Election now a referendum on Medicare

Will Paul Ryan drag down other GOP candidates when Democrats begin tying them to support for his health care ideas?

By The Fiscal Times Aug 20, 2012 1:32PM
By The Fiscal TimesBruce Bartlett

Last week, I had a day all pundits dread. I made a confident prediction that Mitt Romney would not choose Paul Ryan as his running mate. Less than 24 hours later, he did exactly that.

Obviously, my expectation was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that my reasoning was. In the week since my column appeared, I have yet to hear a compelling rationale for Romney’s decision. While it has energized one wing of the GOP -- economic conservatives and libertarians -- he already had every one of them in his pocket before choosing Ryan.
At the same time, Romney has made it harder for religious conservatives primarily concerned about social issues such as gay marriage to have any enthusiasm for him. They were already skittish about the prospect of having a Mormon as president, so adding a Catholic admirer of the atheist Ayn Rand to the ticket has made matters worse, from their point of view.

Most Christians in the U.S. are Protestants, and almost all fundamentalists are. They may not say so publicly, but many are distressed that Romney-Ryan is the first presidential ticket of a major American political party without a Protestant Christian on it in American history. At a minimum, this is going to affect the enthusiasm of fundamentalists for Republicans this year.

Ryan’s well-known admiration for Rand clearly doesn’t help. The author of the dystopian novel "Atlas Shrugged," she believed that all government welfare programs such as Medicare were immoral. Notwithstanding the fact that she took Medicare benefits when she became eligible, it’s hard not to see Ryan’s obsession with slashing Medicare as motivated in part by Rand’s philosophy.

In 2005, Ryan spoke to the Atlas Society, an organization dedicated to glorifying Rand and promoting her philosophy. Here’s what Ryan said on that occasion:
I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and the fight we’re engaged here in Congress. . . . I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with "Atlas Shrugged."
But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. . . . In almost every fight we are involved in here, on Capitol Hill, whether it’s an amendment vote that I’ll take later on this afternoon, or a big piece of policy we’re putting through our Ways and Means Committee, it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism versus collectivism.
The biggest long-term savings in Ryan’s famous budget plan, which every Republican in the House of Representatives voted for in 2011 and 2012, comes from Medicare. The plan has evolved over the years, but its core has always been that Medicare costs should be controlled solely on the demand side. There would simply be less money available for each beneficiary to pay for health care. Ryan believes -- hopes, really -- that somehow or other the free market will provide the same health care at lower cost than the current Medicare system now provides.

Liberal critics often note that it is not necessary to cut Medicare as severely as Ryan would to balance the budget, because he would also cut taxes sharply as well as increasing defense spending. A plan that was focused primarily on reducing the deficit would do neither of those things.

Meanwhile, conservative critics, such as Reagan OMB director David Stockman, point to the fact that Ryan would not cut a penny from Medicare for 10 years after his plan took effect, because he would grandfather in all beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries age 55 and older. This is obviously just a ploy to politically neutralize the elderly, who, according to Pew polling, overwhelmingly oppose the Ryan plan.

To my knowledge, Ryan has never explained how he would prevent Congress from simply delaying implementation of his plan the day today’s youngest 54-year-old turns 65. It’s worth recalling that in 1997 Congress enacted a bill to control Medicare costs by holding their growth to a "sustainable" rate. But almost as soon as it took effect, Congress suspended it and has continued to suspend it every year since.

I believe Ryan’s purpose in wanting to change Medicare as we know it is motivated more by a desire to reshape the relationship between Americans and their government along Randian lines than simply getting the budget under control, as he insists.

Another awkwardness for Romney in putting Ryan on his ticket is that Ryan would keep the $700 billion in Medicare cuts enacted in 2009 that help finance the Affordable Care Act. On "Meet the Press" on Aug. 12, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus attacked Barack Obama for these cuts, saying, "He stole $700 billion out of Medicare."

Ryan quickly repudiated his own plan and now says that Obama raided Medicare. But at least Obama paid for his plan. The Republican Medicare Part D program, which was enacted in 2003 with Ryan’s vote, was a pure give-away that already has added $272 billion to the deficit since 2006, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Whatever one thinks of Ryan and his budget plan, these are serious political liabilities, which is why Republican political pros think Romney’s decision to put him on the ticket is a disaster. Some are now warning that Ryan is going to drag down Republican House and Senate candidates as well when Democrats begin tying them to support for his Medicare plan.

Romney says he has his own plan to save Medicare, but his website still compares it favorably to Ryan's. Whether he likes it or not, Medicare is likely to become the primary issue in this campaign. Democrats will see to that. At a minimum, this will deflect attention from the economy, which is Romney’s best issue. That can’t be good for him.

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist at The Fiscal Times. Subscribe to The Fiscal Times' free newsletter.

