Thursday, May 23, 2024

Romney and Ryan Take on the 3rd Rail of Politics

The new hope of the Republican party, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, took on the Democrats and President Obama on what may turn out to be the deciding issue of this campaign, their competing plans for the future of Medicare. Ryan did that, in Florida, the battleground state with the most Electoral College votes, and whose large senior population might determine who wins the White House. Ryan has been working to refine his Medicare reform proposals over the past four years. He now has a plan that will retain the most popular features of the current Medicare system. It will introduce more choice for Medicare recipients through free market competition which will reduce costs while preserving the quality of care that Medicare delivers.

Under the current Romney-Ryan plan, all Medicare recipients now in the program, as well as all those now 55 or older, will see no changes to the current system. Those who are under 55 will be offered a choice when they enter the program. They can enroll in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program, or in one of several private health insurance plans, whose premiums will be wholly or partially covered by a Medicare payment. The size of that payment will be determined by actual cost of the private plan premiums. It will be large enough to cover the full cost of the two lowest cost plans offered in the program.


Those Medicare recipients who choose the cheapest plan will actually receive a check from the government for the difference between its premium and that of the next cheapest plan. Those who choose the second cheapest plan will pay nothing, and those who want one of the more expensive plans will only have to pay the difference between the second cheapest plan and the one they chose.


Ryan’s plan guarantees that seniors will always have at least two private Medicare coverage plans to choose from which will not expose them to any additional out-of-pocket costs.


Because the private plan providers will be in competition with each other for Medicare customers, they will have a strong incentive to keep costs and premiums low. Over time, the private plans are expected to be significantly cheaper for the government than traditional Medicare fee-for-service coverage.


This concept has been proven to be effective by the successful experience with the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which is also based on competition between private insurance providers.




For decades, the Democrats owned the Medicare issue, fielding so-called “mediscare” ads. They loved to accuse Republicans of seeking to destroy the popular entitlement program upon which tens of millions of the elderly rely for their basic health care. But Obama made Democrats vulnerable to the same charge by siphoning off $716 billion over the next decade from the Medicare budget in order to help fund Obamacare coverage for others currently without health insurance. The money which Obama has taken out of the Medicare budget will result in the elimination of the benefits now enjoyed by millions of seniors enrolled in (privately administered) Medicare Advantage programs. It will also force the rationing of health care by slashing the reimbursement rate for providers, which will drive many doctors and hospitals out of business, reducing the health care available to all Medicare recipients.


Paul Ryan’s original House budget also proposed to cut the rate of Medicare spending increases over the next decade and apply the savings to reduce the federal deficit. But he and Mitt Romney have now agreed to restore that money to the Medicare budget to assure access by the elderly to the health care they need. That turns the Democrat “mediscare: argument on its head, by putting the onus for cutting Medicare funding entirely on Obama.


Obama’s accusation that by 2022 the current GOP Medicare plan will cost seniors an extra $6,400 a year is also wrong. It is based upon an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that is now obsolete, because Ryan’s Medicare plan has evolved significantly since that estimate was made.




This highlights a significant advantage which the Republicans have over the Democrats on the Medicare issue. When Ryan was fashioning the proposal by himself, he was able to work with both Republicans and Democrats to improve it and address its shortcomings. Now that it will be folded into Romney’s broader national economic recovery plan, the Medicare proposal can be tailored to both practical and political needs. By contrast, Obamacare is locked into its highly flawed current form. It was passed in 2010, with no GOP input at all, and full of hidden provisions resulting from numerous backroom deals Obama made with health care special interest groups which have been difficult for Obama and the Democrats to defend.


Since Obama doesn’t dare campaign on his record, he and the Democrats are still working hard to muddy the waters by slinging mud at both Romney and Ryan in an effort to demonize them. The unfair Obama attack ads assume that voters care more about how much Romney paid in income taxes than whether he has a viable plan to boost economic growth, restore prosperity and put the unemployed back to work, which now, with Ryan’s help, he does.




Democrats are just beginning to realize that they badly underestimated Ryan’s potential appeal to voters. The mistake started when President Obama first singled him out for attention in 2010 as the only serious promoter of conservative GOP solutions to the country’s economic problems.


It was not a mistake just because Ryan is young, likable, well-spoken, and comes from a typical Middle American background which many voters can identify with. In the course of successfully representing a competitive Congressional district in a battleground state, Ryan learned how to talk to Democrat and Independent voters about his ideas in terms they can understand and accept.


