Well that was quick.
A month ago all politics in Washington was about the budget deficit and Republicans held the high ground in calling for more budget cuts.
Today all politics in Washington is now focused on Medicare and Democrats hold the high ground in protecting a program seniors don’t want to lose.
Here are 5 ways the political winds have shifted in a flash:
1. This week the Senate rejected a House plan calling for major changes in Medicare. Democrat Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said the Republican reform of the government program amounted to ending Medicare “as we know it.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid chimed in, too, saying that the GOP’s Medicare plan amounts to one that “makes the rich richer and the sick sicker.”
2. And then there was the upset in the special election for New York’s 26th Congressional District. After the Democratic candidate triumphed in the traditional GOP stronghold the Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee weighed in. Democrats and Republicans, he said, had learned three lessons from the special election, “Medicare, Medicare, Medicare.”
But he didn’t stop there. He boldly predicted that Democrats now had a chance to regain the approximately 25 seats they’ll need to take control of the House next year. "I fundamentally believe the House of Representatives is in play," he said.
3. The country’s highest ranking Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, admitted publicly that the loss in a heavily GOP district in upstate New York was partly “had to do with Medicare.”
4. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn walked out of budget negotiations because he wanted bigger cuts in Medicare spending. That means budget talks are stalled over Medicare. The issue now is that cuts to Medicare will define budget talks. That puts Democrats in the favorable , charmed role of starring as of champions for Medicare.
5. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign has imploded among fellow Republicans over his criticism of the Ryan plan as “radical” and social engineering.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says the Ryan plan is okay but he will offer a different plan to the voters.
The Republican faithful on Capitol Hill are telling me that they simply have a “message problem” with Medicare. They say they want to do a better job reminding voters about long-standing concerns over big government deficit spending.
They want to point out that Democrats have no plan for dealing with financial problems that will one day bankrupt Medicare.
Republicans are fooling only themselves if they believe they can get away from the fact that 235 House Republicans voted to pass the Ryan plan in April. They are forgetting their success in using the Democrats’ vote for health care reform to rout them last fall. The voters that handed them that impressive victory are now the same voters who have now turned against them.
The hard fact is every poll shows the Ryan plan – which turns Medicare into a voucher program and forces senior citizens to negotiate with private insurance companies – is unpopular with people over 65 and their children.
In the 26th Congressional district of New York senior made up 15% of all voters. News reports and polls reveal that those voters, who have fears about cuts to Medicare, made the difference.
Jane Corwin, the Republican who lost the race, tried to reduce Republican support for the Ryan plan to a messaging problem. In the middle of her campaign, after she went on the record in support of the plan, she said this:
"There have been a lot of lies and distortions about what my position on Medicare is, and it scares seniors quite frankly and I'm shocked and appalled by that,” a frustrated Corwin said. “And I think it's important seniors understand that I'm trying to save the program. I want to protect it for them and for future generations."
It didn’t work. And it won’t work for Republicans nationwide. -- Even if they accuse Democrats of using "Medi-Scare" tactics.
The GOP had better come up with a effective explanation or defense of the Ryan plan before 2012 or the gains they made in 2010 will be erased. Otherwise, it might not be ridiculous to speculate about whether Nancy Pelosi will end up back in the Speaker’s chair.