On campaign trail, Republicans send mixed messages over government involvement in health care

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Roughly seven months after the passage of President Obama’s contentious health care bill, 53 percent of Americans, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, favor its repeal. Moreover, 43 percent strongly favor Congress making that its number-one priority next year.

With those kinds of numbers, it’s no wonder Republicans have made health care a major campaign issue this election cycle. But while Republicans have gone on the attack against their Democratic opponents for their support of the health care bill, it has come with mixed messages from candidates who decry government intervention in the health industry, then eagerly defend the government-run program of Medicare.

Just two weeks ago, for example, in a Nevada U.S. Senate debate , Republican nominee Sharron Angle had some harsh words to say about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support for health care reform — but only after attacking the bill for taking money out of Medicare.

“Obamacare cut a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare…senior citizens need to have that Medicare Advantage,” said Angle.

Yet in that same answer, Angle also said, “We need to get the government out of the process so we can take off those mandated coverages. We need to get the government out so we can have tort reform and so we can expand the pools.”

“The solutions to the health care cost of insurance are free market,” Angle added.

In Indiana, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Coats recently ran a campaign ad solely for the purpose of attacking his opponent Brad Ellsworth for voting to cut Medicare.

“Congressman Brad Ellsworth said he would protect our seniors. But when he got to Washington, Congressman Ellsworth voted for the largest cuts in Medicare history – over $500 billion,” said the ad. “That’s right. Ellsworth voted with Nancy Pelosi to force seniors into Barak Obama’s government-run healthcare program…That’s wrong.”

The ad ends by promising that “Dan Coats will fight to strengthen Medicare and protect seniors.”

Even House Minority Leader John Boehner got on board with targeting Medicare cuts, by distributing a press release almost immediately after the health care bill’s passage.  The whole purpose of the release was to attack Obamacare for its “drastic cuts” to Medicare.

It then promised a GOP health care plan that would have “common-sense reforms to lower premiums for families and small businesses…without cutting Medicare.”

Even Boehner — the presumed next Speaker of the House — denounces government-run health care while at the same time expressing support for the government-run, single payer system of Medicare.

“One of my great disappointments in the GOP response to Obamacare was how much criticism of the bill focused on Medicare cuts,” Josh Barro, a fiscal policy scholar at the Manhattan Institute, told The Daily Caller. “Soaring health care entitlement costs — read, Medicare and Medicaid — are the key cause of the long-term federal budget crisis, and federal budget reform will necessarily involve cutting Medicare,” he added.

Barro is right to note that entitlement spending eats up a rather sizable portion of the federal spending budget. According to a June report published by the Heritage Foundation, 36 percent of the government’s expenditures go to  Social Security and Medicare.

“Avoiding a major middle-class tax increase will require cutting programs that people like and value, including Medicare and defense,” Barro told TheDC. “Republicans in Washington don’t like to admit this, and neither do Democrats, whose main proposed solution for budget sustainability is letting the Bush tax cuts for high earners expire.”

But it’s not just limited to politicians in Washington, something Michael Feldman, managing director of the communications firm the Glover Park Group pointed out.

“There’s the basic political observation — in the heat of a congressional campaign, candidates tend to use shorthand on messaging, and these are complicated issues,” Feldman told TheDC. “It’s complicated. And it’s easier to message around.”

Feldman, whose experience also includes working in the Clinton White House and then Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, argued that one of the reasons the Republicans’ message is so mixed is because it’s not backed up with facts.

“One reason candidates campaign against health care in general — it feels like they’re all over the place because of the continuation of successful implementation of the legislation,” said Feldman. “Facts tend to trump misinformation.”

But Barro did admit that it would be nice if all the talk of repeal on the right was accompanied by legitimate criticisms and not contradictory talking points aimed at increasing poll numbers.

“For short-term electoral strategy, I can understand why Republicans are reluctant to make the case for Medicare cuts; they’re pandering to seniors,” said Barro. “But long-term, if we hope to convince voters that painful Medicare reforms and defense spending restraints are necessary, we need to start talking about it now.”

He added: “I’d at least like ‘Repeal Obamacare’ calls to note that Obamacare’s cuts in Medicare are a feature, not a bug, and should be maintained. But so far, we’re not hearing that distinction.”