At the time Obama picked him out of the pack, Ryan was something of an outcast among his fellow Republicans. They were afraid of his original budget blueprint, which he introduced in 2008 as the “Roadmap for America’s Future.” Based on previous, painful experience, Republicans were afraid to embrace a plan which proposed radical changes to the inefficient federal tax code and the country’s 3 largest entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.


Newt Gingrich was not alone in originally viewing Ryan’s proposals as politically impractical “right-wing social engineering.” Everyone had long known that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were deeply flawed and financially unsustainable in their current form. But the popular entitlement programs were also regarded as deadly “third rails” to any politician foolish enough to try changing them. That is why GOP leaders initially shunned Ryan’s proposals as political non-starters.




For the same reasons, when the president’s popularity began to plummet, Obama saw Ryan as the ideal GOP political target. Because the GOP establishment wanted nothing to do with Ryan’s plan, Obama decided to build him up so that he could later knock him as representing the Republican threat to the popular entitlements.


In January 2010, when Obama was invited to speak at a House Republican retreat in Baltimore, he couldn’t stop praising Ryan for making a “serious” budget proposal, so that he would be able to attack it a few days later at a White House news conference.


Ryan, instead of going on the defensive, rose to Obama’s challenge. When the president called a day-long media photo-op at the Blair House to showcase his Obamacare proposal before a bi-partisan audience of Congressional leaders, Ryan came prepared. On national television, Ryan raised tough questions about Obamacare’s fudged economic numbers that the president was unable to answer.


At that point, Obama finally recognized that he had picked a political fight with a Republican who was ready and eager to fight back. After the Republicans won the 2010 midterm election, which made Ryan the House Budget Committee chairman, Obama attacked his ideas in an April 13, 2011 speech, with Ryan sitting in the audience. Obama threw down the gauntlet by calling Ryan’s budget “a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic.”


The White House was hoping to provoke the Republicans into rallying around Ryan’s budget, perhaps not realizing that Ryan had already become the hero of the freshman class of Tea Party congressmen. Obama’s personal attack on Ryan’s plan just accelerated a trend that was already in progress. Almost overnight, Ryan became the intellectual leader on all budget matter for the GOP.


When it became apparent that Mitt Romney would be the GOP challenger, the Obama campaign began calling Ryan’s proposals the “Romney-Ryan budget.” Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC, in its first campaign ad, accused Romney of being “on the same page as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare.”




The Obama team did not suspect that its efforts would succeed too well by elevating Ryan to the vice presidential nomination. That has given Ryan a national spotlight for his remarkable political talents. Dick Morris, the conservative political advisor, compares Ryan’s political and intellectual skills to no less than Bill Clinton, whom Morris advised when he was in the White House.


The Obama team never imagined that Ryan, as the vice presidential candidate, would be able to convince Romney and his campaign that his latest Medicare proposals, when presented properly, are more attractive to senior citizens than the changes already made to Medicare by Obamacare.




Ryan quickly put that contention to the test by traveling to central Florida, where he presented the new Romney-Ryan Medicare plan to an audience of voters in a large retirement housing development known as “The Villages.”


Ryan accused Obama of raiding the Medicare “piggybank” to pay for his health care overhaul and quoted Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, who warned in 2010 that about one out of every six hospitals and nursing homes in this country would be closed as a result, reducing the treatment options available to everyone who depends on Medicare.


The Wisconsin congressman then introduced his 78-year-old mother to the audience and passionately promised that his plan would defend the Medicare program that has provided old-age security for two generations of his own family instead of destroying it, as Obama and the Democrats have falsely charged.


“She planned her retirement around this promise,” Ryan said as his mother, Betty Ryan Douglas looked on.


His mother is a “snowbird” who spends the winter months in Broward County’s Lauderdale-by-the-Sea community, and is one of the 17% of registered Florida voters over the age of 65, the highest percentage in the nation.


Ryan pulled no punches in talking before the audience of seniors about the radical changes that he believes need to be made to save the Medicare program.


“Our plan does not affect the benefits for people who are in or near retirement. It’s a promise that was made, and it’s a promise that must be kept.


“But in order to make sure we can guarantee that promise for my mom’s generation, for those baby boomers that are retiring every day, we must reform it for my generation.”




It was a performance that many seasoned political operatives would consider to be foolhardy, even for the most popular of political candidates. Yet he carried it off successfully.


