In her unsuccessful campaign for representative in the Florida's 13th Congressional District special election Tuesday, Democrat Alex Sink charged that her Republican opponent would cut Social Security and Medicare. This is a time-tested Democratic line of attack, and in Pinellas County, where 22 percent of adults are 65 and over--not the highest percentage in Florida, but above the national average.
But in this election Medicare seems to have worked for the Republican and against the Democrat. As Michael Warren reports in The Weekly Standard, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran an ad criticizing Sink for supporting Obamacare and its cuts in the Medicare Advantage program. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee is citing a poll (pollster unspecified) indicating that voters would blame Democrats in Congress for cuts in Medicare Advantage. Obamacare's architects put these cuts in the Obamacare bill, because they dislike the free market thrust of Medicare Advantage, enacted as part of the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. Now it appears that Democrats are paying a price.
Mediscare tactics--charges that Republicans would cut Medicare benefits--worked for Democrats for many years. Often these were stealth attacks, like the late-in-the-campaign mailing to Florida seniors that helped Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles edge Republican Jeb Bush in 1994. But when the issue was brought out into the open in the 2012 campaign, Mediscare didn't work so well. Democrats attacked the Medicare provisions of Paul Ryan's budgets passed by the Republican House in 2011 and 2012. But Ryan responded by making, as his first point, that any changes would not cover anyone over age 55. The Romney-Ryan ticket carried seniors nationwide and in the key (and senior-heavy) state of Florida.
Now it appears that the Medicare issue is working for Republicans and against Democrats. Many conservatives have attacked George W. Bush and congressional Republican leaders for passing (with some Democratic votes) the Medicare Part D prescription drug program in 2003. Part D defenders have responded that their legislation inserted market provisions, including Medicare Advantage, into federal health programs and have pointed out that it is one federal program whose costs have come in under projections. These market mechanisms would move health care policy away from the more statist prescription drug program a Democratic Congress and president would enact if the 2003 law had not been passed. These arguments have received some vindication by the result in Florida's 13th.