Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday downplayed the significance of the Medicare debate in a recent New York special election, saying that it played a minor role in the GOP’s loss of a historically strong Republican district.
“Was Medicare a defining issue? I don’t think so,” the Ohio Republican told a small group of reporters in his office.
Boehner laid out three problems he saw that doomed GOP candidate Jane Corwin, who was initially hailed as a strong recruit for the party.
“One is that our candidate allowed her opponents to define her before she defined herself,” Boehner said. “Secondly, you had a third-party candidate who was well-known, who spent nearly $3 million attacking our candidate. And then frankly, the third part and in third place, would be the issue of Medicare, which I thought was handled poorly by the candidate.”
He declined to comment on the efforts of the National Republican Congressional Committee to prop up Corwin and the committee’s decision to not run ads making the case for the GOP’s Medicare plan.
“I don’t know what all the ads were, who decided what,” Boehner said.
Outside groups on both sides of the aisle poured millions into last week’s special election. Corwin lost by 4 points to Democrat Kathy Hochul, who was sworn in Wednesday. Independent candidate Jack Davis, running on the tea party ballot line, earned 9 percent.
Medicare has become a significant issue for Republicans in the wake of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) budget plan, which includes significant changes to the popular program.
But Boehner did acknowledge that Republican incumbents, and GOP challengers running against Democrats, need to be aggressive in explaining their proposal.
“We’ve got to engage. We’ve got to be on the offense,” he said.
Boehner added that in the New York special, the party did not do a good job of selling the Medicare plan, a lesson that he believes Republicans in Congress are learning.
‘I do think from a communication standpoint, they’ve come to understand we’ve got to be prepared to go out there and talk about our plan, which preserves and protects Medicare, as opposed to what the Democrat plan is. Do nothing,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.