Did Bill Clinton Betray The Democrats On Medicare?

Posted by | May 27, 2011 16:04 | Filed under: Top Stories

By Yashwanth Manjunath

With a stunning upset victory in New York’s heavily Republican 26th Congressional District, Democrats appear poised to change the 2012 electoral landscape and put the House of Representatives back in play. All objective observers agree that Paul Ryan’s disastrous plan to destroy Medicare played an enormous role in the outcome of the race. A majority of voters do not want any cuts to Medicare in order to balance the budget. But just as it looks like the Democrats have the Republicans on the ropes, in comes Bill Clinton to help snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

On Wednesday, Clinton spoke at a forum about the national debt hosted by the Pete Peterson Foundation where he said in reference to Medicare cuts:

I’m afraid that the Democrats will draw the conclusion that because Congressman Ryan’s proposal, I think, is not the best one, that we shouldn’t do anything and I completely disagree with that.

After making his public comments, Clinton went on to have a conversation with Paul Ryan backstage where Ryan asked for Bill’s help:

“My guess is it’s going to sink into paralysis is what’s going to happen. And you know the math. It’s just, I mean, we knew we were putting ourselves out there. You gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving,” Ryan said.

Clinton told Ryan that if he ever wanted to talk about it, he should “give me a call.” Ryan said he would.

Now, in a vacuum, Clinton’s comments seem harmless enough, but taken into context they are extremely troubling. Unlike Social Security, Medicare really does have serious fiscal issues and is in need of reform. However, those fiscal issues are primarily due to rising health care expenditures as a whole, and are not just restricted to Medicare. Thus, there are two paths to reducing Medicare expenditures.

One path is the Paul Ryan plan, which just shifts costs from the government onto seniors by cutting benefits, and would effectively destroy the American middle class. The other path is real progressive reforms to Medicare like a buy-in provision for people under 65, allowing the government to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, and eliminating inefficiencies and poor incentives, that lead to excessive profits for the actual health care providers. Unlike cutting benefits, those reforms would actually lower total health care expenditures, as opposed to just government spending on Medicare.

Pete Peterson is a Republican billionaire who has been pushing for drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare for years, and uses his “foundation” to help spread right-wing propaganda about the fiscal health of those programs. While Clinton’s words were ambiguous enough, his appearance at the Peterson event, and his hobnobbing with Paul Ryan afterward, seems to indicate that he wants to move more in Ryan’s direction than in the progressive direction.

At the very least, his exchange with Ryan undercuts Democratic messaging efforts for the 2012 elections and makes it more likely that the Democrats could agree to some benefit cuts to Medicare. Clinton is not even in office anymore and he is still capitulating to Republicans and helping them achieve their agenda.

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