Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NY-09, Medicare, and Social Security

The victory of Bob Turner in heavily Democratic NY-09 is clearly not good news for Democrats. How bad the news is, though, remains to be seen: the badness of the news will in part depend on how much local issues decided this election (e.g., the Weiner scandal) versus the impact of broader trends.

In any case, Mickey Kaus has some good points here:
It’s the possibility that the Democrats favorite issue–Social Security–didn’t work to save them because Obama, too, has embraced cutting Social Security and Medicare in “some undefined ‘everything on the table’ entitlement reform,” as Weigel puts it. Could it be that the differences between Obama’s Medicare cuts and GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare cuts–differences that seem so significant to policy analysts in Washington (and to me)–don’t have much salience in the crude argumentation of direct-mail electioneering? Now that’s scary for a Dem. After decades of pledging not to touch the two sacred programs, it’s beginning to look as if Democrats can’t just suddenly agree to pull trillions out of Social Security and Medicare and expect voters to maintain their reflexive loyalties.
However, I think it is a mistake to interpret Kaus here as saying that Mediscaring / Social Security-scaring has been proven ineffective.

If anything, this election suggests that Obamacare cuts to Medicare do provide an opportunity for Republicans to run on this issue, but running against Social Security and Medicare might not be the way to do it. Bob Turner distanced himself from the Ryan budget on Medicare and from Rick Perry (or at least the Perry of Fed Up) on Social Security. The "Issues" page on his website reads (emphasis added):
Social Security and Medicare represent solemn commitments made by the government to people who have been paying into this system their entire lives. I believe that these programs should be preserved as they are for those in or near retirement and that we should work to strengthen and preserve them for our children and future generations. I oppose efforts to privatize or bankrupt either. I would work with members of both parties to reach a solution that will meet our obligations on both of these programs.
Mediscare couldn't work against Turner because he pledged his total support for Medicare. Indeed, he has spoken strongly against the Ryan budget. This election is less a sign of victory for the Ryan budget and more a sign that Republicans can run away from this budget (at least if they haven't voted for it) and win.

Even in the far more GOP-friendly special election in Nevada, Republican victor Mark Amodei at times expressed some reservations about the Ryan budget (even as he praised Ryan for trying to solve the problem). Amodei refused to say whether he would vote for it or not.

Vowing to protect Social Security and Medicare, a Republican was able to win in a strongly Democratic district. If Turner had run on the Ryan budget and declared Social Security unconstitutional, the result might have been quite different. NY-09 is not representative of the nation as a whole (it usually favors Democrats far more), but, if Republicans hope to cast this election as representative, they might do well to note what their man did not run on.

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