John Boehner became the latest Republican leader to disavow Medicare privatization, saying simply that they don’t have the control of the government needed to put the plan into action.
Responding Thursday to the news that one of his most powerful chairmen, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) of the House Ways and Means Committee, will not push ahead with the Medicare plan, Boehner told reporters, “My interpretation of what Mr. Camp [said] was a recognition of the political realities that we face. While Republicans control the House, the Democrats control the Senate and they control the White House.”
Boehner insisted the GOP hasn’t abandoned the plan, and isn’t prepared to take anything other than tax increases off the table. But with multiple top Republicans now acknowledging that budget negotiations will focus on other areas of potential agreement, it seems understood that the plan is basically dead.
This was a monumentally stupid play by the Republicans. They introduced and passed the Ryan budget within two weeks. Only afterward did they face angry voters who couldn’t believe they’d pass a plan to end Medicare. And almost immediately after returning to Washington, they shelve the proposal. Come November 2012, there will be a lot of angry and out-of-work Republicans wondering why the hell they had to vote on a bill that was never becoming law that severely diminished their reputation with their core base of elderly voters.
This is reminiscent of the BTU tax in 1993 passed by the Democratic House, and on some level cap-and-trade in 2009. But at least cap and trade had a somewhat plausible chance to get passed, especially if the White House put some muscle behind it. And at least the party which passed the bill had control over all three branches of government at the time. This Medicare privatization never had a prayer, would only inflame voters, and the Republicans served it up anyway. This reflects a combination of hubris and cognitive dissonance, the unwavering belief that their opinions are universally shared.
At the time, I understood the passage as putting Republicans in a good position to get the maximum policy. And actually, the Ryan budget served some of its purpose in that respect. Look at what Kent Conrad will deliver as a budget proposal, look at what the President already delivered. These are all center-right austerity budgets. There are still policy dangers ahead. But the GOP probably could have moved the conversation to the right without actually putting their members on the record for a catastrophically unpopular policy.
Oh to be a fly on the wall in Paul Ryan’s office today.