Medicare: Still the Biggest Fight in Washington

Paul Ryan's plan to revamp the entitlement is dividing Republicans, cheering Democrats and firing up the conservative base 

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Paul Ryan's proposal to convert Medicare into a subsidized program of health insurance vouchers remains the most controversial subject in American politics. The New York Times reports on the latest:

Less than 24 hours after their surprising victory in the race for a vacant House seat, Democrats forced Senate Republicans on Wednesday to vote yes or no on a bill that would reshape Medicare, signaling their intent to use the issue as a blunt instrument against Republicans through the 2012 election. 
Democrats staged the vote to press their advantage coming out of their victory on Tuesday in the contest, fought in large part over Medicare, for a House seat in upstate New York that had long been in Republican hands. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, brought the legislation to the floor so that Senate Republicans would either have to vote for it, exposing them to attacks from Democrats and their allies, or against it, exploiting growing Republican divisions on the issue.

As it turns out, five GOP Senators voted against the bill: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts (who explains his vote here), and Rand Paul of Kentucky (for whom the plan doesn't go far enough).

Among the Republican Senators voting in favor? Florida's Marco Rubio, who cherishes his standing as a favorite in the conservative movement, and happens to represent a state where old people are so ubiquitous that special "Silver Alerts" are broadcast on the freeway system when they go missing.

Here's how Rubio played it in a just released video statement:

Is that good enough for Rush Limbaugh, who demanded yesterday that elected Republicans come to Ryan's rescue? Either way, Senator Rubio, having said he'll entertain all serious proposals, ought to study up on means testing.

It's a start.

Amusingly, ABC News is claiming the "exclusive" scoop that Ryan himself still favors his own plan. In that spirit, The Atlantic can report the world exclusive that President Obama and the Democratic leadership still oppose it. Elsewhere, Daniel Larison insists that Ryan should resist calls to run for president, Newt Gingrich continues to rue the day he ever mentioned the Ryan plan, Ross Douthat explains the unforced errors in the Wisconsin Republican's cost-cutting efforts, and some Republicans are insisting that if they can just explain the plan better it'll be more popular.  

Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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