Before the last Senate recess, Republican leader Mitch McConnell (KY) made an epic demand: No raising the debt limit, unless Congress also agrees on a bipartisan basis to unspecified cuts to Medicare.
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The strategy was clear. Republicans in both the House and the Senate are suffering politically back home after having voted for the GOP budget, which would phase out traditional Medicare and replace it with a private insurance system. One way to trigger voter amnesia on that vote, Republicans reason, is to replace it with another vote -- a bipartisan vote, with President Obama's support -- to "cut" Medicare.
That would become law, McConnell noted, and thus become the true -- and more warranted -- focus of voter reaction.
Democrats are biting -- but carefully. At a Capitol press conference, Democratic Senate leaders drew a clear line: Medicare cuts can be on the table, but not Medicare benefit cuts.