By Richard Reeves
Several years ago, Mike Pence, then a Republican congressman from Indiana, told Andrea Mitchell that Medicare was a failure because its costs had exceeded 1965 actuarial estimates. So they have, because Americans are living longer, largely because of Medicare and Medicaid.
Miss Mitchell responded: "I don’t know if you want to go back to Indiana and campaign against Medicare."
So it goes, back almost a century. Just as the Republicans in Congress are desperate to destroy the Affordable Care Act, their predecessors tried to kill Medicare in the 1960s and Social Security in the 1930s. Here is what two Republicans who became president and two who ran for the highest office had to say about Medicare:
In 1961, Ronald Reagan, just an actor then, appeared in an anti-Medicare television commercial, urging people to write to their representatives in Washington. "Write those letters now; call your friends and then tell them to write them," Reagan said. "If you don’t, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. ... And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater, a candidate for president, said: "Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink."
That same year, George H.W. Bush, who would succeed Reagan as president, called Medicare "socialized medicine."
In 1996, Sen. Bob Dole, then the Republican candidate for president, boasted that he had voted against the Medicare bill, saying, "I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare ... because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965."
"Over the years," wrote Igor Volsky, a liberal blogger on ThinkProgess.com, "Republicans proposed numerous schemes to slash funding or privatize Medicare. Most notably, in 1995, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Republicans proposed cutting 14 percent from projected Medicare spending over seven years and forcing millions of elderly recipients into managed health care programs. ... The cuts were to ensure that Medicare is ‘going to wither on the vine,’ Gingrich explained. Similarly, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed cutting $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid."
Perhaps McCain should try to go back to Arizona and campaign against Medicare. Who knows? That might go over big in the leisure villages and assisted-living nursing homes out there in the desert.
As for Social Security, Nick Kristof of The New York Times has reported that when it was proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, John Taber, a Republican representative from New York, said: "Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers."
Daniel Reed, another Republican representative from New York, said Social Security would put Americans under "the lash of the dictator." Sen. Daniel Hastings, a Delaware Republican, declared that Social Security would "end the progress of a great country."
Nothing new here. This has been going on since it became obvious that those we now call "senior citizens" were suffering and dying all over the country without money or medical care. As a Pennsylvania congressman named J. William Ditter said in 1935, Social Security would turn Americans into "puppets of a socialistic state." In other words, in Republican orthodoxy, they would be better off dead.
So, back to you, Andrea.