New York's 26th Congressional District has been in the hands of Republicans for 40 years so when a special election was held to fill the seat of the member who resigned after posting a half-naked photograph of himself on Craigslist, the result seemed a foregone conclusion.
That is, until April when Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul began broadcasting a series of television ads pointing out her opponent's support for Paul Ryan's Medicare-killing budget proposal. On Tuesday, Hochul won the election 47 to 43 percent with 9 percent going to the independent candidate who had aligned himself with the tea party.
It was a load of fun Wednesday morning listening to Republican politicians and pundits tying themselves in knots to dismiss the election results. Some blamed Hochul's win on the third-party candidate. Others saw it as an anomaly. Ryan himself continued to defend his budget saying,
“...that the GOP proposal doesn’t subsidize the wealthy as much and keeps benefits steady for people over 55.”
Apparently, Ryan still believes that people older than 55 are willing to sell out younger Americans' future access to Medicare. That, I'm guessing, is as bad a bet as assuming a win for Hochul's opponent was. Here are a couple of District 26 voter responses:
“'I have almost always voted the party line, said Gloria Bolender, a Republican from Clarence who is caring for her 80-year-old mother. 'This is the second time in my life I’ve voted against my party.
“Pat Gillick, a Republican from East Amherst, who also cast a ballot for Ms. Hochul, said, 'The privatization of Medicare scares me.'”
Republican House members who are more pragmatic than Ryan – particularly the 234 others who voted for his deeply unpopular budget - are undoubtedly in the midst of panicked phone calls to their campaign advisers trying to figure out how to undo that vote in the eyes of the public.
Too late. It's done. And there is not a Democratic candidate in the land who will let anyone forget it. As of Tuesday, advantage Democrats.
Not that they won't do everything in their power to botch it. God knows the Democrats have never met a winning position they couldn't turn into a loss.
Plus, it is a long, long time until the November 2012 election. Over the next 17 months anything unexpected can – and will – happen to throw obstacles in the way of both Democrats and Republicans. (I wonder if we should start a pool on how many political sex scandals there will be before the election.)
Nevertheless, Hochul's win on Tuesday was another strong signal that voters have little stomach for the Republican slash-and-burn budget game. But that doesn't mean something doesn't need to be done to fix Medicare.
As discussed here many times, some form of Medicare for All is the only sane solution that should include negotiation with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices. It would expand the revenue and risk pools and cut administrative costs dramatically – a difference of 2 percent with Medicare versus more than 20 percent with private insurers.
And I am certain every large and small employer in the U.S. would be ecstatic to get out of the insurance providing business. At the same time, there is no reason not to retain private coverage for those willing to foot an overpriced bill along with the haggling over payment of claims.
Of course, any possibility of Medicare for All depends on political candidates' willingness to forgo health industry campaign contributions – probably the biggest obstacle. But “socialized” medicine works well in other western democracies which have a lot of experience on which the the U.S. could draw.
No one has yet come up with a better solution unless you believe the Republicans who, against all the evidence of history, insist that the "free market" can provide better health coverage than the government.
Meanwhile – schadenfreude or not - I'm enjoying the Republicans' predicament, particularly after all their crowing over their supposed 2010 election “mandate.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Clapping - Old People's Answer to Gettin' Down