Les Francis May 25th, 2011 at 11:53 pm 41 Comments
As a life-long Democrat, I should be celebrating the victory of Kathy Hochul in Tuesday’s special election for the U.S. House of Representatives. And the excitement I feel should be boundless, considering my background as a Democratic operative, including stints as executive director of two of my party’s three major campaign committees (the DNC and the DCCC).
But truth be told, my sense of partisan satisfaction is tempered considerably by what I fear will be the major outcome from yesterday’s results: Hanging any notion of Medicare reform around the necks of Republican candidates will be virtually the entire Democratic playbook in the 2012 Congressional and Senatorial campaigns. The voters’ verdict in the New York 26th race almost ensures that serious discussions about essential entitlement reform are likely to be kicked down the road once again.
Republicans demagogued health care reform relentlessly and shamelessly in the run up to the 2010 midterm elections, and it worked for them. Democrats will do the same on entitlements between now and November of next year, and odds are it will work for them—they will pick up seats as a result.
The list of losers in yesterday’s special election starts with the Republican nominee, Jane Corwin, but House Republicans who embraced Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s ideas about radical changes to Medicare certainly share that dubious distinction. However, other losers may also include those Democrats, such as Senators Mark Warner (VA), Dick Durbin (IL), and Kent Conrad (ND), who have been trying to nudge their colleagues toward budgetary discipline and fiscal reforms of some sort. They know, as does anyone who is paying the slightest bit of attention, that our current policies and practices—be they spending or revenues—are unsustainable.
Conservative Republicans and Tea Party adherents seem determined to repeal or alter in fundamental ways major sections of the social contract that evolved in the U.S. during the 20th century; the great majority of Democrats—most certainly including its left-leaning base—are committed to resisting such initiatives as vigorously and as long as they might have to.
However, there are some Democrats—and I put myself in this category—who realize that specific elements of that compact are going to have to be renegotiated and recalibrated. What made sense in the mid-1930s (a retirement age of 65, for example), may no longer work. The current “fees for service” system upon which Medicare is based also will require reform. Paul Ryan’s vouchers may not be the answer, but neither is inaction.
My worry is that important and ultimately inescapable facts and their ramifications may already have been lost among the empty champagne bottles and sparkling confetti of last night’s Democratic victory party. If so, we’re all going to be worse off as a consequence.