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Grandma's back in the Medicare fight

Paul Ryan, Medicare
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan faces attacks for his proposal to revamp Medicare

As Democrats pushed their health care reforms through Congress last year, Republicans cried out that the proposed changes to Medicare amounted to pulling "the plug on grandma."

Now as Republicans try their hand at Medicare reform, at least one Democrat is bringing "grandma" back into the fray, and the Democratic party is launching attacks against Republicans for their politically risky new plan.

Meanwhile, as President Obama prepares to deliver a speech tomorrow to contrast his own ideas for entitlement reform with the Republican plan, liberal grassroots activists are charging that the president has moved too far to the right when it comes to Medicare.

This political back-and-forth was set into motion last week when Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan unveiled his proposed 2012 budget. The plan promises to cut $389 billion in Medicare expenses over 10 years, largely by indexing the growth of Medicare to inflation. And starting in 2022, seniors entering Medicare would be given limited "premium support" to cover the cost of coverage from private insurers instead of the current government-run health coverage.

In 2010, Republicans effectively attacked Democrats for their cuts to Medicare, so it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that Ryan is facing a harsh new line of attack from Rob Zerban, his Democratic challenger. Zerban is up with a new website,

"After taking contributions from health care lobbyists, Paul Ryan now wants to empower insurance companies instead of our seniors," the site says.

The Associated Press points out that Ryan's plan concerns seniors in his southern Wisconsin district, but as the Washington Monthly notes, the seven-term Republican isn't exactly a vulnerable politician: He won re-election last year by a margin of 38 points, and he won his "closest" race over the last decade by 26 points.

Other Republicans, however are of course more vulnerable, and with that in mind, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching state-focused efforts to target Republican representatives who are running or considering for the Senate. The DSCC campaign targets Reps. Denny Rehberg of Montana, Dean Heller of Nevada, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Todd Akin of Missouri, and it will include an online petition asking the congressmen to commit to "protecting" Medicare.

"The Republican war on Medicare and their extremist budget plan shows how wrong their priorities are for seniors and the middle class," said Matt Canter, spokesman for the DSCC. "We're going to hold these extremists accountable for putting oil companies and the wealthy ahead of seniors and middle class Americans."

As Democratic operatives attack Ryan's proposal, the president is about to lay out his own agenda for deficit reduction in a speech tomorrow that the White House says will address the need control entitlement spending and raise some taxes (namely, letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire). White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the president's bipartisan deficit commission, which released a controversial proposal last year for deficit reduction, laid a "framework" for a discussion on the issue.

The deficit commission -- which ultimately put forward its own suggestions for entitlement changes, among other things -- was opposed since its beginning by liberal activists interested in protecting entitlements.

Now that the White House is signaling Mr. Obama may, in fact, embrace some of the commission's ideas, liberal activists are again expressing outrage.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, for instance, sent its supporters an email today, urging them to sign a petition. It reads, "President Obama: If you cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits for me, my parents, my grandparents, or families like mine, don't ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I'm going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates -- not Democrats who help Republicans make harmful cuts."

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