Just to be clear, Democratic leaders did actually criticize the Coburn-Lieberman bill that would raise the eligibility age for Medicare and increase cost-sharing on beneficiaries. Nancy Pelosi called it unacceptable:

Any changes to Medicare must strengthen the Medicare system and improve the health of our seniors.

It is unfair to ask seniors to get less in benefits and wait longer to get onto Medicare – all while Republicans back tax breaks for Big Oil and corporations that ship American jobs overseas.

Just like the Republican plan to end Medicare, this proposal is unacceptable, especially for struggling middle-class Americans.

And in a speech this morning, Harry Reid said that “seniors need Medicare,” and that “I will never stop fighting to preserve this successful program. As long as I am in the Senate, I will oppose Republican plans to weaken or undermine it. Because Republicans’ plan to end Medicare is one idea whose time will never come.” This was also confirmed in a separate WaPo article today.

Maybe you think those leading Democrats aren’t being sincere about this. I actually am fine thinking that they are. Because this has now become the dividing line in American politics: one side wants to destroy the safety net, privatize everything, kill the unions, cut taxes for the rich and drown government in the bathtub. The other side doesn’t want to end Medicare. They don’t really want to expand it, they don’t even mind cutting it, hopefully to make it more efficient. They just don’t want to end it. Clearly you see how far to the right that dividing line has moved.

Democrats haven’t been totally firm on anything but the idea of not ending Medicare and not privatizing Social Security. Everything else is up for grabs. They don’t want to “slash” benefits to Social Security, but changes in the COLA by using chained CPI, which would result in a benefit cut, are on the table. They don’t want to end Medicare, but they’re open to cuts as long as they are attached to some minor revenue increases. They are concerned about senior health care, but they don’t mind making fairly severe changes to a program that substantially benefits seniors: Medicaid. Included in those changes is one that comes from the policy shop of the White House:

In the budget blueprint unveiled in April, President Barack Obama proposed adjusting the way federal matching funds paid to the states are calculated for Medicaid and its companion, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Sources close to the administration tell POLITICO that White House officials have been trying to develop the idea into a version that could become part of a deal in the ongoing deficit reduction talks [...]

The administration wants to create what’s known as a “blended rate” for these programs, recalculating the levels so states receive federal dollars at the same rate for all populations in joint state-federal health programs. And in the process, they want to contribute to Medicaid savings totaling $100 billion.

This has Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) nervous.

“What we know is that in order to generate ‘at least $100 billion’ in savings, any blended-rate proposal would have to severely reduce federal Medicaid and CHIP payments to every state over time, with some losing a lot more than others,” Rockefeller said. “And the underlying needs and costs don’t disappear — they just move from the federal side of the ledger to the state side.”

You can call it something antiseptic like a “blended rate” or “chained CPI,” but the proposals are to give state Medicaid programs, or Social Security beneficiaries, less money over time. As long as Democrats don’t end these programs, they feel comfortable starving them of funding.

I know, I’m painting with a broad brush. I’m sure some Democrats would rather strengthen the safety net than cut it. But in the end, I’ll go by the actions taken. It’s pretty shameful that regular people have a bigger ally in hospital providers than they do in the self-described “party of the people.” I’ll close with the words of one operative, from Sam Stein’s article:

The president’s fiscal commission has argued that the ratio should be set at 3:1. Already, however, a 5:1 ratio ($2 trillion in cuts to $400 billion in revenues) has been scrapped. Would the party be willing to go 11:1 ($2.2 trillion in cuts for $200 billion in revenues)?

“That’s not shared sacrifice,” replied one top Democratic operative who has consulted lawmakers throughout the debt ceiling debate. “Democrats should be ashamed of themselves, if they go along with a plan that undermines the core priorities Democrats have fought for during the last 50 years. If they don’t fight for the middle class, how can they expect us to fight for them?”

UPDATE: I had no idea when I wrote this that Jonathan Chait asserted the same thing – as a selling point for the Coburn-Lieberman Medicare plan! – today.