If you need evidence that Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) as his running mate could complicate matters for fellow Republican candidates downballot, look no further than the state where the pick was unveiled – Virginia.
George Allen (R), who is facing fellow former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D), in the tight contest to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D), is campaigning with Romney and Ryan Saturday, projecting a united front in a state that is crucial to Republican hopes for capturing both the Senate and the White House in November.
Yet no other issue has been as consistently difficult to address for Allen as Ryan’s proposals to reform Medicare. Allen has repeatedly refused to take a firm position on the subject, first during the Republican primary and now during the general election. The latest example came just two days ago.
In Danville Thursday, a local television reporter asked Allen: ““I was reading [about] your support of Paul Ryan’s plans to turn the Medicare system into what people are saying [is] a voucher system. Can you explain that a little bit?”
“I think your assertion’s incorrect,” Allen shot back quickly.
“The Ryan plan – this is mostly from my opponent on all of that – the Ryan plan is a comprehensive big plan. The part of it that has to do with Medicare has been changed from whatever he had originally. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and he have come up with – I haven’t had a chance to look at their latest permutation from it. But we do need, in my view, to save Medicare for those who are presently on Medicare or soon will be on it.”
Allen added that he opposed the Medicare cuts included in President Obama’s health-care plan, and that savings in the program could be found by reducing fraud. But he never actually said what he thought of Ryan’s proposals.
In 2011, Allen’s campaign would not say how the Republican would have voted on the Ryan budget plan had he been in the Senate. The same was true earlier this year – Allen praised the Ryan plan as “a worthwhile approach” and commended him for offering a budget, but did not actually say how he would have voted.
In a notably contentious interview in June 2011 with NBC12 in Richmond, Allen fended off repeated questions about how he would vote. “I’m not going to tell you,” Allen said at one point, later adding: “I am not a U.S. Senator. If I were a U.S. Senator I would have to vote yes or no.”
Allen spokeswoman Katie Wright suggested the real health-care focus of the campaign would be on Obama’s plan, not Ryan’s.
“Tim Kaine will need to explain to Virginia seniors how the President’s health care tax law is a ‘great achievement’ when it cuts $500 billion out of Medicare and puts Washington in charge of the kind of care they will receive,” Wright said. “George Allen is committed to strengthening Medicare and will work to repeal and replace this health care law so people, not the government, are in charge of their personal health care decisions.”
During the Republican primary, which he ended up winning with ease, Allen’s opponents tried to portray him as wishy-washy for not taking a stand on Ryan’s proposal. Now Democrats are seeking to tie him to it anyway. As was said of Romney before he picked Ryan, Allen may have to cope with the politics of Ryan’s Medicare proposal whether he embraces it or not.
“By standing with Paul Ryan today, George Allen continues to embrace a plan that would force hundreds of thousands of Virginia seniors to pay nearly $6,000 more each year in health care,” said Kaine spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine. “Budgets are about priorities and George Allen’s approach would gut Medicare resources for millions of American seniors, devastate investments for education and infrastructure that grow our economy, while defending irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthiest that ballooned our deficit and drove up our debt.”