Surprise, surprise! Faced with the prospect of Medicare cuts, even tea party folks find griping about “big government” to be a lot more fun than actually shrinking it.
Seventy percent of those who identified themselves as supporters of the fiscally conservative movement in a new McClatchy-Marist poll oppose cuts to Medicaid and Medicare to solve the country’s deficit woes.
Almost as many, 68 percent, of those who simply call themselves “conservatives” also oppose the cuts. A much larger portion, 88 percent of moderates and 91 percent of liberals, oppose laying a finger on the two health care programs.
But what about those tea partyers? What happened, I wonder, to all that budget-cutting, thrifty government zealotry and deficit hawkishness that spurred the tea party movement into existence?
What happened to all those fears of a single-payer national health care system? Or does nobody notice anymore that Medicare happens to be a single-payer health care system?
A similarly surprising outpouring of affection from the right turns up in a CBS poll.
Asked if they think Medicare is currently worth the costs, a virtual tie appeared among tea party supporters: 41 percent say yes, 46 percent say it’s not.
That’s almost the same as the 45 percent approval of Republicans overall who say, yes, it’s worth it, while 44 percent say no.
Overall, 61 percent of those surveyed say yes Medicare is worth the costs, including 78 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents.
On the larger philosophical question of whether government has the responsibility to provide health care coverage for the elderly or the poor, 76 percent of the Americans surveyed say yes to the elderly and 56 percent say yes to the poor.
But here conservatives are split. Republicans, at 55 percent, are more likely than tea party supporters, at 47 percent, to say it’s the government’s responsibility to provide health care to the elderly while 48 percent of tea partyers and only 40 percent of Republicans overall say it is not. It’s a tribute to Medicare’s success that it remains so popular across the political spectrum.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, its architect, would smile at how far the program has come since 1961, when a certain politically minded Hollywood actor recorded an attack against government health care for the elderly titled, “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.”
Recording on what we old-timers used to call a vinyl “record,” children, the 10-minute speech featured Reagan’s manly honey-toned voice criticizing the idea of government health care for the elderly as “subsidized medicine” that would “curtail Americans’ freedom.”
By 1980, Reagan had migrated politically to the other side of that debate, even insisting as a presidential candidate that he had never opposed “the principle of providing care” for senior citizens.
Today Medicare is like the U.S. Postal Service; we love to complain about it but most of us don’t hate it.
Politically, that sounds like bad news for Republicans and good news for Democrats. A deficit-reduction budget passed recently by House Republicans calls for major changes in Medicare and Medicaid. But the changes are too radical to get through the current Democratic-controlled Senate.
President Barack Obama, by contrast, mainly wants to stick with his Affordable Care Act, which Republicans want to repeal. Now he, too, is running into problems with key tenets like its Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The panel of 15 experts would be nominated by the president to recommend policies that would cut Medicare costs. Conservatives are raising the specter of “death panels” and even some congressional Democrats are balking at the idea of giving too much power to a board that politicians couldn’t easily boss around.
People, if we’re going to get this deficit under control, something’s got to give. It’s best if the sacrifice is shared. There’s plenty of pain to go around.
One hopeful sign: Polls show younger adults are less opposed to major changes that can keep Medicare and Medicaid solvent. They also have more time to prepare for whatever changes might take place in the future.
Since young folks have to live with the outcome, they should have the biggest say. Yet, ironically, younger voters are the least likely to turn out for elections. If ever there was a time for them to get off the couch and make their feelings known, this is it.
Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune’s editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage