Is Medicare An Achilles Heel For The Romney Campaign?

Medicare appears to be shaping up as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Achilles’ Heel. Americans acknowledge the health care program for seniors is in financial trouble, but they aren’t ready to accept changes that might improve Medicare’s outlook.

Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, his vice presidential running mate, are compounding their problems by refusing to offer details about how they would fix Medicare and solve other issues like the sagging economy and pending tax cuts. The GOP candidates, for example, want to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts to everyone, but President Obama wants to exclude incomes above $250,000 a year.

Asked how he would pay for those tax cuts for everyone, Romney said on a number of occasions he would eliminate loopholes and deductions for higher-income Americans.

OK, but what loopholes and deductions? Ryan said on ABC’s “This Week” the specifics of their plans would come only after the election.

“Mitt Romney and I, based on our experience, think the best way to do this is to show the framework, show the outlines of these plans, and then to work with Congress to do this,” Ryan said.

Their theory seems to be that giving out too much detail fuels attacks by President Obama and other Democrats.

Romney said after the Republican nominating convention, “I know our Democrat friends would love to have me specify one or two (tax breaks or loopholes) so they could amass the special interests to fight that effort.”

Maybe so, but the opposition is already doing an effective job with just the framework Romney and Ryan are talking about.

National Journal, a weekly political news magazine, wrote this week about a new national poll that demonstrates Medicare is an issue that resonates with voters. It is the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.

Fifty-four percent of Americans said they trust Obama and congressional Democrats more to manage the future of Medicare. Only 31 percent said they trusted Romney and the GOP more, the magazine said. With independent voters, Democrats held a 49-to-27 percent trust margin.

The magazine said more than two-thirds of those polled agree Medicare is in trouble and added: “… But Americans largely want the program to stay as it is anyway.”

When it comes to taxation and social programs like Medicare, it should come as no surprise that a majority of Americans aren’t ready to make sacrifices and are perfectly content to let someone else pay the bills.

Romney’s selection of Ryan put Medicare at center-stage because Ryan designed a congressional plan designed to save the health care program for future beneficiaries. That’s unfortunate, because a sagging economy is Obama’s Achilles’ Heel. But it has been overshadowed by voters’ interest in Medicare and tax cuts. And that has helped the Democrats seize the campaign initiative.

The president’s health care reform is another troubling issue for Democrats, but Romney over the weekend upset conservatives when he said he would retain some features of the Affordable Health Care Law. Romney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” he would continue the federal ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and retain the feature that lets children stay on family health care plans until age 26.

Once again, Romney had to back track and say he would repeal the entire Obama health care law and replace it with a new one that retains those two provisions. However, the details are still unknown.

National Journal put it this way: “… But when it comes to exactly how he would achieve the same goals of making sure that people with preexisting conditions get insurance coverage and children can stay on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26, Romney has no clear plan.”

The most legitimate issues in this campaign are the economy and the national $16 trillion national debt. If the economy doesn’t improve and Congress doesn’t start reducing the debt, the U.S. could face problems like those in Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal. All of them experienced unrest as they tried to deal with debts caused by their liberal spending policies of the past.

Ryan did come up with some winning lines that put the economy in perspective.

“The president can say a lot of things, and he will,” Ryan said. “But he can’t tell you that you’re better off. Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now.”

My worst memory of those tough economic times was the 13 3/4 percent interest on my house note. The rate eventually came down to 8 3/4 percent during the Ronald Reagan years.

Romney, Ryan and their advisers still have time to try and recapture the campaign initiative. However, they have to be more up front with voters and not leave them guessing about how they will reduce the debt and fix the economy, Medicare and other monumental problems facing this country. The presidential and vice presidential debates would be a good place to start filling in the missing pieces of their plans.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].

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