Romney must go on offense on Medicare

Reuters

Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gestures as he speaks at a campaign stop at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Colorado, August 14, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • For conservative policy wonks, Paul Ryan is more than a solid VP selection, he’s a rock star pick. #Election2012

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  • Many Americans are conflicted. They know that #Medicare must change, but aren’t comfortable with tax increases.

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  • Will Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan doom their candidacy in Florida, Ohio and other senior-heavy states?

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If you're a conservative policy wonk -- and sadly, I fall into that category -- then Paul Ryan is more than a solid vice presidential selection. He's a rock star pick, the total package: the philosophical foundations, the mastery of details and the ability to put it into plain English, all while conveying the humanity that the mainstream media believe conservatives lack. As a candidate, Ryan is the real deal.
 
It's Ryan's legislative proposals, however, that make some conservatives worry. And with good reason: the federal budget didn't get where it is simply because of elected officials who lack courage. Americans themselves are conflicted. They know that programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid can't continue without change and they're uncomfortable with the tax increases needed to finance these entitlements. But they also flinch at accepting a penny less in benefits than they've been promised. Ryan's various plans to fix entitlements, Medicare in particular, make him a risky pick given Democrats' amply-demonstrated willingness to drag the 2012 presidential campaign into the gutter.

"He's a rock star pick, the total package: the philosophical foundations, the mastery of details, and the ability to put it into plain English, all while conveying the humanity that the mainstream media believe conservatives lack." -Andrew G. Biggs Will Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan doom their candidacy in Florida, Ohio and other senior-heavy states? It shouldn't, so long as Romney and Ryan define their positions rather than allowing themselves to be defined.
 
That’s why the Romney campaign needs to come out strong. They need to point out that it was President Obama, not Romney, who cut $700 billion from Medicare, not to save the program but to fund new entitlements. No Florida senior should enter the voting booth not knowing this fact. Listening to many Democratic talking heads, you’d think it was Romney who proposed the cuts.

They also need to proactively head off false attacks on Ryan’s Medicare plan. And if you don't think those attacks are coming, just ask that felonious, cancer-causing, tax cheat Mitt Romney.
 
Three points need to be drilled home about Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal, co-sponsored Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. First, no one over the age of 55 would be affected. I suspect the attack ads playing in Florida may fail to mention this exclusion.
 
Second, Medicare's traditional fee-for-service would remain available. “Premium support” — the phrase for government funding of private insurance plans chosen by individuals—is an option for those who choose it. But unlike earlier iterations of Ryan's reform plans, the traditional Medicare program would compete with private insurers. 
 
And third, overall funding for Medicare under the Ryan-Wyden plan would grow at the same rate as under President Obama’s proposals.  How this amounts to “gutting Medicare” and “ending Medicare as we know it” isn't clear.
 
The Ryan-Wyden plan aims to use market competition -- you know, that thing that gives us better and cheaper smart phones every year -- to provide seniors with more affordable, higher-quality choices while keeping Medicare and the broader budget from going off a cliff.
 
But the Romney campaign needs to hit these points early and often. Waiting to respond, as they too often did regarding the baseless and frankly scurrilous attacks on Gov. Romney’s business record, is a dangerous game. If Romney and Ryan are aggressive, they’ve got a good chance to win not only the election, but a mandate to put the federal budget on a sustainable track while reversing the slide toward ever-increasing government control over individuals’ lives. But these arguments won’t make themselves. Romney and Ryan need to be assertive.
 
Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He previously served as principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

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