Tales from the Trail

House lawmakers tussle over Medicare mailings

June 15, 2011

House Democrats are accusing the Republican majority of censoring language in mailings to constituents about a Republican plan to privatize Medicare for future retirees.

At issue is official mail that goes to constituents with taxpayers picking up the cost of postage. Any materials mailed at taxpayer expense have to have bipartisan approval.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, five Democrats complained that previously approved language describing the proposal by Republican Representative Paul Ryan no longer was okay.

“Given this abrupt and inconsistent new interpretation of the established Franking Guidelines, we must surmise that there is a deliberate, strategic attempt to censor any Member communication that echoes the widespread public criticism of the Republican Plan for Medicare,” the Democrats wrote.

“This politically motivated censorship undermines our ability to execute one of our primary roles and diminishes the credibility of this institution,” they added.

Public opinion polls have shown the Republican Medicare plan is unpopular. It was a major issue in a recent special election in New York where a Democrat won in a traditionally Republican district.

From now on, phrases like the Republican plan “will end Medicare as we know it” have to become “will change Medicare as we know it.” Also Democrats cannot call the plan a “voucher system” even though many analysts describe it as such. Republicans want it called a “premium support system.”

Starting in 2022, under the Republican plan, retirees are to be given a subsidy to purchase health coverage from private insurers approved by the government. The subsidies go straight to the insurance company to reduce premiums charged to the elderly. The design is very similar to the insurance exchanges and subsidies under ObamaCare, as Republicans like to call President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

Salley Wood, a Republican aide on the House Administration Committee, said any materials mailed at taxpayer expense have to have bipartisan approval and that Democrats did their share of editing Republican mailings during the heated healthcare overhaul debate.

“Democrats are apparently suffering from selective memory,” Wood said.

Photo credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria (empty mail box in Florida)

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