cutting, but from Democratic-backed Big Government spending on younger people and minorities, with whom many conservative voters did not identify. Then as now, a partisan budget fight — and the threat of a debt default of government shutdown — let Republicans frame funding decisions as a competition between groups of beneficiaries, rather than a debate over abstract levels of taxing or spending.
The big opening shot in the anti-Obama campaign was Sarah Palin’s wildly mendacious but highly effective September 2009 Facebook post claiming that the Affordable Care Act would create “death panels” that would eliminate Medicare coverage for seniors or disabled children deemed socially superfluous (the barely legitimate basis for the attack was an Affordable Care Act provision to allow Medicare payments to physicians discussing end-of-life treatments with patients).
Soon Republicans would come up with slightly more substantive claims that Obamacare threatened Medicare. In 2011, House GOP budget maven Paul Ryan, whom Democrats hammered for his proposals to partially privatize both Social Security and Medicare, claimed that Obama administration projections of health cost savings in Medicare represented a shift of resources from Medicare to Obamacare. By 2012, when Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate, Ryan was campaigning with his mother in tow, claiming that Republicans wanted to protect her from raids on her retirement benefits by the redistributionist Democrats.
Romney and Ryan didn’t win, of course, but they did win the over-65 vote by a robust 56-44 margin, a better performance in that demographic than Trump registered in 2016 or 2020. As Thomas Edsall explained in The New Republic in 2010, the Tea Party–era Republicans understood they had to mobilize their federal spending constituents against alleged competitors:
“Republicans understand that one axis of the resource war will be generational. All of their vows to defend Medicare are coupled with attacks on Obama’s health care reform. They implicitly portray Democrats as waging an age war—creating a massive new government program that transfers dollars to the young at the expense of the elderly. Republicans have cleverly stoked the fear that Obama is rewarding all his exuberant, youthful, idealistic supporters by redistributing resources that are badly needed by the old.”
In a 2024 campaign in which Democrats are going for the jugular with seniors, a reprise of the GOP’s 2012 Medicare counterattack, dishonest as it was, might make sense.
During this year’s budget skirmish in Congress, House Republicans are expected to take a claw hammer to domestic spending outside Social Security and Medicare, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports:
“This spring, House Republicans are expected to release an annual budget resolution that calls for large health care cuts, and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplace coverage are likely to be prime targets. House Republican leaders are calling for cutting the deficit and making the Trump tax cuts permanent, while saying they will shield certain areas of the budget (Medicare, Social Security, and military spending) from cuts. To do all these things at once, it is highly likely they will propose cuts in health programs that provide coverage to millions of people.”
The House GOP has also already called for deep cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, including food stamp and nutrition programs. It’s likely the GOP’s state-based crusade against “woke” public education will lead to a renewal of ancient conservative demands to deeply cut or kill the U.S. Department of Education. Maybe those representing energy-producing areas will go hard after EPA or the Department of the Interior’s programs. Almost certainly, the GOP as a whole will embrace across-the-board cuts in federal employment or federal employee benefits under the guise of “draining the swamp.” Any and all such cuts can also be rationalized as necessary to avoid reductions in spending for Social Security, Medicare, and national defense, not to mention tax increases.
Whatever formula they adopt, there’s little doubt Republicans will find ways to present themselves the true defenders of Social Security and Medicare, just as many of them will always keep scheming for ways to damage or destroy these vestiges of the New Deal and Great Society. Biden seems committed to his effort to make seniors fear the GOP, and this is the only way Republicans can counter-punch.
Mitch, on how many blogs will you be posting that? Having paged past it on four different sites now, let me say: you’re not doing your candidate any favors. Spam is bad PR.
What to make of this electability issue? I must admit it probably makes up more than half of my criteria for a candidate. I think all top four candidates have pluses and minuses.
Pros: Foreign policy expertise, presidential bearing, a professional and disciplined campaigner (if not inspired)
Cons: Aloofness, his long record in the senate provides a fat target
Pros: Inspired campaigner, likeable, a southerner
Cons: Lack of foreign policy expertise, less than one term in the senate
Pros: Energized base, Governor
Cons: Undisciplined campaigner, less-than-appealing personality, lack of foreign policy expertise
Pros: National security credentials, great bio, likeable, a southerner
Cons: New to politics and prone to rookie errors, thin on domestic policy
I think there might actually not be that much difference between all of them (with the exception of Dean, who I do think lags behind the other three.) However, this is the one issue where I tend to bow to the Republicans. Who are they releasing negative info on? It stands to reason that that’s who they’re scared of. It’s Edwards and Clark. I think they’re probably the two guys that have the best chance, but like I said, there’s probably not that much difference between any of them.
