After Supporting Medicare Cuts Through Reconciliation, Maverick McCain Now Opposes Them

McCainMedLast night, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation preventing Democrats from using reconciliation to change Medicare spending. If adopted, the amendment would prohibit lawmakers from making changes to a program that makes up some 20% of the federal budget through the reconciliation process:

SA 3427. Mr. MCCAIN (for himself and Mr. GRAHAM) proposed an amendment to amendment SA 3336 proposed by Mr. BAUCUS to the bill H.R. 4213, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend certain expiring provisions, and for other purposes; as follows:

At the appropriate place, insert the following: SEC. lll. PROTECTING MEDICARE. Section 310(g) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (2 U.S.C. 641(g)) is amended by inserting before the period the following: ‘‘or to the medicare program established by title XVIII of such Act’’.

The problem isn’t just that McCain has voted for “nine out of 13 reconciliation bills that have been offered during his time in the Senate”; it’s that he has previously supported reducing Medicare spending using the reconciliation process — some of which cut Medicare by more than what the Senate health care bill is proposing:

– Balanced Budget Act of 1995: would have cut Medicare and Medicaid by a combined $452 billion over 7 years.

– Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989: overhauled doctor payments for Medicare, included a number of other provisions designed to slow the growth in Medicare spending.

– Balanced Budget Act of 1997: cut Medicare by $115 billion over 5 years.

– Deficit Reduction Act of 2005: cut Medicare spending by $6.4 billion.

It’s difficult to see this as anything more than a message amendment designed to help McCain win a tough primary in Arizona. And it’s surprising that McCain chose to offer such a broad amendment, rather than drafting something that would have only protected the Medicare Advantage programs from reconciliation.

But, McCain can rejoice in the fact that Republicans who complain about out of control entitlement spending on one hand, but criticize Democrats for reducing wasteful Medicare spending on the other, are still taken seriously on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.