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Ponnuru's Handy Dandy Guide To Keeping the House of Representatives

Ramesh Ponnuru is giving House Republicans who voted for the Ryan Budget good advice on withstanding the barrage of negative attacks that are sure to come next year.  Some key points,

1.  Republicans need to do their homework and master the arguments on the Ryan Budget's Medicare reforms.  They need to watch tapes of  Paul Ryan at town hall meetings or hold long talks (in groups if necessary) with Yuval Levin and James Capretta.  They need to anticipate the left's attacks and have pithy responses.  They should not be like Senator Mitch McConnell.  When McConnell was asked how Ryan's premium support plan was different from a  voucher, McConnell responded "He [Paul Ryan] says it is different."  McConnell isn't up for reelection until 2014 and he managed to be comfortably reelected in the horrible (for Republicans) year of 2008.  He can afford to give vague, lazy, responses.  If you are a House Republican and you think you can get away with such responses, then don't bother campaigning.  Stay home and watch cartoons (I recommend Warner Bros. from the 1930s and 1940s.)  The result will be the same. 

2.  They need to make the Medicare fight a choice rather than a referendum on the Republican plan.  As Ponnuru writes, "If your reform plan is weighed against an impossible dream of keeping Medicare exactly as it is regardless of affordability, voters are going to prefer the impossible dream. If it's compared to the real alternative, you just might make it."  The good news is that the Democrats have already cut Medicare for current seniors by hundreds of billions and the President has proposed a further trillion dollars of cuts for current seniors.  And these are only the beginning.  These cuts will take the form of making it harder to see providers (because providers will drop Medicare patients due to lower reimbursement rates) and denials of service.  IPAB should be the four favorite letters of every House Republican.

3.  There is no substitute for sweat.  House Republicans need to crisscross their districts at town hall meetings and every other venue explaining their Medicare proposals.  Starting today.  Every senior should have heard, (face-to-face from their congressman hopefully) that a) Obama and the Democrats had already cut their Medicare and were planning to cut it even more and b) the Republican Medicare plan leaves Medicare unchanged for the currently elderly and near elderly.  There is no hiding from this issue and it will be high salience.  Any House Republican who gets caught flat footed or lets their constituents first learn about the Republican Medicare plan from liberal attacks is too lazy and/or stupid and/or shallow to be in Congress.  You have a year to get ahead of this.  That doesn't guarantee survival, but it gives you a chance.

I would add,

4.  The Republicans need a better Medicare policy.  House Republicans should pray that the eventual Republican presidential nominee comes up with a more defensible plan and does a good job explaining it.  They should then affiliate themselves with that plan.       

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Discussions - 7 Comments

Isn't it the job of a government funded by the people's taxes to provide services and benefits to the people whose taxes fund government operations? How is that such a radical idea? The name for a government whereby citizens pay taxes and expect little in return is called a monarchy.

Pete, your analysis is spot on, as always, but the problem you keep running up against, over and over and over again, is that Republican politicians just are overwhelmingly not very smart and not very good at politics in America circa 2011. I don't see any way to solve that problem.

djf, I actually don't think it takes that much smarts past a certain minimum. It is more several kinds of work ethic, an interest in the views of persuadable voters (which in this case probably includes a lot of people who identify as conservative), and a survival instinct.

Pete, what I meant when I said that Republicans seem not to be very good at politics in America circa 2011 was that they evidently lack precisely the qualiities you refer to, especially the latter two. If they don't have those qualities, it doesn't much matter how high they score on IQ tests. (Some GOP politicians seem rather dim, but obviously many are quite bright. Didn't mean to cast general aspersions.) Also, if you have a work ethic but pour your energy into devising learned arguments for, say, bringing back the gold standard (to take one example of a hopeless goal), your work ethic isn't good for much.

Your posts are great - it's just frustrating that, from all appearances, the politicians, or their consultants, don't think of these things themselves.

I agree with you about the gold standard stuff and I grind my teeth at some fads and identity politics stuff, but I also think that there is a (potential) GOP and broader center-right learning curve on health care and entitlement politics. We've come out of a time when the main GOP approaches on health care policy were some combination of a) stop whatever the Democrats are doing b) offering scaled down versions of whatever the Democrats were offering c) tort reform d) vague boilerplate about markets and d) hey I heard Mitt Romney is up to something. Our conversation about these issues is much healthier now. That is mostly because of Ryan and some conservative policy intellectuals but we've come a long way from the Republican presidential debates of 2008. It will take a while, but there is reason to hope that more Republican politicians and media figures will have better grounded opinions and better public presentation as time goes on. Anyway, I don't see the point in assuming that they won't.

I think every Republican member of the House needs a spanking. But, 2,000 dollars bet saying they would enjoy it and would pay me as much. Stop foreign aid, stop the wars, make the rich pay their fair share, end corporate tax breaks, farm breaks, I'm sick of making Medicare the fall guy. Screw you GOP.

Republicans need to stop trying to cut taxes for the wealthy.
Democrats need to understand that "Medicare as we know it" simply won't exist in 8 years. It needs major reform now.
Ryan's plan is good except for two problems.
1. The tax cuts. Its beyond ridiculous.
2. It repeals ObamaCare. So we're back to denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. Equally ridiculous. We should keep ObamaCare, strip it of some of the requirements that everyone is filing exceptions for anyway, then privatize medicare to make it more like ObamaCare.

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