CENSORSHIP! Dems Cry Foul Over GOP Interference With Medicare Mailers

June 15, 2011 7:15 a.m.

A bitter, behind-the-scenes fight over the GOP’s Medicare phase-out plan has bubbled out into the open, and now Democrats are openly charging Republicans with censoring their communications with constituents.

Several House Democrats are petitioning House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), in a letter first reported by Roll Call, to step in and stop Republicans on the House Administration Committee from blocking Democratic Medicare mailers.The controversy arose in the wake of the special election in New York’s conservative 26th district, where Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated her GOP challenger, who supported the Republican Medicare plan. Before then, Democrats had fired off mail to constituents warning that the plan would “kill” or “end” Medicare, without objection.

Since then, several Democrats have seen their mailers delayed, with Republicans demanding strict revisions — both to identical language they had approved before and even to milder critiques. Those Dems are crying foul.

“The documentation in question uses terminology and phrases that have been approved in previous documents,” the letter reads. “This politically motivated censorship undermines our ability to execute one of our primary roles and diminishes the credibility of this institution. To that end, we ask, in the strongest possible terms, that you urge the Franking Commission to allow for ‘a robust debate and an open process that allows you to represent your constituents — to make your case, offer alternatives and to be heard,’ as you promised when you assumed the Speaker’s Gavel.”

You can read the letter, delivered Tuesday, here. It was signed by Reps. Timothy Bishop (D-NY), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).

Playing politics with constituent mail is nothing new (subs req). And, indeed, Republicans are citing the Democrats’ stewardship of the Franking Commission during the health care reform debate. Back then, Dems objected to GOP mailers that described the proposed reforms as a government takeover of the health care system. “The shoe fits on the other foot,” says one top GOP aide.

But Dems make an important point — and they have documentation to back it up. The language Republicans on the commission now reject is identical to language they approved earlier this year, before their Medicare plan cost them a seat in a conservative district in upstate New York.

Where Commission Republicans once gave the claim that the GOP plan “would end” Medicare a pass, they’re now demanding changes, and suggesting revisions, such as that their plan “could change” Medicare, by partially privatizing portions of it. They’re even objecting to the term “voucher,” which they say should be replaced by the term “premium support.”

Democrats have thus packaged, and provided TPM, with before-and-after examples of mailers that met muster in the past, but which now no longer do.

Republicans say that the earlier mailers should never have been greenlighted in the first place.

Meanwhile, Republican members are flyering their constituents with mailers like this one, singing the praises of their Medicare plan and attacking the Medicare cuts in the Dems’ health care law.

Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the Democrats on the Administration Committee says that’s not the problem. The main issue, he says, is “the fact that these members feel like the materials are being censored.”

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