When Koch brothers-funded candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock overreached on abortion in Missouri and Indiana, those Republicans sealed their political demise with female voters, while damaging the brand of their party nationwide as well. Similarly, when Koch brothers-funded Republicans in Michigan rammed through anti-union right-to-work-for-less-money legislation, they damaged their brand with working people.
Now it's up to President Obama to make sure he doesn't follow these Koch-head Republicans into the political wilderness by sticking retirement-age people with a raw deal during so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations.
In an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, President Obama hinted that he may support raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67-years-old. As though he was reading straight from Speaker John Boehner's talking points, when asked about raising the retirement age, the President said, "What is true is we need to strengthen Social Security, we need to strengthen Medicare for future generations, the current path is not sustainable because we've got an aging population and health care costs are shooting up so quickly."
In fact, the major thing that's hurting Medicare right now is the Republican poison-pill they put into it during the Bush years, Medicare Part D, which forces Medicare to pay for pharmaceuticals at full retail, instead of negotiating discounts like the Pentagon does and Walgreens does. The result is that Medicare is overpaying for drugs to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a decade.
Instead, stupidly, Democrats are letting Republicans drive the discussion of how to save Medicare money by talking about the eligibility age, which won't even save our government money – it'll just shift the Medicare costs of 65- to 67-year-olds into the general fund, the states, and onto consumers themselves.
And, if President Obama gives into Republicans and raises the eligibility age for Medicare, he'll be creating his very own Todd Aiken moment – which has to be what Republicans are hoping he'll do. He'll end up taking the heat for their anti-retiree policies.
A recent McClatchy poll shows just how unpopular cuts or raising the Medicare eligibility age is among Americans. When asked if spending on Medicare should be cut as part of a "fiscal cliff" deal, 74% of Americans said they oppose the idea. When asked if the Medicare eligibility age should be lifted to 67-years-old, 59% of Americans opposed the idea. Despite the overwhelming opposition by the American people, Republicans have enthusiastically staked out these two positions when it comes to Medicare. And, just like in Michigan, they'll eventually face the consequences for this betrayal of working people, too.
That's why President Obama should, right now, very publicly walk away from any conversation about raising the eligibility age.
So far, the President has made raising taxes on the rich the cornerstone of his "fiscal cliff" proposal, which is a spot-on political strategy, since that same McClatchy poll mentioned earlier shows 57% of Americans support a tax hike on those who make more than $250,000 a year.
All this talk of a so-called "balanced deal" is just Republicans trying to bait the President into becoming the retiree's Todd Aiken. There's nothing "balanced" about making Richie Rich's like Mitt Romney pay a little bit more in taxes while sticking seniors, the poor, and the disabled and sick with billions of dollars in extra healthcare costs. Given that effective tax rates for the rich are at historic lows today in America, and over a trillion dollars in spending cuts were passed last year when the Republicans held the President hostage, raising taxes alone makes for a "balanced deal."
When confronted with the Republican talking point that Medicare is unsustainable, President Obama should have echoed the words of Progressive Senator Sherrod Brown, who fired back, "I don't buy [Medicare is] not sustainable any more than the defense budget is not sustainable."
Which sets up a perfect line of discussion about our national priorities. Do we cut healthcare for seniors, or do we cut weapons contracts for war profiteers?
Republicans have made their choice to cut healthcare for seniors – and they'll have to live with it at the polls in 2014. For President Obama to stand in that same political space with them would be political suicide.
Democrats created Medicare – and it's up to President Obama to save it from the Republicans' knives.
Otherwise, the entire Democratic Party may find itself wandering in the political wilderness for years to come.