Giving Paul Ryan credit

at 09:12 AM ET, 04/04/2011

(J. Scott Applewhite)
In general, seniors vote Republicans and poor people don’t. So the easy play for Paul Ryan was clear: limit the entitlement-reform portion of his budget to slashing Medicaid. Then he could say he was taking a first step on entitlements without enraging the GOP’s core supporters.

He didn’t do that. Ryan — and the GOP — are proposing to privatize Medicare. They’re proposing to save money by giving seniors less than their now-private Medicare will cost. They’re endorsing a plan that is the single least popular option for balancing the budget — below raising the retirement age, cutting defense spending or raising taxes on the rich.

I have my problems with Ryan’s plan, and I’m sure I’ll be telling you about them at great length in the days to come. But since I would have been criticizing Ryan if he’d cut health care for poor people while exempting the programs that benefit everyone else, it’s only fair that I give him credit for doing what he promised and taking on entitlements despite the possible cost.

That said, the underlying political economy here remains dangerous for Medicaid: seniors are simply more powerful than poor people. So one potential outcome in these negotiations is that Medicare is saved but Medicaid is slashed. That’s not good enough, obviously.

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