Ryan is almost unique among elected officials in Washington for being willing to lay out tough public spending choices that politicians from both parties prefer to avoid. He and Romney have also surprised many Democrats over the past week by taking the initiative in challenging them to a debate over Medicare as a central issue of the presidential election campaign.


Democrats say it’s a debate they are confident that they can win because voters have historically tended to trust them more than Republicans to safeguard popular social entitlement programs. But the cuts that Obamacare has made to Medicare have frightened and angered many seniors who are afraid that Ryan is right when he says that their own health care will suffer as a result.




The Obama campaign has falsely accused Ryan of trying to eliminate traditional Medicare and substitute a voucher program that would eventually cost seniors $6,400 out of pocket for the same medical coverage that traditional Medicare gives them now.


That is not accurate. The latest Ryan Medicare proposal would continue to give all retirees the option of taking the current fee-for service Medicare coverage, or a choice of several private insurance coverages, at least two of which would cost them no more than traditional Medicare.


According to Ryan, the private coverage plans would actually cost the government less than traditional Medicare, while offering the seniors better health care. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, agrees with Ryan that, over time, the government would spend thousands less per senior for the private plans than under current Medicare policy.


That is another unusual thing about Ryan. His opponents have learned that when he makes a claim about an economic proposal, he generally has solid numbers to back it up.




A Rasmussen poll of 500 Florida voters conducted last week found that Obamacare “scares” them more than Ryan’s plan for Medicare’s future by a 48% – 41% margin.


The survey found that 45 percent of those polled would vote for Romney over 43 percent for Obama.


Florida, with its large population of retired voters, has been a battleground state in most of the recent presidential elections. Its 29 electoral votes are crucial to Romney’s hopes for an electoral college victory. Recent polls there have given Obama a slight edge, but Romney seems to have started closing the gap since tapping Ryan as his vice presidential candidate. This is also a new trend in the nationwide polling.


Ryan’s selection has also moved his home state of Wisconsin, with its 10 electoral votes, from leaning Democrat to a virtual tossup in the Real Clear Politics tally of the battle for an Electoral College majority. According to that tally, to win in November, Romney would have to carry 80 out of the remaining 110 Electoral Votes in the 9 states still up for grabs between the two candidates. In addition to Florida and Wisconsin, the battleground states include Colorado (9 votes), Iowa (6 votes), Nevada (6 votes) New Hampshire (4 votes) North Carolina (15 votes), Ohio (18 votes) and Virginia (13 votes).




The GOP presidential campaign has dispatched Ryan to visit almost every other swing state in the past week, including Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. During that time, he has emerged as something other than the typical vice presidential campaign attack dog. Ryan’s performance stood in sharp contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who embarrassed the Obama campaign last week with another stupid comment.


As Romney and Ryan went their separate ways on the campaign trail, both talked about offering “solutions.” But in something of a role reversal, it’s largely fallen to Ryan to drive home that message to voters in a positive way, speaking in terms of forging a “covenant” and of “deserving victory” as he did in Oxford, Ohio, or pledging to supporters at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas that the Republican ticket is not just about opposing Obama.


“You see, we’re not going to go to people in this country and say, ‘The other guy is so bad that you have to vote for me by default,’” he told the crowd, to applause.


It was the generally calm Romney who showed surprising flashes of anger last week. At a campaign stop in Ohio, he forcefully decried Obama’s “campaign of division and anger and hate.”




It has also become clear during Ryan’s first week on the national campaign trail that in comparison to many other politicians, the Wisconsin congressman does not like to talk much about his own biography.


He tosses out anecdotes here and there about “flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant” as a young man or camping with his family in the Colorado Rockies. But by and large, he is careful not to overshadow Romney, on whose life story and achievements he tends to focus in campaign appearances more than on his own.


Ryan likes to make the case – at greater length than Romney has done – that the former Massachusetts governor is “living proof of the example that if you have a small business, you built that small business.”


A senior Republican campaign adviser said that Ryan views Romney’s career as “a case study of some of the ideas that he has been immersed in and debating about for years. . . He’s a true believer in the free-market system. And so he views Governor Romney as an Exhibit A in the case for how people in the private sector can build things – build businesses, turn around businesses, take risks, put capital to work, and make a contribution to society and to the economy and to the workplace.”


Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have been bitterly accusing one another of distorting facts about their respective Medicare proposals. In this case, it seems possible that Democrats will lose the argument, if only because Obamacare, which stands to receive $716 billion of the money originally earmarked for Medicare, remains so unpopular with most voters, especially seniors.




