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Marilynn Garfield of Delray Beach, Fla., left, raises her hand when the audience was asked how many are on Medicare during the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans fifth annual town hall meeting on health care reform in Delray Beach, Fla. Thursday Aug. 20, 2009. The costs of the program keep increasing.
With Democrats divided on key parts of health-care reform, Republicans can push the teetering enterprise over the edge.
House liberals reached full-fledged revolt when word began to spread last week that President Obama was okay with a bill coming out of the Senate without a public insurance option. New York politicians took the lead in firing back that the so-called public option remained essential to reform. Sen. Chuck Schumer pushed the notion that Democrats had 60 members and could vote on a bill -- one that included the public option -- despite each Republican voting no. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) has been showing up everywhere, making the case that expanding Medicare is one public option that works.
This is where Republicans should swoop in, building on their summer successes.
The GOP has managed to put Democrats on the defensive throughout most of August. The town hall meetings kept members of Congress off balance. Meanwhile, the president seems like a character in a cartoon trying to prevent the dam from bursting: No sooner does Obama think he has one portion of the Democratic base under control than criticism arises from somewhere else.
Now is the ideal time for the GOP to push its strategic advantage: Deep suspicions of what health-care "reform" might mean has caused Obama's poll numbers to drop precipitously along with support for any kind of major overhaul.
And so, Republicans should just adopt one simple mantra when Congress returns from the August recess. Call it the Anthony Weiner Postulate: "There already is a health-care 'public option': It's called Medicare -- and it's already going broke." "There already is a health-care 'public option': It's called Medicare -- and it's already going broke." "There already is a health-care 'public option': It's called Medicare and it's already going broke." This works because it happens to be true:
As a result, the administration said, the Medicare fund that pays hospital bills for older Americans is expected to run out of money in 2017, two years sooner than projected last year. The Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2037, four years earlier than predicted, it said.
So, less than a decade from now, Medicare will be bankrupt -- and that's under present-day liabilities. How could adding millions more people to the program do nothing more than accelerate that process? Now, obviously, Weiner would argue that creating something called "Medicare for All" is part of the bill drafting and voting process. But, in this instance, Republicans are under no obligation to be "responsible" and dig Democrats out of the health-care hole in which they have found themselves.
So, if "Medicare for All" could be a viable policy issue, it is incumbent upon Democrats to show how they would gain costs controls -- when ordinary, everyday Medicare is seeing its bankruptcy within eight years. Once again, with feeling, Republicans: "There already is a health-care 'public option': It's called Medicare -- and it's already going broke."
Let American voters hear that enough times and that could spell the end for the whole plan.