Representative Michele Bachmann, a heroine of the Tea Party Movement, is fond of referring to her “titanium spine.” Her quest for the presidency is premised on the idea she is willing to do the hard work “establishment” Republicans will not. But in her recent appearances on Fox News Sunday, she made some comments about Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal that seemed to cut against that narrative.
When asked about his plan to reform Medicare, Bachmann told host Chris Wallace it is one over which she has put “an asterisk.” Bachmann went on to explain, “We have to make sure going forward with senior citizens, that we’re focusing on a higher quality of life, dealing with cures for instance for senior citizens.”
This answer echoed earlier comments Bachmann made to Wallace. When he asked her, “What do you tell people nearing retirement who say I can’t afford to pay more of my own healthcare costs out of pocket, which is what the Ryan and Republican Study Committee plans would do,” Bachmann said,
And I understand that. I put an asterisk on my support. And I put a blog posting up that said just as much. That is my area of concern, I support these bills with that proviso. … One position that I’m concerned about is shifting the cost burden to senior citizens. Seniors are saying, “Look, I’m not in a position to be able to handle that.” I also share that real fear. That’s why I put that asterisk out there.
When Wallace pressed Bachmann further, asking, “So you’re not wedded to the idea of a voucher plan for Medicare?” she answered, “I’m wedded to the idea of efficiencies and cost cuttings and savings in healthcare, [but] how we get there is open to discussion.”
It’s still early in the process, and Representative Bachmann will have many more opportunities to speak about Medicare. We’ll see how she does. But the acid test for those who claim to be champions of limited government remains structural reforms of entitlement programs. If public officials duck on it, and most especially on Medicare, they will severely injure their credibility when it comes to scaling back, in any significant way, the Leviathan. And the Tea Party, if it hopes to remain true to its animating spirit, has to hold politicians accountable, including Michele Bachmann.
Now it may be she has a detailed, substantive plan that differs from what Ryan has put forward. But so far she hasn’t revealed it, and there are no signs she’ll do so anytime soon. And if she intends to offer caveats and provisos of the kind she has done several times now on Fox News Sunday, then the burden is on her to show how she would improve on what Ryan has put forward.
The House GOP budget certainly isn’t the only way to get the job done. But there’s no easy way to get the job done, either. And if Bachmann simply resorts to familiar talking points when it comes to Medicare, then her claim to having a “titanium spine” will unravel.
Talking about limited government turns out to be easier than putting forward a credible plan to actually limit government. Paul Ryan understands the difference; I hope Michele Bachmann does as well.