More from The Fiscal Times

Aug 21, 2012 1:11AM
While the future of Medicare is extremely important, the main focus should be on JOBS.
Aug 20, 2012 2:44PM

Dear Citizens of America.
Are we losing our mind?
I truly think that the near collapsed of our country economics from the faulty Bush presidency, has produced some alarming public amnesia that prevents millions of our best citizens to think correctly, so mistakes are frequently made, like the selection of radical, boisterous Tea Party members to The House of Representatives in 2010. "The greatest chaos and a socio-political disaster" seriously impacting our survivor as the Great United States of America.
Now, we have a hopeful that maneuvers members in the un-ruling House of Representatives aspiring for a big job as our country VP that is Mr. Paul Ryan.
Is it our state of mental amnesia so acute that’s preventing us to acknowledged that Mr. Ryan, is a full flesh product of the incoherent Tea Party/Republican amalgamation, presently residing in the House of Representatives, they have a dishonorable 10% approval rate. Could this person make sound, integral, non-radical, honest, Vice-Presidential, and possibly Presidential decision if elected?? I wish America to recover fast from the disease before November, 2012, to vote full Democratic ticket. It’s a very serious, unfortunate business making the wrong voting decision for our future!

Aug 21, 2012 12:25PM

The closest thing to a responsible Republican in the upcoming election is Barack Obama. There will be no Democrat on the ballot.


But if you wish to hasten the coming feudal order (and if you're reading this, you're not going to be directing the 'little people' - you're going to be one of them) vote Romney.


Don't be surprised if you find the barrel of a gun will be used by his administration to quicken that hastened arrival.



Aug 20, 2012 4:34PM
wake up and smell the coffee2012 --IS SPOT ON----He's the kind of people we need to help Newsweek "Hit the Road Barack"
Aug 21, 2012 9:28AM
Anything other than the economy is Obama's goal. What lib wants to take about Obama's total failure on the economic front? 
Aug 21, 2012 11:53PM
It will be about Medicare because the media focuses on whatever it can sensationalize.  The GOP, at Romney's request, has removed support for the mortgage tax deduction from it's platform because Romney will need other sources of funds after he cuts taxes for the wealthy.  But is that getting any press?
Aug 25, 2012 6:08PM
Romney talks about uniting America, but with plans to take more away from the poor, elderly and middle class, and giving more tax breaks to the wealthy, it sure doesn't seem like a plan for uniting the country.
Aug 25, 2012 5:49PM
Ryan's plan slashes health care for low-income families, cuts taxes for the wealthy and still runs a deficit of around two and a half trillion dollars.

Aug 20, 2012 4:24PM
This "dead head"--Bruce Bartlett is same category as  Buy Low----
Aug 23, 2012 8:59AM
Hey---buy low----YOU can't handle the truth about  JOBS----Did you see the weekly unemployment stats for the week?----372,000 NEW unemployed this last week----HOW many jobs WERE created---Zip-zero-nadda-zilch----That is the truth!!!!
Aug 26, 2012 9:21AM

buy low-----You still don't believe that your boy has taken the USA down the tubes---That's real pathetic!!!


Aug 20, 2012 7:04PM
Looks like ALL of the libs can do is thumbs down on anybody that tells the Truth!!!
Aug 20, 2012 4:19PM

buy low is DEAD WRONG-----this brain dead individual is a shill for the left Obummer cause--cause B O has no plan to get America back to work-----Only to try and "Conquer and Divde"  He would sell Michele to a brothel if that's what it took to get Re-elected--what a Dumm A$$ he is!!!

Aug 20, 2012 6:11PM
R & R 2012   Thats change i can believe in.
Aug 24, 2012 10:03AM
Hey!  buy low------WHAT accomplishments---Obama Care --High unemployment--- 1 trillion a year deficits----That's what I call  UN-accomplishments!!!!
Aug 21, 2012 11:44PM

Hey!  buy low----you say Solindra is a minor thing--WHAT??----500 Million is a lot of tax payer money----DO YOU  pay taxes?????   Companies should be started  BY Private investors etc---NOT TAXPAYER MONEY-------Even you could get a date if she worked in a brothel!!!!!!!


Also 29 Months of  Job Growth----You are NOT a Tactician----mathamatically   +117000 new jobs per month-----TO---   MINUS  350000  people laid off work---   DOES NOT EQUAL TO POSITVE JOB GROWTH to anybody other than Libs

Bruce Bartlett is a liberal and his article is wishful hoping that somehow Ryan is a bad pick and Barack gets another 4 years he doesn't deserve and we can't afford.  Romney and Ryan are exactly what this country needs so we don't completely fall off the cliff.  We are hanging by our fingers and Barack and company are trying to step on them.
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