Published for commentarymagazine.com, September 2011

If you wonder what the central issue of the 2012 election will be, Nancy Pelosi has a three-word proposal: “Medicare, Medicare, Medicare.” In a front-page profile in the Washington Post, the former Speaker of the House stated that the health-insurance program for the elderly will occupy all three slots in her list of the top three priorities. For those who care about the health of America’s seniors and the fiscal health of the nation, this is not good news.

Recent statements and actions by Pelosi and other Democrats reveal that the Democratic Party believes that making political use of Medicare is more important than ensuring the viability of the program itself. Recent history shows that the hunger to be simultaneously on offense and defense—fighting aggressively against efforts at reforming Medicare in order to save it—may well succeed in undermining any prospects for meaningful reform and further poison the relations between the two parties.

The eagerness to exploit the politics of Medicare is already influencing the Democratic party’s approach to policy. The Washington Post recently reported that Senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) -and newly appointed Democratic co-chair of the deficit reduction super committee, is working behind the scenes to stop any Democratic compromise or effort to reform Medicare. A source close to Murray described her political rationale: “We shouldn’t be giving away our advantage on Medicare….We should be very careful about giving away the biggest advantage we’ve had as Democrats in some time.”

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