GOP uses Sanders’s Medicare plan in attacks on Democrats

Greg Nash

Republicans in tight midterm races are tying their Democratic opponents to a “Medicare for all” proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), arguing the plan would bankrupt the government and damage traditional Medicare.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is running in a close Senate race, recently tweeted: “If you want to protect Medicare, vote Republican. If you want a socialist experiment with Medicare, by all means vote Democrat.”

In Maine, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) has a TV ad hitting his Democratic challenger, Jared Golden, for supporting Medicare for all. “A radical liberal politician, his risky scheme will end Medicare as we know it,” the ad says, pointing to “massive costs.”


The attacks are an effort by Republican candidates to flip the script on their Democratic opponents. Democrats are not proposing to cut Medicare in the way Republicans have, instead calling to expand the program, but the GOP argues that the massive costs associated with Medicare for all would be disruptive and make the whole program less stable.

“What the Republicans are trying to do is chip away at the Democrats’ advantage on health care,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, noting that efforts to portray Medicare as under threat can “boost turnout among older voters who tend to favor Republicans.”

For years, Democrats have gotten mileage out of GOP proposals to cut Medicare spending, particularly those from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has pushed for reining in entitlement programs during most of his career in Washington.

The House GOP budget released in June would cut Medicare spending by $537 billion over 10 years and transform the program from an open-ended government commitment to one that relies more heavily on private health insurers.

GOP calls to cut Medicare have faded to some degree recently, though, in part because President Trump campaigned on not gutting the program.

Instead, the new line of attack is an attempt to blunt health-care arguments that Democrats have made central to their campaigns, in which they regularly hit the GOP over votes to repeal ObamaCare and a GOP-backed lawsuit that would overturn protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

In contrast to previous elections, Republicans in close races this time around are de-emphasizing ObamaCare repeal efforts and shifting the discussion to Medicare.

“It’s a testament to how bad the reaction has been to their health-care repeal plan that they’re not trying to sell that or defend that,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, a former top official at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats.

He said voters are unlikely to be tricked into believing “the party that didn’t want Medicare in the first place and has spent 40 years trying to make it wither on the vine is now defending them from the Democratic conspiracy to end it.”

Republicans have been arguing in races across the country that the Medicare-for-all push will damage traditional Medicare.

In addition to Florida and Maine, Rep. Claudia Tenney, an endangered GOP incumbent in upstate New York, is running an ad hitting her Democratic opponent, Anthony Brindisi, for supporting “a dangerous Medicare-for-all scheme that could bankrupt Medicare.”

While he voted for single-payer plans on the state level in New York, Brindisi counters that he does not support Medicare for all on the federal level. He has an ad criticizing Tenney for voting in favor of a House GOP budget that would cut Medicare.

The GOP attacks could put some Democrats in a tricky position. Scott’s opponent in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D), told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday that he does not support Medicare for all, putting him at odds with his party’s progressive nominee for governor in the state, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. The two candidates have hit the campaign trail together since Gillum became the nominee.

Asked about Scott’s attacks, Nelson’s campaign responded by pointing to a settlement for Medicare fraud at the hospital company where Scott was CEO. “One of the biggest threats to Medicare is Rick Scott, who made a personal fortune from his company ripping off the program,” said Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin.

Trump magnified the GOP attacks last month at a rally in Indiana, saying Democrats “want to raid Medicare to pay for socialism.”

Some health-care experts say Medicare for all would be an improvement on traditional Medicare.

“The current Medicare program would be replaced by a new Medicare program, but that Medicare would have better benefits, no premiums and no cost sharing,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

She acknowledged, though, that some current enrollees might not find Medicare for all desirable from a personal finance point of view. She said one possible negative aspect is that beneficiaries with higher incomes could end up paying more in the form of new taxes to help pay for the high government costs associated with Medicare for all.

GOP strategists like O’Connell are hopeful that the recent Republican attacks on Medicare could help make some headway on an issue where Democrats have consistently put the GOP on the defensive.

“They’ve hit us with a wiffle ball bat for almost 10 years on this issue,” he said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bill Nelson Bruce Poliquin Donald Trump Health care Medicare Paul Ryan

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