May 5, 2011 10:40AM

Want Medicare & Medicaid Reform? Stay On Message

This morning’s tempest‐​in‐​a‐​teapot concerns an internally inconsistent and now‐​corrected Washington Post story that claimed House Republicans had abandoned the badly needed Medicare reforms contained in the budget plan they passed the other week.

The original headline read: “Medicare dropped from GOP budget proposal,” even though the article clearly states, “[House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor [R-VA] said, he would press for all the provisions in the Ryan proposal, including changes to Medicare and Medicaid.” The Post has since changed the headline to: “Budget talks: Republicans offer to seek common ground with Democrats.”

The confusion appears to stem from comments such as these by Cantor and House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-WI):

The biggest mandatory programs — often called “entitlements” — are Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But Cantor said negotiators could avoid the “big three,” which Democrats have vowed to defend, by focusing on changes in other areas. “If we can come to some agreement [and] act to effect those savings now, this year, it will yield a lot of savings in subsequent years,” he said.

At a breakfast for reporters hosted by Bloomberg News, Ryan echoed that view, saying, “We’re not going to get a grand‐​slam agreement . . . because of just the political parameters” set by Obama. But Ryan said his budget offers a “menu of options . . . that I think we could get that are not necessarily the global agreement on, say, Medicare or Social Security.” That menu includes proposals from Obama’s budget request, such as ending grants for worsted‐​wool producers and requiring graduate students to pay interest on college loans while they are still in school.

Thus the problem appears to be that Republicans are rising to the media’s bait and trying to predict for reporters how the budget negotiations will play out in the end. Instead of staying on message — Making Medicare look more like Social Security is the only alternative to government rationing and higher taxes…Reform Medicaid the way Congress successfully reformed welfare in 1996…What’s your plan? — Republicans are negotiating with themselves, in public. So instead of getting a pro‐​reform message before the American people, we get news cycles that make reformers look weak by falsely reporting that Republicans have abandoned the field. This isn’t media bias: if Republicans care about entitlement reform, they need to be more disciplined.