Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - If the Democrats are counting on making a come back in the 2012 elections by demagoguing the Republican Medicare reforms, they'd better think again.

The No. 1 political issue for the remainder of this year and most likely in 2012 will be the lackluster, persistently high unemployment, Obama economy that Republicans will nail to the Democrats hide from Maine to California.

It remains to be seen whether the House GOP's proposal to have the government-subsidize private health care plans for people who turn 65 in 2022 has long term traction this year and next. But keeping that issue alive, after it was strongly rejected in the Senate this week, is problematic at best.

The Medicare plan -- part of a $4 trillion budget-cutting blueprint by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- was killed by Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans. And it isn't coming back. A new set of proposals will be needed to fix a popular but costly entitlement program that provides medical insurance for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans that faces insolvency in 13 years.

Democrats haven't offered any plan of their own to keep Medicare from going bankrupt. They're betting that all they need to do is attack Republicans for attempting to kill Medicare and they will regain many of the House and Senate seats they lost in the 2010 elections.

In other words, Democrats think they can regain the voters trust by running on an agenda that says we prevented the Republicans from reforming Medicare but we have no idea how to fix it ourselves, or, indeed, don't think it needs fixing.

That posture, a few Democrats think, is not only irresponsible, but politically disastrous.

As the Senate was preparing to vote on the issue Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton warned Democrats at a conference on the government's growing debts that they could not afford to 'tippy-toe around' Medicare. He cautioned his party against thinking they can exploit the issue solely for political gain, warning that 'We've got to deal with these things.'

But reforming Medicare to save it from bankruptcy isn't what the Democrats are thinking about right now. Scaring elderly Americans, and those who will be eligible for Medicare in the next decade or so, is the name of their game.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer is in charge of the Democrats' issues strategy in the Senate and he's telling his party that the key to winning back seats is by attacking the GOP for its budget plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.