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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Still, a June CBS poll showed that nearly 60 percent of Americans know little about the changes proposed by the Ryan plan, suggesting that many voters have yet to form an opinion.Skip to next paragraph
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FreedomWorks faces a daunting challenge from Democrats and progressive groups including the coalition Health Care for America Now, which pushed for healthcare reform in 2010 and intends to defend that new law and Medicare against Republican attacks through the 2012 election.
``Each side is going to try to scare the hell out of seniors. And they're going to do that because it works. It motivates seniors to get to the polls,'' said Michael Cannon, a health policy expert at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Kibbe, whose group is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and claims 800,000 volunteers nationwide, says Republicans lost in New York because they abandoned the Medicare debate to Democrats.
Republican lawmakers now need to come out swinging before the same thing happens elsewhere, he says.
``If they don't do that, we won't win this debate,'' Kibbe told Reuters. ``You can't move a legislative initiative unless you've vetted it through the political season.''
'PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGN'
Ryan himself appears to agree and has been promoting his views on television and in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece.
``We need a public education campaign and that means people from all around the country, different groups, need to engage with their people,'' Ryan told CNBC a day after the House approved the debt limit deal.
``You've got to have wherewithal to get out to the public to educate them as to the pending bankruptcy of Medicare.''
A perennial campaign issue, Medicare could be key in 2012 House and Senate elections in swing states and could help determine the outcome in the White House race as Democrat Obama takes on a Republican challenger.
Senior citizens demonstrated their electoral clout in last November's midterm elections, when they rebelled against Obama's healthcare reforms in large enough numbers to help Tea Party activists install a Republican majority in the House.
People age 60 and older accounted for 34 percent of the vote, even though they make up only about one-quarter of the population, according to a July 29 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Robert Blendon, who teaches health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, says elderly voters fear the Ryan plan could undermine support for Medicare among younger taxpayers by denying current benefits to future retirees.
But the current Democratic edge might disappear quickly if elderly voters associated Obama with program cuts that could come under the deficit-cutting deal.
``If their take-away is that neither party stood up for us, Medicare won't play a big role,'' said Blendon, who co-authored the New England Journal of Medicine article.