Thursday, May 26, 2011

The time is now: Expand Medicare

Like most Democrats, I was very pleased and excited by the results of the special election in New York's 26th Congressional District. I think we can all agree that Democrat Kathy Hochul's victory in this overwhelmingly Republican district was the result of Republican Jane Corwin's endorsement of Paul Ryan's plan to kill Medicare. But even as we celebrate this win, we can also see the pernicious beginnings of the Democratic Party's plan to squander this opportunity. How will they fail? The Democratic Party will fail because they still do not understand how to negotiate.

The Medicare debate we are currently in the middle of is, at its heart, a negotiation about how this nation's wealth will be distributed. The starting position of Paul Ryan and the Republican Party is that ordinary Americans should be stripped of their access to healthcare so that the wealthiest 1% can be given not merely tax cuts, but government subsidies. The war on Medicare is just the latest battle in the wider class war being waged by the GOP.

The Democratic Party has, I am sorry to say, staked out several different negotiating positions. The best of the lot is probably Nancy Pelosi's declaration that the Democratic Party's position is Medicare. Unfortunately there are many Democrats who have embraced the position expressed by Steny Hoyer: that everything, including Medicare, is "on the table."

The problem with the Democratic negotiating position(s) on Medicare is that when you ultimately plan on compromising--"meeting in the middle"--starting with the position where you would like to end up means that you will inevitably NOT end up where you'd like to. If Democrats sincerely want to preserve Medicare, they must stake out a starting position far to the left of their final position.

Medicare is wildly popular with the American people. Even a majority of Tea Partiers oppose tampering with this great social safety net. Yet the national Democratic Party seems poised to meet the Republican Party halfway down the road to abolishing Medicare. If the Democrats really want to save Medicare, they must demand its expansion.

Medicare is popular for a reason: it works. When something works so well that more than 80% of the voting population approves of it, then that something ought to be expanded. If Medicare works great for Americans over the age of 65, then why shouldn't it work just as well for those who are 60? 55? 50? 45? Why shouldn't every American have an opportunity to participate in Medicare NOW?

Medicare needs to be expanded until it becomes universal single payer healthcare. Democrats should refuse to be baited into meeting Republicans halfway down the road to Medicare's extinction. The results in this week's election in New York's 26th Congressional District are a clear road sign: Medicare must be expanded, not negotiated away to fund tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and corporate welfare.

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