Paul Ryan was announced Saturday as Republican Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, and conservatives are rejoicing.
But so are Democrats.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, is the architect of the Ryan budget plan that makes big changes to Medicare and Medicaid and could allow for some privatization of Social Security.
And that’s widely seen by Democrats and most analysts as a politically risky stance in Florida, a must-win state for Republicans, where retirees cast a suspicious eye on changes to the three major government-entitlement programs that pump about $96 billion yearly into the hands of the elderly, the infirm and the hospitals, doctors and other providers who give them direct care.
By picking Ryan, Romney shows he’s ready to fight for conservative changes to the liberal-legacy programs.
“We won't duck the tough issues...we will lead!” Ryan plans to say in his official acceptance speech in Norfolk, Virg., according to a copy of hir prepared remarks. “We won't blame others...we will take responsibility! We won't replace our founding principles...we will reapply them!”
Democrats are ready, too, for a battle of ideas.
“Paul Ryan wants to privatize Social Security. Looking forward to welcoming Mitt and his pick to Florida,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, tweeted. “There’s nothing brave about cutting the programs that America’s seniors rely on for their health and financial security.”
In addition to talking more about Medicare and Republican plans to scale it back, Democrats won’t have to face their nemesis, Sen. Marco Rubio, on a statewide ticket for the second election in a row in Florida, a state that Rubio as a running-mate would have put more in play for Romney, polls showed.
At the heart of the controversy is Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare in the future into a “premium support” system that would help seniors pay for private health insurance. It would essentially put more caps on future Medicare expenditures.
Democrats prefer to use the “V” word to describe it: Voucher. And they point to independent studies showing that the voucher, a predetermined amount of money that escalates at a predetermined rate over time, won’t keep pace with the inflation of medical costs.
Bottom line: Seniors would have to pay more out of pocket in the future than they’re paying now. Services could be cut. Right now, about 3.4 million are on Medicare in Florida, which receives about $25.2 billion from the program.
Ryan and the plan’s defenders point out that nothing’s free. Someone’s always paying something out of pocket for Medicare or any other government program. On its current path, Medicare isn’t sustainable. And more and more seniors are buying supplemental insurance to cover Medicare expenses now, making the system appear more voucher-like over time. Ryan said he’s trying to save, not end, Medicare.
Also, Ryan softened his plan, giving some future beneficiaries the choice of using the voucher or keeping a more traditional Medicare program. Ryan’s plan would restructure Medicare for those younger than 55. His Social Security plan would allow those younger than 55 to invest a part of their Social Security taxes in “personal retirement accounts” managed by the government, not private firms.
President Obama has called this “privatization” of Social Security, which it isn’t. But it does put Social Security on that path, and the line of attack helped sandbag President George W. Bush in 2005, when Ryan pushed him to adopt conservative reforms to Social Security, which provides about $49 billion in Florida and serves 3.7 million residents.