Donald Lambro

Unlike the packed town hall meetings in 2009 where voters ganged up on Obama and the Democrats over health care, this time they're ganging up on Republicans. In a Carbon County forum, Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania faced an emotional audience. "What you're doing with this Ryan budget is you're taking Medicare and changing it from a guaranteed health care system to one that is a voucher system where you throw seniors on the mercy of for-profit insurance companies," one woman told him.

Republican strategists were wary of the Ryan Medicare plan from the beginning, warning House leaders of the political repercussions to follow.

"I think it is a dangerous political exercise," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the New York Times earlier this month. "This is not something that Republicans can afford to handle lightly."

This doesn't mean that Medicare does not need to be reformed to make it financially sustainable over the long term. But it is clearly a highly flammable issue that can only move forward by developing bipartisan support for needed reforms, and that means dealing with it on a separate budget track, perhaps under a special House-Senate panel to come up with changes that can pass Congress.

Going out on a limb and passing a plan that only the Republicans will vote for, as happened in the House, was not smart politically, nor good legislative strategy.

But at least Republicans had the courage of their convictions and have put forward a $6 trillion budget-cutting plan (that does not raise taxes) for fiscal year 2012, something the Democrats did not do in fiscal year 2011 when they had huge majorities.

House Democrats did offer an alternative budget that would raise taxes by $2 trillion, a plan Democrats say would mean slapping the middle class with higher taxes.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who narrowly won re-election to a second term by promising to support extension of the Bush tax cuts, seems to have changed his mind about taxing his middle-income constituents.

"I do not favor the permanent extension of that tax cut [for those in the top two brackets], and frankly, I think we've got to look at whether we can afford the middle-class tax cut permanently," Connolly told reporters.

If you are looking for a quick resolution to the budget crisis, don't hold your breath. Obama "has no plan to balance the budget -- ever," writes Washington Post economist Robert J. Samuelson. At this writing, Senate Democrats don't have one, either.

House Republicans passed a credible budget in a party line vote that surely passes any fiscal test, but it is unnecessarily mired in the politics of Medicare that needs to be dealt with on a separate track.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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