Democrats' campaign leader confident Medicare issue will make Pelosi speaker

The Democratic representative charged with taking back the House says the election will be about one issue — Medicare — and his party “is in a much better place than anyone thought we would be” to put Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back in the speaker's chair.

“This is going to be razor sharp,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said on C-Span's Newsmakers, airing on Sunday. “We are ahead in the generic polls ... it is a good indicator and right now we are up in every single generic ballot.”

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He said the election will be about “Medicare, Medicare, Medicare” because all but a few members of the Republican caucus voted for the 2012 budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). That budget would have transformed Medicare into a program where future seniors buy private insurance using capped subsidies from the government, which Democrats claim would essentially end the program.

This year, Ryan is weighing using an alternate plan with bipartisan support that keeps traditional Medicare as an option alongside premium support for future seniors.

“It is a vote that we will not allow them to escape from,” Israel said of the 2012 budget.

“We are in a much better place than anyone thought we would be,” he added. “Ads against Nancy Pelosi are irrelevant when you have to stand up in town meetings and explain why you voted to end Medicare in order to give tax breaks to big oil companies.”

Ryan's spokesman Conor Sweeney said Ryan welcomes the debate because the Democrats' policies will doom Medicare entirely.

"Chairman Ryan welcomes the debate between bipartisan efforts to save Medicare and the Democrats’ law that raids, rations & leaves bankrupt this critical program," he said. 

"The President and his party’s leaders have doubled-down on their health-care overhaul that inflicts great pain on seniors. The President’s disastrous health-care law raided Medicare of hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a new entitlement. Worse, it empowers a board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats to further cut Medicare in ways that will deny critical care for current seniors," Sweeney added. "House Republicans will continue to advance patient-centered reforms that repeal the President’s rationing board, protect those in or near retirement from any changes, and offer a personalized Medicare program for future generations."

Israel noted that the minority Democrats have so far out-raised the GOP but said the growth of Republican super-PACs “keeps me up at night.”

The DCCC leader shrugged off the retirement of Blue Dog head Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), which was announced this week. Israel said the party had long known North Carolina was going to be a challenge. He said the GOP itself has identified 30 vulnerable seats and Democrats only need 25 to retake the majority.

Israel said that the DCCC will be focusing energy on Illinois, Texas, California and Florida and getting back 9 million independent voters whom the Democrats say they lost in 2010.

The DCCC chairman said that former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D) is actively involved in recruiting a candidate to run in a June 12 special election for her seat. Giffords recently retired in order to focus her energies on recovering from an assassination attempt last year.