A wall of opposition

While the political world chortles at Weiner’s wiener (and granted, it’s a bizarrely entertaining story), real America is rendering its verdict on something of actual importance.

The GOP’s efforts to dismantle Medicare have hit a wall of public opposition that has already directly cost the party a solid Republican congressional seat and threatens to return the House of Representatives to Democratic control.

House Republicans won the senior vote in 2010 by a dominant 59-38 percent, just two years after House Democrats won their vote by 49-48 — a remarkable 22-point shift. Republicans largely accomplished this feat, ironically, by demagoguing on Medicare. Thus, Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanLaura Ingraham: George Will is ‘sad and petty’ for urging votes against GOP Seth Rogen: I told Paul Ryan I hate his policies in front of his kids George Will: Vote against GOP in midterms MORE’s (R-Wis.) overt efforts to destroy the program so soon after victory were particularly brazen. The GOP’s full embrace of the proposal was particularly stupid. And the conservative movement’s efforts to make the Ryan plan a new litmus test for GOP candidates is a dream come true for Democrats.

The numbers show why.

A late-May poll by the Pew Research Center finds that Americans over the age of 50 oppose the GOP’s Medicare plan by a 51-29 margin. And the opposition is fierce — 42 percent of seniors “strongly oppose” the plan, with only 19 percent “strongly favor[ing] it.” A CNN poll came back with even more brutal numbers. “Opposition is highest among senior citizens, at 74 percent,” said CNN polling director Keating Holland. “[S]eniors are most worried about changes to Medicare even if those changes are presented as ones that would not affect existing Medicare recipients.”

Polling also finds that even Republicans oppose the plan. Pew pegs opposition by rank-and-file Republicans at a 39-35 margin, while the CNN poll finds Republican respondents opposed by a 50-48 margin.

Democrats, usually skittish, seem to have gotten the memo. The Senate Democratic leadership forced a vote on the Ryan budget, getting all but four Republicans to vote for the Medicare-busting bill. Democrats are salivating over going after the “no” votes in House and Senate races all around the country. Medicare won them a House special election two weeks ago, and there are almost 100 congressional districts less Republican than that one.

Republicans are now desperate to get Democratic buy-in on Medicare-slashing to defuse the issue for 2012. In debt-ceiling negotiations, Republicans have threatened to have the nation default on its debts unless Medicare is slashed to death. They play that game at their own peril.

“Agreeing to benefits cuts takes the foot off the gas in terms of going on the offensive against Republicans,” Democratic pollster Jeffrey Liszt told The Washington Post. “You have to draw a bright line somewhere, and Medicare benefits are the best place to do that.” Refreshingly, Democrats don’t appear to be in a mood to cave. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that Medicare benefits cuts are “absolutely” off the table. “The last place we need to go,” she said, “is do what the Republicans are doing: eliminate Medicare [and] make seniors pay more for less as you give tax breaks to Big Oil and say that’s how we have to reduce the deficit. We don’t subscribe to that.” 

But who cares? That’s the House. Democrats are powerless. But emboldened Senate Dems are also demanding that any deficit agreement spare seniors. Republicans have little wiggle room.

Whether or not they decide to destroy the nation’s 
finances over Medicare, the numbers are pretty unambiguous — thanks to the GOP’s war on Medicare, 2012 will be a tough year for them.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos.