Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Reports coming in from congressional town hall meetings during the Easter recess say that Republican lawmakers were peppered with angry questions about cutting Medicare. GOP lawmakers, who toppled House Democrats from power on the issue of reducing the size and cost of government to erase the budget deficit and slay a $14 trillion debt, now find themselves on the defensive on the one program Americans do not want cut.

The battle over cutting spending is one of the GOP's strongest issues, and one of the weakest for big spending Democrats and the biggest spender of them all, President Obama. But the Republicans passed a sweeping budget-cutting blueprint this month (that is, a guideline for the appropriations process to follow) that includes a redesign of Medicare that would not affect anyone over the age of 55.

Medicare spends nearly $600 billion on health care benefits and its costs are growing at an unsustainable rate. Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin wants to change it into a market-oriented program where people can shop for the most affordable health care plans available that would in part be subsidized by the federal government.

That plan is going nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but it has unfairly defined the Republicans' otherwise' worthy proposals to cut government spending across the board. And it has given the Democrats the issue they've been praying for in the critical 2012 election cycle that they will demagogue to death in their all-out campaign to win back many of the seats they lost last November.

The liberal Huffington Post website last week filed reports from the town meetings that showed growing opposition to the Medicare plan. Republican Rep. Robert Dold of Illinois "couldn't even get to the end of his presentation (in Buffalo Grove) before audience members began peppering him with questions about the Ryan budget," the Post reported.

"Some in the audience then told Dold they don't like the idea in the Ryan budget plan of Medicare becoming a voucher program that makes senior citizens buy private health insurance about 10 years from now," the Post said.

Ryan is a smart guy and he surely knew from the beginning that just the idea of touching Medicare would ignite a torrent of opposition from seniors and those who are approaching retirement years, even if they are not affected by the reforms.

He also must have known that Democrats would fiercely attack any GOP plan to change Medicare. Indeed, they have begun doing so, running ads against vulnerable House Republicans who voted to send the budget plan to the Senate.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.