Thursday’s lead New York Times story by Jennifer Steinhauer on the aftermath of the special election in New York State, "Democrats Force A Medicare Vote, Pressuring G.O.P. - Seeking Political Edge - 5 Republicans in Senate Oppose House Bill to Reshape Program," took up the Times’s mantra that the Republican loss in the special election spells trouble for the Republican Party overall in 2012 and doom for Rep. Paul Ryan’s ambitious Medicare reform.
The Washington Post headline on Thursday took a less partisan view, emphasizing Republican unity: "GOP Sticks to Medicare Proposal."
Congressional Democrats pressed for a vote on the Ryan plan yesterday, and it went down to defeat 57-40, with five Senate Republicans opposing it along with the Democrats.
The House Republican Medicare plan would convert it into a subsidized program for the private insurance market. When they proposed it last month as the centerpiece of their budget plan, Republicans were confident that the wind of budget politics was at their backs.
But the last six weeks have left Republicans pointed into a something more like a headwind. With polls and angry town hall meetings suggesting that many voters were wary of a Medicare overhaul if not opposed, party unity and optimism have given way to a bit of a Republican-on-Republican rumpus.
Steinhauer did note (in paragraph nine) that President Obama's own budget blueprint, which the Times' Jackie Calmes praised in a lead story in mid-February as showcasing Obama's "characteristic caution," also came to a vote and went down whimpering, defeated unanimously on a vote of 97-0.
It is still a long way to Election Day 2012, the underlying problem of a long-term fiscal imbalance remains as pressing as ever, and Democrats face divisions and message problems of their own. After the Senate vote on the House Republican Medicare plan, the Senate voted 97 to 0 on Wednesday to reject the budget put forward early this year by President Obama, reflecting a recognition by Democrats that they will have to do more than they initially proposed to rein in the expansion of the national debt and address the rising costs of Medicare and other entitlement programs.
But after a 2010 election that seemed to signal not only a Republican resurgence but also a rejection of big government and a need for bold, Tea Party-type steps to slash spending, the politics now look much more complicated. Both parties are being reminded anew that voters like the idea of budget cuts, but that they often recoil when those cuts threaten the programs that touch their lives.
Steinhauer also saw 2012 problems on the Democratic side, which repeated much of the content she posted online Wednesday morning.
But Democrats by no means have a smooth course, either. While Mr. Obama has tried to set parameters for budget negotiations, his party has yet to settle on a plan for Medicare or the broader budget issues. And failure to address the nation’s fiscal problems aggressively could carry its own risk for Democrats, something former President Bill Clinton warned his party about Wednesday.