I don’t share the concerns voiced here regarding the electibility of Kerry. I think he can take Bush. I think a Kerry/Edwards ticket would be very good. It is true that Kerry is ponderous, but I think he’s improved since Iowa. I have concerns about Dean because he just doesn’t have that indefinable “presidential” quality. Neither did Bush 2, but he wasn’t “elected” either. Clark hasn’t measured up to expectations (my own), and Edwards is terrific, but too green.
Back to Kerry. Yes. He’s a northeastern liberal, and Rove will, no doubt, hammer him, but I see Kerry fighting this with issues the Repubs are weak on: economy, war on terror, lack of wpms, healthcare, etc.
Just an aside: my brother-in-law, a veteran from the Korean War, was watching Kerry on tv yesterday, and said that he thought Kerry was a good man, although boring, and that Kerry would definitely get his vote. So, there was a recognition of Kerry’s low excitablity, but it didn’t affect his opinion of the man. I think a lot of men will feel this way.
I would love to see you (Rudy) do a piece on Kerry’s electability. I’m a Clark supporter because of the electability question, but I’d like to see your take. Also, would Bill Richardson as VP give us a real edge in Arizona and Nevada?
The Kerry of ’03 is not electable. The “04 version may be – he’s much better on the stump and with crowds, far more likeable than you think, though of course not in Edwards’ league.
Labeling the Dem nominee as a liberal won’t work for Repubs – that’s not how they beat Gore. They beat Gore on personality and character.
I have to say, I think even the ’03 Kerry is better than Gore. I’d prefer Clark or Edwards, though. Dean dropped on my list after IA; I think he’s clueless about managing the media and his own image, let alone being poorly positioned on policy. I now think he’s flat out unelectable.
I’m with you, Upper Left. I think Kerry is far too Gore-ish. I’m a big fan of both Gore and Kerry, and I think both of them would make good presidents. But I don’t see how stiff, aristocratic Kerry can beat the charming, affable Bush.
No, that puts it too strongly. I don’t see how Kerry is more electable than any other major Democratic contender, including Dean. I think, as Ruy’s posts show, Bush is vulnerable, and he’s vulnerable to anyone. The electability question is not about who is electable and who isn’t. It’s about who is more electable than whom.
And I think Dean is more electable than Kerry, but less electable than Clark or Edwards.
I admit it, I am obsessed with the electability question.
For months I have been arguing that the CW on Dean’s “unelectability” is wrong. But as Dean kept getting hammered by his opponents and the media, you could watch him loose momentum and then start to slide in Iowa. The tag was that Dean was a New England, liberal who would end up like Dukakis.
Now Kerry is the “frontrunner.” Who is Kerry? Kerry is a New England, liberal (Ted Kennedy’s best buddy) with a twenty year-long voting record for Karl Rove to exploit. Kerry has most of the same problems Dean has with few of Dean’s positive attributes.
I find it truly ironic that in the Dems frantic efforts to come up with an electable candidate, they are now supporting the guy who would be easist to portray as a conventional, doctrinaire liberal.
Frankly, I don’t know who I support at this point: Dean is damaged, but looks like he will do well enough in NH to claim a comeback. Dean also has the money and the organization to continue fighting. Clark is showing his lack of experience as a politician; showing his vulnerability to the “not a true Dem” charge; and showing that Kerry’s win and Edwards strong second have taken the anti-Dean wind out off his sails. Edwards (my second choice after Dean) is getting a little momentum and will probably be the frontrunner in SC, but it is questionable whether he has the money or the organization to go national.
Do others share my concerns about Kerry’s electability? I can’t get over the image of Kerry as a tall Dukakis. Yes, he has a couple of medals to pin on his chest, but he opposed Gulf War I, and as the Max Cleland experience shows, the Repubs can assail the patriotism of anyone. Kerry’s stiff ponderous style and his often rambling, unfocussed speaking style really concern me. Kerry looks O.K. but I think he is too open to attack and ill-prepared to defend himself.
To put it in another way, I have been trying to argue that Dean’s centrist record as Governor would eventually overcome his superficial image as a ultra-liberal. On the other hand, Kerry’s superficial image as a moderate, careful alternative to Dean will ultimately be undermined by his doctrinaire, liberal record as Senator. Irony is everywhere.
Good questions, tstreet. It’s nice of Ruy to present the poll statistics, but there’s no context to really judge their significance. If somebody did that sort of thing, it would be invaluable.
Does anyone know how this thud compares to past SOTU by Bush and others. An historical perspective might be interesting and instructive.
