"McNerney and President Obama's Medicare plan empowers bureaucrats to interfere with doctors, risking seniors' access to treatment," the ad says. "Now, Obama's budget plan lets Medicare go bankrupt: that'd mean big cuts to benefits. Tell McNerney to stop bankrupting Medicare."
McNerney's is the only district in which the ad is running. But it's a reminder that both sides are taking a political risk when dealing with entitlement programs, and that Republicans can play offense on the issue even as they face Democratic criticism over Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget proposal. Republicans believe playing offense on Medicare cuts can neutralize the issue -- which is probably the best the party can do right now.
Even as any politician who takes up entitlement reform gets plaudits from opinion pages, they're opening themselves up to a 30-second assault from the other side. Fixing the nation's deficit problems requires tackling entitlement reform. Both President Obama and Republican leadership has acknowledged that much. But both sides have demonstrated that entitlements are still a big third rail -- one that's dangerous enough to scorch anyone who grabs on.