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.