Medicare overhaul? Tea party sees a chance.
Medicare overhaul is priority of tea party activists planning to make themselves heard at town hall meetings in key battleground states. Supporters want Medicare overhaul along the lines of Rep. Ryan's plan.
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Thousands of Tea Party movement activists are expected to descend this month on town hall meetings across key battleground states as part of an intensifying campaign ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Their priority is a plan to slash Medicare costs proposed by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which could gain momentum now that a debt-limit deal between President Barack Obama and Congress has made potential Medicare cuts a centerpiece of the deficit debate.
A new congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by November 23 is expected to focus on Medicare, and the program would see automatic cuts if the committee failed to reach agreement, or if Congress did not approve its recommendations by December 23. Market values of companies that depend on Medicare spending fell more than 10 percent in a sell-off on Wall Street after the agreement.
``The August town halls are going to be, potentially, a referendum on Democrats who don't care and Republicans who've dared to offer real policy solutions, particularly on things like entitlements,'' said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the small-government advocacy group organizing the initiative.
``The Ryan plan is the only one out there so far, and what we need is an adult conversation with all politicians talking about the real issues.''
Decried by retirees, labor unions and Democrats as a voucher system that would end Medicare, the Ryan plan appeared near death after opposition to it helped Democrats capture a congressional seat in a Republican stronghold in upstate New York in May.
But FreedomWorks, which helped found and shape the Tea Party movement, sees its campaign as the opening salvo in a long battle to secure a place for the Ryan plan in the 2012 debate and the legislative session that will begin in January 2013.
RISKS FOR REPUBLICANS
At stake is the support of senior citizens, a powerful bloc of swing voters who broadly oppose the Ryan plan and could punish its supporters in Congress if Republicans fail to turn the debate in their favor, according to analysts.
The Ryan plan -- which the House approved in April but which went nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate -- would preserve Medicare for current beneficiaries but transform it for future retirees from a system that provides guaranteed benefits to one that gives the elderly financial assistance to buy private insurance.
Polls point to broad public support for preserving Medicare in the deficit debate, with majorities favoring higher taxes for the wealthy over program cuts.