As for Dean, it’s only going to get worse as he leasves the cold confines of New Hampshire. It is now between Kerry and Edwards, with Kerry with a seeming slight edge in electability. The current polls bear that out. Still hoping for a Kerry/Edwards ticket. Experience and magic, a hard to beat combination.
Perhaps Dean could play a useful roll in a future Kerry/Edwards administration. Now if I could just peel that Dean bumper sticker off my car. In a perfect country, one not so freaked out by fear and terrorism, perhaps Dean could prevail, but not this year. While he is generally right on the issues, I just don’t think he has the resonance to go all the way. But if Kerry and or Edwards can win, they will owe Dean a note of thanks.
Off Topic rant, spiel, pitch… what have you:
Why Support Howard Dean…?
Ever since former Vermont Governor Howard Dean entered the race for president two years ago, he has been the leader in setting the debate. Dean stood up to George W. Bush when few others would and pressed other Democrats to do so as well. Howard Dean has energized the base of the Democratic Party, and as the candidate of hope, vision, courage, and experience, has created a real chance for at victory for working people in 2004…
Dean Delivers Health Care
While other candidates endlessly talk about healthcare, Howard Dean, who is also a medical doctor, has delivered it. While Governor of Vermont, Dr. Dean provided healthcare coverage for 99% of children under 18, for low- and middle-income families, for seniors and the disabled, and for expectant mothers in the state. He also required that mental illness and substance abuse receive the same coverage that serious physical illness does. Gov. Dean also provided a prescription drug coverage program for seniors and the disabled while Congress talked about it. Because of a strong commitment to helping seniors live productive lives at home, Gov. Dean shifted funds from nursing homes to other services, such as home health care, so more seniors could live with dignity in their own homes. Gov. Dean’s vision for the future includes an effective and practical kind of social responsibility. His Success By Six program in Vermont places a strong emphasis on early childhood prevention and health care, with visits to the homes of all new parents who request help (91% do). This long-term vision is designed to help prevent child abuse, which has dropped 45%, which in the long run, creates healthy, productive, fully functional family support that will keep these children out of prison when they grow up. Gov. Dean did all this, while balancing the budget, cutting taxes and not by slashing funding for education, police, fire departments and other vital services.
Job Creation and Fiscal Responsibility
In his eleven-year tenure as Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean created 20% more good-paying jobs, lowered the unemployment rate, and raised the minimum wage. He also balanced the budget year after year–and he did so while cutting taxes twice, responsibly, and while providing funding for health care, school reform, and the protecting the environment. When Gov. Dean took office in 1991, he inherited a record deficit. When he left office eleven years later, he left the state with a record surplus and a solid rainy day fund in case of an economic down-turn. Because of Gov. Dean’s fiscal management skills, he was able to pay down the debt and take Vermont from the lowest bond rating in New England to the highest. With the Bush Administration giving trillions of dollars of irresponsible tax cuts to the wealthy and shifting the taxes to state and local governments while charging it to our children and grandchildren in the form of debt, the country is going to need an experienced fiscal manager to pull us back from the brink of economic disaster.
The (right kind of) Money to Win
On January 1, 2004, the Dean campaign announced another quarter of record-breaking fund-raising, citing $15.38 million for the fourth quarter of 2003. This put Dean at $40.78 million for the year. But with nearly 300,000 contributors and an average contribution of under $100, Dean is not beholden to special interests or fat-cat donor, but to us, the people. In addition he can go back to the well again and again. It’s a source of funding that is unlikely to dry up, making a 50-state primary strategy possible to fight for restoring American prosperity to everyone. In addition, in a savvy general election strategy, the Dean campaign decided to forgo matching funds. Giving up this public financing will make Gov. Dean financially competitive with George W. Bush and his millions of dollars from fat-cat special interests. By opting out of the tax funded campaign system, the Dean campaign is not required to adhere to limiting primary spending limits – limits that would surely cripple any Democratic presidential campaign by March of 2004 and allow Bush to attack our candidate without the ability to respond. With Gov. Dean’s proven record of balancing budgets, expanding healthcare and creating jobs, they had better worry. Everyday people, when they learn who Gov. Dean is, and look at his record will see that he is a REAL leader and support him.
You should too.
The above is from a new two-sided flyer “Tired of affordable healthcare?” which is part of the “Re-Select Bush” guerrilla campaign I have up on my Gore4Dean website. (http://www.gore4dean.com/why.html)
This piece shows on one side, Washington/Bush’s failure to address the serious issue of affordable healthcare. The back has the above copy which lays out the solid record and real reasons why everyone should support Howard Dean. PLEASE download and distribute it as far and as wide as possible.
p.s. if you are so inclined to donate to Dean for America, please consider hitting the bat via my Dean Team bat on my website for the effort.