Dems target House Repubs on Medicare

It’s back! Hide grandma and grandpa.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, plans to unveil his latest proposed federal budget Tuesday in Washington, and he has said the document will not back down from last year’s controversial plan to convert Medicare health coverage for senior citizens into a voucher-based program.

Already, the campaign arm of the congressional Democrats has launched a preemptive strike against 41 House Republicans in competitive districts across the nation, including five in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting robocalls in the districts of Republican who supported Ryan’s budget last year and its proposed changes to Medicare; the bill passed the House and died in the Senate. Among those under the microscope: Reps. Jim Gerlach (PA 6); Pat Meehan (PA 7); Mike Fitzpatrick (PA 8); Charlie Dent (PA 15); Tim Murphy (PA 18) and Jon Runyan (NJ 03).

“Republicans have made their priorities crystal clear, once again, DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel of New York said in a statement. “We will go district by district to hold Republicans accountable for their reckless and relentless efforts to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.”

Republicans who supported the Ryan budget were dinged up last year and the issue, particularly the Medicare proposals, no doubt contributed to a decline in job approval ratings for Congress as a whole and the GOP House majority.

The idea of a two-tiered system to pay for Medicare remains broadly unpopular. A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in February found that 70 percent of Americans favor keeping Medicare “as it is,” including 53 percent of those who identify themselves as Republicans. (Kaiser did, however, find some receptivity to the idea that Medicare’s fiscal future is at risk without program changes.)

Ryan has been working in a bipartisan Medicare proposal with Sen. Ron Wyden (D.,Ore.) which will likely tweak the 2011 proposal, though the principle of using “premium support” – federal subsidies to purchase private health insurance – for future beneficiaries is expected to be part of the package.

DCCC is using robocalls that will patch the caller through to their district’s member of Congress. The money quote: “Republicans in Washington have a new budget that chooses millionaires over Medicare. One independent analysis found that the plan would “shift substantial costs to beneficiaries” and “lead to the demise of traditional Medicare.”

In Pennsylvania, Democratic challengers Manan Trivedi, a Reading physician, in the Sixth District and Kathy Boockvar, who is running in the Bucks-County based Eighth District, have already begun using the issue against Gerlach and Fitzpatrick, respectively.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party is getting into the act as well, circulating an online petition urging that the pack of GOPers running to challenge Sen. Bob Casey (D.,Pa.) promise to keep their hands off Medicare.

Though Medicare clearly will serve as a bludgeon for the GOP in the 2012 elections, Democrats have not advanced specific proposals of their own to deal with the looming insolvency of Medicare.The Social Security trustees say that Medicare will run out of funds in 2024 because of the rapid aging of the U.S. population and increasing health-care costs, unless changes are made in financing the system or benefit payments.

Watch this space to see how Gerlach, Fitzpatrick, Dent, Murphy and Runyan respond to the issue.