The victory by Democrat Kathy Hochul in New York’s 26th congressional district—one of the most conservative districts in the Empire State—is being interpreted in the media as a watershed of sorts. “After two years of getting pummeled over spending and the size of government, Democrats now appear to have found a political weapon that’s capable of evening out the fight: Medicare,” Alexander Burns wrote at Politico. “The popular entitlement program wasn’t the sole issue behind Kathy Hochul’s upset victory in a New York special election Tuesday night, but strategists in both parties say it was an important force.”
The results of the election will cause more than a few Republican knees to wobble, especially in Congress. We’re going to read more stories about certain members of the House leadership who were against Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, most especially his reform of Medicare. There will be some hand-wringing, panicked conference calls, and recriminations.
This is exactly the wrong response. Whatever House Republicans think about one the Ryan plan—I myself happen to think it is a bold, courageous, politically risky and necessary plan—they are now attached to it. Democrats will make sure of that. They are going to hyper-focus on Medicare between now and the 2012 election, demagoging it to their heart’s content, and elements within the press will help them along in their efforts.
Rather than flee like spooked animals from the Ryan plan, Republicans need to redouble their efforts to defend it. That is one thing that the GOP candidate in the 26th District, Jane Corwin, didn’t do. Distancing oneself from Medicare reform, trying to change the subject, or offering half-hearted defenses for it simply won’t work. What Republicans need to do is to become almost as adept at defending the Ryan plan as Paul Ryan is. That won’t be easy. But it has now become essential.
House Republicans have thrown their hat over the Medicare wall. They are now engaged in a fierce political battle over it. There are two options available to them: fight or flight. They had better choose the former; and they all had better marshal the strongest possible arguments to make their case.
Republicans did the right thing. Now they have to show they’re willing to defend what they did. If that’s the lesson the GOP draws from last night’s loss, it’ll have been well worth it.