Hope: 48% willing to see Medicare spending cut to reduce debt

This is a shiny silver lining in another otherwise very dark cloud, but I’m so starved for good news in polling on Medicare that I’m willing to take the Jim Carrey position from “Dumb and Dumber.” What’s that you say? The chances of the American public supporting entitlement reform are one in a million?

So you’re telling me there’s a chance…

Given the choice to cut government spending on either Medicare, Social Security or the military, most Americans would prefer to leave Medicare alone – only 21 percent would cut it, while 45 percent would cut defense first. Seventeen percent would trim Social Security.

That doesn’t mean, however, Americans think Medicare will go untouched in future rounds of deficit-cutting. Most Americans – 57 percent – think it will be necessary to make changes in the program in order to lower the federal deficit.

If Medicare does have to be cut, 48 percent of Americans are willing to go along. However, there are big differences by age group, and willingness to make cuts in Medicare declines as Americans get older…

Rather than cuts to Medicare, Americans would prefer that recipients pay more into the system, especially higher-income Medicare recipients.

Here’s what they mean by “big differences by age group.” Remember which age group it is, too, that’s known for massive turnout on election day:

The headline at the Wall Street Journal tonight, just as I’m writing this, is “Republicans Seek to Reassure Seniors.” There’s still a lotttt of reassuring to be done, as CBS’s poll also finds that 61 percent of Americans say Medicare is worth its (unsustainable) cost, including 57 percent of independents. (Tea partiers split 41/46.) Fully 76 percent, including 79 percent of indies, think the government has a responsibility to provide health care to seniors (47/48 among tea partiers), which points the way to GOP messaging on this issue: They have to sell Ryan’s plan — or whatever we end up with as an alternative — as a measure aimed first and foremost at saving entitlements by making them sustainable in the long term. I think that angle has actually gotten lost a tiny bit as Ryan and the rest of the caucus emphasize the debt problem and then start talking about various programs that need to change to solve it. Once you frame the problem in terms of cutting a bunch of different things, the public will respond with “Okay, cut everything else except Medicare.” But of course, that won’t solve the budgetary problem long-term; there’s no way around the entitlement woods, only through it, so better that Ryan et al. re-frame the goal as saving as much of Medicare as possible now that a fiscal forest fire has already broken out. To borrow a metaphor favored by Ryan himself, the Democrats want the public to believe that he’s the pyromaniac here. He isn’t. He’s the fire department. Selling it that way, as a mission of preservation, is our best bet.

Speaking of which, here’s the arsonist-in-chief at yesterday’s Facebook town hall explaining how Ryan’s plan just isn’t that daring, darn it.