By MARSHA MERCER
Oddly, both political parties see Paul Ryan’s budget plan as a gift to their 2012 campaigns.
Republicans praise the House Budget chairman’s fiscal 2012 plan to cut federal spending by $6.2 trillion over 10 years as a voter- (read Tea Party-) friendly plan to overhaul entitlements and repeal “Obamacare” – all without raising taxes.
Democrats, meanwhile, salivate over the heart-tugging campaign ads they can create about the draconian Republican proposals to blow up Medicare and Medicaid, leave millions uninsured and decimate safety net programs – all without raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The enthusiasm on the political right could hardly be higher. An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily newspaper on “Ryan’s Way” began, “So, what’s not to like?” and concluded, “This is a great plan.” It snarkily asked whether Democrats would “muster the political wisdom and courage to support something from the opposition that would work.”
In contrast, an editorial in The New York Times decried Ryan’s plan to shift the costs of Medicare to its beneficiaries said it would hurt seniors, the poor and the most vulnerable in society. The Times warned, “This isn’t real reform. If it goes forward, Americans will pay a high price.”
Whatever becomes of Ryan’s proposals, both Democrats and Republicans are itching to make the budget a moral fight. Ryan’s 2012 budget resolution, titled “The Path to Prosperity,” says a budget is “much more than a series of numbers. It also serves as an expression of Congress’s principles, vision and philosophy of governing.” The budget, it says, “offers a set of fundamental reforms to put the nation back on the right track.”
To which, Democrats reply, Bring it.
“The budget is a statement of our national values,” House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. Ryan’s budget is unfair and has the wrong values, she said, Playing on Ryan’s title, she said, it was a “Road to Ruin for Medicare and a Road to Riches for Big Oil.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Ryan’s budget fails to meet the test of reflecting “American values of fairness and shared sacrifice.”
Ryan’s call to privatize Medicare and overhaul Medicaid is politically risky. About three in four people said budget cuts in Medicare were unacceptable, according to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. Plus, nearly one in 20 Americans is covered by Medicaid.
Under the Ryan plan, Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor and pays for most of the country’s nursing home care, would no longer be a federal entitlement. Instead, each state would receive a block grant and set its own eligibility standards and benefits.
Ryan’s Medicare plan wisely doesn’t affect anyone nearing retirement age. It would end the traditional Medicare program for those born in 1957 and after.
Under the new system, Medicare would pay a fixed amount -- $8,000 a year in 2022 dollars for someone 65 – towards the purchase of an insurance policy. The beneficiary would then buy a plan from a range of options. The Center for Economic and Policy, a progressive think tank, said in an analysis, “The premium support payment would be age-adjusted but otherwise only rise in step with overall inflation. This means that increases in health care costs in excess of the rate of inflation would be absorbed by the beneficiary.”
An analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office also found that Medicare beneficiaries would have to spend far more under the new plan.
It’s worth remembering that how an issue is framed can change people’s attitudes.
In 2009, most people favored a government alternative to private medical insurance. In June 2009, a whopping 85 percent of Americans said the country’s health care system needed to be fundamentally changed. And yet, the same New York Times-CBS News survey found that 77 percent of people were very or somewhat satisfied with their own health care.
Frank Luntz, the GOP communications guru, counseled Republicans to refer to a “government takeover” of health care. Many observers think that phrase turned the tide of public opinion against the single-payer plan. The fact-checking site, PolitiFact, later concluded the “government takeover” phrase was the “2010 Lie of the Year.”
Nobody knows how the 2012 budget debate will go. One thing is clear: Elections matter.
As for Ryan, his fans have started a Paul Ryan for President – 2012 page on Facebook. Even if that doesn’t amount to anything, Ryan has time. The Wisconsin Republican is 41.
(c) 2011 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.