From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, stars front and center of the RNC's latest TV ad -- a direct play for seniors in this health-care fight.
The ad buy is "targeted" and "will run on select national cable networks and will also be aired in Florida," according to an RNC release. It's the second flank in Steele's effort to court seniors through what he calls a "Seniors' Bill of Rights." Last week, the party chairman wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for such a bill with several key points. FactCheck.org, for one, found several errors.
In the TV ad, with chipper music in the background, Steele appears agreeable and proposes a five-point Seniors Bill of Rights:
- No Cuts to Medicare to Pay for a New Program
- Make it Illegal to Ration Health Care Based on Age
- Prevent any Government Role in End-Of-Life Care
- Prevent any Government Role in End-Of-Life Care
- And Stop Bureaucrats from Getting Between Seniors and Their Doctors
"A few things we should all agree on," Steele says in the ad. "The Seniors' Bill of Rights." He adds, "Oh and President Obama, it's not too late to change your mind. Stand with us and stand with senior citizens. After all, they've earned it."
But on the first point of "No cuts to Medicare," Steele told NPR's Steve Inskeep last week that he'd "absolutely" be in favor of certain Medicare cuts. He told the late Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press when running for the Senate that in order to control federal spending "everything has to be on the table," including cuts to Medicare.
And, as as Atlantic Media Political Director Ron Brownstein wrote in National Journal on Friday, "Steele's pledge this week to 'protect Medicare' might have been more convincing had it not come five months after nearly four-fifths of House Republicans voted to literally end the program as we know it for all Americans younger than 55."
Mr. MICHAEL STEELE (Republican Party Chairman): What makes it a valuable program is that it is the last line of opportunity to receive health care for a lot of our seniors, and it has been now for - since the 1960s. The problem is, as we all note, that the system has been raided over the years, from time to time. It's become bloated, and in some cases efficiencies have not been maxed out. Therefore, it's running into problems where, you know, every few years we're having stories about Medicare falling apart and, you know, we've already projected it's going to be out of money in a few years.
INSKEEP: It's going to run out of money.
Mr. STEELE: Exactly.
INSKEEP: But you're coming here against reducing the spending on Medicare, restraining Medicare.
Mr. STEELE: No, no, no, no, no, no. That's not coming out against reducing the spending. That is not - I mean, that's a wonderful interpretation by the left, but what I was saying was don't go raiding the program without some sense of what we're taking from the program, the impact it's going to have on the senior citizens out there. You know, raiding a program that's already bankrupt to pay for another program that we can't afford is not good public policy.
INSKEEP: So you would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?
Mr. STEELE: Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who's in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.
MR. RUSSERT: Your Web site, Mr. Steele, says you want to control runaway federal spending.
LT. GOV. STEELE: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: What programs would you cut?
LT. GOV. STEELE: Well, what I would like to do is something that we did in Maryland. We — Governor Ehrlich and I came into office, we had a $2.2 billion deficit staring us in the face and a bloated government to contend with. And so we stepped back and evaluated exactly what the priorities of our government should be. Seventy-eight percent of our spending is in two areas: education and health care.
MR. RUSSERT: It's the same in the federal government.
LT. GOV. STEELE: It's the same. And my point...
MR. RUSSERT: Seventy percent is Social Security, Medicare and Defense.
LT. GOV. STEELE: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you touch those?
LT. GOV. STEELE: Abso — Tim, everything has...
MR. RUSSERT: Everything's on the table.
LT. GOV. STEELE: Everything has to be on the table, my friend. We are living in a time — we have to — government has to act like the rest of, the rest of the world and sit back and look at your budget. If you don't have enough money in any given month, what do you do? You've got to reprioritize. You've got to take care of the business at hand. So what I want to do is a couple of things. One, I want to take a closer look at what we're spending. The last five, seven, eight years, Congress has lost its mind when it's come to spending. You couple that...
MR. RUSSERT: Controlled by the Republicans.
LT. GOV. STEELE: Absolutely. It doesn't matter, Republican or Democrat, I just put it out there. That's the reality of it. It's...
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's pledge this week to "protect Medicare" might have been more convincing had it not come five months after nearly four-fifths of House Republicans voted to literally end the program as we know it for all Americans younger than 55.
They cast that vote on April 2 in support of a GOP alternative budget plan that would have converted Medicare from an open-ended entitlement that guarantees seniors virtually unlimited access to care into a voucher system that provides future retirees only a fixed sum of money to purchase private health insurance. That approach -- a variation of legislation Republicans actually passed through the House when they controlled it in 2003 -- has some advocates among health policy experts. But this longstanding GOP prescription for Medicare emphatically violates most of the six principles that Steele enshrined this week as the pillars of a Republican "Health Care Bill of Rights" for seniors.
Although Republicans are accusing President Obama of embarking on a "risky experiment" by pursuing Medicare cost savings to help fund universal coverage, by any measure the plan that House Republicans endorsed this spring represents a much more wrenching change in the program. "Obama is doing some fine-tuning," says John Rother, vice president for policy at AARP, the giant seniors lobby. "This [Republican plan] would be a complete revolution and would fundamentally change the character of Medicare."
And to the broader point of whether Democrats are proposing cuts to Medicare, FactCheck.org writes:
The bill that's currently pending in the House would indeed "cut" $500 billion or so from Medicare, but it would also increase expenditures in some areas. The net amount that would be taken from the program would be about $219 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's a 10-year figure, by the way. And any implication that seniors' Medicare benefits would be cut is false. Rather, the bill calls for holding down payments to hospitals and other providers, other than physicians.