The Senate plans a floor vote on the Ryan budget at some undisclosed point. Initially the thought was it would come up this week, but now that has been pushed back to “sometime this month.” There are only two weeks left before the Memorial Day break, so that doesn’t leave much time.
It would be a big mistake to let the month go by without getting Republicans in the Senate on the record. Dean Heller, the new Senator from Nevada who already voted to end Medicare in the House, has every intention of doing it again. Scott Brown announced he would vote for the Ryan budget as well, and in all likelihood you can get Olympia Snowe and Richard Lugar to vote for it. So virtually every marginally contestable seat on the Republican side will have GOP candidates who voted to end Medicare. And with so many more Democratic seats up for grabs, they’ll need to play offense somewhere to take off the pressure.
But the well-laid trap for Republicans on Medicare is being undermined by the proponents of a grand bargain.
On “Fox News Sunday,” the talk was so cooperative that host Chris Wallace dubbed the conversation “television diplomacy.” On several topics, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, warmly agreed to meet and share ideas on everything from Medicare and tax reform to border security.
“I just listened very carefully to what Jon Kyl said. And I believe he has set the stage for us to enter into a meaningful conversation,” Durbin said after Kyl announced he won’t agree to raising taxes, but would consider eliminating loopholes in the business tax code that complicate calculating the bottom line.
“Democrats are prepared to talk about the future of major entitlement programs, reform that is not going to deny the basic protections, which we put in the programs, but acknowledges the fact that we have serious economic problems ahead of us if we don’t have some reform in both Medicare and Social Security,” Durbin said.
Durbin drew the line at privatization, which is on offer in the Ryan budget, but it doesn’t exactly bolster the Democratic message and should give real concern to those who don’t want to see seniors pricing cat food.
It comes at a time when Republicans are flinching in the wake of loud protests to their ideas for Medicare. But it won’t be long before they recognize the attitudes of both sides of the debate, and gain the impression that nobody is really working to protect their interests. Nancy Pelosi has had the best posture in this debate. She’s said that the Democrats have an alternative to the Ryan budget: it’s called Medicare. Medicare faces a demographic problem and a general problem with the broken US health care system. Those are viable subjects of study, but ending Medicare is most certainly not. And with that connection to the Republicans underway, the best thing to do is to just let that happen. That starts by holding the vote in the Senate.
UPDATE: I spoke too soon about Pelosi. We’re in “everything is on the table” mode.