Policy: Entitlements

Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes resurrects 'Mediscare' tactic

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Mitch McConnell,Health Care,Medicare and Medicaid,Entitlements,Campaigns,Alison Lundergan Grimes,Blake Seitz

Kentucky senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes reached deep into the Democratic Party's bag of tricks for her latest line of attack against incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell: Mediscare.

One Grimes television ad, set outdoors in a sleepy blue-collar neighborhood, features the challenger and 75-year-old Don Disney, a retired coal miner who poses a question to McConnell.

"Senator, I'm a retired coal miner. I want to know how you could have voted to raise my Medicare costs by $6,000," Disney asks in a thick Kentuckian drawl. "How are my wife and I supposed to afford that?"

The question is followed by a long pause (cue barking dog in the distance), before Grimes says to Disney, "I don't think he's going to answer that." The ad ends, "I approve this message because I'll work to strengthen Medicare, not bankrupt seniors like Don."

A second ad, accompanied by a spooky piano score, claims McConnell turned his back on Kentucky seniors by voting for the 2011 Ryan plan. The ad states that this budget would have "DESTROYED Medicare."

The last eight press releases issued via Grimes' website concern Medicare -- specifically McConnell's desire to "decimate" the program due to his "reckless ideology."

Mediscare campaigns, which accuse politicians of gutting the health entitlement, are a common tactic employed by Democrats to shore up the senior vote. The term was reportedly coined by columnist William Safire in 1995 to describe a "shamelessly demagogic campaign to frighten older Americans into thinking that deficit reduction might soon leave them destitute in the snow."

Grimes is thus following in a long tradition of politicians, from President Bill Clinton to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who have employed the tactic, although it has mostly been dormant since 2012, when Pelosi announced that Democrats' top three priorities were "Medicare, Medicare and Medicare." Not incidentally, this was the election cycle that spawned the "Granny Off the Cliff" advertisement.

The effect this campaign has on voters remains to be seen, but it has already been scrutinized by fact-checkers.

PolitiFact rated as "False" Grimes' claim that McConnell voted to raise Disney's Medicare costs by $6,000. While the legislation in question would have raised the out-of-pocket costs for seniors by roughly that amount, it would have gone into effect in 2022 -- it was intentionally designed so that individuals such as Disney would not be affected.

The Democratic claim that Republicans plan to "end Medicare as we know it" was named 2011's Lie of the Year by PolitiFact, a talking point repeated on Grimes' website.

The McConnell campaign has retaliated with an ad tying Grimes to two unpopular totems: President Obama and his signature health care law. The McConnell advertisement features the Republican equivalent of a Mediscare angle: it states that Grimes supports Obamacare, which "cut" $700 billion in Medicare spending. (Politifact: Half true, it only slowed the growth rate.)

There is reasonable debate to be had about Medicare reform, but it requires acknowledging facts such as the program's trillions upon trillions in unfunded liabilities. In waging Mediscare campaigns, these looming realities are obscured. Whatever their political advantages, the nation is poorer for them.

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Blake Seitz

Special to the Examiner
The Washington Examiner

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