Since Ryan’s addition to the Republican ticket earlier this month, President Obama’s surrogates have howled that Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” would “end Medicare as we know it.” The reality is that Ryan’s proposal is the only credible congressional plan proposed by either party to deal with the long-term fiscal crisis facing Medicare and other federal entitlement programs. Still, the Democrats are hoping to make Medicare reform a “third-rail” of American politics in order to insulate it from any meaningful reform.
While Democrats try to ignore the looming fiscal time-bomb of Medicare’s unfunded liabilities, which by some estimates could exceed $100 trillion, Ryan’s budget proposal holds a real possibility of placing the program on a sustainable path.
The scare tactics employed by the Democrats were highlighted in a recent CNN interview with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Congresswoman who chairs the Democratic National Committee. Wasserman Schultz insisted to host Wolf Blitzer that Ryan’s plan to shore up Medicare was “extreme and wrong.” She claimed that Romney, influenced by Ryan as Vice President, would “shred the health care safety net that Medicare has provided for more than 50 years, and turn [it] into a voucher program, leaving seniors really out in the cold.” Even Blitzer was unimpressed with the DNC chief’s rhetoric. He noted that under Ryan’s plan, “anyone who is 55 or older or any senior living in Florida right now, [has] absolutely nothing to worry about because if his plan were to be approved it would not affect them at all.” When the veteran CNN host pressed Wasserman Schultz to simply acknowledge this fact, she robotically repeated the DNC talking points. In this tactic, she is not alone.
President Obama’s campaign continues to insist the Ryan plan would turn Medicare into a voucher-only system and significantly cut benefits. The facts are contrary to such claims, of course. The Medicare reform plan Ryan authored with Sen. Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat from Oregon, would create an alternative for new Medicare enrollees. The existing “fee-for-service” model would remain in place for anyone aged 55 and over. New enrollees would have the option of the traditional Medicare model, or a new program that would afford them a fixed dollar figure with which to buy health insurance coverage.
As explained by Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute - while both the Administration’s proposal and the Ryan-Wyden plan would increase Medicare funding by about the same amount over time, the latter’s plan puts the program on a significantly stronger footing, by “giving seniors cheaper, higher quality choices they can take if they wish, with the traditional program remaining an option.”
The factual distortions that form the basis for the Democrats’ anti-Ryan diatribe includes a large dose of hypocrisy as well. While the Obama campaign almost gleefully claims Ryan would massively cut Medicare, it conveniently ignores the $716 billion in cuts the Democrats made to the program to help pay for the centerpiece of the President’s first term – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Without these cuts, of course, the predicted cost of ObamaCare would have been far higher than the numbers used to secure its passage by the Congress in 2010 – which likely would have resulted in its defeat.
Ryan’s presence on the Republican ticket puts entitlement reform front and center in this presidential campaign. For this, the American people owe both Ryan and Romney more than a pat on the back. What this duo has done – if they hold firm in this regard -- is give America an opportunity to mend its fiscal house while there is small window of hope to do so. It truly may be – to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech – the “last best hope” we have to save our country from the cold darkness of fiscal oblivion.