Love of Medicare chills tea party fever

By Clarence Page for the Chicago Tribune

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.

That’s appropriate.

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


  1. Dagmar Fabian on April 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    The whole USA has to have single payer health care like Medicare and all people should have to join to spread the cost incl Federal employees. We might have to have means testing to afford to give everyone care. When Soc Security includes much higher cut off points for Soc Sec taxes we have a greater pool of money. Medicare : increase
    the percentage point of taxes on pay check over time slightly. Congress members should be in the same pool of the medicare system.

  2. Dagmar Fabian on April 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    see above

  3. Vashti Winterburg on April 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    It might be smart to remember that when Medicare was instituted, the poverty rate among Seniors dropped from 26% to 9%. The Ryan plan would push that number back up.
    I like to think that besides getting the majority of us out of the medical bankruptcy pool, that single payer would also put a significant dent in the poverty rate besides allowing those who are on Medicaid because of expensive medical conditions to be able to return to work without losing medical coverage.

  4. Chelsea on April 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    The Ryan plan? Don’t you mean the duopoly plan?

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  6. yes now on August 12, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Yes Medicare is a single-payer health system that works fabulously. It definitely needs to be expanded to everyone. Most American’s think that their health insurance at their job is good enough. They never really think about how things will be for them when they have an ongoing health problem. My daughter has Crohn’s Disease, her Remicade treatments run $20- 30,000 dollars per year! Not including her prescriptions, colonoscopys, scans, blood work, out patient care every month. We make too much money for Medicaid but not enough for private insurance or to even pay for what the insurance wont cover. It is financially devastating! This should NOT happen to ANY AMERICAN FAMILY! How is this allowed to happen? The healthcare exchanges will still leave us with a sea of medical bills! There are Millions of families just like mine. Please vote for Medicare for all.

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