Politico’s Jonathan Allen and Manu Raju have an interesting report detailing Democrats’ frustrations over Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) decision to join hands with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and offer a bipartisan Medicare premium support plan that, while certainly not as radical as the original GOP blueprint, would likely increase costs for seniors and put the program on the road towards greater privatization.
You can read the full policy analysis of Wyden’s proposal here and here, but Democrats are worried that Wyden is also undermining the politics of Medicare reform by providing Republicans with “bipartisan” cover for their ultimate goal — complete privatization of the Medicare program:
“It neutralizes the weapon,” Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in an interview. […]
Asked if there was frustration among Senate Democrats with Wyden over Medicare, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told POLITICO: “I’ve heard that sentiment expressed.” But he quickly added that he’s also heard “some say that initiating a bipartisan conversation that will preserve Medicare is worthwhile. So let’s see if the Ryan-Wyden approach meets that test.”
Privately, the criticism is more biting. “Democrats believe in Medicare and, rather than bolster it, Wyden undermined a great issue for us all so he could grab a couple of headlines,” one furious Democratic source said. “Just embarrassing.”
Wyden stresses that his plan preserves traditional fee-for-service Medicare as an option for seniors — and it does, while also shrinking its impact and market power and undermining its effectiveness. What’s even more troubling, however, is that Wyden is cashing in one of the Democrats’ most important chips in this debate: Medicare’s large market power and success in containing health care costs. He is accepting the GOP’s alarmism about Medicare’s future — which isn’t nearly as dire as they suggest — and laying Medicare on the table as a legitimate target for further cuts. That kind of approach not only muddles the Democrats’ political message (we will strengthen this efficient government-sponsored program, while Republicans aim farm it out to private insurers), but also greatly increases the likelihood of greater privatization and coverage erosion in the future.