But funding levels are an abstract concept. Even as Democrats tried their best to tie them to popular programs, the Republicans' billions in proposed cuts provoked little voter anger. But Medicare is a vast program which almost every voter has used or experienced through a family member. Politicians tinker with it at their peril, as both Democrats and Republicans have learned in the past few years.
For now, Republicans are hoping that an improved sales pitch will turn the tide yet again on the Medicare issue, emphasizing that without changes the program could be bankrupt within 15 years. "I haven't seen a whole lot of competence in pushing this so far," Tanner says. "Instead of debating competing proposals, they're debating utopia. They're debating Medicare going on forever with no cuts, versus the Republicans wanting to cut Medicare. That's a hard argument to win."