Tales from the Trail

Let’s fight…

May 19, 2011

The overnight news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s resignation sets up a global battle over who will succeed him in the IMF’s glass-and-steel headquarters in Washington. But, of course, that’s not the only fight in town.

The bipartisan group of budget negotiators now known as the Gang-of-Six-Minus-One is expected to meet today to try to salvage hopes of a budget compromise after a shouting match over Medicare sent Republican Senator Tom Coburn to the exit door.

Medicare is the third-rail political issue that recently had Republicans showing signs of retreating from House Budget Chief Paul Ryan’s Republican reform plan. Critics call it a blueprint for privatizing the federal government’s healthcare program for the elderly.

But all politics is local. And the national Medicare litmus test is likely to take place far from Washington.

A proxy war over Medicare-as-2012-campaign-issue is shaping up around next week’s special congressional election in one of New York’s most conservative districts, where the Ryan plan has given Democrats the chance for an upset.  Conservative groups are pouring tons of money into the contest and veteran Capitol Hill staffers are expected to parachute in soon to help get out the vote.

The Medicare issue is the same albatross that started hanging out with Newt Gingrich this week, after the Republican White House candidate trashed the Ryan reform plan as right wing “social engineering.” The former House speaker apologized amid a storm of criticism from fellow conservatives. He’s since had “help” from potential presidential rival Sarah Palin, who in a TV appearance urged him not to back down in the face of … lamestream media criticism? hmmm … but who otherwise made sure she underscored his offending language.

Palin, who has been in and out of the spotlight in recent months, says she’s still considering a White House run. That could make for a nice rumble between her and Michele Bachmann, that other woman in Republican circles who rivals Palin as an outspoken darling of the Tea Party movement.

But the real 2012 campaign action today is in New Hampshire, where former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman begins a campaign-style tour of the early voting state — also known as potential GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s backyard.

Huntsman is little known among voters and comes with a whole package of moderate positions on things like gay rights and climate change. Just the sort of thing conservatives like to hear about.

But some think he could do well by positioning himself as an underdog in the still-open GOP field. After all, he is the telegenic son of a billionaire with a smooth articulate tongue and loads of government experience. The upside (or downside) for some is that he could make a better president than a presidential candidate.

But if the current storm clouds over Medicare signal a swing back to the center for Republican and independent voters, five months after the Tea Party stormed the House, Huntsman could be the only Republican waiting there to greet them.

Reuters Photo Credits: Darrin Zammit Lupi (Medieval Re-enactors); Lucas Jackson (Pillow Fighting World Championship Bout); Hand Out (Tank Firing Exercise); Javier Diaz (Bull Fight)

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Let’s fight… let’s not.

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