It is fashionable, now that President Obama has descended into the political sewer, to chastise both presidential campaigns. Neither one is talking substance we are told. Frankly, that’s bunk.
On Saturday Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ventured into the mega-retirement community, the Villages, in Florida to talk Medicare. He first introduced his mom, Betty, who he said “ did build that” small business after Ryan’s father died. (According to the Ryan campaign, she attended the University of Wisconsin and owned an interior design business in Madison.)
Ryan then went on to talk plainly to the seniors about Medicare:
You can expect Betty to be in some ads.
Ryan’s discussion is what elites say they want, namely calm and explicit policy discussion. There is only one presidential campaign doing that.
Mitt Romney was at it as well in what was billed as the first weekly podcast on Medicare. He also goes through the problems with Obama’s handling of Medicare. (“President Obama’s health-care law raided $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund. And he did that to finance his takeover of the health-care system. Now if that wasn’t bad enough, his health-care law also put in place a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats and gave them the power to make additional cuts to Medicare without even having to get approval from Congress. This means they could deny elderly Americans the care they’ve worked for their entire lives — all because President Obama trusts bureaucrats more than he trusts seniors and their doctors.”) He then explains his premium support plan, emphasizing that traditional Medicare would still be available.
The Romney-Ryan is testing whether the country appreciates a grown-up discussion on Medicare. Liberal elites won’t give him credit, but I suspect voters will.
Conservatives can scarcely believe Republicans are on offense on Medicare. The reality is just sinking in that Republicans may not only not suffer for their votes to reform Medicare but could actually benefit.
Romney and Ryan are on solid ground on the facts. Avik Roy writes that Democrats will find it hard to claim Ryan’s budget did the same as Obama:
Ryan’s Medicare cuts were solely used to extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund, and not to fund new spending elsewhere. By contrast, Obamacare cut $716 billion from Medicare in order to fund $1.9 trillion in new health care spending, through the law’s expansion of Medicaid and its new subsidized exchanges.
The second point is that Mitt Romney is not campaigning on the Ryan budget. He’s campaigning on his own budget, which fully repeals Obamacare, and eliminates that law’s Medicare cuts.
Aside from being true, Romney-Ryan’s attack brings in the widely disliked Obamacare, thereby giving them one more reason (in addition to its taxes, the Independent Payment Advisory Board rationing bureaucracy) to get rid of Obamacare. Those Republicans who thought Romney wouldn’t be able to use Obamacare to his advantage in the campaign because of his own state health-care plan, surely didn’t see this coming nor understand the many reasons quite apart from the individual mandate that Obama is vulnerable on the topic.
Romney and Ryan will need to spend more time, obviously, dispelling the Democrats’ complaints, but more important, explaining what their solution going forward will be. Roy sums up:
Advocates of the 2011 Ryan plan, myself included, argue that precisely because of the premium support mechanism, seniors would be incentivized to shop for value with their insurance plans, creating a market incentive that would moderate health care cost growth. But the Congressional Budget Office assumes that market competition would have no effect on spending growth, hence the argument that the 2011 Ryan plan would shift costs to seniors.
However, Mitt Romney pointedly refused to endorse this 2011 plan. Instead, he offered his own plan, one which addressed the above critique of the 2011 Ryan reform using a mechanism called competitive bidding, whereby seniors would be guaranteed to be able to purchase a fully-subsidized plan offering Medicare’s traditional set of insurance benefits. Weeks later, Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) produced a very similar plan, a plan that was incorporated into the 2012 GOP budget.
Both Republicans and liberal elites underestimated the ability of the Romney-Ryan team to lay all of this out in front of the voters. With the addition of Ryan, the best explainer the GOP (or either party) has regarding entitlements, Republicans have seized the moment. It’s smart policy. We’ll find out if it is smart politics in November.