RIVAL GROUPS USE SAME BUZZWORDS IN MEDICARE DEBATE Series: THE CONTRACT AND YOU Sidebar Story

By Charlotte Grimes Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 30, 1995 | Go to article overview

RIVAL GROUPS USE SAME BUZZWORDS IN MEDICARE DEBATE Series: THE CONTRACT AND YOU Sidebar Story


Charlotte Grimes Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


IF YOU THINK the same words are being used over and over in the Medicare debate, you're right. The words are carefully chosen by consultants who study polls, surveys and focus groups. The consultants search for the hot-button phrases that trigger the desired response: Love this, but hate that. In political parlance, this is called "the message."

The challenge for Republicans was candidly described by Republican strategist Bill McInturff:

"What you have to tell seniors and others is that we're making the most minuscule changes in the world and then propose the most dramatic policy thing you can possibly think of."

Similarly, in a memo circulated recently to House Republicans, pollster Frank Luntz advised, ". . . For our efforts to be successful, we have to make the status quo a worse option than change."

For Democrats, the goal is to sell themselves as Medicare's protectors while convincing the elderly that their cherished program is threatened by Republicans.

Here are some of the hot-button phrases and how they're meant to win voters:

"Protect, preserve and improve" - This is the basic Republican promise. It reflects polls that show Americans, especially the elderly, value Medicare. A survey by Harvard University and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of Americans would support changes in Medicare, but only if the changes "preserve Medicare basically as it is."

"Tax cut for the wealthy" - This is the Democratic response to the Republican promise to "protect, preserve and improve." And the battle between these phrases could decide the war.

"Keep your tax-cutting, greedy hands off our Medicare," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., last week.

"Fraud, waste and abuse" - Americans hate that. In a press release last week, Rep. Jim Talent, R-Chesterfield, said, "Every year, Medicare waste, fraud and abuse cost taxpayers more than $44 billion. …

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