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Medicare: Republicans voice resolve as they prepare to face constituents

House Republicans, heading home for a recess days after a Democrat won a special election in New York, say they're ready to explain their stance on Medicare reform to voters.

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“The outcome in NY 26 shows that seniors and independents have a serious case of buyers’ remorse,” says Jennifer Crider, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Democrats can’t necessarily take back the House on this issue, she adds, “but it puts the House in play.”

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Rep. Tom Cole (R) of Oklahoma, a former head of the House GOP campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, says that Republicans have been helped by the fact that Democrats controlling the Senate have yet to produce a plan of their own. “We have to start describing the Democrat plan as ‘Do nothing, spend it all, and go broke,’ ” he says.

Another potential advantage for Republicans is that Democrats may take the wrong lesson from the NY 26 race. “The danger for Democrats is that they think they’ve found a silver bullet for elections,” Representative Cole adds. “Sooner or later their failure to lead will fall back on the president and his party. We’ll get some points for courage and leadership from the American electorate.”

Public opinion polls

Public opinion polls find Americans of mixed minds on overhauling Medicare. While two-thirds of Americans say that they are “very concerned” about the size of the federal deficit, 57 percent say that they do not favor any cuts in Medicare to ease deficits, according to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.

A recent Gallup poll finds that two out of three Americans believe that Social Security and Medicare costs are already creating a crisis for the federal government, but 27 percent say that government should not try to control Medicare costs and 34 percent support only minor changes to the program.

Freshman Rep. Mike Kelly (R) of Pennsylvania says that he’s expecting tough questions on Medicare back in his district next week. It’s important, he adds, to remind seniors that the danger to Medicare is from Democrats who “took $500 billion out of Medicare for the president’s health-care reform and now are doing nothing to stop it from going broke.”

Whether those arguments will be enough to save Republicans who backed the plan from a voter backlash in 2012 isn’t clear, he adds. “But I came here for a cause, not a career.”

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