On Medicare, a battle and a war

Every once in a while, former President Bill Clinton hits one out of the park. This week we have the Big Dog to thank once more, for telling Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) he hopes Democrats don't use their victory in a special election in NY-26 to do nothing on Medicare reform. Then he told Ryan to give him a call, which Ryan said he plans to do.

That race, to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R), saw a Democratic victory in a GOP stronghold for more than four decades. The headline of the campaign was Ryan's ambitious, controversial reform plan for Medicare, which would transform the popular program so that Medicare recipients would instead receive vouchers to purchase coverage in the private market.
 
The GOP candidate, Jane Corwin, stated her support for the Ryan plan, but when her opponent — Kathy Hochul — began hammering her for it, Corwin failed to find a compelling message for her support. According to Ryan, she never spoke with him about it. There was a third-party candidate in the race, but local polling shows the Medicare issue as a top concern that likely pushed Hochul over the top in the Buffalo district once represented by the late Jack Kemp.
 
House Republicans went ahead and approved Ryan's bold Medicare plan as part of their annual budget in April, knowing the political dangers it would invite, as I explained in my column this week. They acknowledge the plan has no chance of passing the Senate and being signed into law but continue to support the plan and argue that such reforms should be on the table when the White House and Congress negotiate any increase in the debt ceiling. Republicans in the Senate, all but five of them, backed the plan on the Senate floor this week when it was voted down by Democrats.
 
The Ryan plan might be the wrong Medicare reform, but both parties need to work on some Medicare reform. The program will be broke in 13 years, and curbing its growth must be part of any meaningful deficit reduction. Clinton is right, the NY-26 victory for Democrats doesn't take away the underlying problem. Let's hope sensible policymakers like Ryan and Clinton can get something started before another election cycle drowns out hope for reform now.
 

IS PALIN IN IT TO WIN IT, OR TO GET ATTENTION? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, May 31. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.