A Democrat reaches across the aisle on Medicare

Senate Budget Committee

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks out during the Senate Budget Committee's hearing on the economic effects of fiscal policy choices in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 15, 2011.

Article Highlights

  • #Politicians' praise is sometimes bestowed overlavishly, but in the case of @RonWyden it was well merited

    Tweet This

  • Ryan-Wyden represents a major step forward in public policy and gives hope that the Medicare entitlement can be rendered sustainable

    Tweet This

  • POLL: 29% of voters--less than 1 in 3--support the Obamacare. So it's no surprise that Obama prefers Mediscare tactics

    Tweet This

It's highly unusual in a presidential debate for two Republican candidates -- the two leading in current national polls -- to heap praise on a liberal Democratic senator.

"Ryan-Wyden represents a major step forward in public policy and gives hope that the Medicare entitlement can be rendered sustainable." --Michael BaroneBut in the Fox News debate in Sioux City Thursday night both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney had very good words to say for Oregon's Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.

The subject was the Medicare reform plan put forward in a Wall Street Journal opinion article that morning by Wyden and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

"Today is a big day for the country," Romney said. It was "an enormous achievement" for Ryan and Wyden, people on opposite sides of the aisle, to come together.

Gingrich, harshly criticized last May for calling Ryan's earlier Medicare plan "right-wing social engineering," went out of his way to say that Romney had produced "a very good plan" for Medicare and that it was "brave" for Wyden to join Ryan in their bipartisan plan.

Politicians' praise is sometimes bestowed overlavishly, but in this case it was well merited. Ryan-Wyden represents a major step forward in public policy and gives hope that the Medicare entitlement can be rendered sustainable.

The Ryan-Wyden proposal provides for continuation of the current Medicare program for those now over age 55. For those younger, it would introduce in 2022 a "premium-support" system that would allow Medicare recipients to choose between the current program and a Medicare-approved private plan.

Those plans would be presented in competitive bidding and would have to be as comprehensive as traditional Medicare and would have to accept anyone who applied. There would be subsidies for low-income seniors.

Private insurers would thus have an incentive to design plans that would offer more generous benefits and lower costs than current Medicare. This kind of market competition has proved effective in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program enacted in 2003. Costs have been lower than government projections and beneficiary satisfaction has been high.

Ryan-Wyden differs from the Medicare plan Ryan presented last spring by offering the option of keeping the current Medicare system. That is also a feature of the Medicare proposals of candidates Romney and Gingrich.

Wyden, with a solidly liberal voting record, may seem to be an unlikely partner in this enterprise. But he has consistently favored adding elements of market competition to our health care system.

He was one of the relatively few Democrats who provided necessary support for Part D in 2003. And in 2008 he and Republican Sen. Bob Bennett put forward a health care proposal based on eliminating the current tax preference for employer-provided health insurance.

That preference creates incentives to increase costs, and health policy experts of both left and right have argued for its elimination. But Barack Obama gave Wyden-Bennett the back of his hand and supported a plan that would centralize control in the federal government.

The Obama White House was quick to reject Ryan-Wyden as well. While Obama has said on occasion that the current Medicare program is not sustainable in the long term, he is now firmly in campaign mode and uninterested in anything other than bashing Republicans for hurting seniors.

Ryan-Wyden makes this kind of cheap shot politics more difficult. And it comes when a recent poll showed that only 29 percent of voters -- less than one in three -- support the Obamacare legislation. So it's no surprise that Obama prefers Mediscare tactics to defending his administration's largest legislative accomplishment.

The Republican candidates are united in their determination to repeal Obamacare, and repeal is a realistic possibility if Republicans should sweep the 2012 elections as they did in 2010. Ryan-Wyden also renders long-term Medicare reform a realistic possibility.

Ryan-Wyden helps to frame the health care issue in the presidential election as a choice between big government control and market competition. That does not help Obama.

Gallup reports that 64 percent of Americans regard big government, as opposed to big business or big labor, as "the biggest threat to the country in the future." That's just one point under the all-time high since Gallup began asking the question in 1965.

So it's not surprising that Romney and Gingrich saw fit to praise Wyden and that other Democrats are angry with him. But Wyden shows that at least one Democrat, even in campaign season, is more interested in good public policy than in politics.

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Barone
  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

    Follow Michael Barone on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7174
    Email: michael.barone@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Andrew Rugg
    Phone: 202-862-5917
    Email: andrew.rugg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
    MON
  • 15
    TUE
  • 16
    WED
  • 17
    THU
  • 18
    FRI
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.