Proposal to Replace Medicare Political Risk for GOP

Most House Republicans from competitive Pennsylvania districts reacted cautiously Tuesday to Rep. Paul Ryan’s long-awaited budget proposal, which would slash $6 trillion in spending over 10 years and restructure taxpayer-financed health care for the elderly and the poor in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Not freshman Rep. Lou Barletta, of the 11th District in northeastern Pennsylvania. “This is what I came here for,” he told reporters. “I came here to do the tough jobs that needed to be done.”

Under the Ryan plan, people 54 and under would not get Medicare from the federal government but would instead receive vouchers to purchase private insurance when they reach retirement age.

Barletta, a Republican, said he thinks voters will understand that current seniors won’t be harmed and that something must be done to cut future costs.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is betting they won’t. The party’s House campaign arm plans to associate Barletta and other vulnerable Republicans with the Medicare proposal, which Democrats argue will ultimately cause benefit cuts.

“Everyone agrees we must cut spending and tighten our belt, but Representative Lou Barletta is abandoning his responsibility to Pennsylvania seniors by backing a partisan plan to dismantle Medicare,” said Josh Schwerin, DCCC spokesman.

DCCC is targeting 14 Republican-held House districts that were carried by President Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004. Five of them are in Pennsylvania: Barletta’s 11th; the 7th District held by Rep. Patrick Meehan; the 8th, of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick; the 6th, held by Rep. Jim Gerlach; and the 15th District, represented by Charlie Dent.

Gerlach and Dent have survived repeated attempts to dislodge them over the past several cycles. The others were elected in 2010.

 Dent was much more cautious, calling Ryan’s proposal “serious and sober,” but declining to say whether he’d support the particulars, according to the Morning Call of Allentown.

“The House Republican proposal marks an important step in what will be a serious, and at times difficult, conversation about America’s finances and the legacy this generation passes to the next,” Fitzpatrick, of Bucks County, said in a statement. “I hope that my constituents will take time to familiarize themselves with this proposal and be active participants in this national discussion.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a full embrace of the new Medicare math.

Meehan was enthusiastic about Ryan’s proposal, calling it a “bold vision” that attacks “an unsustainable debt crisis that is saddling our children and grandchildren with a crushing burden.” He didn’t say specifically whether he’d back the Medicare provision, however.