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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Taking Tim Murphy's temperature on Ryan budget bill

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 12:42 PM

Whatever else Paul Ryan's throw-grandma-from-the-train budget proposal accomplishes, it may put our very own Tim Murphy on the spot.

As this space has documented before, the talented Mr. Murphy has a gift for justifying extremist votes with moderate-sounding rhetoric. But a recent Politico story suggests Murphy may beamong a number of GOP reps uncomfortable with Ryan's budget proposals -- which would essentially privatize Medicare and cut Medicaid while offering yet another tax cut  for the wealthy.

Murphy's sprawling 18th district encompasses constituencies on both sides of that proposal. On the one hand, it includes prosperous suburbs like Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon and Peters Township -- voters who would benefit from further tax cuts. On the other hand, Politico notes, more than one resident in seven is over the age of 65. Ryan's plan pledges not to affect any of today's seniors, but elderly voters tend to be unimpressed by such promises. 

So perhaps it's little surprise that when Politico contacted Murphy about the merits of Ryan's proposal, his office hedged: 

Susan Mosychuk, Murphy’s chief of staff, said it’s a "high-profile vote" that they are "still taking a look at."

Murphy surely wouldn't be the only rep to feel a bit skitish: Ryan has admitted that Democrats could hammer Republicans who took on the popular Medicare (a program that George W. Bush expanded on with a massive drug benefit, by the way). As the Politico piece notes, "Privately, rank-and-file offices on Capitol Hill are whispering that the Republican leadership is asking its members to take a tough vote on a bill that has no chance of becoming law -- Ryan’s budget is dead on arrival in the Senate, still ruled by Democrats."

Still, it's instructive to compare the tepid response from Murphy's office to, say, that of freshman Rep. Mike Kelly, who hails from Erie and told Politico:

"I think it's more thoughtful than anything I’ve ever seen. It's more realistic, and it makes common sense to folks. They know they’re on an unsustainable path with the deficit. I think the congressman's effort is well taken."

His office, meanwhile, has also issued an equally unequivocal statement of support.

And here's Pat Meehan, another GOP rep from Pennsylvania:

"I intend to support [the Ryan budget]. I see it as a framework that will begin a debate on the important issue of how we deal with the long-term unsustainability of our spending. It begins to lay out a framework. I agree with parts of it; there are parts I’m concerned about."

Where will Murphy fall in this debate? We shouldn't have long to find out: a vote on the Ryan budget is slated for Friday. In the meantime, a couple days ago Murphy soliciting feedback from voters. And it's worth noting how his online survey frames question.

Here, for example, is how he describes the changes to Medicare: 

The Ryan proposal does not make any changes to Medicare for people 55 and older. In an attempt to institute a framework for long-term Medicare sustainability for citizens age 55 and younger, the Ryan budget plan would provide premium support so individuals could purchase a Medicare-approved insurance policy. Similar to the way that the Medicare prescription drug benefit is administered, this new premium-support program would be adjusted so wealthier beneficiaries would receive lower subsidies while the sick and low-income seniors would receive greater support. Starting in 2022, Medicare eligibility would increase by two months per year until it reaches 67 in 2033. Do you support making the Ryan reforms to Medicare?

Not surprisingly, the word "privatization" doesn't appear here, though that's what the program amounts to. Murphy also doesn't note that the "premium support" would be capped -- and that the caps are all but certain to trail inflationary increases in healthcare costs. 

Similarly, here's how Murphy is describing changes to Medicaid:

The Ryan House budget proposal increases Medicaid spending on a year-by-year basis, but reduces the rate of growth of the program. In addition, the plan would allocate money directly to states and allow flexibility to structure Medicaid in a way that best meets the state needs. Do you support changing the Medicaid system by slowing the growth of the program and allocating funds directly to states? 

The proposal amounts to offering "block grants" to states -- and here too there is widespread concern that these year-to-year increases will lag healthcare inflation. (And you sort of have to wonder, is this really a place where states need "flexibility"? Don't people in Pennsylvania need the same treatment for, say, prostate cancer that folks in Ohio do?)

But hey, who is gonna disagree with the idea of offering "flexibilty" -- or "slowing the growth" of the Medicaid system? I'd almost vote for that myself, especially if I only had a couple days to think about it.

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