Policy: Entitlements

Crossroads takes page out of AARP's playbook

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Philip Klein,American Crossroads,Arkansas,Medicare and Medicaid,Social Security,2014 Elections,Entitlements,Campaigns,Tom Cotton,Mark Pryor

Crossroads GPS, an arm of the Karl Rove-founded political action committee American Crossroads, has dipped its toes into the key Arkansas U.S. Senate race with an ad attacking Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., on Medicare and Social Security. And it’s right out of AARP’s playbook.

The context is that Pryor has been hammering challenger Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., for backing raising the Social Security retirement age and voting for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget, which would transition Medicare into a system providing seniors a choice of competing privately-administered plans.

Back in May, Jim Antle, writing for the National Interest, urged Cotton to go on offense on entitlements by making a positive case for the need to reform programs that are currently fiscally unsustainable.

Yet Cotton’s campaign has attacked Pryor for also having supported raising the Social Security retirement age. Granted, it’s perfectly fair to point out Pryor’s hypocrisy. But the Crossroads ad goes a step further, outright attacking Pryor for supporting raising the retirement age and voting to cut Medicare through President Obama’s health care law.

“Arkansas seniors depend on Social Security and Medicare,” a narrator says at the opening of the ad, reinforced with text imposed over the image of an older woman. “It’s troubling that Sen. Pryor said we should overhaul Social Security and Medicare.”

The ad was brought to my attention by liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent, who sees its central claim as misleading. The ad presents Pryor as calling for raising the retirement age when the broader context reveals that Pryor was talking about teenagers, not current retirees. It should be noted that Democrats routinely misrepresent Republican plans to reform entitlements in political ads.

What’s really “troubling” – to borrow the title of the ad – is that by attacking a Democrat for wanting to overhaul Medicare and Social Security, Crossroads is helping to reinforce the third rail status of government programs that are desperately in need of reform.

AARP has helped to make a looming fiscal crisis in the U.S. more likely by consistently attacking proposals to put the programs on a sound fiscal footing. Democrats have an interest in enshrining programs that foster government dependency.

But if Republicans want to be a limited government party, they have to be making the case for reforming entitlements — not running ads attacking Democrats from the left.

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