ABC News’ Rick Klein (@rickklein) reports:
Yesterday’s Democratic victory in a special House election in upstate New York turned in large part on Medicare, with Democrats focusing national attention on the GOP candidate’s support for the polarizing plan put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.
As Democratic officials draw lessons from that race that they can apply to 2012, they are eager to portray more Republicans as favoring the “end of Medicare,” the Democrat who oversees House campaign strategy told us on ABC’s “Top Line” today.
“There were three fundamental lessons that both Democrats and Republicans learned from the special election in New York, and they are Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare,” Rep. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told us.
“The reason that a Democrat was elected to Congress in one of the most Republican and conservative districts — not only in New York, but in the United States — was because Republicans, independents and Democratic voters rejected the premise that we can terminate Medicare in order to fund tax cuts for big oil companies. That is what the Republicans sought to do, and it was roundly rejected in the special election in New York-26.”
The message that should go out to all Republicans, Israel said: “We will not negotiate the end of Medicare. And voters in New York’s 26th congressional district agreed with that premise.”
If Republicans continue to embrace Ryan’s plan to dramatically restructure Medicare, “then they proceed at their own peril,” Israel said.
“I think New York-26 tells Republicans that the end of Medicare is bad policy and bad politics. But if they choose not to listen to what the voters of NY-26 said last night, then I think they’re going to find themselves in a very interesting battlefield throughout the country between now and November 2012.”
Israel maintains that it’s fair to characterize the Ryan proposal as bringing the “end of Medicare,” even though the plan would not impact those under 55 years of age, and would create a premium support system for those younger than 55, which they can use to purchase health insurance on the private market.
“The plain fact is, when you read the Ryan budget, the inescapable fact is that it ends the guaranteed Medicare benefit, replaces it with a voucher system, changes Medicare from a guaranteed benefit to an insurance-company benefit. And that is the termination of the guaranteed Medicare benefit.”
“We put the Republicans on notice that, when it comes to the defense and protection of Medicare, we will fight anywhere,” he added. “So last night wasn’t just a good night for Democrats, not just a good night for the DCCC — it was a good night for Medicare.”
And among the DCCC’s targets: Ryan himself, who is facing a Democratic challenger, Rob Zerban, who jumped into the race “because he just couldn’t stomach Paul Ryan’s plan and his leadership,” Israel said.
“We think that we have a real opportunity in that district,” Israel said. “It would send an important signal to Republicans, Democrats, and independents that when your negotiating position begins at the end of Medicare, that you’re held accountable for that position.”
Watch the “Top Line” interview with Rep. Steve Israel HERE.