(Centennial Fellow)The Democrats want to scare the elderly to death about Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals even though they won’t affect anyone over 54. And here’s what they’re not telling anyone: Their own legislative mishaps include billions in cuts that start eating away at Medicare right around the corner and won’t address the debt threat because of the coming costs of Obamacare.
It’s true, and it’s getting surprising little press attention as Ryan on the stump is already showing why he was a brilliant choice by Mitt Romney to run as the Republican vice presidential candidate with him. He is addressing not some picayune issue, but what ought to be everyone’s chief domestic dread: a gross national debt getting close to $16 trillion. It’s already slowing economic growth by the calculations of some and threatens calamity if something significant is not done about it.
Ryan, as a Republican representative from Wisconsin, has made deficit reductions one of his chief objectives as he has fashioned GOP budget plans taking seriously the warnings from the leaders of President Barack Obama’s own debt commission, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. He gets it that entitlements could eventually consume virtually the whole budget if left untouched, and came up with a Medicare voucher plan that would treat the least advantaged with the most care as it also introduces market principles to help keep health costs in check.
He would also give people the option of sticking with traditional Medicare, although he would slow its growth by changing the formula for increasing expenditures.
The Democratic approach in the Obamacare package is different. One way it aims to control costs is by reducing fees paid to medical providers beginning next year, thereby almost surely reducing the number of providers who will take on Medicare patients. Savings of this and other steps are said by the Congressional Budget Office to amount to $716 billion over 10 years, which might seem a debt solution if it were not for the new Obamacare entitlement adding multi-billions more to federal expenses.
The probability is that we’re “going over the fiscal cliff,” Erskine Bowles told CNBC in a July interview, and he’s not some right-wing hack. He is the former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and co-chairman of the debt commission. He said the commissioners “worked hard to try to get common sense to overrule politics, and that’s a tough thing in Washington, as all can tell you.”
Except, it seems, when it comes to Ryan. Although Bowles and the other co-chairman, former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, have found things to fault in Ryan’s formulations, they have also praised them, saying a year ago that his budget ideas were a “serious, honest, straightforward approach to addressing our nation’s enormous fiscal challenges” and would “reduce the country”s deficit by approximately the same amount as the plan of the President’s Fiscal Commission.”
Obama is out on the stump saying he has a different vision, and indeed he does – a vision that would keep spending, spending, spending and would raise taxes on some to little budgetary avail while possibly hurting the recovery even more than he has already. Keep going forward at his rate of a trillion-dollar deficit here and another trillion-dollar deficit there, and pretty soon we are over the cliff referred to by Bowles.
If anything should induce fear and trembling, it’s that prospect, not Ryan’s perfectly reasonable Medicare proposals that truly do aim to reduce spending for the reason that there is no other choice if we want to save the program and the country. The point that should not be lost is that he aims to do it in a way that gives those affected plenty of time to prepare, gives special attention to those most in need and has figured out a method that should enable the program to thrive.
Jay Ambrose, formerly editor of the late, lamented Rocky Mountain News and other major dailies, is now a syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard and a Centennial Institute Fellow.