Obama has been complaining that, “they are being dishonest about my plan (Obamacare) because they can’t sell their plan,” which is ironic, because Obama and the Democrats have been unsuccessfully trying to sell Obamacare to the voters ever since they rammed in through Congress over growing popular opposition more than two years ago.


Campaigning in New Hampshire, Obama accused Romney and Ryan of proposing “to voucherize the Medicare system,” even though the Republican proposal would not introduce the choice of private insurance plans with the premium support payments which Obama calls vouchers, for ten years. The Republican plan would also continue to give all Medicare recipients the option of enrolling in traditional Medicare coverage.


At the same time, Obama claimed, despite having removed $716 billion from Medicare’s budget over the next decade, that, “since I have been in office, I have strengthened Medicare.”




Going back to his class warfare rhetoric, Obama again attacked the Romney-Ryan tax and economic plans as a giveaway to the rich, and ridiculed their proposal to bring the budget out of deficit by stimulating overall growth of the US economy could work.


“They’ve been trying to sell this trickle-down snake oil before,” Obama told an audience in Windham, New Hampshire. “It did not work then. It will not work now. It will not reduce the deficit, it will not create jobs. It’s the wrong direction for America.”


But Romney is not taking that bait, nor is he willing to extend the political conversation about his tax returns.


After months of a virtual stalemate between Romney and Obama in the polls, the Republicans now believe that the best way to defeat Obama in November is to present a clear and practical alternative to his economic policies, instead of merely condemning his failures. That alternative is one of the unique gifts which Ryan brings to the race. The others are his youth, intelligence, and his warm, likable personality.


Obama and the Democrats always wanted Ryan as an ideological target in the campaign. Now they have got him.




Before Ryan joined the Republican ticket, it did not have a clearly conservative political identity. But with Romney now adopting the essence of Ryan’s economic approach, the ticket now takes on more of the aspects of a conservative cause rather than a mainstream political campaign.


Democrat pollsters like to claim that this election is unusual because most voters have already made up their minds as to which candidate they will vote for in November. They claim that only about 8% of voters polled say they have not made up their minds. With the national polls so close, many political analysts expect the winner to be the campaign which is most successful at turning out its voter base. That partially explains why Obama has been running such a polarizing class warfare campaign, clearly aimed at demonizing his opponent, and frightening members of the various liberal special interest groups.


By contrast, before picking Ryan, Romney had been running primarily against Obama’s record rather than promoting himself or his own ideas for governing the country. His proposals seemed more aimed at not alienating potential supporters rather than defining a clear agenda of his own. But the polls showed that the approach was not working. Obama’s persistent negative attacks were driving the campaign narrative and dominating the news cycle.




Romney’s choice of Ryan and his decision to adopt Ryan’s conservative approach changed all that overnight. It was a bold choice, and Romney made it because he felt that he had little to lose.


The polls were starting to turn against him, and he realized that his best chance to beat Obama, was to turn the race into a choice between ideas rather than personalities. Obama’s ideas had clearly failed, but he was becoming an expert at trying to blame those failures on others. Romney, while pleasant enough, had changed sides on so many issues so many times that he no longer had a clear public identity. On the other hand, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, everyone agrees that there is nobody in the Republican Party today who is better at ideas than Paul Ryan.




Ryan’s candidacy will also make Romney a better president, if he wins. If he had been elected on his own, Romney would have probably been a relatively pragmatic and cautious Republican president, much like Gerald Ford or George H.W. Bush. But if Romney wins the presidency after running on Ryan’s economic platform, Republicans will have a clear mandate to govern in accordance with that agenda to lower tax rates for all and save the Medicare program.


That would, indeed, be ironic, because if Obama had not decided to make Ryan his conservative political target two years ago, the Wisconsin Republican would never have been Romney’s vice presidential pick. Now, at the very least, Ryan’s name will be secure in the political history books. Most of those who know him, Republicans and Democrats alike, are also convinced that now that he is firmly established on the national political stage, he has a long career in Washington in front of him.


The Washington Post and the Associated Press contributed to this story.



Facing the Test

  Parshas Behar opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah. The discussion of the topic begins by stating that Hashem told these halachos to Moshe Rabbeinu

Read More »

My Take on the News

    Five Soldiers Die in Friendly Fire Mishap Tensions are running high in Israel, and even if life seems to be moving along normally

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated