(Bloomberg Politics) — During a forum sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, the influential conservative group backed by David and Charles Koch, Jeb Bush told the audience that he wants to “phase out” Medicare.
Afterwards, the former Florida governor was approached by an environmental activist, who was momentarily excited when Bush used the same language to say he preferred to “phase out” tax credits for energy companies.
Neither of those positions are quite what they seem.
While eliminating tax credits might sound great to liberal environmentalists and Tea Party Republicans focused on “crony capitalism,” many of the breaks for Big Oil aren’t technically tax credits.
On Medicaid, Bush’s team complained that Democrats were taking him out of context, an increasingly frequent objection from the candidate who is billing himself as the most experienced and most thoughtful on the trail.
The protest has been justified, to be sure. Democrats, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, leaned a bit too far over their skis recently when they suggested that a component of Bush’s economic plan was that Americans should work harder. What Bush said was that he wanted to find more full-time job opportunities for part-time workers. And while the economic reality of that happening is somewhat dubious, the attacks gained some traction and the spin found its way into town-hall questions Bush has faced on the campaign trail.
Similarly, Bush was confronted Thursday in Gorham, N.H., about his Medicare comments. “Why are you always attacking the seniors?,” an unidentified woman (and possible liberal activist) asked Bush.
“It’s an actuarially unsound health care system,” said Bush, adding that he’s not attacking seniors, according to a Politico report from the event. “The people that are receiving these benefits, I don’t think that we should touch that. But your children and grandchildren are not going to get the benefit of this…because the amount of money put in compared to the amount of money the system costs is wrong.”How it started
The source of the dispute here is somewhat ironic. Speaking about Medicare on Wednesday, Bush was bemoaning the politics of the issue, recalling the 2011 digital ad from the liberal group Agenda Project that showed a Paul Ryan look-alike wheeling an elderly woman off a cliff. The ad was in response to the Wisconsin Republican’s plan to end fee-for-service Medicare for people 55-and-under, and replace it with subsidies for people to buy either a private plan or a government-provided plan.
Bush, whose home state has the highest percentage of seniors in the nation, then went on to say that Americans generally agree that, while current benefits should be protected for those receiving them, the Medicare system needs to be reformed. And here’s where he gets himself into trouble.
“We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others, and move to a new system that allows them to have something, because they’re not going to have anything,” Bush told his Manchester audience.
“A massive blunder on Jeb Bush’s part,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, head of the Democratic National Committee, said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. “Maybe Jeb Bush can afford to get by without Medicare—I’m sure the Koch brothers would be fine, too—but millions of Americans count on Medicare when they retire for access to quality, affordablehealth care.”